21 year old Ásgeir Trausti, the Reykjavik-raised melodic folk singer, has achieved a great deal since finishing high school and turning, out of both passion and curiosity, to the music scene only two years ago. His debut album, Dýrð í dauðaþögn, entirely in Icelandic, featured three singles that shot up to the top of the Icelandic charts within the first few months of the album’s release. The same year, Ásgeir achieved a Christmas hit while collaborating with Iceland’s biggest hip hop artist Blaz Roca, which maintained its place at number 1 on the singles chart for nine weeks. In 2013, Ásgeir and his team translated the album into the English version, In The Silence, and rerecorded the songs for international release.
Shy, with frosty blue eyes stuck to the floor, Ásgeir indulged BOOM’s Jules O’Brien in a group interview before opening for King Krule and Daughter at KITEC last Thursday.
What is the music scene like in Reykjavik? It’s only got a population of about 100 000 people doesn’t it?
300 000, actually, but still not much difference! The music scene in Reykjavik is so wide; there is always something new popping up. It’s really easy to get to know all the musicians and work with them in studios, because everything is so close by. In fact, the closeness is probably the main thing about the music scene there – everyone works together.
You wrote all of the music in your albums Dýrð í dauðaþögn and In The Silence, but your father wrote the lyrics. What is the relationship between your father’s lyrics and your music?
Well, I had written English lyrics to most of the songs before when I made the demos, but they didn’t make much sense because I never took them too seriously. I always looked at my music as more of a hobby so they didn’t matter to me too much at the time. When I first went into the studio with this amazing producer in Iceland, we decided to try these demos in Icelandic. I had the idea to call my father because he’s been a poet for about 60 years or something. I always admired his work – when I started writing music when I was about ten years’ old, having his poetry everywhere would change the way I wrote. He wrote the lyrics to the demo in about one day, and they just fit so well with the music that I asked him to write lyrics for the whole album.
What led to your collaboration with American singer John Grant on In The Silence? Were there any challenges when you were working together?
Since my songs were originally designed in English and there were people in the industry encouraging me to go further, we decided to do a version of the Icelandic album in English. I wanted to get some good translations of the songs, by someone who could translate without losing the importance of my father’s lyrics. It made sense to have someone who was a musician as well as a lyricist, who spoke English as his mother tongue. John had been living in Iceland for a year, making appearances here and there. His stuff was all over the place, so my friend pointed out that he could be a good guy to work with. We asked him if he had the time to help us out, and he seemed interested right away. He had heard my stuff on the radio and wanted to help out. It ended up being so nice and simple, a few days later we had already started working on it.
Are there any particular features from the Icelandic lyrics that you think might have been lost in translation?
I can’t really think of any from the top of my head, but I know that there were some songs that were difficult to translate directly. When we were recording the English version of the album, I was experiencing one of the strangest times of my life. I didn’t really understand all the attention I was suddenly getting and why it was happening. It all happened so quickly, so I didn’t really worry about things like what would get lost in translation. I was too busy worrying about other things! Though it definitely took time to put it together and make it sound as convincing as the Icelandic record, and I am really happy with the end result.
I think the most difficult part was going back into the studio with the same mind-set as we had while recording the Icelandic album. When the Icelandic album was finished we were drained of energy and were so relieved, so having to do it all over again was very tricky.
How would you describe your music style and how did it come into shape in your formative years?
I’ve heard words flying around like ‘folkatronic’ or something. I honestly couldn’t say, because my songs are all over the place somehow. When we first recorded the album, I wasn’t so sure about it because the songs all sounded so different to each other. It seemed incoherent to me. Some songs are really electronic with fast beats, focused on programming sounds. Others are big and powerful, all played on live instruments. Some have really unusual time signatures, some are very basic folk songs.
Just before I recorded my first album I started listening to electronic music – James Blake, mainly, whose use of space, songwriting and production skills really opened a door for me and inspired the electro side of the album. When I was growing up, however, I used to look down at using a computer to make music (which I think is bullsh*t now). I used to be into rock, and then I started listening to folk music in my teenage years. I was used to playing on a nylon string guitar, and changing to a steel string guitar really changed how I felt about playing music and the sound of my music.
My family was also a big influence growing up, because each one of us was musical in some way. One of my brothers was the only one who wrote music though, which I connected with more than reading from sheet music like the rest of my family were doing. My brother played guitar, wrote songs and sung, so he had a big impact on my style and what I do.
Having already achieved so much in two years, what are your plans and ambitions for the future?
I actively try not to worry about what’s going to happen tomorrow. I don’t like having future plans about things unless they are really necessary! I always think my future plans are just to write music and play guitar, and keep my mind open. They have nothing to do with being successful or achieving anything big, because I think focusing on the basic things and enjoying myself are more important. It’s just a plus if I could be able to release another album and carry on travelling around the world.
To the unsuspecting audience, Ásgeir’s set was dazzling. His curly Icelandic accent led his bandmates through a streamlined yet varied mixture of songs from his album, which left the King Krule fans dumbfounded and the Daughter fans purring. Highlights were the powerful, multi-dimensional track Torrent, and the addictive single King and Cross, which had every audience member dancing.