While Ólöf Arnalds' solo debut "Við og við" continues to garner widespread acclaim across the globe (eMusic recently named the album as one of the 100 Best Albums of the Decade while MOJO proclaimed Arnalds as "Reykjavík's answer to Kate Bush"), the singer-songwriter is about to release her follow up record - "Innundir skinni".
With Kjartan Sveinsson (Sigur Rós) producing once again, "Innundir skinni" features more elaborate arrangements and instrumentation than "Við og við", with vocals sung both in English and Icelandic.
Iceland Music Export (IMX) catch up with the singer-songwriter to find out more…
Hi Ólöf! It's been a while since we caught up with you. What have you been doing of late?
I’ve been playing shows in Iceland, America, England and Spain, writing new songs, taking care of business and trying to enjoy the beautiful summer in Iceland when I can.
You've made a new album - what can you tell us about it?
It´s got 9 songs that I recorded with a fun collective of people. I started out with 18, recorded 12 and 9 I chose to go on the record. The ones I edited out I want to revisit later. The core of the songs are whole takes of my own playing and singing like on Við og við, only this time I have one up to four people also playing with me live. Then some additional instrumentation/singing is there and done either by me or my collaborators. There are three 7” singles that will be released around the
record itself and for them I´ve recorded B-sides with songs by others: Arthur Russell, Kyu Sakamoto and Skúli Sverrisson.
Who have you collaborated with for the album?
Davíd Þór Jónsson, Skúli Sverrisson, Kjartan Sveinsson, Birgir Jón Birgisson, Shahzad Ismaily, María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, Ragnar Kjartansson, Björk, Daníel Bjarnason, Róbert Reynisson, Matthías Hemstock and a few additional instrumentalists for the music. For the art work and visual material I´ve had the privilage to work with Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir and Goddur.
What kind of angle did you want to take with "Innundir skinni", as opposed (for example) to your debut?
"Innundir skinni" has more elaborate arrangements, and it has less unified, but more colourful selection of songs.
What does the album title mean and why did you choose it?
It means within skin, or under the skin. It´s the name of a track on the album.
That beautiful duet with Björk - how did that come about?
I played Björk the album while it was still in mixing and she got an idea for a vocal line for it and offered to record it. I´m very grateful and honoured since her voice is a unique instrument in the world.
You're still singing in Icelandic a lot on the album, which is rare for an international Icelandic artist these days. How come?
I feel very close to my mother language, even though I can feel now, when traveling more and working more with English speaking people that I´m somehow between languages. My choice to sing in both languages has to do
with interaction with the audience when I´m playing abroad. I like to experiment with different kinds of communication live, getting a message across by different means.
Do you think you suffer career-wise from this or does it conversely boost your appeal, make it more exotic?
I know that I have myself listened to a lot of singers in languages that I don´t understand but still felt like I got the emotional essence. But I´m also a person who kind of listens to the music before the lyrics. When I was making the songs, some of them came to me in English, some in Icelandic. I wasn’t focused on how people would perceive them. For me that´s something that I find out about later.
You seem to have been lumped into the whole Freak Folk thing. Is that pretty annoying...?
I´m not at all concerned about what genres my music is put in. It´s in a way not in my job description. I get something out of all music and find all music fascinating just for the fact that people make it. Besides that, I have great respect for the musicianship of some of the artists that have also been put in this category.
How do you describe your music to people?
It sort of depends on who I´m talking to and their relationship with music. The easiest way to describe my music to people at the moment is telling people that I write songs, sing and play guitar. If I get rid of the guitar at some point I´ll just have to say that I´m a singer, I guess.
Do you have touring plans for when the record is released?
I´m doing a U.K and European tour in September including a show at the Dublin fringe Festival, where I´ll have Högni Egilsson from Hjaltalín as a guest performer. Then I'll be touring the U.S in October. On these two main tours to play the new album, I´ll have Davíð Þór Jónsson playing with me.
Then I will be going out on my own to do some dates with Air in France in early November and later that month opening up for Blonde Redhead on their U.S. tour.
What else will you be doing for the rest of the year?
I´m going to use my time between tours to work on new material and develop my playing.
Photograph of Ólöf Arnalds @ Aldrei Festival by Wim Van Hooste