Solsatfir @ Strom, Munich, Germany
SOLSTAFIR / Sahg / Obsidian Kingdom
in Friday, 7 November 2014 at Strom
by Erika Kuenstler
After the release of yet another spellbinding album “Ótta”, and with this being SÓLSTAFIR’s first headlining show in Munich, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity of catching them live when they passed through. Clearly I wasn’t the exception, with the show being completely sold out, despite it starting so late and it falling on a week night.
Half an hour before the show was scheduled to start, a massive horde of people were already milling around outside, waiting in line to get in, whilst the strains of the first band’s songs drifted out from the venue. Opening up was none other than OBSIDIAN KINGDOM, a Progressive Extreme Metal band from Spain. Playing dark, experimental, and hypnotising music, the amount of energy that this band put into their performance was astounding: leaping around the stage, sweat flying everywhere, OBSIDIAN KINGDOM poured out everything they had into the show. Having remixed much of their full-length album “Mantiis – An Agony in Fourteen Bites” for their second album “Torn & Burnt - The Mantiis Remixes”, the set list contained mesmerising melodies form both releases. Ending their performance sprawled over the stage in varying states of collapse, they nevertheless exited in the triumph of a show well played.
1. And Then It Was (Remix)
2. Last of the Light
3. Genteel to Mention
4. Awake Until Dawn
5. Cinnamon Balls
6. Endless Wall
7. Fingers in Anguish
9. And Then It Was
Picking up where OBSIDIAN KINGDOM left off, the penultimate spot was filled by SAHG, a Norwegian Doom Metal band. One of the most notable things about the performance was the drummer Thomas: coupled with the excellent drum work was impeccable tempo. Shattering a drumstick half way through the performance, he managed to toss the broken drumstick to a fan, reach for a new stick, and carry on playing in one fluid motion in which he missed nary a beat. Also amusing was vocalist and guitarist Olav; sweating profusely, used his drenched forehead as a holder for his plectrum when he didn’t need it. Speaking to fans after the show, some were slightly disappointed that SAHG had not played more songs from their 2013 album “Delusions of Grandeur”, with roughly a third of their setlist stemming from that album, and the other two thirds coming from SAHG’s first three albums. Nevertheless, this was a very good performance that paved the way for the headliners of the night, SÓLSTAFIR.
1. Slip Off the Edge of the Universe
3. Hollow Mountain
7. Godless Faith
8. Echoes Ring Forever
Finally it was the moment everyone had been waiting for, the well-known yet eccentric Icelandic band SÓLSTAFIR. Appearing on stage dressed like cowboys straight out of some spaghetti western, they launched straight into the show without much ado. Starting out with “Köld”, SÓLSTAFIR worked through all of the favourites, much to everyone’s great pleasure. The audience clearly loved the performance: half of them stood watching SÓLSTAFIR with rapt attention, whilst the other half of the crowd had their eyes closed, blissfully swaying in time to the harmonies that came pouring off the stage. Ending the night off officially with “Svartir Sandar”, SÓLSTAFIR’s exit from the stage was followed by vociferous cheers and calls for an encore. When frontman Addi asked the crowd what they wanted, some discerning member of the audience responded with “your guitar”, prompting him to show the crowd his stunning Flying V guitar with its beautiful carved body and rune-like inscriptions which had been custom-made for him in Iceland. Nevertheless, failing to get this, the crowd still gladly settled for an encore of “Fjara” and “Goddess of the Ages”. All in all, a memorable night despite the slightly fuzzy sound that the venue is known for having.
5. Þín Orð
8. Svartir Sandar
10. Goddess of the Ages
Before the show kicked off, I had the opportunity to chat with Addi (Aðalbjörn), the vocalist and guitarist of SÓLSTAFIR. Charismatic and witty, overlaid with a hint of cynicism, Addi had much to say about on touring, the new album “Ótta”, and the adventures involved in the making of the music video for “Lágnætti”.
So SÓLSTAFIR have just launched on a twenty day tour. How is that going so far?
Well, it’s more like a 60 day tour. We did a week in the UK, then we have three weeks on the mainland, and then we fly straight to America and have three weeks there. So with all this travelling, we are away from home for two months.
Are there any highlights or places you’re particularly looking forward to?
It’s always very exciting to go to places you’ve been to, for example Berlin. Berlin has always been very special. Outside of Helsinki, Berlin is the city we’ve most often played in. We have many friends there, and that’s going to be interesting. It’s a sold-out gig, our first headline tour. Another highlight was Glasgow, I used to live there. And then of course there is America. We did a US tour in May this year on the East Coast, and now we’re going the Mid-West and the West Coast. We’re also going to New Mexico, so that’s going to be interesting, it’ll be like an adventure. We’re used to driving around in buses in Central Europe, so a lot of interesting adventures coming up.
If you could play anywhere in the world where you’ve never played before, where would you choose?
North of Greenland. I’ve been to Greenland a few times, it’s only about two and a half hours by plane from Iceland, but it’s like the old footage of Afghanistan on TV, with military helicopters. It’s like traveling back in time to Afghanistan covered in ice. It’s a desert with nothing. It’s a wilderness that is close to Iceland, but really far away somehow.
By the way, congratulations on your new album “Ótta”. It’s quite different for SÓLSTAFIR thanks to the string section and the softer vocals. How have people responded to that?
