Eyjafjallajokull. How did you say that it your head? The impressive word refers to the glacier on top of the volcanic mountain (remember the ash cloud?) in Iceland. Understanding the perils of uninformed pronunciation, Icelandic native Eliza Newman, wrote a little song on how to actually pronounce the word. It featured on the Al Jazeera News channel and has since become one of Al Jazeera’s most popular news pieces ever.
But there is far more to Eliza (Geirsdóttir) Newman than chuckling at our pronunciation shortcomings. She plays violin, ukelele and piano, and is also a trained opera singer. Her song; ‘Ukelele Song for You’ was one of the most popular in Iceland in 2009. The tune is about ‘attracting trouble’, ‘broken promises’ and forgiveness. With ukelele strumming and high pitched notes, it’s lighthearted in its sound, contrasting with the seriousness of the topic. This is refreshing and conjures up thoughts for me, of Blue Valentine, and the heartbreak within the love and jovial moments. The uke can be (in a touching folky way) deep! It’s a pleasure to listen to:
Previously Eliza was the lead singer of girl group, Bellatrix and the rock band, Skandinavia. Through Bellatrix, Eliza and Co. released four albums on Björk’s Bad Taste label, signing to Fierce Panda for their fourth album release. They also headlined the Carling Stage at the Reading Festival and co-headlined a tour with Coldplay. These days Eliza is a solo artist and promotes Icelandic female artists by being part of the Trubatrix movement, which encourages gigs and album releases around Iceland.
Illustration by Mina Bach
Could you describe your music? Its beyond words, like touching heaven with your inner ear! Or just a kind of quirky pop style sweet on top but dark underneath muhahaha!….
Do you write your own music? Yes I write all my stuff and have always done , that’s the only way to go.
What is your inspiration?
How do you feel about having one of the most popular songs in Iceland, ‘Ukulele Song For You’?
It feels great , very unexpected and a pleasant surprise. Icelandic people have good taste in music!
You play many instruments and are a trained opera singer, when did you start playing music and singing?
I started playing the violin at seven and studied that until I was 15 then I started a band and didn’t feel like practising violin any more. I started singing the day I started my first band. Never sung a note before then! Later I went on to study opera and I learned the piano, guitar and ukulele on the way.
Illustration by Chloe Cook
What’s you favourite instrument, musical style?
My favourite musical instrument is the harpsichord and the hurdy-gurdy, I really would like to get my hands on those two instruments to play! My favourite musical style is kind of pop rock indie opera classical hip hop and easy listening : )
Could you tell us about your former band, Bellatrix?
Bellatrix was my first band, we were an all girl band and started quite young, got signed and released five albums both in Iceland on Björk‘s Bad Taste Label and later with Fierce Panda in the UK. The music developed from a punk rock sound to electro pop and we did loads of cool stuff like tour the world, headline Reading and do a tour with Coldplay. Fun and games!
Illustration by Avril Kelly
What about Skandinavia?
Skandinavia was my venture into heavy rock! Loads of fun. I was studying opera at the time in London and wanted to do some epic rock music inspired by opera. We recorded an album and did a UK tour and it satisfied my longing to do a heavy rock album, so that box is ticked now!
How does being a solo artist differ from being in a band?
It’s very different because as a solo artist you have to take all the responsibility which is both good and bad. You have no one to blame but yourself haha! You get more freedom to do your own thing as a solo artist but in a band you get more feedback and have to compromise sometimes, both things have their advantages. Having said that, I am very much a band person and enjoy working with others, so I would not rule out joining another band at some point.
Illustration by Chloe Cook
And how is your own music different?
My music is more relaxed then the band stuff I did, I have calmed down quite a bit!
How is the new album in comparison to your last album, Empire Fall (Series 8 Records)?
The new album is more hopeful and has a lighter tone to it with ukuleles, synths and various fun instruments mixing it up. Empire fall was more minimalist and had a darker undertone.
Where do you want to go now in your career?
I would like to go to Japan and play, also keep writing and finding new interesting ways of expressing myself through music, yeah and learn the hurdy-gurdy!
END. Thank you so much Eliza. Helen x
al-jazeera, album, Avril Kelly, Bad Taste Records, Bellatrix, bjork, Blue Valentine, Carling Stage, Chloe Cook, Coldplay, Eliza (Geirsdóttir) Newman, Eliza Newman, Fierce Panda, folk, Helen Martin, iceland, interview, Jenny Lloyd, Lavaland Records, Leeds Festival, london, Mina Bach., music, pop, Reading Festival, Series 8 Records, ukelele
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