This is how the music scene works in Iceland; if you’re in a band to begin with you’re probably in 3-4 of them – or more. Then one of them makes it big and all the others are, often, forgotten.
One of those bands that are in danger of being forgotten is Hraun (meaning Lava in Icelandic, but also referencing a famous chocolate bar). The band did OK, but then the drummer Jón Geir made it big with viking-themed heavy metal band Skálmöld and Svavar Knútur’s solo career took off. I don’t remember the timeline exactly, maybe Hraun quit before all of this, I vaguely recall some mild drama – but anyway, during the second half of my years at the University of Iceland they almost felt like the house-band, regularly popping up at events I attended. The highlight was always when they played their Masters of the Universe cover, but since I can’t find an online version the Friday Song will instead be Clementine.
There’s something beautiful about hearing Wild West folk romanticism performed by an Icelandic band, with their spin on it, there’s some interesting mixture of childhood memories for those of us raised on American pop culture, where the childhood memories have a distinct foreign flavour, even if all our childhoods were in Iceland. It’s hard to pinpoint, maybe Clementine stands for Hollywood, she’s Ingrid Bergman or Michelle Pfeiffer or what ever movie star you had a crush on in your teenage years.
The song is from the album I Can’t Believe It’s Not Happiness, which references a famous butter commercial, since Svavar told me in an interview long ago that it’s sort of about substitutes for happiness, “to be helpless and defenceless and not quite finding your feet in the currents of life.”
But anyway, this was I think the first interview I took as a professional journalist – and I’m always a bit fond of Svavar’s description of the album. Let’s recollect the last lines of that interview.
“Today’s pop music is often terribly impersonal; people are always hiding behind the mask of cynicism and coolness. I think a lot of artists today are scared shitless of showing what’s behind. But proper folk music survives as long as it does because the songs are so honest and warm. I thought it was very good for us to let all this out, rather than faking some coolness.”
So it’s not a cool album? “We were just joking about it: Guys, there is literally nothing cool about this record. There are not a pair of sunglasses in sight.” The subjects are also personal, love, breakup and loss of a father. And Paris Hilton. “Well, perhaps more Hiltonism, the hedonism that bugs me. To not give a shit about yourself nor others, not caring about dignity and sort of just disappear in plain sight. I had a good friend which that happened to and that’s painful.”
Finally, it’s right to mention that if you’re in Prague there’s a concert tonight, starring Svavar Knútur – in the infamous Palác Akropolis, that legendary capital of Žižkov hedonism. This is a lovely building that Rudolf Svoboda built in the 1920s – and yes, the only reason I mention his name is because his last name means freedom, just like the last name of the reigning President when the tanks rolled into Prague and put an end to the short lived freedom of the Prague Spring.
Text: Ásgeir H Ingólfsson