Interview: Asgeir Paints Our Skies Grey
Ásgeir has grown quite a following here in Australia, with his 2012 debut album Dýrð í dauðaþögn becoming Iceland's #1 debut ever, and it's English language version In The Silence blowing the lid off Triple J. In The Silence gained golden ARIA-status, hurdling to the no. 10 spot on Triple J's Hottest 100, a rare feat for an international act, and propelled Ásgeir all the way Down Under for his first Splendour In The Grass appearance in 2015. Then 2017 saw the release of his folktronica masterpiece Afterglow, again gaining acclaim from Triple J, who co-presented his sold-out Splendour Sideshows, and a legendary Summer performance at The Falls Music & Arts Festival.
He just can't release an album without Triple J or Double J giving it Feature Album status, a trend again carried through with last year's Bury The Moon, and now the musical genius has released his latest EP, The Sky Is Painted Gray Today.
Featuring four intimate tracks & recorded in Hljodriti, the EP has been in the works since 2019 and harkens back to Ásgeir's roots. Working with his father on the poetic Icelandic lyrics, The Sky Is Painted Gray Today features sombre introspection, romantic & affectionate apprehension and delicate, expressive vocals. The release reprises John Grant and Pétur Ben, his consiglieri writer-translator duo from his In The Silence debut who perfectly capture the beauty & intimacy of the original Icelandic lyrics.
Livewire was lucky enough to catch up with the international star, and find out about the man behind the heavenly voice. Let's jump into the meat and three-veg! I knew that his father worked with him on the album, and I was curious about that:
"It’s always great working with him. He has always been able to give the songs some lyrical depth and I’m very blessed to be able to work with him. I’m trying to write more on my own these days and I think I have learnt a lot from him. He turned 80 this year but his mind is still sharp and he still loves to write and spends a lot of his time writing poetry or short stories."
I'm glad to hear his dad is still going strong. It sounds like he's really creative & inspiring. Next up I was interested in the track 'Sunday Drive,' which is about his family car flipping down a hill when he was 7 years old. Alone in the car, Ásgeir accidentally took the handbrake off while fiddling with the gearshift and the car was completely destroyed as it rolled over itself. He emerged miraculously unscathed, needing only 4 stitches in his head:
"I just know that I was very lucky to get out of that accident alive. I found a news article online about the accident and showed it to my producer and he actually suggested that it could be good material to write a song about. I remember the day very vividly and already had the song for it so me and my lyrical collaborator for this song, Pétur Ben, sat down together and wrote it."
Feast your eyes and glut your ears on the serene music video for 'Sunday Drive':
"I don’t know if I’ve had a particularly hectic life, and this is the only life threatening situation I’ve been in. Throughout my career I haven’t made many songs that are deeply personal, mostly because I’ve been working with different lyricists. But I feel like doing more of that now. I grew up with a sister so the Sister song could be interpreted as personal. I can interpret On the Edge as personal but it wasn’t written with that in mind. My dad wrote the lyrics first in Icelandic and then I translated it."
I was very interested in his classical training & iconic emotive guitarwork, and how his songwriting has changed over the years, with the artist stating:
"Some of the songs on the EP were written a few years ago when I used to write most of my music on guitar but right now I find it easier to write on the piano. My guitar playing has evolved some through the years just by being open to trying out different things."
The Sky Is Painted Gray Today features the guitar prominently, as well as his trademark beautiful falsetto & the ebony and ivories. It is a return to the artist's roots, and I was dying to know which tracks were his favourite from the EP, and if any held particular significance...
"They all do in a way. But I guess right now I’m the most happy with how the song Sister came out since we went back and forth many times with how we were going to arrange it. And I think that the end result served the song the best."
All four tracks are a journey to be beheld, but I was curious if we would see another album completely in Icelandic, and if he had any songs which he preferred to perform in Icelandic and any preferred in English...
"I’m planning on making an album in Icelandic soon. But I’m getting tired of all these translations and having two versions of the same album so I want to make a separate album in Icelandic. Of the last album I much prefer singing songs like Lifandi Vatnið and Myndir in Icelandic but I prefer Youth over the Icelandic version of that song. I prefer to sing a lot of the first album in Icelandic as well."
I was interested in the translation process, with his first album being completely translated and then 2017's Afterglow mainly featuring English. Now we have had Bury The Moon, and it's Icelandic counterpart Sátt again featuring both languages. I wanted to know whether he finds it easier to translate as time goes by, or if he find himself writing in one language over the other...
"Right now I’m working on an album in English and I’m trying to just start there, so that’s a bit different from how it was before. I’m also trying to write more on my own, or at least about something more personal. I might come up with an idea and then finish the lyrics with someone else. And sometimes when I’m stuck I can get my father or Julius, my friend to write lyrics in Icelandic that I can then translate into English."
I'd heard that his mother runs a guesthouse and had converted his childhood room into a hotel. I wondered if he had ever stayed there as a tenant:
"Hehe, that is true and yes I’ve stayed there. My childhood room still has my old guitars hanging on the walls. But I never get the sense that I’m in a guesthouse when I’m there, and my mom doesn’t charge me for staying there. It still feels like the house I grew up in although a lot has changed."
Delving into his history, I found out that he held records for spjótkast (javelin throwing) and had suffered career-ending injuries when he was young. Australia being a sporty country, I was of course interested in this (I mean, come on, how many rockstars can throw a fucking spear) and I was curious to know if he still held the record to this day...
"It’s been quite long since I last threw a javelin, probably around 5 years. But I used to be really into it when I was growing up. When I was about 14 I heard about this Finnish sport where they competed in phone throwing. I wanted to try it out and started throwing my phone as far as I could on a field close to where I lived, but then I lost it somewhere in the grass and couldn’t find it. I tried to find it for a long time because I had recorded a lot of song demos on the phone. So maybe one day someone will find it. But I think I still hold a few of the national records in the youth categories. The best I did was maybe throwing the 600g javelin 64,14 centimeters when I was 15 years old."
I'd love to see him go pro with phone throwing. Maybe one day we'll see the bootlegged phone demos come out on a black market album. With such a successful music career & extensive touring regime, I wanted to find out what his favourite places around the world were. . .
"To be honest Australia has definitely been one of my favourite places to visit and I’m really looking forward to going over there again to play. It’s just always been such good weather when we’ve been there and the venues have been amazing as well. But every place has a different feeling. I’ve really liked touring in France, Germany, Denmark and all around Europe. But I guess Australia and Japan sort of stand out, maybe also because it’s so far away and I don’t think there are that many people in Iceland that ever get to go there. I’m going to Greenland for the first time in a few weeks and I’m excited about that. I've always wanted to go."
Good answer, and we're always down to have this legend come to our shores. You're welcome any time!!! With that over with, I wanted to find out what he would like to explore or do differently with his next release. I wanted to know what Ásgeir Trausti's plans were for the future:
"Right now I’m working on an album in English, it’s going to be a bit more upbeat overall and I think it’s going to show a different side of me. Like I said before I’m also planning on making an Icelandic album in the near future. Next year we are planning on going on the road as well and hopefully we get to go to Australia."
Thanks again to Ásgeir Trausti for putting up with us! you can find his latest single, with hints of his more upbeat leanings to come HERE. But in the meantime, have a sneaky listen to The Sky Is Painted Gray EP below.
It was an honour to interview Ásgeir, and I wish him well with his future releases, the translation frustration and I wish his father well! Þakka þér fyrir.
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