Mugison proved to be a bit elusive, but in a way we were expecting this. Kai had met him at the Aldrei fór ég suður festival in April and exchanged a few mails, so in the end we had some kind of appointment. Also did Helgi Jonsson provide us with his phone number. We had high hopes for a proper interview with the musician who is performing internationally (Mugi had opened for Queens of the Stone Age a. m. m.) and used to scheduled interviews. We even had his address, but as we stopped by at his small green wooden house, no one was home and his phone was switched off. We finally caught him when we were paying a second visit, and interviewed the lanky, bearded lo-fi hero in his home-studio, a former garage overlooking the fjord in his hometown, the small hamlet of Súðavík. The first thing Mugi does after making coffee is to show us his newest “instrument”, an homemade abomination of keys, blinking lights, regulators and multi-coloured cables.
Mugison: It’s actually an accordion, sort of. (plays the instrument, producing some low tones that remind of a cat being tortured to death inside an accordion)
Kai: You can’t do anything wrong with it. And you are recording with it right now?
Mugison: Yes, I’m actually recording an album based on this instrument.
Kai: Who built it?
Mugison: Me. It was like buying five different cars to make one out of it. And it’s nearly working. (points to a set of keys) These here are made by a mathematician in the UK, these others here are Berlin-made. There’s also a sound card and a motorcycle-battery in here.
Mugison is a very changeable musician. He recorded soundtracks, lo-fi acoustic albums and some very sweaty flamboyant rock’n’roll tunes. Together with his father Papamug (!) he organizes the annual Aldrei fór ég suður (I never went south) festival, the biggest Icelandic music festival after the Iceland Airwaves. He seems very proud of his heritage and coming from the Westfjords, and gives us some travel advise for the region.
Marcel: Did Kai tell you why we are here, and what’s the reason for our trip?
Mugison: Not really.
Kai: I tried to keep the mail as short as possible. That’s one thing we learned about Icelanders, keep it short in mails. But we still haven’t learned just to call ahead. (laughs). We are still too German.
Mugison: It would be great if the two nations could meet half-way, we could get organised a little bit more and you guys could chill a little.
Kai: We are working on this.
Mugison: We too!
Marcel: So, what we do is to make a documentary about Iceland and the music scene, without a big magazine or so financing us. And not to make a completely documentary, more to shine a spotlight and see what we can find.
Mugison: Cool, you should check out Arni in Flateyri, the guy who owns the studio.
Kai: Yes, this guy and the other you told me about, the one with the huge record collection.
Mugison: Ah yes, you just missed him, half an hour ago. There’s also another guy living in Patreksfjörður, a gay guy who released an album in ‘67 and a best-of album in 2003, and he has a some kind of pop-museum in his basement. He is always wearing some kind of night-gown and is a bit weird, so if you visit him you’ll need to have a story to get away from there.
As his relationship with his environment seems very strong, much stronger than in most Icelandic musicians we’ve talked to so far, we want to know if living at the end of the world has to do with this.
Marcel: One question about the Westfjords and making art and music here: is it only weird people that stay? Because most of the bands we met in Reykjavik, none of them says that the place they live in influences them. Is that different here?
Mugison: Sure. And it’s also nice to live in a town like this, at the end of the world. There are very few distractions. You get more time.
Kai: More output?
Mugison: You are forced to do more work, compared to living in Reykjavik where I’d be tempted to go to concerts and so forth, meet people in coffee-shops. So at the end of the day it’s interesting, but you don’t get much done. Here, I’m the only artist in town. The place where you get the hamburgers in Ísafjörður, that’s where the old guys meet every morning at ten for fifteen minutes at their coffee-break, and that’s the only social life here. It’s also nice in the winter time. You’re stuck. It’s brutal, sometimes the snow here is so high you can’t even get to Ísafjörður, also because of the danger or avalanches. But I love it. It’s good for focus, and romantic in a way. Humans were actually not made to live in such areas.
“You’re stuck. It’s brutal, sometimes the snow here is so high you can’t even get to Ísafjörður, also because of the danger or avalanches. But I love it. It’s good for focus, and romantic in a way. Humans were actually not made to live in such areas.”
Mugison: I think everybody draws inspiration from their surroundings, whether they like it or not. Everybody creates a small village around themselves. But as you said, there are probably more weird people in the countryside. Even if you’d have a mental thing going on, and you would have been put into a hospital in the big city because you can’t function, out here they’d live you out your life as long as you’re not hurting anyone. There are people helping out, so it’s more like a protected society. We look more out for each other. For example, I never owned a key to my house. When I bought it, there was no key, so we’ve never locked it.
With Mugi being the only artist in town, I wonder what people do to make a living in the Westfjords.
Marcel: What do people do out here, for a living?
Mugison: There’s some fishing in the fjord, and a couple of people have build a small factory for meat leftover across the road, they produce food for animals. Here, the big businesses are gone, so they said only the crazy people staid – and everyone of them had to come up with something to make a living. So we’ve got a lot of small, specialised businesses up here now.
Unfortunately, our interview ends earlier than planned. Mugison has to pick up his kids at the kindergarten, and we leave the ever-unlocked green house and drive back to Ísafjörður. We are a bit disappointed that we drove all the way for this short chat, but nevertheless happy that we’ve met one of the main protagonists of the Icelandic music scene on his home turf. Another lesson in German-Icelandic relations for Sonic Iceland.
This interview belongs to Chapter Ten – Fear and Loathing in Ísafjörður.