There are times in life when you are brought back to childhood, the scent of a perfume your mother would wear, a familiar place you visited while young, even in pictures; the most descriptive of memories.
Sometimes these feelings hit even in conditions far from anything you remember physically.
For me it was sitting in a small club in Miami on the wooden dance-floor Indian styled watching an Icelandic band by the name of Múm. This was my first time seeing the band that has been recommended so many times before live. In a way I'm glad this was my first experience as I might not have been able to approach them in the same way otherwise.
Watching Múm is to be inside a music box. You’re surrounded by sound that fills up the room with an ambient charm. While being classified electronic, there are also traditional sounds of accordion, xylophone, and violin to merge with those unconventional such as the saw. This instrumentation brings a familiar if not comforting air to the haunting performance; paired well with the Apple laptops placed around the stage to add the beats and sfx’s they are known for. The music is intensified by singer Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir’s childlike voice reminding you that while listening to her lullabies you’re safe, the monsters under your bed are still there.
Playing in almost total darkness, they seamlessly changed instruments amongst themselves for every song. Joined by members from the opening band Slowjob, it was hard to imagine how they all fit on the small stage.
Örvar Þóreyjarson Smárason’s guitar solo stood out to me at one point as it was the first time in the show the energy was so open. Not to say there was a lack of it, from Kristin Anna’s dancing, which is better described as kicking barefoot in place as she played the accordion. Reminiscent to a toy soldier marching, was charming to watch. Gunnar, who stood out to me mostly from the keyboard, maintained to keep attention with a cool stare. The show in general left most people glassy eyed and silent as they turned the lights back on. The set to be followed by a barage of new wave and indie pop that seemed almost an intrusion on the atmosphere left by the band.
Looking back, Im still not sure if I would have prefered to have saved this conversation for after the show, but then I'd be in the same position of those around me, a fan.
By Christy Hannon
QRO: This is your third album. I heard that the conditions you made it under were a bit strange; in a lighthouse miles away from town.
Orvar: No, not very strange, very good circumstances. It's very good to just go out and leave everything. You have almost nothing but the music. Not a lot of other things to do. Nothing to distract you; and you know when we are recording, time starts acting very differently. We actually did this at two different lightkeeper's houses. The first place we worked was really up north and the weeks we were there was during the light monthes of the summer so the sun didnt really go down. It was light the whole twenty four hours.The sun goes like this(demonstrating with his hands the sun rotating around the earth), instead of going up.
QRO: So it was a constant source of light?
QRO: Did it make hard to sleep? (laughs)
Orvar: No, no. But it made you sleep another time instead. It was very nice.
QRO: So there are three members of the band now that Gyda has left. Do you use a lot of session musicians?
Orvar: Yeah, well they're not really session musicians. They are friends that just come and play with us. None of them work consistantly, they are just our friends.
QRO: So do you take the same musicians on tour with you?
Orvar: Yeah yeah yeah. There are three kids with us now. We've been touring the whole summer since April, and We've been rotating a lot whose been coming and playing with us. There are always six to seven on stage.
QRO: Since Gyda left to pursue her Cello career, She was recently a guest celloist on an album for John Levalle.
QRO: Will she continue contributing to Múm?
Orvar: I dont know what happens in the next years. I dont know what she decides. She really left the band because it was just too much. All the touring and recording just takes too much. No way to be for a cello player.
QRO: What is the songwriting process?
Orvar: None of the songs have the same way of coming about really; sometimes someone starts on an instrument, sometimes someone has an idea they will bring to the others out of the door, sometimes we all play together.
QRO: I noticed you made a second release for your second album in Icelandic; do you have plans to release a second version of your third album in Icelandic?
Orvar: No we didnt record the last album in Icelandic, the reason why we did it for the second album was because it was very easy for us to do it. It wouldnt happen now as there is much more singing now. Also we recorded everything to tape. Its much easier when you are working on a computer or protools like we did on the second album and just have two versions of singing and switch them off. So we didnt even think of doing an Icelandic version of this album untill someone asked us after. I dont know why.
QRO: When you write your lyrics, do you write them in icelandic first and translate them to english or do you originate in English?
Orvar: Well for this album i think it was all in English. For the first album, some of them were written in Icelandic, and others in English. Thats also why we did a second version in Icelandic. I was just thinking about it the other day though. Maybe its a bit sad that we didnt record a second version in Icelandic because for us, the Icelandic music that is dear to us is always the music that has Icelandic singing. Not the Icelandic music sung in English. And when we get drunk and someone is playing guitarand we are singing we usually dont sing any song that is in English so maybe we'll regret not having done this in Icelandic.
QRO: What do you think of Icelandic music in popular culture? So many bands have been coming out in the world.
Orvar: Yes, So many bands but yet so few make it nowadays. There are so many; such an energetic group of people, so many bands and so many things going on. I think what people outside of us can see is really not only just the tip of the iceberg but not even an example of what there is. It's so diverse, so…(he trailed off)
QRO: This album has a lot more traditional instruments, was this intended? Or was it just the way it came out?
