….In international terms, this 40 minutes of mayhem was like the Icelandic Bob Dylan flanked by the local Foo Fighters. Megas is a genuine hard-living legend, whose declamatory singing and blunt dissection of Icelandic life – a strange brew of poetic drive, supernatural faith and historically strict religious and social conservatism – cleared the ice in the Seventies and early Eighties for the country’s avant-punk revolt. (Future members of the Sugarcubes played on some of his biggest and best albums.) The rowdy septet Grísalapplisa, a breakout from 2013’s Airwaves, carry Megas’ legacy and aggression in their bones; they recently cut a tribute single, covering two of his songs.
This show was, if you know Icelandic, all hits. If you don’t, it was gripping anarchy: the thin, grizzly Megas barking his lyrics like Lawrence Ferlinghetti surrounded by a jubilant, hammering band, actually closer to a Fifties-boogie version of Public Image Ltd. Songs ended as if hitting a brick wall; the sound bouncing back to the stage, from the crowd, was pure love.”
“It takes awhile to get the hang of pronouncing the name. But Grisalappalisa (it comes from a song by the Icelandic Dylan, Megas) were a frenetic revelation in the packed, upstairs room at Gamli Guakurinn. The seven-piece band has roots in a Next Big Local Thing of a few years ago, punk-poppers Jakobínarína. That group’s singer and drummer, Gunnar Ragnarsoon and Sigurdur Möller Siversten, are now the front and back engines in Grisalappalisa, an eccentric, gripping charge of hardcore verve, R&B grounding and avant-garage challenge – the last especially in the contrapuntal bite of the two guitars and the tenor saxophonist’s Roxy Music-like honk’n’smears. Ragnarsson’s exchanges with second singer Baldur Baldursson reminded me, alternately of the Sugarcubes and the front line in Linkin Park, except the rhythms were firm and tribal, like Can, when they weren’t coming at Hüsker Dü velocity. Grisalappalisa’s debut album on the 12 Tonar label, Ali, is about a boy-girl relationship that goes right, then wrong, then back, with each song. My affair with this dynamite starts here.”
“…The night’s discovery was a local band balled Grísalappalísa. Some members of the band have enjoyed moderate success with other bands, most notably Jakóbínarína. They have generated a lot of talk as the band to see in Iceland lately, and this was my first opportunity. They start with a lot of bravado, and continue to build on that for the remainder of their set. This is angst ridden post-punk, infused with poetry, and the occasional saxophone solo that incited the first mosh pit of the evening. I loved them.”
Morgunbladid; 01.11.13 – Words by Davíð Már Stefánsson:
“Emerging upstairs at Faktorý for the Grísalappalísa album release concert was like entering a man cave: hazy lights, musky smells and low growls issued from the front of the room. The scene was overwhelmingly male.
The lack of females was surprising since vocalists Gunnar Ragnarsson and Baldur Baldursson are regulation Icelandic hotties. But don’t let the sweet-faced baby photo on the cover of Grísalappalísa’s ‘ALI’ album fool you; this is angry music.
As the sound began to swell, I realised that just as females often berate males to share their feelings but turn heel as soon as they unleash their inner demons, there are few women who tolerate angsty discordant shouting about some chick named Lísa. Luckily for the all-male band, a few female attendees were clearly willing to sooth their masculine woes.
All The Rage Grísalappalísa by Magnús Andersen 2
The primal shouts and percussion started raging and a wave of caveman energy surged through the crowd, polished by the ‘80s style backing featuring a nonchalant saxophone. Young men pulsed to the beat, as if it were their lifeblood.
Even to a non-native speaker it was obvious the Icelandic lyrics spoke to these men on a deep emotional level or at least a deeply drunken one. Chants of “Grísa! Lappa! Lísa!” rose up periodically and whipped the crowd into a testosterone-fuelled frenzy.
At one point a man stuck his hand into the speakers in an attempt to connect with the music quite literally. He wore a pimp style fur coat and a fedora. When he wasn’t sloshing his gin and tonics over his neighbours he held up a burning joint to the band like a ritualistic offering.
A bare-chested man held his torn shirt in his hands and thrashed to the music, while Gunnar and Baldur looked crisp in contrasting black and white ensembles: white tuxedo shirt and skinny jeans versus black sparkles and suspenders. Grísalappalísa consists of effortlessly stylish men, emanating equal parts rage and charisma.
