Icelandic musician talks about her new album and its influences
Icelandic musician Soley isn’t known for her ‘happy’ music. It’s been those dark, minor organ chords that have spoken to her most of her career. On her new record Endless Summer, however, she has taken a new direction. But make no mistake, this isn’t one of your summer Beach Boy surf albums.
Endless Summer takes its direction from that craving for summer that happens during all those miserable winter nights – and in Iceland those last. However, there is also a sense of wonder in Soley’s new record that has to do with the Nordic country’s summer days when night never really comes.
Soley was also affected by the birth of her daughter. She didn’t know “that love for one person could be so crazy.” And that also turned the musician to veganism. All of these life changes had a large impact on her music and found Soley hitting her first major chords.
ARITSTdirect’s Christopher Friedmann caught up with Soley to discuss her new album, find out what caused her to make changes in her life and music, and to see just how much longer she is willing to continue down the path of being a musician.
Christopher Friedmann: We are talking because you are about to release your new album Endless Summer. So how is the mood in camp?
Soley: It’s good. I’m really looking forward… I guess it’s not really a summer album, but it’s more an album of when you are during winter time when you are craving the summer, I guess it is kind of about that more than being in an eternal summer.
CF: This album certainly has a hopeful sense to it, and maybe it comes from the craving of that summer light. Why did you decided to work in that direction?
S: It’s both just, I kind of wanted to get away from my depressing mood that I’m always in. I would like to be a little bit more happy, so this was my attempt to do a happy album, but I guess you can’t go all the way on the first try, so this was my try, but I’m happy with it. I think it’s like, it wouldn’t have made sense to, when I hear happy stuff i really don’t think that it’s me, but I had a really nice time making it so I guess then I have accomplished something, like being happy about it.
CF: This album certainly moves away from the darker tones of Ask the Deep. Was this shift an intentional move to bring more cheerful music, or were the results of your writing a surprise to you, too?
S: No I don’t think it was a surprise. It happened really quickly this album. I made it in like 4 months, like I wrote all the songs. They just came out. What I like about it is they just came out without like, I wasn’t trying to push anything, it just happened. I was really positive because, I don’t know if you can say it in English, but I kind of like walked on a wall.
During the year I was touring I asked the team – I really wasn’t feeling good – I was like, “Oh my God, what am I doing with my life?” And I really just wanted to get back to my roots and just sit by the piano and make piano songs and sing, go a little bit away from organs and all the heavy stuff that kind fell out of Ask the Deep. So that’s what I did. I just painted my studio in yellow and purple and I just sat down started playing and it really just came out.
CF: To talk about the piano, piano doesn’t seem to be as popular as it once was in popular music, but it certainly takes center stage on this record. What do you feel it allows you to do that other instruments don’t?
S: First of all, I know exactly what I’m doing when I play piano because I studied piano when I was young. Like if I have a guitar in my hand, there are pros and cons with guitar, like I have no technique, but sometimes I feel more free when I play it. I would like pair chords and go, “Oh this is cool.” I’d have no idea what it is, but with the piano I always know where I am, and I always kind of go through the same chord progressions, and I really have to be focused on not doing that. I think also the piano has this crazy tone range, or something. I really feel relaxed by a piano. I also love accordion. I dream to make an accordion album one day (Laughs).
CF: I believe this is your third solo studio album. Can you speak a little on the responsibilities and freedoms you experience as a solo artist, working away from (your band), Seabear?
S: While doing solo you are kind of the boss, so you can do whatever you want. But I’ve been thinking about like do I like being in a band better than being solo? I think both are good, but I’m kind of a little more drawn to my solo project because, again, I can do whatever I want and no one can tell me what to do. I don’t need to make any compromises. But sometimes it’s lonely.
Sometimes I would go through a whole day and not meet anyone. If you have ideas you’re like, “Is it good? Is it bad? Am I crazy?” You have no one to just talk about ideas and stuff. But I have good friends and my band, I let them hear all my demos and stuff. But I am more drawn to the solo project, even though I’m doing collaboration now with Sindri from Seabear and Orvar from Mum, so we are collaborating, we are doing one song each month for this year, and it’s really fun to work with people again. The compromising thing you know, you bring up an idea and they change it and you’re like, “Hey, oh okay.” So it’s good. I think It’s really healthy.
