It’s no secret that I have an obsession with Iceland. Probably because it was the first country I traveled to outside of the U.S. It’s almost become a barometer when I travel abroad. To say that it is a magical and unique place is quite the understatement. Apart from the mainstream acts like Björk and Sigur Rós, the country does have quite the music scene that really needs to be recognized.
I first met Gunnar on my trip to Iceland almost 9 years ago (whoa). We listened to his band, Coral play on the streets of Reykjavik. A noise rock fest in the vein of Nirvana, Mudhoney, and just a little bit of a Radiohead. Needless to say we kept in contact and I had the pleasure of catching more of his music live in 2010 when I made a return trip to the cozy country. Since then Gunnar has been involved in many musical projects. Just this past March he released two solo EP’s, Binary Babies EP and Disillusion Demos, which I’ve had on heavy rotation for weeks now. In true DIY spirit of music, I caught up with him to ask about his musical influences, how it is going solo, and just why he loves his country so much.
LB: Introduce yourself. How did you get started in the music scene in Iceland?
GJ: My name is Gunnar Jónsson, I’m twenty-seven years old and I make music. I started playing when I was a child, my parents were really into classical music so they made me go to music school to learn to play the recorder (those cheap plastic flutes) and then the clarinet. Well, they didn’t really make me, I remember hearing Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf at age six and loving it to death and wanting to play the clarinet. Peter and the Wolf is a symphony written for children with the aim of introducing them to all the main instruments, it worked like a charm on me.
I played the clarinet until I was twelve and then I rebelled like a motherfucker. I had grown quite frustrated with the clarinet at that point, I wanted to play Nirvana songs, and thats just impossible to pull off on the clarinet (which might be the least “grunge” of all the instruments). So I bought a guitar and learned how to play all the Nirvana songs through tablature (or TABS). Things started happening after that. I started a rock band called Coral (not to be confused with the English band The Coral) and we actually got pretty lucky, we got invited to open up for some notorious Icelandic punk bands at real clubs when we were about fourteen and then me made a very cheap record that actually did alright. I didn’t make much money but it didn’t matter at all. I was hooked on music.
LB: Was it adjustment from being in a band to a solo project?
GJ: Very much so, but it was a happy adjustment in the sense that I only had to adjust to being able to to whatever I wanted, in the way that I wanted. Bands can be so exhausting sometimes what with all their diplomacy and weird-ass drummers and such, so I was happy to be programming my own beats and calling all the shots and basically not having to deal with anyone. The flip-side, of course, is that you’re alone in trying to get the music out there and making things work, which can be difficult. But these two EPs I made, “Binary Babies EP” and “Disillusion Demos EP,” I’m really happy with them, and that just makes everything easier from a psychological standpoint.
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LB: It seems you have many musical influences. Who are your top 5?
GJ: Well, Nirvana got it all started for me, and I actually still love them to death, so I’d have to include them. But I’ve also been tremendously influenced by the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Neil Young, Aphex Twin and Brian Eno. I’ve always been really into pop, and since I couldn’t play pop with my band it became a kind of obsession: to mix electronic music with pop music and not be afraid of writing honest lyrics about love and loneliness and all that.
LB: What’s the best thing about Iceland?
GJ: I don’t want to sound like a nationalistic douche-bag, but there are so many things I love about Iceland. The summers are crazy, the sun hardly sets in June so it’s like everyone is on speed, just really hopped up on sunlight, drinking away. The summers are a great time to visit Iceland if you want to party. But then I just like how small Iceland is, everybody knows one another, especially the musicians. So borrowing gear is real easy and all these ideas cross-pollinate. Also, the swimming pools are really luxurious and cozy. It’s like a very cheap spa and you always meet interesting people in the hot tubs.
LB: Describe the writing process of the Binary Babies EP.
GJ: I wrote most of those songs after listening to nothing but Aphex Twin and Brian Eno for about two years. Ambient music is really underrated if you ask me, and I just wanted to delve into it. I was also teaching myself how to program beats at that point, so I was using a lot of electronic music software, mostly this little-known program called Renoise, which a lot of people find confusing and ugly but I’m love with it. Also, with that EP I just wanted to do something really other-worldly and subdued to the point of being almost formless.
LB: If you could play a show with any band, who would it be?
GJ: Would I be sharing a bill with the band or actually playing as a member of the band? It would be nice to open for My Bloody Valentine, just to be able to see their show. But you know what, I’d probably most like to jam with the Jimi Hendrix Experience at the Monterey Pop festival in 1967. It was such a beautiful and legendary show. I’d drug Noel Redding and step in on bass duties. The perfect crime.
LB: What’s next for you?
GJ: Well, I just released the two EPs independently in Iceland last month, so I’m now working on getting either one of them released overseas. Just five minutes ago I received an email from someone who’s willing to distribute the Binary Babies EP. But I really don’t know what’s gonna happen. This business is so uncertain and people mostly steal music nowadays. Maybe I’ll just end up putting it up on some torrent site for free. Basically the plan is to use the EPs to get my name out there and then to start recording a full length solo album this summer. I’m also playing with a shit-load of bands in Iceland and that slows me down a bit, I’m doing another two EPs of electronic music with two of my friends under the name DMG, that’s like super fast and difficult electronic music. I’m also working on a full length album with indie pop/folk band 1860 that’s gonna be released this summer. I play the bass there and to be honest, that’s the band most likely to make me any money. Gunnar Jónsson Collider is about doing art for art’s sake, so if I don’t make any money and this will be my last interview: Fuck it! I enjoyed myself.
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