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Sólstafir - Interview

Interview with: Aðalbjörn Tryggvason, Svavar Austmann
Conducted by: T.V.

One of the most interesting and different bands in todays metal scene must be the Icelandic phenomenon named Sólstafir. The band started its path back in mid 90s, playing kind of atmospheric black metal, and after some demos and one EP, Til Valhallar, in 1996, released their debut album, for many a true cult release named Í Blóđi Og Anda in 2001. What followed then is nothing but one huge creative ascent in all aspects that made this band one of the most intriguing acts coming not only from Iceland, but in the whole rock/metal scene. With albums like Masterpiece Of Bitterness (2005) and Köld (2009), Sólstafir slowly evolved from a black metal band into kind of an unique atmospheric post-rock/metal band. As well in this period the line-up changed, the only original member who remained is the frontman/guitarist Aðalbjörn Tryggvason, joined now by bassist Svavar Austman, guitarist Sæþór Maríus Sæþórsson and drummer Guðmundur Óli Pálmason (who later leaves the band in 2015 and joins post-rock band Katla.) Then followed by stunning masterpieces like Svartir Sandar (2011) and Ótta (2014), both albums released by Season Of Mist. Now Sólstafir is back with a masterwork named Berdreyminn, an amazing album full of atmosphere, melancholy, beautiful melodies, defying every kind of easy categorisation. Berdreyminn was also selected as album of the month May 2017 here on Terra Relicta and you can read the review over HERE! We can also say that if Pink Floyd, Bjork or Sigur Rós would be making metal or hard rock music than something similar to this would come up. On their set of live shows this summer, Sólstafir played an amazing gig at MetalDays Festival in Tolmin (Slovenia) on 27th July. This was one of the most impressive performances on this years edition of MetalDays, a show that only testifies how great and strong band Sólstafir is, and if you'll have a chance to see this band playing live then don't hesitate for a second, they'll be touring across Europe together with Myrkur and Árstíðir this November and December! We talked with friendly, open minded and wit frontman Aðalbjörn and bassist Svavar about many things, half a joke, half for real, about their latest album, about Icelandic music, dark things in life and much more, but nevertheless, the guys revealed many interesting things about Sólstafir, which can be read in the interview below.

T.V.: First of all I wish you a warm welcome to Slovenia and I expect that the show tonight will be just great! But, you are not for the first here, right?
: Yes, we played this same festival four years ago, it was in 2013. We have great memories from then, it was really really warm, we went bycicling around the whole valley and we were touched by its beauty. We went also bathing in the river. The festival was kind of funny, or better said my biggest memory is that they told us that we can't bring glass on the stage and if you're a hard drinker like I was, you won't listen to that bullshit, so I put a lot of effort to smuggle my bottle of Jim Beam on the stage. When the gig started, we had sun shining right to our faces, it was maybe 40 degrees outside, I had no water, only really warm Jim Beam. Haha, you can imagine that... I was trying that my skin won't burn, my eyes were all full of sweat. Nevertheless, it is really nice to come back here again, this time playing in the dark, with water 
Svavar: It was really hot that day and I remember almost passing out on the stage. It was really difficult...
T.V.: Especially for you guys who are coming from the north this kind of conditions must be hard.
Aðalbjörn: The funny thing is that when we were leaving here and I was talking with my friend Alan from Primordial, they were playing the next day, and I said to him that it was really fucking warm. He said, "fuck you man, I wear corpse paint, you don't". I was really sorry for Alan, with corpse paint on 40 degrees, I can't imagine that!
T.V.: Ok, I can imagine that. Now, let me ask you something about your last album, Berdreyminn. It's an amazing album, it was also album of the month in our webmagazine, so congratulations! You must be satisfied with what you've achived with this work, right?
Aðalbjörn: We are satisfied,... we did so many interviews right after it came out and now I see that my idea of the album has started to change, in a way maturing, developing. By the time when we were recording it I didn't really know what we were doing. I really like it now, it's not that I ever disliked it, but it's some sort of the album that you won't love it for the first time when you hear it, it's one of those albums that you need to listen for a few times. A lot of people have said that it's not like the last album and that they don't like it. And I think,... of course, what did you expect, because we always change, and this is what we did also the last time. I think that Berdreyminn is a completely natural progress from the previous album. There are some songs that are similar to those on Ótta, then there are some songs that are unlike anything we've done so far. It has always been like that, some songs are connected to the past and some that have nothing to do with the past.
T.V.: Sólstafir is one of the bands that are really hard to categorize or put into any specific genre, so I often wonder how would you describe your music?
Svavar: I wouldn't describe my music. You know, sometimes we feel like to write kind of songs that don't have anything to do with metal, than again we have metal songs, rock'n'roll songs, some hard rock and so on. We just write music that we are listening to, sometimes we say, "hey, let's do something like this", it reminds me to hippie period in a way, or whatever.
Aðalbjörn: Sometimes Svavar comes up with an idea that I have no idea from where that influence came from, but I like it. It doesn't matter from where the idea came from, maybe from somewhere that he doesn't even like. Sometimes it might be an idea that we get from another band. So, we sort of ignore if it's rock or metal, I don't give a shit, if it's cool is cool.
T.V.: On your facebook site you've written that it's Pink Floyd metal...
Aðalbjörn: Yes, haha, it's a sort of a thing, you know. We are kind of a non metal - heavy metal band!
T.V: I find it also very interesting that almost all rock, metal or even pop bands that come from Iceland play some kind of a specific and very unique style, from Sigur Rós and Bjork on. What do you think it's the main thing with Icelandic bands that leads to this?
Aðalbjörn: We are all just Sigur Rós copycats, haha, just kidding. I still think though, even if what I said is a joke, that there's some kind of a connection, there's a little bit of a connection with us and the continent, with us and Sigur Rós, with Sigur Rós and Múm, with Sigur Rós and Of Monsters And Men, there's a connection between HAM and us, there's a connection between a lot of bands. I don't know, it's just a little bit different mentality there, because it is such a small place. I think that once you're playing this kind of music and you try to form a new band, than you'll not gonna do another band that sounds like your ex band or any other, it must sound different, there's no space for two same bands, you can't really hide. I mean, if you're playing graveyard satanic black metal, next band of yours can't play the same style,... must play forest black metal, hahaha. Ignore this names, but I think you know what I mean.