Orvar: Oh yeah, thats just how it came out. We just happened to get more into play with instruments, like in Ghosts(the ghosts you draw on my back) sometimes she was really interested in getting rid of electronic things and other times… For us its important to keep an energy going while we are doing it. Never forcing us to do anything. Just always doing what we are interested in at the time. I think we for some reason were more excited about other instruments this time.
QRO: When you are on stage, what are you thinking about?
Orvar: Me and kristin were talking about this yesterday! We remember so well going on stage. I remember going on, I remember very well after, but it goes by and I'm not thinking anything. I dont know whats going on. Its like going to sleep, or starting to dream. Of course its not that way all the time. There was a heckler yesterday and yeah, well that kinda gets you out of the mood. Of course it depends on the mood. But usually Im not very conscious. Theres a very small stage here. Because we have so many instruments its going to be hard to… just to move around. Do bands play here often?
QRO: Yeah, It's pretty intimate here.(I/O – www.epoplife.com) Bands do play often. Aside from the space constraints, what do you prefer for perfoming? A bigger venue or a more intimate setting?
Orvar: I dont prefer either. It just depends on the mood of each place. Like sometimes we play theatres and its been really just not happening as we cant see anyone and everyones so close. But sometimes we play very beautiful theatre and the atmosphere is just right. Same thing with clubs. Sometimes when its a very tight club its just nice to play. But when we are so close to the people and the noise from the bottom and the mood just isnt there. It's very weird cause we played in these… Well in America we havent been playing theatres. In Europe every other day we would play in a very small tiny club and then maybe a day after a big theatre. But thats very good. We are very lucky.
QRO: You mentioned that youve been on tour all summer since april; how has your energy changed since your first american date in Boston? Are you guys getting run down?
Orvar: We all have our own energy levels so people are going up and down. Im in a slump right now, very tired. But the American tour has been much easier then the European tour. We had like two monthes straight Europe. There was almost no days off and at the end of that I was very close to quitting. But its very good now.
QRO: So they are giving you some days off here. Have you been able to see a lot of America? I know you've been here before.
Orvar: Yeah, we see most of it out the car window.
QRO: You guys are driving?
Orvar: Yeah, well we have the bus driving. Sometimes we see more. We went to the beach today. There were some clouds but early was sunny.
QRO: You drove from Orlando to here yesterday which is four hours, not to mention the whole tour. Youve been doing a lot of driving, what do you do to keep yourselves occupied on the bus?
Orvar: Eating, sleeping and eating, listening to music,talking, we do a lot of talking. I wish… Always before tour you think you are going to be very busy; you are going on tour and do a lot of stuff; youre going to do all these things you havent, things you cant put off, but then you never actually do that. You kinda horse and hang around and eat. We have a small portable record player and few of us have been buying tons of records since we came to America because you have so many good records and record shops here and for vinyl, its so different from Europe as theres so many things here and so cheap. We got both old and new stuff. A lot of old Jazz records. We went to this old record shop in New Orleans last… that was the last record shop we bought things. We bought field recordings in Tokyo, a folk album I had never seen before with songs about animals, a piano piece by Bach, then we had some new stuff i like. Joanne ?, The animal collector. They were on tour with us in Europe. Also in America and they will again as they are good friends of ours.
QRO: Does it make a difference in touring when you know the openning bands? or do you prefer to have a different openner each night?
Orvar: Well this tour we are only touring with friends of ours anyways. like the band thats playing with us tonight is very good friends of ours from a long time ago, the guy who actually helped us on our last album is here supporting tonight. The musicians that is with us tonight we get very often involved in the support act so tonight we will all play with the support act as well. But this tour, since April we get new friends with us almost every other week. Its good.
QRO: When you started as a band, did you expect to have a third album? World tours?
Orvar: Didnt actually think about anything. It just happened. I dont think its very healthy to have a lot of plans or expectations. Or plans that you are going somewhere or doing this and that. For this kinda music you just have to let things happen.
QRO: Does your set list change often?
Orvar: Well, it always changes a little bit. but we have been touring with kinda the same like thirteen fourteen songs from the latest album. I think we did maybe nine or ten songs from the last album and forth.
QRO: I've heard you described as atmospheric, or even (giggles) intelligent dance music.
QRO: Yeah, dont ask me where that came from.
Orvar: Intelligent dance music(laughes) yeah i dont know what that means. I always… If I tried to describe us in words I would feel like i was lying.
QRO: With all the political drama going on in this country, how does that change touring here? Does it make it more difficult?
Orvar: I was thinknig about it earlier. I feel it is more different to come to America now. People seem to be very political minded. Even though things seem to be a lot about Bush and Kerry which I think is so far from the issues. I dont see much of difference. I wouldnt know how to vote if I were here. But Im very happy that everywhere you go, all the Americans i talk to think that they are responsible for the politics in their country. Thats something you didnt hear two, three years ago. Thats great. But yeah, going through things like immigration, is very crazy now. They do your fingerprints, they do your eyescans, yes! They do your eyescans, which is kinda crazy.. All of us, we are all in a database with our finger prints and eyescans.
QRO: Oh lord, Thats crazy. Once again. With all the political trouble throughout, does it make you more wary to tour throughout the world?
Orvar: No, maybe its, no it makes us feel like there is more of a reason to tour. You go around and you play music. I think it is more important in a time of drama.