Meeting up with ÁSGEIR two years after our first sit-down brought us a musician who had progressed in his career but is very much still the same. He’s no longer a newcomer; he’s already ridden the wave of success of his debut album; and he’s back for his second round of international tours. Although he carries an increased air of confidence, ÁSGEIR is definitely still the same introverted artist we met up with in Hamburg back in 2015. His last two years have been filled with ups and downs (but mostly ups), as he finished touring for In the Silence and kept himself in Reykjavik to record the entirety of his sophomore album, Afterglow.
Back at our first meeting, this Icelandic musician gave us a heads up that his second release would be heavily electronic based and a move away from the instrumentals and vocals that have become synonymous with his act. He stayed true to his word on that end, but on another, he reversed directions. During the touring for his first release, ÁSGEIR was well underway with recording Afterglow. He had already produced 15 tracks for the album back then but had done so only in Icelandic. He had predicted an Icelandic compilation that he would later translate into English- the same route he had taken with his first album.
We were therefore taken by surprise to find an entirely English album set to release later this month. ÁSGEIR explained the shift, saying the whole thing simply became too confusing. By having two languages, we had to finish the same song twice…It came to a point where instead of having 22 songs, it felt like having 11 songs. Some songs were made in English first and then the record evolved in that direction.
‘In the beginning I wanted it to be in Icelandic because I was more confident in that.’
However, as he moved forward with the production, ÁSGEIR became equally confident with both languages. He also recognized that he was no longer just aiming to appeal to his home country and the 1 in 10 Icelanders who own his debut release. Since he’s always touring and playing outside of Iceland, his focus has shifted. Naturally he is likely to sacrifice his home fanbase and the uniqueness that comes with production in his native tongue. He justifies the shift as making an album that appeals to a wider audience and hints at the possibility of creating an Icelandic version down the road- with potential release of a few tracks later this year.
‘I don’t really know how it’s going to be received worldwide. I don’t really care. Or I try to not care. It’s difficult to not care about that stuff. It’s very easy to care too much about it.’
With his second release, ÁSGEIR falls in line with the same shift taken by BON IVER, JAMES BLAKE, CHET FAKER and the like. He adds in electronic elements and cuts away from his instrumental focus but continues to showcase his stunning vocals. Though we assumed it was just the thing to do these days, the musician pegs the change on the three years spent touring on his first album. While on tour, he always had his laptop on hand and spent a slew of time listening to JON HOPKINS, and the two combined led the album to evolve in that way.
Underneath It and I Know You Know are two of the heaviest electronic tracks while Dreaming and New Day are closer to his original style. Nothing, the album’s shortest track, falls somewhere between the two. ÁSGEIR told us about the way he drains his brain to write melodies, and in this case, it ended up sticking as a track.
‘Usually when I’m figuring out the melody, I’m singing some sort of words, made up words, just something that comes out and usually fits quite well with the music. It’s stuff that sounds like English, but it doesn’t make any sense…So with that song, I just wrote down what came first to mind and didn’t change it.’
A good song remains a good song
While a lot of tracks are heavily electronic, most of them still leave his voice at center stage. The synths run through the album, but still showcase his distinct vocals. This rings true in Unbound, the teaser track that previewed the album back in January. When we asked ÁSGEIR why he chose to put this one out first, he replied that it wasn’t really his choice, but more his label’s call.
‘I try to not get stuck in the business side of it. They look at it from a marketing point of view…When I finished this album, I was happy with all the songs, so what song came out first didn’t really matter.’
This wasn’t the only time that the artist came off as a bit removed from the artistic process.
His brother and father wrote the bulk of the lyrics on this album as well, though the songwriter worked a bit closer with them this time around. Also, when we asked him about the inception-esque video for Unbound, he described it vaguely, adding that he wasn’t very involved in it.
‘Maybe I make it seem like I’m less part of it than I actually am…With the single, I had a say. I was involved of course. It wasn’t totally ‘I don’t give a shit’. I just told them that I didn’t want this song or this or this, but I think I know what you’re doing.’
At least in the case of the video, we’ll attribute that to his introverted personality. He didn’t want to act in his own video, or even have his face in it for that matter. This demureness comes up in his live performances as well, so we took a minute to ask him about performing as an introvert. He says: ‘I think people can see when I’m performing that- it’s not that I don’t enjoy it- I look down a lot. I have positions that I’m used to playing in. I’m not going to lie to people. I can’t really hide how I feel. I’m not a performer on stage. I’m not trying anything new. It’s just me.’
When fans take that into account, the view of his live shows change completely. Having first seen him perform in California, we took him as shoegazey, and even a little disinterested. This compared with his performance in Hamburg after we sat down with him was an entirely different playing field. He’s a shy guy from a town of about 50 people, and set to play in front thousands around the world.
‘I kind of get sad when I go to these big cities. You kind of just disappear in the crowd. I’m originally from a town of about 50 people, so everyone knows each other and knows everything about everyone…It’s easy to get lost in those big cities…It’s not for me, I definitely know that.’
ÁSGEIR will start his international tour in May. Moving forward, he will likely return to the simplicity of a more raw, acoustic style, after realizing how difficult he made the process for Afterglow: ‘The idea was always that the core of the song is everything and the production doesn’t matter. It’s a good song if it’s a good song.’ As long as those vocals keep on coming through, we’ll be happy.