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    Sep 27, 2013

A Conversation with Ólöf Arnalds

The  American Swedish Institute is proud to partner with SPCO Liquid Music, the Walker Art Center and Minnesota Public Radio to present: JHEREK BISCHOFF: Composed on Friday, October 18th at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul.   The evening features songwriter, producer, performer and composer Jherek Bischoff  and guest vocalists Sondre Lerche, Ólöf Arnalds, and Poliça’s Channy Leaneagh, alongside a chamber ensemble composed of Twin Cities instrumentalists, Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier, and more.

ASI’s Marketing and Communications Manager, Laura Cederberg, caught up with Icelandic musician Ólöf Arnalds about personal collaborations, navigating the teenage rebellion of cultural identity, and how JHEREK BISCHOFF: Composed offers the opportunity to take risks as an artist.


ASI: How did you get involved with JHEREK BISCHOFF: Composed?  What are you looking forward to most at the Fitzgerald Theater?

ÓA: I met Jherek Bischoff when he came to my concert in Seattle a couple of years ago. He came to a show with very few people but after the show he came up to me and we talked for a really long time. We got along really well and he was telling me about his work with different singers and his arrangements and that he was also a songwriter and it was almost like we planned to do something together at some point. So when he put this together he contacted me and I just remembered him as really amazing character that I connected with really well. I haven’t been to the states since my new record came out so it was a good way of coming over and playing the show. And I’m also playing a show at Le Poisson Rouge in New York on October 13.

ASI: What inspires you in your work?

ÓA: I’m fascinated with people and the dialogue between people and I’m interested in relationships and I think that my inspiration and my writing comes from a very internal place. I compose my music, I compose it in my mind before I even touch the instrument. In my mind, I am constantly writing. I think very often when I’ve had an inspiring conversation with someone or a connection, then I walk home and I have a melody in my mind and it seems that people inspire me a lot. Which in a way is not stereotypical for Iceland. I’m asked a lot if nature inspires me and of course, of course, it does but in a way I feel that it gives me energy and it gives me rest and a sense of freedom but I want to give the feeling to people that they are not alone in some ways.  And for this last record that I made, I always thought that I wanted it to be a record that people could enjoy when they are listening to in solitude, in their home, like a record that’s a good friend.

ASI: Do you have a favorite instrument to perform with or there is an instrument that you’re interested in experimenting more with in future records?

ÓA: I guess that what I’m most excited about now is a project that I’m going to be doing with the Icelandic National Symphony Orchestra next spring – part of the contemporary music festival in Iceland in April. I’m working on a piece with Skúli Sverrisson, he was the producer of the last record of mine. I’ve sung on his records and he’s played on my records and this is the first project that were doing together in a way as co-composers and to have symphony orchestra is amazing, so this is good timing to be doing this project with Jherek because apparently I will not be playing the guitar, I will just sing. Which is something that is new to me. Because in a way, the guitar is like a shield, I don’t know what to do with my hands.

So this is a good way to be, as a singer. In a way, always when I’m asked what my favorite instrument is, then I say it is the voice so there are, there seems to be the projects I’m getting involved with are very much based on this, that I get an opportunity to get to know my voice even better and focus only on it. When you’re playing, your attention is partially split. So that’s the second answer.

ASI: what you’re talking about is exposing yourself as an artist and putting yourself out there much like the whole SPCO Liquid Music series is built to do for both artists and the audience- introduce these musical moments of risk and collaboration and you’re not sure what its completely going to look like. Obviously everyone is completely talented on their own and the idea of what this night will look like is just really cool.

ÓA: I’m excited because I’m a bit difficult when it comes to collaboration.  Its become in later years, a very popular thing to team people together but what I like about Jherek's project is that it is in his name and he gets people working on it. Its not like almost architectural approach when someone who is not an artist is “oh lets combine this person, and this person and see what happens.” What I like about this is the connection comes from a personal acquaintance and a feeling of joint passion for music.

ASI: Do you see yourself as an ambassador of Iceland or do you see yourself more of an individual and that’s just where you’re from?

ÓA: I love that you’re asking this question because I was quite stubborn for a long time that I wanted to separate my artistic output from my nationality but in a way it’s a little bit like when you’re a teenager and  you discovered that your parents aren’t perfect or something. But I think I’ve grown out of it.

I’m starting to appreciate more and more how extremely blessed I am to be from this unique country and so of course, I think it maybe had to do with Iceland's music had such good access to media and sometimes I think its not fair, what about someone that comes from somewhere with millions of people, what about them? I guess I didn’t want to feel like I was cheating because I come from a small country, it’s a bit silly. Of course, [being from Iceland] affects the way I think. The language affects your mind processes. The culture affects how you approach things and people. You can’t escape where you’re from. I feel like I’m becoming a lot more proud of my roots. It was just like a bit like a because I felt like being from Iceland was almost becoming overly cool.

ASI: Collaborating with Björk, she performs on one of your albums, what is that like?

ÓA: Its hard to explain, she’s something else. Our collaboration came about exactly that this thing with Jherek, that there’s a friendship and then the mutual understanding comes first and then you enter the idea of collaborating. But I know a lot of people who are very happy to collaborate with people they’ve never met and they don’t know and I find that really brave.

It’s a big thing to let someone in to your work or it’s a big thing to enter in to someone else’s work. I take collaborating very seriously.

Arnalds latest album Sudden Elevation is available on Amazon and iTunes.

Arnalds will perform in St. Paul on October 18th as part of SPCO Liquid Music and the Walker Art Center's JHEREK BISCHOFF: Composed. Tickets and more information are available at: 

Read ASI's conversation with JHEREK BISCHOFF: Composed guest vocalist Sondre Lerche here.

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