Through her work with the bands Pascal Pinon and Samaris, Iceland’s Jófríður Ákadóttir has always been a compelling talent, and last year she put out her debut solo album under the name JFDR. Brazil was a sparkling record, where Ákadóttir dabbled in different styles, from the slow-light pop of White Sun to the abrasive, dramatic electronica of Destiny Is Upon Us. Now her latest project sees her take a look back. Her new EP, White Sun, is made of songs from her career, re-imagined and rerecorded with string arrangements. Put together with composer Ian Davis, producer Albert Finnbogason, her sister Ásthildur Ákadóttir and a string quintet, the reworks change the songs’ focus significantly – the stripped-back, strings arrangements makes the music less dense and more spaced, and lets the listeners attention fall on JFDR‘s voice, which lives and breathes in a whole new way here to the way it did on the earlier incarnations. Ahead of the EP’s release this week, we asked Ákadóttir to talk us through the tracklist, about why she chose the songs she did and which way she wanted to redevelop them.
Pascal Pinon Songs
This is one of the ultimate Pascal Pinon songs I’d imagine. So delicate and tender yet full of melancholy and the kind of sadness you can only have when you’ve barely experienced life and its various difficulties. I’m surprised we didn’t make string arrangements for this earlier, it fits like a glove.
This song used to be a folk tune, fingerpicked acoustic guitar and shaker style. It wasn’t until we worked with Alex Somers on [2013 Pascal Pinon album] Twosomeness that we realised it has very hymn-like elements. We wanted to emphasise that in the string arrangement, elevate it up to the sky, gracefully like angels. The lyrics came together as I was staring at a CD with classical pianist Evgeny Kissin’s work and couldn’t get his name out of the song.
This song we used to call the Brahms ballad, which I mentioned to arranger Ian Mclellan Davis, and he ended up adding his touch to the musical inside joke. I dedicate this song to everyone with a classical background or upbringing or even just a classical heart beating in them. As for the songwriting, I always imagined this one is for a lady in a dimly lit bar, perhaps quite Lynchian, singing and playing the piano, reflecting on her various loves and losses, tender and innocent yet you can just about grasp she’s lived several lives and you only catch the tiniest glimpse of this one.
This song is an ode to the drive from Keflavik airport to Reykjavík. it was written around whitsunday and that’s how the words got caught in my head, white sun. the sun was covered in clouds 24/7, giving it a piercing white colour and an air of excitement, adventures at your fingertips. I was coming and going a lot that summer and rarely had moments of stillness. that drive back to Reykjavík was nourishing for the soul as much as I was confronted with the reality of certain situations. A quiet breath in the midst of madness.
The original recording on Brazil was the first thing I recorded with Shahzad Ismaily, who produced the album. It was a live recording and I was reluctant to use it on the album. However, Shahzad convinced me to go with it and I imagined as a compromise I would make many variations of this song and release them over time. That’s really the idea that sparked the concept of this EP and where the series draws its name from.
Writing this song I was playing with looping three chords rather than four. the effect being that you lose the sense of beginning and end and allow things to just be and flow. When making string arrangements, Ian added beautiful chord progressions underneath the loop of three chords, highlighting the repetition of the three but adding a new dimension with musical richness and dynamics.
This is a song previously unreleased that we decided to include in the collection of songs mainly because of its presence in the live set with both JFDR and Pascal Pinon. It was put together in New York in 2016, not long after the making of Brazil was finished. I was working on a long writing project and had to be very focused. It was a different mode than I’d been used to at the time and I think the general tiredness mixed with ambition triggered these confrontational thoughts. It was a chord progression I had been noodling around with for a few days before then and the lyrics and melody just suddenly landed. the words started pouring out of my mouth and I caught them as quickly as I could, typed into my phone and demo-ed. The arrangement was entirely Ian’s. He’s a fan of the song and I wanted him to add to it what he felt it needed.
JFDR’s White Sun Live, Part 1: Strings EP is out on August 3 on Morr Music