Ólöf Arnalds discusses her background, Innundir skinni and television

Categories: Concerts, Profiles

One Little Indian
British music magazine MOJO referred to Ólöf Arnalds (due tonight at the Ogden Theatre with Blonde Redhead) as "Reykjavic's answer to Kate Bush," which is fair enough considering Arnalds' gorgeously otherworldly singing and penchant for writing songs that cannot be linked directly to any particular musical genre other than the all encompassing "popular music."

Arnalds grew up learning to perform classical music, but in the small community of musicians in a small country like Iceland, she unintentionally became friends with most of the luminaries of Icelandic popular music: She joined Múm in 2003 and has since toured widely with that band. In 2007 she released her first solo album, Viõ Og Viõ to critical acclaim.

In September 2010, Arnalds released the follow up, Innundir Skinni. While some might call Arnalds' music "experimental," it seems so by default and the combination of innocence and artistic sophistication heard on both her albums is what sets her apart from many artists, who, at least superficially, are using similar elements in their songwriting. In advance of her show this evening with Blonde Redhead, we spoke with the vivacious and friendly Arnalds about her background in music, the new record and how television around the world is a constant source of amusement.

Westword: You have extensive classical training. How did you get interested and involved in making the kind of music you've been known for since you joined Múm?

Ólöf Arnalds: I'm self-taught on guitar, so that sort of brought me into playing a lot of popular music, even though I'm classically trained. I was also not very connected with recent music, so I was always very much relying on my ears. So I got a lot of ear training and following music through that. That's partly the reason for me to go in that direction. It's also because I was always involved in creative projects and making music myself. I don't make that much of a distinction between popular music and classical -- for me, music is just music.

How did you join Múm, and what was it like working with Kristin Anna Valtysdottir?

I loved working with Kristin Anna. We really connected on stage, and we're really dear friends, and we have a great relationship. There were not tryouts to join that band. All my collaborations have come through friendships and shared enthusiasms in seeing music, and that's how I started playing with Múm. They were my friends, and I could play instruments, and they needed someone to play.

Why did you go with a more traditional style of music for your first solo album?

When I go into writing music or recording it, I don't really go in with any pre-decided idea for styles, because I don't really see making music as an act of putting together elements. It's a very intuitive process for me. So I think it's hard for me to answer that question because these songs came to me as they are and were recorded as I wrote them. That was sort of the idea -- to keep it close to how it came out of me.

What instrument do you feel most comfortable playing?

I sort of consider my voice my main instrument because I feel I'm most connected to my voice, and I feel like I have more control over it than I do over any instrument that I play. When I get asked that question, I say my voice is my favorite instrument, and that it's the most important to me.

How did you get interested in playing the charango?

It's kind of funny: My friend Skúli Sverisson, I was playing in his music, and in one of his songs, I was playing a koto harp. Then we had to travel to play, and it was kind of hard to bring the koto harp also. So he brought a charango to a concert that we played in Belgium. I just tuned it and started playing it, and then I started playing songs on it, and I still haven't returned it.

What is the significance of the title Innundir skinni?

It means "within skin" or "under the skin" or "inside the skin." When I was first working on the record I had a working title, and I didn't like the title anymore, so I chose from one of the song titles, and I thought that title had a pretty sound to it, and it can be understood in English, in a way, because "skin" is the same word and "in" has the same meaning in both languages.

Being from Iceland, is there anything resembling a music scene or a musical community as we might know it in the USA, and if so, what is it like?

I'd say that the Icelandic community of musicians is very small, so that people that come from different backgrounds easily get into collaborations. People help each other out with gear and recording and stuff like that. It's a very open scene in that way. But at the same time, it's also protected in many ways. When you go out on your own two feet in the rest of the world, it's not as easy as it seems.

How did you get Bjork to contribute to your album, and what was it like working with her?

Basically, what happened was that I, because we are friends, I took my record to her during the mixing process just to ask her what she thought about the mixes. Then she got an idea for a part for a song and said, "Look, I can record it and send it to you, and you can use it any way you want. You can edit it, and you can do what you want with it." So I said, "Yeah! Let's hear it." She recorded it, sent it to me and I decided to leave it as she did it and didn't edit it in any way. That was very generous of her to offer that to me.

Location Info


Ogden Theatre

935 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, CO

Category: Music

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