All The Rage Grísalappalísa by Magnús Andersen 3
In between jumping up and down and sneering on stage, Gunnar would enter the crowd, which rush to meet him. His style as a front man was more jovially insane than Baldur, who brooded darkly in the background. The two represent a nuanced yin and yang of apathy and conviction reflected in the music.
The songs blended well from one to the next and when I wasn’t edging away from the mini-mosh pit or the half-hearted crowd surfers, it was easy to embrace the orchestrated chaos. The concert ended with a defiant feedback loop that lost its effect when the band obligingly returned to the stage for a final bow at the crowd’s behest.
Although I could not personally reap the group therapy rewards of affirming my own masculine crisis, the Grísalappalísa experience is one I will not soon forget. Playfully transgressive and aggressive, Grísalappalísa live is all the rage.”
Reviews in Icelandic concerning our sophomore album “Rökrétt framhald”:
“On Grísalappalísa’s debut album ‘Ali’, there’s a line in “Lóan er komin” where singer Baldur Baldursson growls, “Thoroughly thought out/Much practiced/Stolen from here or there/Don’t expect that I take responsibility or remember where it came from” (translation mine). As a lyric-asM.O., it pretty much declares the band’s ethos as pop-art postmodern rockers. While many local acts try to retain a pastiche of purity in intent and form, Grísalappalísa pick and choose musical styles and clichés as they please, retaining a high level of camp and piss-taking that hides an acerbic centre. Grísalappalísa, like many Icelandic acts, hold a dear love for the music of the past, a love evident in their 7” series of covers of Icelandic musical totems such as Megas and Stuðmenn. But while ‘Ali’ had a distinctly post-punk framework, ‘Rökrétt framhald’ sees Grísalappalísa travelling further back into the past of rock’s back pages. The opening salvo of “Sambýlismannablús” and “Allt má (má út) II: Íslands er lag” sees the strident, fingerjabbing intensity replaced by a loose, glam groove as they morph into what can effectively be described as Roxy Music jamming with Can while drunk on Brennivín. Meanwhile, the sleazy Benzedrine stomp of “ABC” recalls the likes of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. The album’s production also displays a growing evolution of their sound from the rawness of ‘Ali.’ The recording/production work of guitarist Albert Finnbogason reveals a lot of deft touches and overdubs, including a guitar chop on “Tík” and a cheering crowd of children and jungle sounds on “Þurz.” They also break out the string sections to good effect on “Flýja” and “Sá mig í spegli (Káinn).”
While ‘Ali’ was a concept album of morbid fetishism and self-obsession centered around a woman named Lísa, the lyrical themes of ‘Rökrétt framhald’ are a more diffused, personal affair. Songs about the odd-couple relationship with your flatmate (“Sambýlismannablús”), thinking about love and lust while kneading pizza dough (“Tík”) and paying attention to the life lessons your parents gave you (“Þurz”) are meshed with lyrical references to old Icelandic songs, such as Súkkat’s “Vont en það venst” and “Nóttin.” But there is a strong swell of bitterness and exhaustion lurking underneath the musical energy. On “Allt má (má út) II: Íslands er lag,” Gunnar Ragnarsson mews, “I drink the moonshine/Sleep in and ‘snooze’ the problem/ What’s so exciting on the other side of life/ Is it the blue expanse?” (translation mine). On “Vonin blíð,” Gunnar daydreams of a fantasy scenario of tropical climbs and “Campari sunsets” with a loved one, but feels uneasy at the realisation that this love has been lost for good. And “Melankólía” is a song that does what it says on the tin, a dirge of torpor where the unhappiness is embellished by a rickety tune performed by the band swapping their instruments. By the time we reach “Sá mig í spegli (Káinn)” with an emotional coda provided by the 19th Century poet Káinn, the mood has spiralled from exuberance to a curdled downer.
‘Rökrétt framhald’ is an album that sees Grísalappalísa’s wannabe street toughs graduate from young party boys to louche self-consciousness, the musical strutting, glitter and smeared make-up covering a romantic gloom and weary pallor. It’s a road in pop and rock history that has been well travelled (see that Roxy Music comparison again), yet is still relevant to many introspective twenty-somethings who find the good times beginning to pale.