CF: “Endless Summer” seems to refer to Iceland, as you were saying, it’s less about the summer, more about the yearning for it during the winter. Do you find that your geographical surroundings have a large affect on how you write and arrange? And if so how?
S: Yes, definitely. It’s probably a cliche to say, but I guess living here really affects everything that I do. Both the weather and the nature, it’s intense. I was actually talking to a guy, I was in Paris the other day, and I was talking to a guy, he lives in California, and I was like, “How is it to have sun?” It’s like sunny 355 days a year, right?. I was like, “Does your mood change at all?” Because if it is like windy or rainy I get so pissed off by the weather here, but also it’s nice because when there is sun you get really happy.
I feel like the extremes in moods. My moods are really intense because of the changes in the weather here. Also during summertime it’s bright like the whole day and night, like 24/7. That’s just crazy. You just never want to go to sleep. Then again in the winter time you want to sleep the whole day. Also, in the winter time i would probably stay in the studio more just because I don’t want to be outside, but the album, I have some images of an Icelandic summer because the title is also a little bit about how in the summer, when it’s like bright in the night, and the day and the night they kind of fit into each other in a way, so it feels kind of endless. It’s both about the craving for summer, but it’s also about Icelandic summer in a way.
CF: I read that you became a vegan once your daughter was born. Can you speak a little on that decision – and how having a child may have also shifted other perspectives in life, and perhaps your approach to being an artist?
S: I’ve been vegetarian since I was 15 or something. It’s so funny, I was always dreaming of being vegan, but I was like, “Oh my God, I love cheese and stuff.” It’s like what everyone says. Then when my daughter was born and I started breastfeeding, I just made the connection and it was so clear to me that other animals, why wouldn’t they feel the same thing I feel about her. And also all this breastfeeding process is just insane. You have so much hormone stuff going on, I just can’t believe that cows don’t have it as well. I can’t believe that cows don’t want to have their babies close when they are born, so I just got really disgusted by all that, and I watched a few documentaries and it’s like really hard to go back.
I’m also way happier, like this is totally a process that I would have come to at some point, so I’m just really happy. I really feel better after I eat more plant-based. I only eat plant-based food. It’s crazy. It’s crazy when you get into this world of veganism and stuff, you get so angry, like I had this crazy faze of just being just really pissed off to everyone around me. Then I guess you just grow from that.
I don’t really like to talk about being a vegan in a way because I’ve had enough discussion about that like protein and blah, blah, blah. But when I start I can’t stop, and it’s usually when my friends starting talking about it. It’s generally their choice to start talking about it. But yes, it’s nice, I love it. And yes, my daughter changed me a lot.
There is a song on the album about my daughter, the first one, “Ua”, and I never wanted to make a mommy song, but then I just did and it’s the first song that I make that’s in major chords, so I’m like oh my God, where am I going with this? But yes, children teach you a lot. I thought I was really good and good-hearted before I had a child, but then I didn’t know that love for one person could be so crazy, but it can.
CF: Over the course of your career you’ve have had a fair breadth of experiences, but I was wondering if you could tell us of the most grounding moment that you’ve had so far, a moment that reminds you why you do all this?
S: That’s so funny that you ask this. Honestly, today I was like, “I should stop.” Literally before this interview I was like, “I can’t do this anymore. I have no money. Why am I doing this?” So yeah, maybe I should reconsider. I hadn’t come to any conclusion about that, but I guess when I don’t think about that, I don’t think about that that often, but I guess it’s because I just paid my bills. I think if I would go work somewhere else, like if I were to go work at a shop or something, I think I would explode.
I just love being my own boss, and I love sitting and just making music. It’s cliche to say, but it’s true. Also I love travelling and I couldn’t work in a 9 to 5 job, and I come home and feed my kids and do the same thing every day, so I kind of thrive on travelling and doing new things all the time. So I think being an artist really suits me. Then again, I think, “What am I doing?” LIke all the time too, so I guess there’s no answer. It’s just like changes of the mood. Since it was snowing this morning, maybe I was in a bad mood because of that.