We had the chance to interview Kjartan Holm, guitarist of For a minor reflection. The band is getting ready for the next upcoming edition of the Iceland Airwaves Festival, one of the most important (for sure the “hippest” as David Fricke – Rolling Stone magazine – once wrote) music festival of northern Europe.
We have talked a lot about this band before in our “RVK BVD music suggestions“: FaMR are a favorite.
We can conceive their musical genre (instrumental music labeled as “post-rock”) as something like that: the sound that travels between two souls without the need of words.
Maybe it’s for this reason that we are so excited and anxious to ask the band’s guitarist some questions. He’s been recently busy with a tour with the Sigur Rós (as a matter of fact, one of the members of Jónsi’s band has decided to take a break and Kjartan has been an excellent first choice). We go in a coffee bar, on Laugavegur – Reykjavik’s main street -, we order a cappuccino and he orders an espresso, then we sit down among the people; a tiny wood table divides our curiosity from his grey sweatshirt with the picture of a tiger’s snout. Since the beginning he is very kind and much more talkative than you could expect from a member of a band which doesn’t communicate by the lyrics, but by the melodies.
In spite of this, I feel that I’m obliged to commence in this way:
First of all: hit me violently in the face if I ask you “What does For a minor reflection mean?” or “How did you meet with the other guys?”. We know everybody asks the same questions, so we will try to ask something different if possible!
[He laughs] No problem… Let it go, let it go!
Few days and a new Iceland Airwaves Music Festival will begin in Reykjavik. You are a “Senior band” here, you played a lot of times and in very different locations: an epic one is 2011 exhibition. This year your performance will be on Friday, the 2nd of November, at the Harpa Concert Hall. It’s a beautiful place by an architectonic point of view, but how do you think it fits with your kind of sound? We know it has been proposed to hold all the live shows there, how do you like the idea?
[Counting on his fingers] This year is going to be our 6th official live performance at Iceland Airwaves. Last year was crazy fun at the Art Museum, the atmosphere has been amazing over there. Frankly speaking, I don’t like the idea of all concerts in the same structure, I like Harpa from the outside, less on the inside. I think it was a good idea for the city to build it, but if all the shows would really be played inside the same building, everything would become pretty much sterile. Part of the great fun at Iceland Airwaves Festival is the chance to move from a venue to the other, freeze in the queue all together meeting new people and then have fun inside. Anyway, regarding our show, we are going to play in the second biggest space inside Harpa, the acoustic is amazing so I bet for our sound is going to be good: I’m really looking forward to playing there.
Honestly, would you rather prefer places such as Faktory, or NASA (an historical venue dismissed to build a hotel)? How do you feel about the decision to close several venues to build new hotels in this Golden Rush for the tourist industry, is it going to penalize young folks and the underground musical scene in Reykjavik?
I think it’s terrible that NASA was torn down, I can’t even describe that thing. Everyone’s got his reasons, but taking those memorable places from the citizens and the city itself is wrong. Foreigners come to Iceland to have fun, but there’s not gonna be any fun in here: only hotels. Plenty of places to stay, but nothing to do: with this scenario Iceland is going to be pretty boring in a couple of years. Anyway, I have a theory about that: there is a place in the city, called “GRANDI”, it’s close to the harbor and is becoming more and more active among artists -musician, painters, sculpture makers-, that place is probably going to rise. It could become a kind of “Meatpacking” in NYC, hopefully.
Last year I was present at your Sziget Festival live performance (in Budapest, Hungary), a stunning performance in a mid-summer afternoon with almost 30 °C and people chilling on the hills, then I watched your show at Faktory this summer, with almost 10 °C outside and the place completely packed with fans and the special “guest” appearance of your previous drummer. Your music can be appropriate to all different kind of situation, your sound can cross cultural and (of course) linguistic barriers. How do you feel about the fact that your art, your passion since you were kids has the power to reach such different people all around the world?
Sziget was a wonderful experience! I like both kind of situations, personally I am more fond of the “bar-type” of gigs, like at Faktory: the mood that’s going on is nice, is like being “at home”. But also, when you are playing in a festival or in a big arena in front of thousands people, is not “personal” but is a great feeling: everything can be good or bad, I believe something in between of the two situations is probably the better option. I remember that when we played at Sziget Festival the barriers in front of the stage were too far from the audience, so after the show we wanted to share with the people something more and we went down from the stage to talk and sell CD’s. It’s always nice to get closer to the people, even if that day in particular we were really sweating too much! Regarding our music, of course, not everybody likes instrumental music but I’m very fond of it. I think is a very good way to express yourself: you can interpret it as you like, maybe it’s not made for bigger audiences in a way, it’s something maybe more “personal”. I think it works, sometimes it’s not easy because maybe the mass wants to listen to pop music and it’s hard for us to find our own space, but it works fine. We get letters from people saying what they have felt listening to our music and it’s nice. It’s very interesting to hear what they have to say. I like how people try to communicate somehow.
A turning point in your career was joining several dates of Sigur Ros’ European Tour: if you had the chance to choose a supporting band in your concert, whom would you choose? One Icelandic and one from abroad.