As such, on the first listen, ‘Rökrétt framhald’ doesn’t have the bluff and bluster of Grísalappalísa’s debut album, which may cause you to think that they’ve run out of steam. But it requires several listens for the little depths to be pondered and savoured. It needs to grow on you for its true colours to be revealed. And while the incessant hype train of Iceland’s culture industry may have moved on to other fresh meat, these guys are going to be around for a long while yet.”
“Grísalappalísa: ALI – A new voice has emerged in Icelandic rock—it is loud, angry, literate and groovy.”
Grísalappalísa’s debut LP is a romper stomper of an album, a high-pitched scream of youthful existential male angst meditated through grooves, riffs and words. They lay it out sonically and lyrically in the opening song, aptly titled “Kraut í G” (a reference to krautrock and “Pop Song in G major”—a classic Icelandic pop hit). Starting with a motorik drum thump and angular guitar noises, a mood of anxiety is built before the desperate narrator screams into the void: “Infinite apartment blocks, infinite cars, infinite closed gates. How, how, how can I reach you?” A story slowly unravels through the course of the album, the tale of the narrator’s muse, object of obsession and, quite possibly, stalking material—a girl called Lísa. He describes seeing a light in her window and champagne glasses on the table but no one answering the doorbell.
Vocalists Gunnar Ragnarsson and Baldur Baldursson don’t sing as much as scream, rant, yelp and blurt out the lyrics, in exceptional Icelandic. Full of clever wordplay they are literate, yet trashy, poetic in a raw and unsophisticated way. You can hear traces of Megas (the band takes their name from one of his songs) and Einar Örn Benediktsson in the words, and a bit of David Byrne’s herky-jerky delivery and Ian Curtis’s detached baritone in the vocal performances.
The subject matter is a young man’s journey through his consciousness and Reykjavík nightlife, fraught with danger, self-doubt, desperation and illusions of sanity. A loose thread is the girl Lísa—who he yearns for and wants to be like—and who seems to be more like an ideal than an actual person. He numbs himself with alcohol and nights out on numerous occasions, as in “Allt má (má út)” (“Everything Is Allowed (Allowed To Be Erased).” The journey is chock full of references, from Jesus to Elvis to Icelandic national heritage.
The musical backing is an expertly produced rollercoaster ride of funky punk, krautrock and psychedelic slow jams. The bass is jogging, the guitars sting and come at you from unexpected directions and drums pound your inner ear with the force of a man-machine. Aside from the traditional rock instruments, they also have a saxophone player, which lifts songs like Skr‡tin birta (“Strange Lighting”) and Fjallkirkjan (“Mountain Church”) to another level. You can hear strains of Gang of Four’s nervy post punk in “Lóan er komin” (“The Plover Has Arrived”) and the grinding beat of Neu! in Kraut í G. The music sometimes underlines the unease of the words and at other times contradicts it, as in “Hver er ég” (“Who Am I?”), where Gunnar cheerfully yells: “I’m going to commit suicide! But fall asleep with the knife as usual!” to a backdrop of twee female backing singers’ lalala’s.
The band comes through as a fully formed entity on the album, a group that has studied their influences and has a clear direction. But it’s the lyrics that make them stand outside and above the box. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard such depth in discussion on the young male condition, and as much playfulness with the Icelandic language in rock music. Consider the scene stormed.”
Morgunbladid; 14.08.13 – Words by Árni Matthíasson. Rating ✮✮✮✮✮:
Grísalappalísa – Iceland’s Instant Wonder Band
“It’s rare for an totally developed debut album to turn up out of the blue. It’s even more rare for one to turn up which bears no relation to anything else around. And to compound these twin delights, it’s more than rare for it actually to be good.
Grísalappalísa’s Ali, released last month, is this thing.
From Reykjavík, Grísalappalísa are and aren’t easy to get a handle on. Aren’t because the album is entirely in Icelandic. Are because their direct, forcefully delivered music has detectable roots.
The band have been going less than a year and are fronted by two singers (shades of Sugarcubes): Gunnar Ragnarsson and Baldur Baldursson. Ragnarsson used to be in Jakóbínarína and Baldursson is known as a poet. Bassist Bergur Thomas Anderson is from Oyama, while Tumi Árnason (sax) and Albert Finnbogason (guitar) are from The Heavy Experience. Drummer Sigurður Möller Sívertsen was also in Jakobínarína.