Very well. We always knew we would use string sections sooner or later, but we hadn’t done it before. We had plans to use the same girls, the band AMINA, for the “Svartir Sandar” album, but it just didn’t happen. So now we wrote eight songs, and we got them to come to the studio and did some pre-production strings. Then they came in and did some improvisations, so it was like just go with the flow. We had no idea what was going to happen. With the vocals, we started with total extreme screaming. I never sang at rehearsals when we started, I just came to the studio and screamed my lungs out. It wasn’t until about 2003 or 2004 that I started trying to sing, and then we became more of a live band, so I had to perform live. You get tired of screaming. It’s like baking a cake: you bake a nice cake and in the end you put some nice cream and cherries on top of it, make it look nice. So when you write a song, you put something on top of the song, like a cool vocal line. And the cool vocal line is the one that’s more heartfelt, something you mean. And we do it in Icelandic, so it’s even more non-filtered expression. It just comes naturally, and there could be nothing else there now. Screaming would have just ruined the album. I’ve done so much screaming, I think I have like a doctor’s degree in screaming! I even used to write lyrics in screaming, just screaming my lungs out and seeing what came out, and I would write it down, yelling out all thoughts. I called it “Literature structure through screaming”.
Sounds like you could give Melissa Cross a run for her money!
Yeah, but it would be quite painful!
How does the concept of naming each of the songs on “Ótta” after one of the ancient Icelandic time divisions tie into the music and the lyrics?
This is a really old time concept, no one really knows it. It was from before people had watches, so they used to follow the sun. Our guitar player brought this idea up, and we thought it was insane. Like “what? We’re not going to have any normal titles then?” But it’s old, cool Icelandic titles. And it’s sort of custom designed for an album: it’s eight songs, it can be a life-span, it can be 24 hour day, and each part can have its own story. So we wrote the songs, then decided what song is going to be what, and then we knew what the songs were going to be called. We couldn’t control that, we just put a sticker on them. Then we wrote lyrics to this, so the lyrics came the last. So the lyrics are not really holding hands with the titles. It was all so ready. We even made t-shirts. We call it the Eyktagram, because the whole timetable is called “Eykt”. We even wanted to name the album “Eykt” but we couldn’t. Ha-ha, I’ve never said this in an interview before, but there’s a huge construction company called “Eykt”, so we couldn’t just call our album that. It would be like calling it “Texaco” or something!
Do you have a favourite song on the album?
Some of the songs are really difficult. In the beginning of December, we had been writing this album, and I broke up with my girlfriend who I’d been with for a few years, I quit drinking, and moved out of my house and moved into the studio for two months. And then with writing the lyrics, it was quite a fucked up time. So the first song is really personal. I would say the first song, so “Lágnætti”, and the piano song, number seven, “Miðaftann”. That was really difficult. It was the last song I sang, we had moved everything out of the studio, and I’d been trying to sing it for weeks.
Speaking about “Lágnætti”, is there any particular message behind the music video for it?
No, it’s just artistic expression, there’s no message in burning a piano. It’s very visual, and connected to Rock’n’Roll, and it’s just fucking cool to burn a piano! Ha-ha, and playing a burning piano is even cooler! This piano was in a living room on Main Street downtown Reykjavík on the fourth floor. So we paid some guys to take it down and take it to the cargo company and ship it to the West fjords. Then we came there, and I was driving this forklift with the piano, and we put it on a cart and drove it down a gravel road at about 30 miles per hour because they’re really bad roads, then we had to take it down to the beach. It weighs 400 kilos, and it was just ourselves pulling the piano! We like doing stuff like that. We like making albums. It’s all about creativity. There’s no message. There are arguments on YouTube about what happens in the “Fjara” video. “I think the girl killed herself” “I think she killed her husband”. We’re never going to tell what happens in these videos, it’s up to you to decide for yourself.
Ha-ha, that’s a funny mental image of you guys dragging the piano like she was dragging the coffin!
Yeah, but what are we going to do? You’re not going to see a video of us playing in a warehouse with our shirts off. We’re not that sort of band.
Some bands, say for example PRIMORDIAL, say that their heritage and national identity greatly influences their music. Would you say the same is true of SÓLSTAFIR?
I’d say it’s more like we are who we are. We come from there, and we can’t do anything about it. I could tell you that we are doing this because of that, but I don’t have to. Of course we are influenced by all of that: we sound like we’re from Iceland. We don’t sound like we’re from Russia, we don’t sound like we’re from Texas, and we don’t sound like we’re from Poland. BLACK SABBATH sound like they’re from Birmingham. I could talk about the volcanoes and the water, but why would I do that?
My final question, being with the band since 1995, you’ve gained a lot of experience. What advice would you give to young musicians who look up to you?
Quit while you still can.
I’ve never heard that one before! Why do you say that?
It’s funny, if you listen to AC/DC, there’s an album “Powerage”. Listen to the song “Down Payment Blues”, I believe it’s the first or second song on that album. That’s really written by Scott in the seventies, and that’s exactly how my life is today. He says “I got myself a Cadillac, but I can't afford the gasoline”. I had an American Dodge, I couldn’t afford the gasoline. “Sheriff knocking on my door”: I’m getting lawyers’ bills. It doesn’t pay. If you really want to do this, really really really, then do it, because then you’d just be lying to yourself. But in reality, it’s going to be a lot of missing birthdays, a lot of angry wives, disappointed parents, you’re not going to get rich off this. You’re most likely going to end up with a drug problem or alcohol trouble and chain-smoke cigarettes. It’s going to happen if you’re in a touring band. So quit while you can. I can’t quit, there’s no turning back for me, I can’t.
That’s something to definitely think about. Well, thank you for answering my questions, and all the best for tonight’s show.
You’re welcome! I hope you enjoy the show.