We interview the young hopefuls of Retro Stefson sitting on a bench in front of the Sundlaugin studions in Mosfellsbær, where they are currently recording. Their second album “Kimbabwe” has been hailed by critics in Iceland and worldwide as one of the best albums of the year 2010, and considering the young age of all band members (between 19 and 21), everyone thinks that there are big things in store for the band. Kai and I have watched them play as part of the “Backyard”-movie and festival line-up, so we again question the connections between Icelandic musicians.
Unnsteinn: Friends, yeah. We’re all friends.
Marcel: And you were students of Arni, right?
Unnsteinn: Yes, he was teaching at our school. I had written a song, and Arni and Boas, the singer of Reykjavik! were working in a youth centre and they needed bands to compete in a talent show. No one there had a band, and no one wanted to compete. So they ask me and I brought my friends and my little brother and we formed a band. And that’s how it started. – because they needed someone for a talent show. But we didn’t win. (laughs)
Marcel: But you guys are pretty talented – how long have you been going now? Two years?
Unnsteinn: Four years. We are turning 20 this year,
Marcel: So you are allowed to drink beer then?
Unnsteinn: Ja, haha. My little brother he’s 18, he’s two years younger.
Marcel: I listened to some of your stuff, and my brother is your age, if he would be in a band he could play three chords for a punk band. But you guys are really good – did you go to a special music school?
HaraldurMost of us went to a pre-school.
Unnsteinn: And we met there when we were six years old. Me and my little brother came from Portugal at the time, and my mum wanted to us to have some kind of secondary education, so she sent us to music school. Because that’s not for everyone in Portugal.
Marcel: But is it for everyone here?
Unnsteinn: It was at the time, but it’s different now. For people our age there’s the jazz conservatory, and it’s very very expensive.
Haraldur: I quit there because it was so expensive, and I seemed not to get enough out of it.
Marcel: But there are no state-funded schools that you could attend for free?
All: No, not for free.
Haraldur: But you can get a grant, a scholarship, but that’s much more common in Seltjarnanes, not in Reykjavik.
Unnsteinn: In Ísafjörður as well, there’s a very good music school. But it’s not state-owned, every municipality has their own music school.
As we are interviewing Retro Stefson, they are recording as the backing band for Scotland-based Icelandic indie-musician Benni Hemm Hemm, who has also produced their first record.
Unnsteinn: He commissioned our first album, he and Arni recorded it, here, two years ago. Benni is also married to the sister of our guitar player, and we have been warming up for Benni. 2004 we were at the ticket office for his shows, 2005 we were in the beer tent and 2006 we were warming up. (laughs).
Marcel: So now it’s time for the recording.
Unnsteinn: Now we are his musicians.
Marcel: Do you make any money with this, or is it just out of friendship? I mean obviously it means promotion and so forth..
Unnsteinn: Actually we don’t make any money, not money in the pocket.
Haraldur: Recently we made some money, but we used it for recordings and travelling.
Unnsteinn: Benni actually always pays his musicians. And that’s very very rare in Iceland.
At the time of writing, Retro Stefson have relocated to Berlin and signed a record deal with Vertigo for worldwide distribution. And even during our interview, the signs were there.
Marcel: Do you travel a lot, in Iceland?
Unnsteinn: We mostly play around Reykjavik. Some festivals around the country.
Haraldur: We go quite often to Akureyri, the second biggest town.
Unnsteinn: We’ll also play a cultural festival in Seyðisfjörður, and go on tour with Benni, around Iceland.
Marcel: Are there any plans to go outside of Iceland to play shows?
Unnsteinn: At the beginning of 2011 there are many showcase festivals planned, and most of us will have graduated, hopefully. (all laugh)
Marcel: And how does this work when you go abroad? Will it be a sponsorship from IMX?
Unnsteinn: It works as follows: we ask for nothing but food and flights. (all laugh) We went to Sweden last year and put snuff on the rider because it’s forbidden here. We prefer to play one fun show than a standard tour. But we will have to do that some time.
Marcel: Talking of the country and your environment, and all the stereotypes people have about Iceland and the music. Is this anything that influences you in any way? To be Icelandic?
Unnsteinn: I’m not sure if our sound is Icelandic, I mean we do use Icelandic words, but it’s not really Icelandic music soundwise, I’d say.
“I don’t think that Iceland is a special place, but maybe this is because I’m born here. I don’t see what’s so crazy special about it. Not yet (laughs).”
Þórður:I don’t think that Iceland is a special place, but maybe this is because I’m born here. I don’t see what’s so crazy special about it. Not yet (laughs).
Unnsteinn: After we played other cities in Europe, I realised how small it is here. When you go to Akureyri, you are the talk of the town. And then you go to Berlin, and you get lost. Which is quite comfortable, actually.
This interview belongs to Chapter 8 – It was a good day.