Thanks to the Reykjavík Grapevine, it’s possible to discover that Ali is a concept album about a woman called Lísa. Whoever she is or was, it can’t have been much comfort that this lot had her on their minds. Especially so, considering the creepy paintings of condoms in the album’s word-stuffed booklet.
Handily, there is no need to know what it’s all about as Ali is so strong – strong as in powerful. Ragnarsson and Baldursson bark out the lyrics over a clipped, guitar-driven chug with shades of motorik, Killing Joke, Belfegore and Talking Heads. But it all coalesces to sound like nothing else. The presence of sax may initially seem off-putting, but it’s neither distracting or superfluous. Someone’s paid attention to King Crimson.
Even when the tone lightens on “Hver er ég?”, a sense of menace or distress remains. Before that, “Brost’ ekki of bjart” is an anthem which may get lighters raised aloft. Or may scare unsuspecting audiences. Ragnarsson and Baldursson sound pretty angry
It’s impossible to work out what this would be exactly like live, but it’s certain that when experienced in person the impact will be nothing less than that of K-X-P.”
Passing Judgement: Icelandic Music Yodeling dept: Grísalappalísa, “Alí”
In the sprawling sci-fi film sequel, “The Matrix: Reloaded,” there’s a critical scene where Neo (Keanu Reeves) meets the avatar known as The Architect, who is responsible for creating the virtual world of the matrix. During the encounter, Neo is informed that far from being the chosen one, a hero who will lead the people of Zion to rise up and fight for freedom against the machines, he and Zion are in fact a designed “glitch” that has been built with each redesign of the Matrix. The purpose of this glitch is to provide an extra level of control over humanity, giving the malcontents and heretics the sense of hope and that they can free themselves and the rest of humanity. In fact, Neo finds out that he is actually the 6th incarnation that has existed in the history of the matrix.It’s this scenario that readily comes to mind when thinking about the nature of the “The Icelandic Music Scene.” It seems that in order to keep things ticking along happily, every few years or so “The Scene” requires a new champion with which “The Scene”‘s disciples can pin its hopes to keep us from getting that little bit jaded. However despite being heralded as the act who would usher in a new age of creative freedom and energy, the champion is merely the latest installment of a cycle that been repeating itself for years now.Gríslappalísa have been declared the new rising champions of “The Scene,” Containing many of the bright lights from past champions such as Sudden Weather Change and Jakobinarina, as well as current acts such as Oyama and The Heavy Experience. Building a strong rep as an energetic and focused live unit (I caught them playing at Harpa during Menningarnótt where they played to only 25 people and a bunch of kids in Silfurberg. They still gave it a good un’ style performance. By the end of the second song, vocalist Gunnar Ragnarsson was completely out of breath. He should probably take up boot camp or something), the release of their debut album, ‘Ali’ has been given across the board praise from those who’ve spoken about it. ‘Alí’ sees Grísalappalísa channeling the music and spirit of classic angry/awkward rock and post punk of the likes of local Icelandic legends Purrkur Pillnikk, Þeyr, and Megas to other luminaries such as Gang Of Four, PiL and the Stranglers. In many ways. the rise of Grísalappalísa seems to mirror that of UK act Savages, another post punk group who look to similar influences and aesthetics with which to inform their sound and politics, albeit a lot darker and self serious. Grísalappalísa, for example, have yet to be photographed looking sullen in a disused car park.But there are a few similarities. Like Savages, Gríslappslísa come across as a bit angry. Why do we know this? Mostly because everyone says that they’re angry. And from the delivery of co-vocalist Baldur Baldursson certainly bears this out. On “Kraut Í G,” you’be got him standing upright, jabbing his finger into your chest in time with every fleck of invective he spits out. ”ENDABLAUSAR BLOKKIR! ENDALAUSIR BILAR! ENDALAUS! LOKUÐ HLIÐ! HVERNIG! HVERNIG!” As the song carries on. he only seems to get more agitated and demented to the point where you can hear his nodules squeak on the final line, “ÉG ER FRJALS!” Remember the strained howls that came from Kurt Cobain at the end of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”? We’re looking at that kind of level here. Such is the force on display from Baldursson, that in comparison when Gunnar Ragnarsson starts crooning on the following track “Má Allt (Allt Út),” he comes across as a mewing, petulant child. Although this does seem to confirm his role as a trickster foil, a Tigger to the brooding bear that is Baldursson.But what is the source of this anger? They’re white, well to do guys from Iceland! What the hell have they got to be angry about? Well it seems quite a bit actually. As ‘Alí’ is a concept album of sorts, you’ve got Baldursson and Ragnarsson taking the mantle of characters telling stories about the staidness of Icelandic life and culture, as well as describing their infatuation