Interview Svavar Knútur
Svavar is a jolly philanthropist hailing from the Westfjords. He is the the main songwriter and singer for Reykjavik-based alternative band Hraun, and has also a solo-carreer as singer/songwriter, with his debut album released in 2009. He is also involved in the worldwide “Melodica”-folk-festival initiative and organises the Icelandic leg of this gathering of accoustic musicians. In Djúpavík, Svavar takes us on a tour to the local waterfall and around the old factory.
Kai: You speak German!
Svavar: A little bit. Not too much.
Kai: Learned at school?
Svavar: Ja, and also from my German friends. When I go to Germany to play, I listen and always improve a bit.
Kai: When we listen to people in Iceland, we do not improve at all (laughs).
Svavar: Maybe when you’re here longer, you will start picking up bits and pieces, like “hus” for house..
Kai: “Budjin” for store?
Svavar: Ja, and some words are the same as in German. “Kuh”, “cow”, for example. But “Kind”, child, means sheep in Icelandic, haha.
Marcel: (switching back to English) Sometimes it sounds like a mixture between old German and old English.
Svavar: It’s ancient German, actually. It’s like the great-great-great-grandfather’s brother of modern German. We can read old English and German texts as well, because it’s so close to Icelandic.
Svavar: There we are (points to the waterfall).
Marcel: This is so surreal. We when came to Reykjavík we had a real hard time meeting people, and needed to convince people that were are no nerdy German fanboys hanging around. First Reykjavik felt like this small provincial town, because we did not know where to go and who to talk to, and the after a week we had like a party overkill, Rock’n'Roll madness all of a sudden. So it went from “shit man were are?” to “THIS IS AMAZING! BRING MORE BEER!”, and driving up here today is the complete opposite to all of this. You drive for hours and there’s no one out there.
Svavar: It’s just beautiful, isn’t it? Free of everything. This is were I go just to be with myself. Have you checked out the tanks? (points to two large fishoil-tanks next to the factory)
Marcel: Not yet. Do you play here often?
Svavar: My band plays here every year. And I come every new year’s eve with my daughter, because we don’t like fireworks and noise, to spend some time with the people who live here. We just hang out together.
Marcel: But you don’t get paid for playing here?
Svavar: Sometimes I do a paid gig here. Shall we go in? (slides through the round entrance of the fishoil tank and disappears inside. Kai and I follow.)
Svavar: This is such a cool place. I recorded one of our songs here, the “Lovestory from a Mountain”-song was recorded here. My drummer and myself we just sat here with a lot of red wine and a guitar and no effects, just two mics and the sound in here. The sound here is fantastic (whistles). You can drone almost every note, it’s becomes such a dominant tone.
Marcel: And you can still hear the waterfall in the background.
Svavar: It was raining when we recorded. We had little drops coming from the opening in the ceiling.
Kai: Try to do that in Berlin, haha.
Svavar: Out here, everything becomes very real. (Picks up a piece of plastic hose and uses it as a didgeridoo, droning one long sound, somewhere between a dying whale and an Scottish battlehorn) Cool! I love this. Outside the sound would just disappear, but in here it almost feels as if the place wants to make it more beautiful.
Marcel: And it’s a nice thought that a place that was built for a sole purpose, to make money from it, once it’s not used and like this, people can come and make it their own.
Svavar: Yes, and the people here want to preserve it and keep it as a concert hall, for special concerts.
Marcel: And there are also exhibitions going on?
Svavar: All the time.
We leave the tank again, and talk about the factory and how the place became famous (or not) through the “Heima”-movie.
Svavar: For the last 25 years they have been restoring the factory. These buildings were crumbling down, and if you go into the next fjord you can see an almost identical factory, and nobody has been doing anything with it, and it’s almost gone. It’s completely kaputt. They have made a miracle here.
Marcel: Are these all local people doing it? Or is there any state-funding for it?
Svavar: No, I don’t think they have ever received any real funding. Eva and Claus are the owners, and they moved here in 1985, to make a life for themselves here. This is the tank with water in it (points to another tank). In the winter we skate inside.
Marcel: Was this used for art and music before they filmed it for the “Heima”-film?
Svavar: Yes, our recording was actually done before the movie. It used to be a very underground-thing to come and be here, and since the “Heima”-film ..sorry, I got to pee.. (unzips and pees into the fjord) No fotos! (laughs) Since the film there were more and more “pilgrims”, you know. People went like “Ah, ah, inspired by Djupavik, ah!”. The ship over here is called “Sudurland” (pointing at the perforated hulk of a ship rusting away on the shore), Southland. When they were building the factory, and in the first year when they were buildings the barracks for people to stay, the workers stayed in the ship. And it has been rotting now for 60, 70 years. I wish somebody would take a picture every year to make a timelapse of decay.
Our friends, the Arctic Terns, start swooping down on our heads again. Svavar knows about them as well.
Svavar: These are called “Kria”, because of the sound they make. The way to avoid them is either to carry a stick and swirl it over your head, or lower your head one centimeter lower than your friends (laughs). They are not really angry yet.
Marcel: It seems as they are thinking they are the predominant species – “I protect my eggs, go away”.
Svavar: These are very aggressive. They also defend other birds nesting near them. They are the mothers of the bird world, very protective. I love them. They fly all the way to the south pole and back, every year. They actually lay their eggs on the roof of the factory, so in a way it becomes nature again. Sometimes they shit on you, though.
Apart from local information, I try to tease out some feedback on the Icelandic scene from Svavar.
Marcel: Is there some mainstream, bands with a higher standing in Iceland? Because you said the place here was “underground”? So far, we did not see much competition, also because most musicians are at least acquaintances of each other?
Svavar: Our market is pretty limited, and very much divided. There’s the electro- and dance-orientated crowd, just wanting to drink and party and drive fast cars and stuff, and they would not appreciate what I do. Most people do have an interest in arts and music though, and this has started to grow. Since the crisis people have started to take it more seriously. The idea that good music should be heard.
Marcel: But as you are an artist that is more touring internationally, are you more away from Iceland than playing here?
Svavar: Ah no, I spent at least eight months here. And I do a lot of work here at home. But I’m aiming at playing more and more abroad, because I don’t want to bore people to death here (laughs). Sometimes it’s hard to get new people to come to your gigs. But when they come, they end up being happy. I like that.
We thank Svavar, who is staying in another house nearby and head back to the hotel. The loud shrieks of the Arctic Terns follow us into the restaurant, where we sit down for a last good-night-coffee before retiring to our room.
This interview belongs to Chapter 9 – Little trip.