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Hjaltalín – Interview

Yet another brilliant band from Iceland, this time the wonderfully orchestral Hjaltalín

Written by Ian Steadman

Iceland’s Hjaltalín are one of the many groups from the island nation currently building up a fair bit of buzz – their first album, Sleepdrunk Sessions, was hailed by many for its large, expansive sound featuring what sounded like a whole orchestra at times. Some even compared their sound to Arcade Fire soundtracking a Bond film. I had a chat with their bassoonist, Rebekka Bryndís, about the band as they prepare to release their second album, Terminal.


Can you start off by explaining how the band works together. How do you write your songs?

Our lead singer writes most of the songs. He comes up with an idea or writes something and then they kind of evolve into the full songs through teamwork. And then also some came about from playing with the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra.

Are you guys classically trained to use your instruments?

Yep, most of us are.

So then you come to this with quite a detailed knowledge of music theory, I imagine? You have a very interesting orchestral sound, especially on the latest album [Terminal]. How does it differ from your first album [Sleepdrunk Sessions]?

It’s very different from the first album. The first album came about, pretty much, because it was supposed to be an EP but it then evolved into an LP. It’s all quite different with Terminal, because we’re all touring a lot and so the songs have changed a lot, within the band, and when we decided to record the songs most of them we recorded in one big session with a chamber orchestra so it had that live sound. Not all of the songs were recorded that way, but most of them.

Recorded quite organically then?

Yes, it was.

I can hear a lot of influence from film soundtracks and composers like Ennio Morricone in your music – are those big influences on your sound?

Yes, true…

Were you trying to record something that sounded like a soundtrack to something, in a way?

Uh… Not really! [laughs] It just kind of turned out that way. We wanted to do a wide sound, really. Lots of things going on.

Have you ever done a film soundtrack?

We have! It was for this black and white film, I believe it was the first film that was ever made in Iceland, made by some Danish peeps, called Saga Borgarættarinnar.

What’s it like to record a real film soundtrack, compared to a normal album?

We played it live, actually, for a film festival, the Reykjavik International Film Festival, and we played live in front of an audience alongside the film. It was a lot of work… We were told that the movie was two hours but when we got the DVDs it was something like four and a half hours, so we just did the first half of the story… It was interesting.

It was a different creative process?

Definitely. We’d just hang out at the rehearsing spaces and just come up with stuff, but after our sessions this guy called Ben Frost – he’s this minimal electronic artist – he performed with us and we had a few recordings that were really cool, for Wonderbrass…


Wonderbrass, it’s the jazz group…

Ah, not the brassiere company.

No [laughs], that’s kind of the joke, I think… But yeah, Ben Frost performed with us, it was like a collective.

Does that happen a lot with you guys? Other artists coming in to help you?

Uh, no… Well, we do have other artists coming in to help us sometimes, but they’re not any part of the group.

But you might be in the studio and someone will stroll by and help put down a guitar track or something?

Yeah, yeah, people do come in and help with stuff.

That’s my impression of the music scene in Iceland – that it’s all like a close-knit, family community sort of thing. Is that what’s it’s like?

Most people, if they don’t know each other, they know of each other – they’ll recognise each other in the street. I guess it’s safe to say that there’s almost cliques that form? But not in a bad way, there are just circles of people who are really friendly and helpful.

Where are you going from here, then?

This summer we’ve got some festivals going on here, and we’ve got this big thing with the National Symphony Orchestra here so we’re here for that…

I imagine it’s quite hard to get them on tour with you.

[laughs] Yeah, yes. That’s a difficult thing. Uh, yeah, there’s also a big tour in September, going across Europe, with Germany in July at the start I think. It’s a busy summer.

What’s going to be the first single off the album?

‘Abroad’? I think… we haven’t really discussed it yet. All the songs are so different!


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