T.V.: I noticed also that on every new album of yours the production is different. You're experimenting quite a lot with this... Are you not satisfied with production you've had in the past or you just want to explore new possibilities?
Svavar: We always want to explore new possibilities and also with new recording engineers there's always gonna be a different production.
Aðalbjörn: Yeah, and the songs, I mean are like living entities. First of all is like, you can't order the same weather, you can have four kinds of different weather conditions in one day. So, none of the songs are the same, we find different gear, we write different songs, sometimes Svavar is writing the song with a French horn in it and that can't sound like a song with a banjo in it. That's like if you were asking yourself why aren't all humans looking exactly like you, why do we look different. It's impossible to write an album with the same sound, you can't do it even if you try. AC/DC have tried it for 45 years, but even AC/DC albums are a little bit different between each other. Ok, we are very much different from AC/DC, so why on earth do we want to repeat ourselves. I think that when we did Svartir Sandar it was good and yet afterwards I thought we could do it even a bit better. When Ótta came out we thought again that we can do it a little bit better, and also now I will think that we can do it a bit better. So you are always trying to go up and not just stagnating, so on the next album we are going to sound even better.
T.V.: Many people think that you reached kind of an artistical peak with the song "Fjara"...
Svavar: Ah, we don't play that shit anymore (laughs), just joking, not true..., but people should get over that song already.
T.V.: How came that you started to write lyrics and sing only in Icelandic language?
Aðalbjörn: Well, when we started we had lyrics in Icelandic, but then, I don't know, five or six years after we started we did few albums in English. Masterpiece Of Bitterness and Köld are both in English. We never decided to change, it just happened. The last album with English lyrics, Köld, came out in 2009, and one song on that album was in Icelandic and it was also when I started trying to sing more clean. I was very shy, insecure to do it, a metal guy singing clean,... I thought that people will laugh at me and I didn't have any confidence. I really wanted to try a bit of Icelandic that I have written, I sang it clean in Icelandic and because I was very shy, I thought that we won't use this, but other guys from the band said that we should do it, and I said ok, let's try it if you want. So, that came out really well, but it was a lot to do with it. You know, singing clean is more from the heart. I cannot be singing about flying dragons with clean vocals in Icelandic, it'll be so controversial. I think that Icelandic just felt more right at that time and like you see we are still singing in Icelandic. Maybe we'll do something in English again, I don't know.
T.V.: Or maybe you are singing in Icelandic because you don't want that people are singing along with you on the shows, haha...
Aðalbjörn: (Laughs)... That's a funny thing, sometimes people sing along. Many times when we play in Germany, even here in Slovenia, there's one girl in the front who sings every single song we play.
T.V.: Ok, strange, because I find Icelandic a very difficult language, just like is Slovenian, maybe a curse of small countries... Now a different topic. Last three albums of yours were released by the label Season Of Mist and I think that you must be satisfied with them?
Svavar: Ha, Season Of Mist, that is some shity company. First of all we don't like Season Of Mist... no, no, just kidding (laughs). Season Of Mist are really good, we are very happy there, they're doing a great job by promoting our album and at least for now I'm pretty much satisfied with them.
Aðalbjörn: Yeah, we get many other offers coming in, and at that time, I think it was in 2010 or 2011, there were three and they came up with the best offer. We did already three albums with them! They are friends of ours, we are very much like a family, I can call the boss of the label Michael anytime, it's a very friendly atmosphere... ok, he's paying us to say this (laughs).
T.V.: I find it interesting that you are playing on Prophecy Fest this year, organized by the label Prophecy Productions...
Aðalbjörn: We almost signed with Prophecy many years ago. We meet Stefan in Germany in 2009 when we had a tour together with Secrets Of The Moon, they are on Prophecy, and he was trying to sign us. We liked the label, the booklet of our friends Secrets Of The Moon looked like the coolest booklet in the world, Stefan was nice. So, we know them for many years. They signed our friends GlerAkur, another Icelandic band.
T.V.: I know GlerAkur, amazing band, I just recently did a review of their album. The guy behind it, Elvar Geir Sævarsson, is working as a sound engineer at the National Theater of Iceland, isn't he?
Aðalbjörn: Yeah, he does, we are also sharing a rehearsal place and yes, of course we know him for years. GlerAkur already played in this cave at Prophecy Fest last year and Elvar said it was a fantastic atmosphere there.