[He retreats on his chair] To support us? Wow. This is a tough one! In Iceland I’d definitely choose Rökkurró, we are like “best friends”, so I am sure about that. Foreigners probably Caspian, it’s an American band from Boston (Massachusetts), we heard of them a couple of years ago and we became friends, they are really doing great. But if I’d have a solo career I would say Bonnie Tyler ‘cause I am a big fan of the 80s, so I’d definitely choose her!
Post-rock scene is growing day by day, there is much interest in that all around the world: how do you feel about the new bands playing this kind of stuff, do you think it would be possible to join them in a common project and if yes, who?
I might check it out. I like to work a lot alone, but I know there are a lot of great outstanding bands coming out now, to be honest I’m not really following a lot of them. I like Lockerbie, they are also going to play at Airwaves. I am not that active in finding new bands, I used to be like “crazy-indie-kid” following everything was new and it was nice, like listening to something nobody else have found before, but when you start making your own music you focus more on that and start losing touch with everything else sometimes. Philip Glass is another interesting artist, a composer making music with repetitive structures, I think it’s very cool.
Talking about collaborations, this year you will perform at Airwaves attended by the visual lights installations by Marcus Zotes of UNSTABLE. You already experienced Marcos Zotes art reacting to your music on the Hallgrímskirkja’s façade, why you choose that location for the event and why you think a visual could be so important to your performance?
Well, Hallgrímskirkja is a symbol, everybody can see it from everywhere in Reykjavik. It is a old building and when you see it from Skólavörðustígur is “great”. It’s very narrow and wide, all white…it’s really a cool place for a project like that and I do believe the result was brilliant. I cannot really say anything about what’s going to happen in Harpa, but for sure it’s really important the visual part of our shows. In post-rock music there is not a lead singer or lead guitarist, we don’t have a focus point, it’s more like a flow that borns from the band going straight to the audience: everybody plays an equal part. And visuals are really good because they help the performance.
Another interesting collaboration was the one with the fashion designer Mundi. What do you think about Icelandic art which is exported and well known abroad, apart from the music scene? Are there any interesting artists that you think deserve more attention worldwide you would like to suggest?
I’m interested in design, it was a honor to work with Mundi. He is a very nice guy and his art is also very appreciated. He realized For a minor reflection official web store T-shirts and they are really nice. There’s so many writers and a lot of contemporary art performers, like Snorri Asmundsson, keeping Icelandic art scene vital. I like them.
In Italy a lot of artists are struggling to find a way to live with their art. It seems like the government itself tries to stop their artistic wishes by saying that they don’t have to be “choosy”, and get the first job that happens on their way without following their dreams. What do you think about those words? Would you suggest to an Italian artist to move abroad?
It’s horrible! You should definitely keep on believing in the pursuit of your happiness, if you have to leave to go to another place and realize your dreams, just do it. If I had to live in a place like that I wouldn’t like it. It’s so weird, especially when there is no jobs at all to discourage people that way.
About dreams, when you compose your songs, do you have any particular image in mind? How do you get inspiration and how your personal creative flow works?
It usually comes by when I’m just watching television and playing guitar on the couch, until I find something interesting. I have this very very small studio at home and I just wake up, get a cup of coffee and start producing. Sometimes everything is horrible, other times is good, depends maybe if the coffee tastes fine or not! I am very fascinated in sounds, so everything that can produce a sound interests me. I try to make new melodies, sometimes it’s a very long process but I’m getting used to it. Sometimes when I am driving or doing something else it’s weird ‘cause I have to stop and try to use some voice recorder to remember everything that comes in my mind. It’s pretty funny when I listen to that kind of records then.
How do you feel after a live instrumental show? Do you feel like talking with everybody or just keep quiet?
[He grins] If it’s a good show I’m very active so I can’t wait to have fun and get drunk with my friends. If it’s not a very good show, well I’m not very talkative but it’s a good occasion to get drunk.
Have you ever tried getting drunk before the show? What do you usually like drinking?
Maybe when I was younger! It’s not good to get drunk before the show, really: it gets very tiring, you need to be ready when you are on stage, but of course it just depends from the mood. I love beer, if I have to drink a lot I like light beer: it’s cheap and nice to drink.
And to think that while we were going to the interview, observing thin drops of rain falling from the leaden grey of the northern sky and trying to understand if it was snow or simply frozen water, we daydreamed about an alcoholic interview, with gallons of beer and smoke of cigarettes. But the cappuccino’s been the most appropriate thing.
Probably, when you are in Iceland surprises are always the best thing that can happen to you: before greeting Kjartan, while we are making an appointment to take some photos of their live exhibition at Harpa, we see him getting up to greet a friend: red square shirt and strangely cut hair, he comes near. The two guys the only standing up among the tables. It’s like the time in the room suddenly stopped, people absorbed in the interpretation of coffee grounds in their white cups. My colleague and I look each other, then look again Kjartan hugging his friend Jónsi.
A typical afternoon in an ordinary Icelandic coffee bar, with the best companionship you can find.
While we are coming back home, a rainbow touch our hair: no need for words. You can call it post-rock if you know what we’re talkin’ about.