Amiina talks to Paste about Kurr
Amiina is a string orchestra, but that designation does not begin to describe the group’s inventiveness and unstoppable creativity. Sólrún Sumarlidadóttir, María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, Edda Ólafsdóttir, and Hildur Ársælsdóttir have an ambition that far exceeds that of most string orchestras. They also have a famous collaborator, with whom they have toured and recorded albums - Sigur Rós. Most of Sigur Rós’ fans have seen Amiina open for and accompany the famous Icelandic rock band, but following a series of sold-out US shows and the release of their first LP, Kurr, the four young women of Amiina are now the center of attention.
Kurr is a stunning illustration of the innovative sound Amiina has honed over the last few years. That the album features lovely string arrangements is to be expected, but more exciting is the diverse instrumentation; zither, musical saw, glassophone, and many other unexpected elements appear throughout the album. In contrast to Kurr’s elegant lyricism, the group’s style is light and improvisational, and the members regularly switch instruments during their shows and recording sessions. Paste spoke to violist Ólafsdóttir on the eve of Kurr’s release.
Paste: I wanted to ask about your writing process. How does your music come together? Is there a lot of improvisation, or is it mostly written down before you go into the studio?
Edda Ólafsdóttir: It’s mostly improvisation. Someone comes up with a melody or some chords, and then we just improvise together until we have a song.
Paste: Do you always compose music and improvise together or do you sometimes bring ideas in separately?
EO: It varies. Mostly, we make all the things together. Someone comes up with the initial idea, and then we work from there. And maybe, in the end, initial ideas come out of a song. So it’s really different from song how it works. We play together.
Paste: When you were creating Kurr, did you think about it as a whole, or did you mostly work on individual songs?
EO: We worked on individual songs. We were touring a lot with Sigur Rós at the time, so we cut it in breaks in between. So it was a long time between—sometimes, between the first song and the last song, it’s a really long period of time. So I think we were all a bit scared that the record would be too chaotic and that all the songs wouldn’t fit together. But then we heard it all together, I think it fits really well as a whole.
Paste: Based on this album, as opposed to what you’ve done with Sigur Rós, there seem to be less moments of catharsis — big moments — than there are on the Sigur Rós albums. When you’re not playing with Sigur Rós, do you tend to write quieter music?
EO: It’s just in our nature. It happens a lot that we start off going to make a really upbeat song, but it ends up like this, always. So we can’t help it—it’s just what comes out.
Paste: Do you think you’ve come to play strings less and less as you’ve started to experiment with other instruments?
EO: For a period of time, we were all really bored of playing strings, because we’ve had to do it since we were small, but now, we’re turning more and more to them again. It’s our instrument — I haven’t learned to play the glockenspiel, so I’m not as good at it. So we’re doing more and more strings again.
Paste: Some of the songs feature some vocals. How do you decide when vocals are just going to come in? Is that also in the studio, when it feels right?
EO: Most everything that happens with us is, “Oh, hey, how do you think this would be?” And then we just do it, and we don’t discuss, like, “Hey, let’s make a song with vocals.” It doesn’t start out with it — it just fits. Also with our voices, we can use them and play an instrument, but you can’t play two instruments simultaneously, so we’re using it more and more as an instrument.
Paste: And are you thinking about doing collaborations similar to the ones you’ve done with Sigur Rós?
EO: We’re open to any collaboration, but it would be more like — when we were working with Sigur Rós, we were immersed into their music, so we didn’t start the songs with them. We just came into their music. But I don’t think we want to do that now. We would want to be in from the start with any collaboration, but we are open to anything. We really want to try new things and do as much as possible.
Paste: Do you think that you’ll be adding more instruments as you go further?
EO: We’re trying to put a brake on it because it’s getting difficult to tour — we’ve got so many things — or trying to keep them small, at least. But we are collectors, so I think we will always add something new.
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