T.V.: I read that the name Sólstafir means like sunrays, a special phenomena, like kind of a triangle...
Svavar: Yes, sunrays going through the clouds down to earth.
Aðalbjörn: It's very satanic ha,ha. It's a long time since this name came up, and I think that it still is very cool, it's not outdated or anything like that at all, maybe it fits to our style now even more than in the past.
T.V.: It's a very unique name for a band. Now tell me which song from the new album of yours is your favorite?
Aðalbjörn: His probably is "Hula"...
Svavar: No, no, no, I don't know.
Aðalbjörn: I don't think that I have one favorite song. It used to be that "Ísafold" was my favorite when we were writing the album, because it was very fun composing it, as well it was "Bláfjall", I really like that church organ stuff and slide guitar in it. Now I think it's "Hula", which means something hidden btw, and "Dýrafjörður" is also a very special one, I don't know, it's difficult, I have three or four favorites.
T.V.: All of the songs are really well connected between each other, like on a concept album. Tell me what exactly are lyrics about?
Aðalbjörn: They are all about mental disorders or mental illnesess, so we have a lyrical theme there. Lyrics are basically about depression, suicidal darkness, mental disorders and all this jolly good stuff.
T.V.: Is this kind of a common thing in Iceland?
Svavar: Sadly yes.
Aðalbjörn: It's very common in Scandinavia, not only in Iceland, also in Finland, I don't know where it's more common, in Scandinavia, Iceland, Finland or in Greenland it's more on the surface. Teenagers are killing themselves everywhere, people are depressed everywhere, wives are getting beaten up for years everywhere, children get raised up like crap everywhere. It's happening everywhere, but do people talk about it? Not really.
T.V.: People talk only about superficial things...
Svavar: Yeah, you know, all this things are so much like a tabu and people are afraid to talk about it, either people who lose a loved one in some horrible way don't want to talk about it, and I think if you lose someone who died by his/her own hand or who got raped or killed or I don't know, then you should talk about it. Society should be allowed to talk loud about it.
T.V.: Maybe some people don't talk about it because they have no one to talk about it, because you can only talk to someone who understands.
Aðalbjörn: Exactly! There's one song on the album which is about domestic violence. That's of course one of the things that no one talks about. If you're in a position like if being married to someone who's beating you up for 10 or 15 years, you have no one to tell, because you're ashamed, there's shame and fear and you can't escape. Then normally it ends up at one or the other killing each other or something like that. When someone who's close to you tells you that, you're like "holy shit, really?!". Can this be really that close to you? it's, even more than you can imagine. This are really extreme things.
T.V.: Before starting this interview we talked outside about your previous album Ótta. Also that one, even if being quite introversial one, was pretty much inspired by dark things in life.
Aðalbjörn: Alcoholism and addiction, yeah. We have a lot of jolly topics. Ótta was more related to a new beginning, to a battle against addiction to alcohol and other stuff, it's a lot of personal stuff in there as well. Like I said, when you sing from the heart it has to be from mind and heart, and as we've all been through this stuff it's very natural to sing about this. I could be singing about the hammer of the gods, but that wouldn't be me.
T.V.: Yes, I know what you mean. Sólstafir started in 1994 if I'm not mistaken. Many things have changed in the music scene since then and I wonder how do you feel these changes as a musician?
Aðalbjörn: We actually started in 1982,... ok, I'm kidding, it was in 1995. This band here, like you see it in 2017 now, is like ten years old, because the band we got today it's from the last three or four albums. We didn't tour around Europe or the world a lot before 2007, we were more like a band just playing metal or black metal songs in my dads garage. But look at us now, we are always touring, releasing one album in every three years, then we come home, trying to get a new job, trying to spend some time with wife or kids or whatever. It's much more work now, we have to tour more, but the band is always rising, we've never been in a downfall, we were always slowly progressing, growing, and that's probably why we are still here. So, like I said we tour a lot, we did a large world tour for Ótta album in 2015. You know, we are just trying to be professional because we like writing and recording music, but sometimes it gets hard because of a constant touring and staying away from our constant jobs, away from our kids.
T.V.: Thank you for explaining this, but basically I wanted to ask you how do you feel the changes before and after the era of explosion of digital music, internet, facebook and such stuff. I remember how romantic was discovering new music back then, exchanging music with friends, reading lyrics, reading thank lists on demo cassettes, CD's and vinyls, and so on.