with “Lísa,” a woman/muse who’s causing them all sorts of chaos in their lives. Whenever she’s mentioned there seems to be a bit of a Madonna/Whore complex at play as many of the lines screamed out by the song’s characters tend to be along the lines of “I want her so much/why won’t that bitch notice me?” It might be seen as existential male angst, but with the characters veering between grand displays of bravado and morbid self-pity as they trudge along with tales of abusive hedonism and despicable treatment of women, such as on “Brost’ Ekki Of Bjart,” it seems that Grísalappalísa are displaying a fair amount of disdain and anger towards the “djamm” mentality of Iceland that seems to spawn such vile thoughts and attitudes. I certainly hope this is the case. If they sincerely feel/act the way the song’s lyrics describe, I think someone really needs to sit down and have a serious chat with them. In line with many classic Icelandic lyricists, Grísalappalísa also employ numerous instances of twisting and subverting classic Icelandic songs, poems and other cultural norms. For instance, It´s already been mentioned that “Kraut Í G” is a play on Stuðmenn’s “Popplag Í G,” Then there’s the song “Lóan Er Komin,” that twists the narrative of a classic spring church hymn of the same name. Meanwhile the intro to “Má Allt (Allt Út),” has Baldursson mouthing the title of the classic Icelandic pop song “Tunglið Tunglið Taktu Mig (The Moon, the moon you take me)” before proceeding to scatologically scream at the top of of his voice “…. IN THE ASS!”Besides the band’s obsession with Lísa and fucking up old song titles, they also delve into themes about religion and the nihilistic shaking of perceived truths and social norms. Jesus, Judas and the church are referenced, but it’s the song ”Má Allt (Allt Út),” that’s particularly intriguing. Translated as “Everything Is Allowed (Allowed To Be Erased),” this seems to be a bastardisation of the phrase “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” . From Islamic mystics and medieval christian cults, to Nietzsche in ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra,’ It’s a phrase that’s been at the heart of subversive and heretical thinking though the 20th century, providing Gnostic, intellectual ammo to the likes of Brion Gysin and William Burroughs, avant-garde movements such as surrealism, dadism, and situationalism all the way to punk itself. Grísalappalísa may sing “Elvis died before he could be a punk,” but Elivs’ own actions were subversive enough at the time, providing an explosive mix of fatalism and desire that punks like The Sex Pistols would pick up when their time came.So does Grísalappalísa’s attempts at nihilistic subversion going to burn away the conventions currently held by Iceland’s cultural scene? Alas almost certainly not. The thing is that for all the good wordplay, admittedly great tunes and the feeling of “newness” on display in ‘Alí,’ Grísalappalísa are merely refurbishing a set of ideas themes and influences that have used and abused by Icelandic musicians and artists many times over. This isn’t really their fault as such, just the nature of the environs they exist in today. The subversive nature that raged along the Rókk Í Reykjaivk/KUKL/Smekkleysa plane has now pretty much been absorbed and subsumed fully into the cultural fabric of Iceland. As a result it may provide a hazy, vicarious buzz of danger, but it’s a danger that’s now pretty much expected by everyone to be on display with music and art such as this. It´s clever if done right, but not that shocking any more. You sense Grísalappalísa themselves realise this quandary, yet they don’t seem to care that much as they sing “Thoroughly thought out, much practiced, stolen from here or there, don’t expect that I take responsibility or remember where from” on “Lóan er Komin.”So OK, beneath the thrusting newness there is a lack of true subversive energy that would surely be needed to storm “the scene”/break the matrix as is needed. But compared to Savages, and many Icelandic acts that look to completely replicate a sound to the point of full-on pastiche, you get a feeling with Grísalappalísa that their nostalgia mode is a little more impressionistic. Only “Kraut Í G” and “Skrítin Birta” have that definite sonic feel of sounding as if they’ve come from Kópavogur in 1982. Many of the other tracks seem to take their cue from many cultural nodes, from ’90s indie rock all the way back to grooving psych jams of the late ’60s, via hazy krautrock references (That are mostly defined through the post-punk bands mentioned above). Maybe refurbishment is not the right word to describe it – Fine tuning would be better, making it more nuanced more suited to today’s ears.The reality is that ‘Alí’ is still one of the more vital albums to be released in Iceland this year. Perhaps, in a slightly subconscious way, the reason why people have clamoured for these guys so much is a reaction to what has been passed off as the creme de la creme of Icelandic music scene right now. Perhaps with Grísalappalísa showing a decent sense of self-awareness of their own position in the scheme of things, perhaps they can grasp a truly subversive edge that can lead themselves, or others, to be the one that can truly crack open “The Scene”….”
