There's a lot of hyperbole thrown about in the music industry, but when I say that the new Storsveit Nix Noltes album is literally the craziest / bonkers / most amazing album I've heard this year be assured that exaggeration is not present.
If I was to say that Storsveit Nix Noltes' album was so good that the tax revenue it created would save the Icelandic economy from ruin, well that would be hyperbole in its most grandiose form.
Yet, while Bjork and Sigur Ros take some down-time from promoting the much vaunted Icelandic music establishment, SNN have ignored the stereotypical Icelandic sound and have tried their hand at Balkan music. The result? A devastatingly beautiful record, that triumphantly furthers the cause of both the Icelandic and Balkan music scene.
So we touched base with three of the eleven member throng and asked them about SNN's humble beginnings and just how exactly do you go about breaking up the established indie Reykjavik scene.
SG: Are all eleven of you from the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik, or are any of you country/rural folk?
Óli (Drums): We come from all over, most from Reykjavík though. Gestur, the guitarist, and Kristin the violinist are from up north. Páll Ivan the bassplayer comes from the east coast, from Austfirðir. We all met in the art school in Reykjavík.
Vardi (Gutiar) Yes. I grew up on the glacier. My parents are from the ancient tribes of the neanderthal people. They were said to have died out, but in fact they migrated to the Icelandic glaciers, where they have lived since, along with the elves and trolls.
SG: How did you discover your interest in music from Bulgaria and the Balkan areas?
Internet, CD-R´s, old records. Access to music is not a problem these
days, it is rather a question of tuning in to what you hear and I guess
Bulgarian/Balkan music was fresh to our ears.
V: Iceland and Bulgaria share the same interests, in having a lot of sheep.There were often pictures of Icelandic sheep in the Bulgarian television, and vice versa, as the agricultural parties of Iceland and Bulgaria were communicating a lot. (Communist Bulgaria actually had two parties, the communist one and the agricultural party). But I first heard the music when we started playing together.
Gestur (guitar): I heard the music and I liked it, it touched some root in me. I was introduced to it through Hilmar Jensson, a jazz guitarist and the godfather of Storsveit Nix Noltes.
SG: Are you surprised that a band of your genre is appealing to the masses from many different cultures?
We really never thought of our music as something that would appeal to
the masses so if it does this is news for us. Surprised, yes indeed.
V: As a composer of extremely eclectic music, I am delighted and honoured. I return your love!
G: I think this music has a double edge to it. Its fast and complex but has those swirling barbaric rhythms and sweet poppy melodies. With a little electricity and experimentality on top of it - its a little something for everybody.
SG: For the first nine of you that started the band it must have been hard to establish the sound that you desired, how do you think you have changed or adapted your music since the birth of Stórsveit Nix Noltes?
In our first shows, we were kind of a dance band, we played for people
to dance to. Then we started playing bigger venues and our sound
changed with that. We have played in all kinds of situations; weddings,
concerts, dance parties, big venues - adaptation is something we are good
V: None of us know for sure. We meet and play together in a room.
G: It's gotten more experimental and has merged more with our musical roots. We are playing it where we come from, not where it comes from.
SG: Since you started touring with huge names such as The Animal Collective in '05 you have been propelled onto the international scene, how does it feel to break-away from your hometown in Iceland?
Its always good to play for new people. The thing is with this band,
that out of eleven members, there are only six living in Reykjavík.
Other members live in Berlin, Holland or New York. So a few of us have been
around the block.
V: I like the outside world. However it's not good to stay too long. After a while I start to miss my people.
SG: 'Royal Family - Divorce' was produced and self-released by yourself, do you think the album benefited from the fact that you self-produced it? If so, will you produce future releases as well?
Ó: Probably, yes. It´s part of the creative process.
V: It was produced by the drummer, and this guy called Orri. It's all recorded on tape, which the sound benefits immensely from. It's amazing how the tape benefits for example the drums. There's just nothing as beautiful as the natural compression that analog tape creates.
G: I think the self-production of 11 different people put a nice variety and chaos factor to it. All possibilities are open.
SG: All eleven songs from your new album are transcriptions from traditional European folk songs, who's idea was this and where did the inspiration come from?
Ó: It´s hard to say who´s idea because we work together as a group. It´s
not really important for us either to know. Although there was one
teacher at art school, Hilmar Jensson the guitarist, who inspired us in
G: As said before the first songs came from Hilmar. Then it just evolved through playing the material. I think everyone heard it it their own way and have felt free to contribute to the sound.
SG: Do you find it a lot easier to captivate audiences from northern and eastern Europe rather than more western countries such as America and the U.K?
We haven´t been fortunate enough to have the chance to play shows in
Eastern Europe - Berlin is about as much east we have been, so it´s
hard to say. People from East Europe probably have their own ideas
about how these songs should sound. But we definitely sensed that the
more West we played, people became increasingly interested. Probably
because to them this music is less known and therefore more fresh.
V: I'd say it's easier in America, 'cause over here (i'm currently living in Brooklyn) our music is more eclectic in a way. The mid-Europians tend to hold themselves back a bit more. Americans are very open and they tell you if they like something.
G: Not at all. Generally people seem to have fun listening to this music.
SG: What other Icelandic bands do you think deserve more recognition?
The people in this band have other projects, that might be cool for
people to listen to as well. There are links on our Myspace.
G: Hljomsveitin Eg is one of my favourites.
SG: Do you ever intend on growing the already mammoth line up you have? Or is eleven members and instruments enough for you?
Ó: As long as there are interesting players there is enough room in the band for everybody.
V: We have 11 people in this band, but the number of elves is uncertain.
G: In the spirit of how its been done people have kind of come out of nowhere and been added to the band. Its not an intended band.
SG: Its two and a half year's since you recorded 'Royal Family – Divorce',
are plans afoot for the next album?
Ó: We are not planing this much ahead, we are still enjoying the fact that this one is out and available to people everywhere.
V: We've got some plans, but it's better to let the actions speak for themselves!
G: There's some stuff laying around but its kind of hard to have band practices with the members scattered around the world. I'm interested, how about you?
And so our email conversation came to a close. Elves aside, SNN have earned the right to be mentioned in the same breath as Animal Collective, Beirut and A Hawk And A Hacksaw. If you haven't had the chance to catch these guys, here is a taster of what to expect. The video is SNN performing 'Krivo Sadovsko Horo' live on Icelandic TV and there's also a stream of 'Wedding Rachenitsa', the opening track of Royal Family - Divorce, a song our reviewer described as "both beautiful and very loud".
Royal Family - Divorce is out now via Fat Cat Records.
Download (Right click save as)
Storsveit Nix Noltes - 'Wedding Rachenitsa'