Aðalbjörn: I agree with you, I still want to have a thank list, fuck the lyrics, I want to have a thank list, that's a romantic stuff (laughs). I still remember thank lists of some albums from back in the day. But you know, we are still doing vinyls, cassettes,... It feels such a long time since... You know, I had a PO Box and went almost every day to post office to check if anything came. It feels like a different century now, you know, that's how it was. Today you are just spending all the money you can to record an album and then you give it away.
T.V.: Tell me which songs do you prefer to play live?
Svavar: "Run To The Hills" of Iron Maiden, I play it all the time, they're playing something else (laughs).
Aðalbjörn: We've been changing the setlist a little bit now. When we did the Ótta album we played also the Í Blóði og Anda stuff and Svartir Sandar, but now, we already did two weeks in Europe and we played five or six songs from the Köld album, also some Svartir Sandar stuff, but mostly new songs. Now we have a new tour coming up in November and December and we've been rehearsing some stuff that we haven't been playing for a very long time. It gets boring to play the same old stuff over and over again. Maybe we'll do "Run To The Hills" cover. You know, we try to do always something new, also get some older songs back. There are a few songs that we always play and there are songs that we haven't played for years. The songs that were on our setlist for a long time will be cooled down now for a while and maybe a few years later it will be fun to play those again.
T.V.: So we can expect mostly new songs on a repertoire today?
Aðalbjörn: Today we'll only play two songs from our last album Berdreyminn, but on tour later this year we'll do a lot more new songs. We just haven't had enough time to learn them for this summer tour. For example, we haven't yet played "Hula" live, but we'll play it on next tour.
T.V.: I would really like to see you on tour in December in Slovenia, but unfortunately there's no scheduled date here...
Aðalbjörn: It's a thing of the management, but hold on, maybe we'll come to Slovenia after all, it's said that more dates will be added. The reason is because we are playing in Slovenia now and we can't already advertise a gig in Slovenia right now, it's always like that. So when the festival is over, maybe we'll surprise you with something, but even if not, we'll certainly play in the vicinity. But I'm not promising you and I'm not confirming it.
T.V.: You did some fantastic videos in the past, for example for "Fjara", "Lágnætti" or now for "Silfur-Refur". Especially the one done for "Fjara" really stands out. Any other new video in the making maybe?
Aðalbjörn: We are making also a video for "Hula", which is coming out soon, in a month or two. So yeah, we actually plan to do, beside the one already released for "Silfur-Refur", two more videos for songs from new album. But you know, videos are expensive and it takes time, but nevertheless, we'll have two more from the new album.
T.V.: A question not connected with music. Did you go to swim in river Soča here nearby? It's one of the coldest rivers here. Do you find it cold, even though that you are from North?
Aðalbjörn: We did try it the last time and it's freezing. It's really really fucking cold. We were doing a lot of drugs, partying like animals and been around and in the river until nine in the morning. We had a great time that year. Must tell you that now I'm sober for four years. We also know that a huge battle, an important front was held here in the first world war, between Italian and Austro-Hungarian army. Around one million people died here at that front if I'm not mistaken.
T.V.: Now we should finish and I wish you a great show tonight. Thank you very much for this interview and beers! The last words are yours.
Aðalbjörn: It's fucking awesome to be here again and I always had a sort of trend to coming back. But we must come again, because this year we didn't have a chance to go to swim in the river and jump from the clif... not in a suicidal way ha,ha, with a parachute. We are always so welcomed here and we are glad to be back.

Sólstafir links: Official website, Facebook, Bandcamp

Live photos taken on MetalDays Festival 2017 by T.V.