OTHER REVIEWS AND INTERVIEWS:
“Winners of the ‘BEST LIVE BAND’ category of our second annual music awards,Grísalappalísa, just unleashed a cover of a tune by Stuðmenn – Iceland’s favourite pop band. The song in question, “Strax í dag,” is goddamn great, and seeing how they are playing a show with Icelandic music’s poet laureate Megas today at Gamla Bíó, we couldn’t help but throw a few questions their way.
What’s with that whole ‘covering Stuðmenn’ thing?
Last year, we released a 7″ inch vinyl called ‘Grísalappalísa syngur Megas’(“Grísalappalísa Sings Megas”) featuring two covers of songs by our musical idol, the legendary rock n roll singer/songwriter Megas. Our idea is to release a 7″ inch covering legendary Icelandic musician for each album of our own material. So last year it was ALI’ and Megas, this year it’s ‘Rökrétt Framhald’ and Stuðmenn. Our intention is to be really prolific and release a lot of material when we’re working together – cos we know in a few years it will be harder for us to be in the same place at the same time.
Are you secretly trying to re-assemble the old Stuðmenn gang by making their songs popular with today’s youth? Because we could totally get behind that.
I think Stuðmenn actually got together a few weeks ago and had a huge concert at Harpa. So they really don’t need our help to get together or to get Icelanders to listen to their music. I mean, everybody knows their songs; maybe there are some people that don’t admit it, but then that’s their problem. I guess the purpose of the 7″ inch series is to give these old classics a twist; and maybe introduce these songs to some people that haven’t heard them, or maybe make it acceptable for the hipster to like them. Plus, it’s really fun to perform them live (both Stuðmenn and Megas). The purpose of the series is also a little self-important, to try to tie in our own music with Icelandic pop history. So it’s a bit of self-promoting act as well.
Which canonical outfit is next on your list?
We don’t want to give it away. Here are some names, though: Björgvin Halldórsson, Bubbi Morthens, Sykurmolarnir, Elly Vilhjálms, Sálin hans Jóns míns, Grýlurnar, Írafár, Skítamórall. Canonical stuff. The main condition is that it’s classic and it’s sung in Icelandic. Which of these artist do you want us to cover? Maybe you can put up a poll on your website?
On a scale of one to ten, how likely are you to play “Strax í dag” tonight? How about at your other Airwaves shows?
We won’t play “Strax í dag” at our Thursday gig with Megas at Gamla bíó. We’re focusing on his material for that one. Maybe he’ll let us play one of our own tunes as well. He’s the master, and we abide. But we will definitely play it at some point on Friday or Saturday. We have a lot of material, and we’ll play different stuff each gig. So if you like rock n roll, following us around is definitely worth it.”
Morgunblaðið, 18.07.2014. Words by Davíð Már Stefánsson:
“I finally caught indie supergroup Grísalappalísa live a few weeks ago and it’s safe to say I was enthralled. The post-punk grooves are tight like a rope and the commanding stage presence of frontman duo Gunnar Ragnarsson and Baldur Baldursson is unparalleled on the current Reykjavík scene. Gunnar’s stage persona is equal parts glam-era Bowie and Mark E. Smith while Baldur evokes Sjón circa The Sugarcubes’ classic B-Side ‘Lúftgítar’ (“Air Guitar”).
