We have been covering Icelandic singer ÁSGEIR since 2013, when he first released the video for King and Cross, so when we finally got the chance to sit down him at Dockville festival earlier this summer, it was surreal to see how far he has come on the international music scene since then. His first album made it into the hands of 10 percent of his countrymen, and the English version has been gaining international traction since its release in 2014. He is now working on a new album, which he took the time to tell us a bit about. ÁSGEIR’s calm and reserved demeanor during the interview mirrors his tranquil presence in his performance in which his melancholy, soothing voice coos out lyrics both in Icelandic and English.
While you’re at the festival, do you have time to watch any of the other acts at all or will you do your set and head out?
We’ve been hanging out for a few hours now. We put some chairs outside the bus and did some tanning and yeah, maybe we’ll check out some bands later. I haven’t really checked out the lineup too much. I think we’re just going to hang around and see something good.
And how has festival season been treating you this year?
We haven’t been touring that much this year. We kind of decided we would stop touring. At the end of February we did an American tour with Hozier and that was the last tour we did. And after that, I’ve just been writing, focusing on the next album. This tour now is something that we booked a long time ago, but it’s probably good to get a break from being in the studio everyday, all day.
How is your next album coming along?
It’s going pretty well. I’ve just been working hard on it since March and I’ve recorded 15 songs or so already.
But the plan was always to record as many songs as possible and pick out the best ones, so we’re kind of still doing that.
We’ll probably record 5 to 8 songs more at least.
And are you writing this one in your native language or in English?
My native language at the moment
Do you think you’ll translate this one as well?
That’s the plan, yeah. That’s gonna happen, yeah. But for now, we’re just focusing on the Icelandic lyrics.
What’s the translation process like? Do you think you loose any of the original meaning or is it pretty much the same?
The last album- I don’t think we lost any meaning. The whole idea was to translate these lyrics and get the same meaning out of them…I worked with John Brandt, a musician from the states who has been living in Iceland. He worked on the lyrics for the last album, but now we’re gunna do something different. I’m gunna work with maybe my brother and a few people around me. Maybe not try as much only translate so just the meaning will be the same, but maybe more think how it will sound and feel. Yeah, so we’re gonna try a different approach.
On your last album your father had a large role in writing your lyrics. For this one, will you be writing more?
I’m actually writing more. I’m not the main lyricist on this album but I’ve been working on a few lyrics now. There were two lyricists on my first album, and that was my dad and my good friend. Right now, me and Julius [his long-time collaborator] are working on the lyrics together, which I find really great and kind of interesting. It’s something that I’ve never spent too much time on; I’ve always been more focused on writing music. And it’s been working well. But yeah, my dad has been writing song lyrics as well for this album, but I can’t really say which songs will be going on the album for now.
What is the feel of the new album compared to the old one?
I guess it’s going more electronic. I was working with electronic music, and synthesizers and programming and all that was kind of new to me when we did the first album three years ago. After that, I’ve been getting more and more into that kind of thing so I think it’s going to be more about that than about acoustic instruments. But at the same time, it’s going to be a mix of both.
‘Icelandic people really like listening to music in Icelandic’
Is the electronic music scene in Iceland pretty big?
Yeah. It’s kind of big…A lot of them are something that influences and inspires me with thinking about music and sounds as being minimalistic and creating soundscapes and thinking about certain elements for creating the sound, instead of just putting loads of instruments into a song and making it a massive production. It’s of cool in that way. But we also have pretty cool deep house and electronic musicians and djs from there.
Do you think people receive your music differently here than they do in Iceland?
Probably a little bit differently. In Iceland, everyone listened to the album and connected to it in Icelandic and one of the big reasons why it got so successful there was because of how the lyrics were made and how much thought was put into that. But at the same time, it’s pretty much the same lyrics. But I know that Icelandic people really like listening to music in Icelandic. So when the album came out in Icelandic first, we weren’t thinking of translating it. Everyone wasn’t too happy about it somehow because people got attached to it. Some people just didn’t like the idea of translating it, of ruining a good album. But I don’t know how different people see the music. Everyone probably receives it differently.
I watched the video for King and Cross a while back, and I was wondering, what is that all about?
We did two videos for it. One is really gray and in the mountains of Iceland. That was the first video I ever did. There were these film guys who have been making videos for big bands and they directed the video. The whole thing about the elves and me… We got these dancers that were kind of acting as mythical elves and coming down the mountain and they disappeared in the mirror. It was to create, like the song does with the lyrics, some images in your head.
What is the top bucket list item you have for both your life and your career?
I’ve always wanted to play at something like Glastonbury, something really big.
I’ve never been much of a planner, but it’s something I think about. There’s no really specific things that I need to do to be happy except if I’m able to write music and be a musician for as long as I can. Then I will be happy. I really wanted to swim with sharks. That was an opportunity I got last time I went to Australia and didn’t get to do it.
Since we are called NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION, what do hope and passion mean to you?
Big words…Passion just means that you put everything into something you want, and are constantly thinking about it. And hope is what keeps you going in life. It would be pretty dark if there was no hope. Yeah, hope is just what keeps you going.