fimmtudagur, desember 08, 2011

Kjarr in the Spotlight @ IMX - "Quantum Leap" Video

The Sweet is Never as Sweet without the Bitter
Kjarr - the very kúl and rather psychedelic new project by Kjartan F. Ólafsson (Ampop & Leaves) - is currently blowing our tiny minds here at IMX, and not just ours: Kjarr's eponymous debut album (downloadable here) has also been voted Album Of The Week on RUV's Poppland show, and rightly so, say we. We got in touch and asked him all about it. Take it away, Kjartan!
Hello Kjartan! How are you and what are you doing this fine day?
I’m fine thanks, snow has fallen in Glasgow which makes me very aware that it’s getting near Christmas, and also the end of the year which I feel has moved all too fast.  At the moment I’m finding some time to write greeting cards to friends in Iceland.  
You have a beautiful debut album which took over three years to record - we love the production and just the whole shebang, frankly. Tell us a bit about the process!
Thank you very much.  Yes it took a while to assemble.  Some of the songs I even wrote as far back as 2005.  I had 5 songs recorded and mixed in 2009 when I decided to start over from scratch as I wasn’t sonically satisfied.  Luckily I got a grant from FTT (the association of songwriters and lyricists in Iceland) which I could spend on more studio time, while persuading my friends Nói and Arnar (from the band Leaves) to join me.  I struggled to find time to finish it all as I was working more than full time as a teacher and youth-worker in Iceland.  I finally managed to do so after moving to Glasgow and setting up my small studio.  So last winter and spring pretty much went into doing the overdubs, vocals, guitars, omnichords etc., while some new songs kept creeping in.  I also opted to mix the album myself over here.  Doing so gave me the chance to make it sound exactly the way I wanted it but it also meant taking a whole lot of time to work on details, such as delay(echo) tails and other effects, and just generally refining the sound.  I’m very happy that it’s finally out there.  
What's your favourite track of the album, if that's not too much like asking who your favourite child is?
Well I think each track has some of it’s own offering, the music varies a whole lot.  I’m very happy with Quantum leap, as I find it somewhat a challenge to write a good uplifting song, there’s an important balance to it which I feel it comes together rather well on that one, I mean the sweet is never as sweet without the bitter. 
The one I’m perhaps the happiest with at the moment though is called “Siglt í kaf”, which can both mean to dive under the sea’s surface, and also to sink.  I’m happy with the sonic painting so to say, but it was also a case where I poured out the lyric quite instinctively or impulsively, so there’s an added sense of relief which is what the song is ultimately about.    
The video to the track "Quantum Leap" tells the tale of 'Frank', a songwriter suffering from writers' block. Autobiographical?
Well not exactly autobiographical but there are certainly similarities with me and Frank, I like running and bananas as well hehe, and I write songs.  Over the years as an artist with Ampop and keyboard player, I’ve learned to be quite comfortable in the background of my music.  Now I’ve chosen to sing my songs myself this time which kinda pushes me to the front.  I like singing, but I think there’s an overemphasis on personality in popular music, thus I liked the idea of having an alternate protagonist in the video, while remaining myself in the background.  The video is kinda playing with people’s idealized ideas about the life of a songwriter, hence Frank seems to have plenty of time for leisure, and this idea of an easier, idealized life is of course echoed in the song’s chorus “You will get away from your misery”.
We really like Ólafur Breiðfjörð's album artwork - what's the story there?
I wanted the artwork to reflect the sense of nostalgia and utopia hinted at in the music.  Thinking of folk landscape paintings and 60’s pop art, Oli created this very surreal, landscape type of picture which I feel goes perfectly with the music.
You play some of our favourite musical instruments - but what inspired you to go down the route of choosing theremins, omnichords and other such magical curios? 
It’s very much about keeping things organic. I love the sound and feel of the Omnichord, you can get similar sounds from a synth but the interface makes you do things very differently (basically you strum the omnichord).  I use the Omnichord a lot to emphasize some chord changes on the album, it’s like sprinkling something very nice onto the track.  
I’m interested in the imperfections you get from struggling with the theremin.  The eerie, heavy in vibrato and legato sounds of it is perhaps my favorite for leads.  One of my favorite movie soundtracks is Bernard Herman’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, which mostly features the theremin for lead lines, backed by the orchestra. It’s an incredibly expressive instrument, the slightest movement of your hands will change both pitch and volume, so it’s very difficult to keep it steady.  While a synthesizer will retain a perfect pitch (unless programmed otherwise) and you can do legato stuff on it as well, the constantly modulating and slightly off pitch sound (responding to my movement) I got from playing the theremin interests me more.  My theremin playing can be heard on the intro to Beðið eftir sumrinu (waiting for summertime) where it’s layered with piano and a tiny toy keyboard, the bridge in the song “Lottery” also features the theremin.  A very similar sound occurs in the song “Harvest” but it’s actually a Monotron, which is a tiny hand held monosynth you play with a pen on a ribbon, so almost like the Stylophone.  
Here's a funny thing - we're Iceland Music Export, and you are a LIVING Icelandic musical export, residing, as you do, in Glasgow. How did that come about? 
Yeah I moved here just over a year ago since my wife wanted to study at the Glasgow School of Art.  We knew it was a good place for us since our friends have lived here before.  The art and music scenes are vibrant, a GSA graduate just snatched the Turner price the other day, not the first time that someone from that school does so.  But for me as an artist Glasgow offers a whole lot of stimulation of course with many of the world’s best touring acts stopping by for a show.  Recently been blown away with shows by James Blake, Deerhunter and Wilco.  
We've always thought there were some pretty interesting parallels between Scotland and Iceland, not least the accent... Or is that just us being mad? 
Well I’m happy to keep rolling the R. over here.  But yes I agree.  Scotland suffers from a lot of rain which I think also pours into the nations psyche, Iceland has the deep long winters of course so we share the gloom, and the complementary sense of humor for sure.  
What's next for Kjarr?
Practising and getting ready for some live dates in 2012, while a Kjarr Remix EP will be out in January, featuring some of Iceland’s elite of Electronica producers: Hazar, Ruxpin, Tonik and Orang Volante.  Recently I contributed some vocals to the upcoming album by Asonat (which is a  collaboration between Ruxpin & members of Plastic Joy, out on n5MD early 2012).  I’ve also done some vocals for Hazar recently on a track which should be out soon.
Source: IMX
"Quantum Leap"

Kjarr-Quantum leap from Kjartan_Olafsson

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