I met the two of them in the latter’s smoke-filled basement apartment on Nýlendugata, stacked full to the ceiling with books and obscure DVDs. We sipped beers, listened to cult icon Warren Zevon (whose name Baldur has tattooed on his arm) and talked about productivity, desperation and love letters among other things.
How did you guys come together?
Gunnar: We had often made plans when we were drunk to form a rock band with very particular lyrics. Finally we decided on a time and a place for the first rehearsal. At that point Baldur was only meant to write the words, and the idea was that I would perform them.
Baldur: I’d never considered being on stage in front of a room full of people and… just never—it was unimaginable.
Gunnar: We showed up with fifteen pages of lyrics and didn’t really know what to do. It was sort of awkward, actually. Then Sigurður, our drummer, said he’d been listening to a lot of krautrock [a sub-genre of rock associated with the German experimental scene of the early seventies, characterised by an insistent, propulsive groove, the use of synthesizers, and minimal or no chord changes] so the guys started ‘krauting out.’ There were two microphones in the room and I stepped up to one of them. But nothing happened. It was like I had developed sudden stage fright. Everything sounded so different from the pop I was used to play with my former band, Jakobínarína. But before I knew it Baldur had seized the other mic and was performing slam poetry to the groove.
What are the lyrics all about?
Gunnar: In part we’re mythologizing our own lives. The lyrics are very personal. There is a level of sincerity to creating rock’n’roll images out of the everyday world. But you try to deal with something larger like society or a certain sense of romance.
Baldur: For example, “Sambýlis-mannablús” [Roommate Blues] is a song to my roommate Ívar, the guy who lives in the dirtier room. And there is another song on the new record simply about walking towards Grótta. I’ve always thought about thinking for thought’s sake. Like a philosopher with way too many questions and way too many answers. We’re not answering any questions, we just mix it all up in this sort of cocktail. I don’t care what it means or what it’s for. I’m just a selfish artist. I just take a walk because I’m feeling romantic. I’m only looking for inspiration.
Do you write poetry too?
Baldur: No. I won’t publish a book or anything. All of this just started when I was working at this pizza place and listening to a bunch of blues. So I started writing some of my own blues lyrics. I didn’t really listen to music until I was like twenty years old. And I didn’t really even listen to the music but only what the singers were saying and if they’d sing it in an interesting or odd manner. So the melody was always overshadowed by the lyrics. We’re talking Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Warren Zevon…
Gunnar: I’d say Bob Dylan formed the connection between the two of us. And Megas of course [Icelandic rock and folk singer, often called “the Icelandic Bob Dylan”].
Baldur: Megas is the king. The blues, the rock’n’roll. When I started listening to Megas I thought it would be great to write cool lyrics in Icelandic. I didn’t feel like there was anything like that going on. But I didn’t really know either way and wasn’t paying any attention to Icelandic music at the time.
It seems like there is quite a lot of stuff coming out these days with ambitious Icelandic lyrics. Ojba Rasta and Samaris spring to mind. What do you guys look for in good lyrics?
Baldur: It’s always nice to have a little rhyming scheme. Or not. Oh, you mean content? Despair. Emotion. It’s good to be assured that whatever I write, Gunnar will perform it with gusto.
Gunnar: We like to cover serious topics but still have a punchline. I was mopping the floors at the hotel where I work while listening to a late Leonard Cohen album and I just love these funny and weird bad-ass lines that crop up every now and again. They ease your hangover and I love it.
Baldur: Those hangover lines. Straight out of ‘Running on Empty’ by Jackson Browne. That’s my favourite record. Could you please include that in the interview? It’s the best album of all time.
Compared to your previous record, there doesn’t seem to be as much of an overarching narrative or concept on the new album.
Gunnar: The recurrence of ‘Lísa’ on the first record started out as a joke. We thought it was pretty funny so we added her here and there and then sold the record as a concept piece. But there is definitely a loose narrative to it. The lyrics on this record are basically leftovers from the last one that we didn’t manage to write songs to.
Baldur: That’s what the album title refers to: Rökrétt framhald [Logical progression]. The next step. See, we’ve run out of ideas. It was funny, on the last day of recording we had recorded eight songs but had some leftover lyrics so we wrote three more songs on that day and totally dried ourselves out. That was a nice feeling. Now we just have to keep writing songs and see what happens. I fucking love it. It’s so much fun and seems to happen quite naturally.
