We sit down in the surprisingly warm Icelandic summer sun, on the grass and and between stacks of CD’s and lumps of other colourful FM Belfast merchandise. Árni answers most of our questions.
Árni: Most of our income last year were school dances like that. That’s the only way sometimes – but it’s also nice, so it’s not a bad thing. But we actually decided – because we were doing that a lot and charge a good amount for each show – to also have free shows for the younger kids. So we went to a lot of youth centers and played there for free. That’s were you get the most thankful crowd in the world. They just go mad.
Marcel: But that would be an all-ages-show, without drink?
Árni: Well, I’m sure that someone would have brought something – but that’s not good, of course. I used to work in a youth center 2 minutes from here, like everything is (laughs).
FM Belfast are one of the most successful touring bands from Iceland. Their travels have lead them almost completely around the globe, and their 2008 album “How to make friends” contains the underground hit “Underwear”, plus the album has been praised by blogs and music magazines worldwide. They have released their follow-up album “Don’t Want to Sleep” in early 2011.Marcel: What do you think of the Inspired by Iceland-video? Is this a proper image of Iceland?
Árni: I don’t think you can create a proper image of Iceland in just 2 minutes. And you can’t even do it by living here for a short time, it’s difficult around here. But maybe when you are a tourist, this is what you’re experiencing, I don’t know. I’ve actually never been to a glacier. I’m not proud of it, but I think it’s a different thing when you live in a place. In the city there are good things to see as well.
Marcel: That’s the thing – Kai and I lived together in Cologne, and we have this impressive cathedral, but we’ve never been up the tower. This is just a thing tourists would do.
Árni: Me and Loa lived in New York for one year, and we had what we called “tourist Saturdays”. We’d do something only a tourist would do, and not try to go to the coolest new place, but go to the Empire State Building instead. So Iceland Inspires are doing a good job, I guess. I actually like the web cams, so I can see what’s going on downtown (laughs). I think it’s good that they are putting money into promotion.
Marcel: But does something like this not mean that people would always brand you with this stereotype “band from Iceland”, without even having heard your sound?
Árni: But that’s ok if they come to the show – then they’ll be surprised that there’s no connection to glaciers or elves. That’s fine, if they have that image before. Our sound doesn’t fulfill that image.
Marcel: Would you say that you are part of an electro-scene, or a group of electronic artists? Because I don’t think this is happening in Iceland.
Árni: No, it’s different. Because it’s a very small society, so, for example, the Reykjavik!-guys and Retro Stefson are the two bands we played the most with. And they are no electro bands. Their sound is not similar either, so I think it’s mostly groups of friends and people who share the same thinking. We actually did a film here where we are sitting.
Kai: That’s another thing we wanted to ask you about.
Árni: And that’s the thing – we kind of realised afterwards, it’s all different music, and not one of the bands could be categorised as playing the same type of music. That was very interesting to learn. I would also feel kind weird doing the same thing as my friend who lives next door. So it may even go in the opposite direction, you try to do something different, to do your own thing.
Marcel: In Germany, I was playing in a metal band, so whenever we were having a show you’d have a look at the other bands playing and decide that they suck, just based on the sound they’re playing, without ever having heard them. But here you’d know most of the people, I assume.
Árni: Most of them, yeah. But you get surprised also, even living here, sometimes you hear something completely different. I’ve heard recently that there’s a band called Nolo that’s supposed to be very interesting, but I’ve never heard it – everyone’s talking about them though. I think there’s many different groups of musicians – ours just one. Then there’s other bands like Sykur and Bloodgroup, they play a lot together, and there you have another group. I know them, but we are just acquaintances.
Marcel: More in a way of rough collectives?
Árni: Yes, I’d say so.
FM Belfast nominally consists of Árni Vilhjálmsson, Árni Rúnar Hlöðversson (also called Plúseinn or “plus one” to determine between the two Árnis) and Árni Plúseinn’s girlfriend Lóa Hlín Hjálmtýsdóttir. But like many other Icelandic bands, there’s no fixed live-lineup in FM Belfast.Marcel: Is this why you haven’t a final live-setup? The core group is just you three guys? Plus then 6-8 others, whoever available?
