SamarisSamaris delivered an ambitious yet wonderful album earlier this year, mixing traditional Icelandic poems with twisting and contorting electronics, all layered over and completed with the simple yet enchanting melodies of the clarinet. I spoke to possibly the only clarinet player in the electronic scene from the three-piece, Áslaug Rún Magnúsdóttir, just after their performance in Manchester supporting Jon Hopkins. She told me why this album should not be perceived as their debut, how she copes with being in a touring band at just twenty and how the use of Icelandic poems in the songs allow her Grandma to like it.

First of all, how did you find the performance tonight?

I thought it was really great, there were a lot of people, I didn’t expect that. It was a really good line up but we were on first and when we play a gig in our home (Iceland) people are really late to concerts, so this is really good, I liked it.

Your background is in classical music but after making a conscious decision to make electronic music, does being on an electronic-based line up like tonight’s make you feel like you achieved your goal?

Yeah. We were trying to go into the electronic direction so being with these kind of artists is great, but we like to be in all sorts of line ups, and we are really into this and enjoying the electronic thing.

Why did you decide you wanted to add an electronic element?

Me and Jófríður (the singer) were really into our indie bands, and we wanted to do something really weird and creative and we wanted to make computer music which is really exciting for us, so we found Þórður to make beats to experience something new.

How old are you, I believe you’re all quite young?

I’m 20, Þórður is 20 and Jófríður is 19.

So how do you find it being in a band like this coming over and playing in Manchester at 20 – Does it make you feel nervous?

No, I dunno, were really calm, I guess, two years ago we went to our gig in France so we have become used to it but we have never gone on a big tour so I am kind of a bit stressed about that that for next year, but it doesn’t feel like we are really young, I guess we just sort of fit in.

Samaris2I believe Jófríður is still studying, are you still at school?

I just finished my clarinet course this spring, so maybe now I’m just going to travel actually; I see this as my first day travelling.

Now that you’ve finished school, will you have more time to work on the band?

I guess, but it’s really weird, as like I said it is my first day of travelling. On Friday I am going to Asia for four months so it’s kind of weird, the band is not going to play for four months, which is really weird, but then in January we come in full force back.

The album that we’ve got in the UK is a collection of two EPs and remixes, so do you see it as your debut album or the one coming next as your debut album?

I think the one coming next is our debut album, the one we are really satisfied with. This one was kind of weird… actually the promo was given to people and people really misunderstood and thought it was our debut album but that’s okay I guess, but we sort of recorded it like two years ago. It wasn’t meant to be that big in the first place and people are expecting our next album this fall and because we are late recording and stuff it’s not going to be out until early next year, but I guess if we can just keep selling this album, that would be really good and wait for the other one, that gives us time.

I believe you won a competition to make the first EP?

That was kind of weird actually, we won this prize to record in a studio but it was really weird because we are sort of a small band, we didn’t need this big studio, we were like wasting our time there because other bands could have used this time. There were all these instruments that we were not using but it was nice to work there and it was fun.

Before you went into the studio were you serious about the band?

No it was just a sort of weird side project.

So when you got in there, was there a point where you thought this has just become serious?

Yeah we were like shit and just wearing funny costumes and thought maybe we could get a gig in a bar in Reykjavik and we were like oh whatever we will just play. And then the EPs sold out so now it’s getting quite serious, doing interviews and coming to Manchester to play in these sort of line ups, its really amazing actually, we were just going to do weird stuff and do nothing with it originally.

The lyrics are Icelandic poems – Did you mean it to be such a mix of past and present?

Not exactly, at first we were trying to write our own lyrics but it didn’t quite work so we found a book in this studio where we were working and it really fit because we kind of use the lyrics like an instrument and the words are so well put together. It doesn’t mean that you have to really understand it because it flows sort of better together and we liked that in the beginning so we wanted to make it a concept, taking lyrics and give them a new life in this new kind of music. So my Grandma doesn’t really like this kind of electronic music but she knows the lyrics, so she likes the music, so generations are coming together and we like that.

samarisAlthough over here, we don’t understand the lyrics but still manage to grasp the music, how does that make you feel?

Well it’s mission complete, the lyrics mean everything but we have so much soundscape going on that the lyrics are just like an instrument in that, so it’s better if you understand the meaning but I feel you get what we are trying to deliver and that makes us really happy if they can like it without understanding it.

The music is quite melancholic, is the music rooted in sad situations?

Yeah the music is very melancholic, the words are about people trying to get their lives together, to find a new life or sometimes it’s about the moon and the nature so that’s really beautiful, but I guess we are an emotional techno band or something, but we are not going to cry or anything like that.

Did the nature of Iceland influence your music?

No, not exactly. We appreciate it and love it, but we don’t get our inspiration from it, I think Sigur Ros and Bjork always connect their music to nature so people think every band from Iceland are nature bands but they aren’t really.

 Does living in a small town make it easier for bands to get coverage and become bigger? 

Yeah it’s really easy actually, you can just walk into a record store and give [your record] to them and if they like it they can sell it and they will come to your concerts. It’s all really linked up, and its not hard to become well-known, but to continue after that can always be difficult

Did the electronic music from Iceland, like Sigur Ros influence you?

Yeah I think so but other small electronic music artists really influenced Þórður because it is a really small community there, the electronic scene, and Þórður has been in it for many years. When we first started playing they contacted us and said “Hey, do you wanna come and play a gig here and there?” and they helped us to get concerts and gigs. And its really nice just like 300 people in this electronic community, that’s not Sigur Ros and all that, it is a lot smaller of artists.

Was the album easy to re-create live?

Yes it was really, but in the future we hope to include some more live elements so maybe add some drums.

Before tonight I was wondering if the clarinet was going to work as well with the electronics as it does on the record. I was really surprised at how well it all came together live…

Well a lot of the songs are clarinet samples which I’ve just played and then we mix it up so then you can’t hear it’s a clarinet and then I play the melody over these gigs. On the debut album there is going to be some experimental things with the clarinet, a lot of squeaking, a lot of flowy notes and it’s going to be interesting how that is going to work live.

When you release the debut album do you hope to come on a tour back in Manchester?

Yeah that would be really great, this is a really nice place, we have been here for like six hours and I like this place very much, we have a hostel on Piccadilly and we have been walking around there and I really like it so it would be great to come back.samaris-1

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Paddy Kinsella

Hi all, my name is Paddy and I have a love for everything from African music to indie to house (basically anything other than heavy metal). Gigging and listening to albums are genuinely the things I most value and love doing.