So the title is not a reference to the critics’ cliché of a sophomore album being a ‘logical progression’ from the debut?
Gunnar: We’re quoting Megas. I don’t know, maybe he was making fun of the critics. He described ‘Millilending’ [his second record] as a logical progression from his self-titled album, which is hilarious, because I’d imagine it definitely didn’t sound like that to most listeners.
Over the last twelve months it seems like you guys have really prioritised the performative aspect of the group. Your live shows have become very energetic and quite theatrical.
Baldur: During our first shows we didn’t even know the songs. Now we know them inside out and can just keep adding to the performance. Maybe a synchronised dance or something. Work harder to keep us on our toes.
Gunnar: We’re all artists so it’s nice to pay attention to all of the different facets of what a rock group is. Like, I really dig Tom Waits—I think a concert should be an immersive experience. And Michael Jackson, I love that sort of spectacle. And I think as we’ve grown we’ve become more confident and conscious of that aspect. We want to keep developing this, build a catalogue and introduce cover songs that we relate to.
Baldur: The other guys—the band—are so tight. They’re great musicians so we can just rock out and interact with the crowd. Let loose. Have fun. If we’re having fun, things are going well. We have the lyrics, our songs, our videos: we’re trying to create a certain universe. And it’s nice to involve your friends. We’re lucky to have very talented and creative friends and band members. That way it’s more about cultivating a particular vibe. We’re not only a band.
Gunnar: We’re a gang. But it’s not a closed society. Everyone’s invited to join us.
I heard you played some killer shows in Denmark. Are you planning world domination?
Gunnar: Grísalappalísa is only planning to make music. To be a disciplined band: productive and awesome. It’s dumb to approach international success as a goal. You just have to make good music and then maybe something will happen. Working hard is what matters the most. I don’t appreciate this culture of releasing an album every five years. Our strategy is to keep ‘em coming and press ourselves hard to produce something.
Baldur: When you have a seven-piece band singing in Icelandic you just know you won’t get paid every month. Making money was never the idea.
Finally, are there any rock’n’roll moments you’d like to share with the Grapevine?
Baldur: Should we tell him the main story?
Gunnar: Sure. During Aldrei fór ég suður [annual music festival held during Easter in Ísafjörður in the West Fjords] we were rocking out pretty hard. Baldur was having a rough time in his relationship and got very drunk on the Saturday night. He was trash talking everyone, showing off, insulting Högni [from GusGus and Hjaltalín] and [legendary rock singer] Helgi Björns. Then he just rushes off and we don’t see him till later that night when he barges into the dorm and crashes on the couch. When we try to move him he wakes up and realises he’s lost his glasses. So on Sunday night, during the main party, he was practically blind.
Baldur: I can’t really see anything without my glasses.
Gunnar: And he had blacked out, he had no idea where his glasses were. Maybe he had thrown them into the ocean in his desperate, drunk and love-sick mood.
Baldur: I had been shouting at the sea.
Gunnar: So, on Monday morning I’m up before everyone else, walking around the dorm when I see two police officers come up the stairs. They’re looking for someone and show me this photograph of Baldur. They tell me that on Saturday evening he had broken into the post office and begun writing a love letter to his girlfriend that he meant to mail.
Baldur: I’d been writing love letters over the last few days but I hadn’t posted them and that night I decided to finish them and send them all off.
Gunnar: They said that then he’d wandered into the house next door and fallen asleep on someone’s couch and forgotten his glasses. So I go and wake him up and say ‘Baldur, the police are here, you broke into the post office, here are your glasses.’
Baldur: The brought me in and gave me coffee and asked me what had happened. I couldn’t remember much but we wrote a testimony together. I was hungover and laughing my ass off. He showed me this video where I’m in the middle of the post office, writing the letter until the alarm goes off and I run away. They didn’t press charges but I’ll have to pay for the door that I kicked in.
Gunnar: But Baldur and his girlfriend are back together now so I guess it was worth it.
Baldur: Yeah. That was fucked.”
Morgunblaðið; 17.06.2014 – Helgi Snær Sigurðsson:
Kjarninn – issue #7; 03.10.2013 – Words by Benedikt Reynisson:
“Nýtt, spennandi og íslenskt á Airwaves.”