Árni: Yes, for practical reasons. The three of us only focus on this now, so if the band is going somewhere it needs to be only us 3. That wouldn’t be possible with everyone that has played in the band so far, because they are playing with their bands and focusing on other things, so it’s more like a practical thing, to keep it simple. But if you’re going somewhere and someone else can make it, and there’s enough budget to bring them, they come.
Marcel: But it’s not that you’d need them for the live sound? So it could work with just the 3 of you?
Árni: It’s just different versions – on the last tour we did, for the first 2 shows it was the 3 of us and a guitarist, and the next 10 shows were with the guitarist and another vocalist, and in the third week we changed it, they went home and we got Borko to do percussion, so there was no guitarist. And it kind of works out – it’s a different show, it has the same core, but different add-ons, things that wouldn’t happen at the guitar-show, and vice versa. Just different versions.
Kai: Do you practise a lot before, with all the different members?
Árni: Not a lot (laughs). I would like to, but no, not a lot. But all are good musicians, so they know what they are doing.
Kai: So you meet at the sound check and then sort it all out?
Árni: They all played with us here, local shows for a long time. So it’s more like “you can come tonight, and then we try something”, so if that happens 10 times, that’s a very good rehearsal. But there are usually 10 other people on the stage, so there isn’t that much focus on the guitar. And when it’s only the guitar, he has rehearsed at the prior shows here. So they all have played with us before.
Marcel: Do you write songs in a specific way, with a specific audience in mind? When we were writing songs (Kai and I), we were always imagining the crowd we were writing songs for in our minds. Is this something you do? You sound very international, more New York then anything else, especially in connection with the Underwear-video.
Lóa: That’s made by Americans! (laughs)
Árni: When we wrote most songs, for this album, we didn’t expect to play live. We both have stage-fright. So it wasn’t prepared with a live-show in mind. But then it just worked out as a live show…so maybe the next album will have more intention towards being played live. I don’t know. This used to be our studio (points to the garden shed).
Kai: So where’s your studio now?
Lóa: In the house.
Kai: Can you show it to us?
Árni: Shure – but it’s not a real studio. Just a computer…
Marcel: And where did you set up the stage for the “Backyard”-show?
Árni: Right here between the house and the shed. And we had 6 cameras around.
Marcel: But the neighbours obviously didn’t mind?
Árni: I was really stressed about that. We wrote a small letter and put it into every letterbox around here. And it was all shot on the Culture Night day, so there was loads of other stuff going on . But I was still very worried, what if a neighbour is pissed or the power will go out. In the end it was very nice, we had good weather and a lot of people showed up in the end. The documentary got first price at a documentary film festival. We were really happy.
Kai: What are your plans for the film? Will it be out on DVD?
Árni: First off we try to get it completely finished for cinema, because it was just the first, festival-cut .
Marcel: But there is no proper cinema in Reykjavik at the moment where you can show it, right?
Árni: There was one, but it closed down 2 weeks ago. They have cinemas in Reykjavik, but not in the center, and it’s all multiplex-cinemas for blockbusters, and they are not open for stuff like ours. They wanna turn big profit, quick. I understand that, but there should also be one that should be open for more indie-stuff. This makes it hard for our film industry to grow, if there’s no chance to grow locally. It needs to work locally first. There are few festivals, and there is the University cinema, but that’s a little bit far away. And that’s maybe the only one that will take part in the Reykjavik Film Festival now. So there’s a huge problem here, that needs to be fixed. I’m calling on the Best Party to do it.
Marcel: I have a question about the name, being from Ireland? Why the name?
Árni: The name? It’s cool. (laughs)
Marcel: So no romantic trip to Belfast, riding the Ferris wheel?
Árni: No – but we went there, and after that it had a bit more meaning for us.
Marcel: Did you like the city?
Lóa: Oh yes!
Árni: And we wanted to learn something about the history, which was very interesting. And in the end our name brought us to Belfast two times already.
This interview belongs to Chapter 5 – Ice Cream is nice.