Interview by Alexander Laurence
Múm is an Icelandic band that started in 1997. They are well-known for
their music which is often experimental and for their unusual instruments. They
have had many members in their collective, but the two main members of the band
are Gunnar Örn Tynes and Örvar Póreyjarson Smárason. Their sixth album is called
Sing Along to Songs You Don’t Know (2009). I caught them at CMJ in New York
City at their first American show in a few years. I spoke with Örvar and we
all ran down to the bar to bet on racing cars.
AL: What have you been doing these past two years? Have you taken some time
off from music?
Örvar: We were still making music most of that time. We were making the
album the whole time. It’s all periodical. There is the time for the album and
the tours. It has been exactly two years since we did a proper tour of the
States. We were at Coachella in 2008. I remember when we were in Kansas for
Halloween exactly two years ago. We all wore costumes.
AL: Was there any games plan or concept with the new album?
Örvar: We always try to steer away from game plan. We are not good at
deciding something and then following it. We never decided to make music. It’s
more like turning on a faucet. The only thing we planned was making a little
AL: How many songs did you end up writing?
Örvar: There were twenty songs. We are using most of them. There are two
that we didn’t finish yet. We had an EP come out in October 2009. Now we have
exclusive tracks that will come out in Japan only. We have exclusive tracks
for Australia. Everything is so complicated now. You want people to buy
these records with extra songs. We want to have another EP in the Spring as
AL: Did you do some other collaborations besides the one with Animal
Örvar: A few things. The last one we did was a radio theater. We love doing
that. We have two radio plays in Iceland. We won a Scandinavian Award for
best radio play. We have done plays based on works by contemporary Icelandic
authors. We have worked with a director who makes adaptations from novels.
They are poetic books.
AL: Many of us in America have heard of Halldór Laxness, but not many new
writers in Iceland. We don’t have a lot of translations over here.
Örvar: Yes. It doesn’t get translated in English very often, but French and
German obviously more often. It’s hard to get published. I wrote a novel a
few years back, and I had it translated. It came out in Italy as well. I had
it translated into English, but I couldn’t be bothered with sending it to
people over here, because it is different.
AL: Did you find that it was easy to write a novel?
Örvar: It took a long time. It was something I wanted to do for a long t
AL: I have met Henrik from Singapore Sling.
Örvar: I used to play guitar for Singapore Sling. Henrik was in a car
accident recently. I hope that he is okay.
AL: Henrik told me that people in Iceland are often in multiple bands.
Örvar: That is what I have done for the past ten years. I have been in
twenty-five bands. I like playing with a lot of bands. Now I am only playing in
two bands. The other one is a dance technopop thing. I only sing some disco
AL: There was a documentary film called Screaming Masterpiece that came out
a few years ago. What did you think of that movie?
Örvar: Well. The people who did that movie told us that they were making a
film that would not go in the same direction that every film about Icelandic
music. They were really excited about it. They promised to us that it was
going to be a loose study of a thousand years of Icelandic music. It was
supposed to be about how bands interact. It ended up being a landscape tourist
video. I had to shut it off halfway through. People like it but it wasn’t for
AL: What songs are you playing in the live show now?
Örvar: We play mostly songs from the new album, and the last album. We play
at least one song from every album.
AL: Do you bring gear to the United States?
Örvar: It’s really difficult. We used to tour with a lot of gear. We try to
bring less with us so we don’t have to pay taxes. They charge by weight. We
have t-shirts and CDs from here, and we buy some gear from here. It’s
cheaper buying amps and gear here than bringing things over.
AL: Do you have a lot of music stores in Iceland?
AL: So if you have a guitar amp in Iceland, you are a popular guy?
Örvar: We have so many amps loaned out in Iceland. We don’t even have a
space to store them all. Our amps are all over the place and being used.
AL: Are these new songs personal songs, or are they about stuff going on
Örvar: I wouldn’t connect these songs to any year. The feelings are a
starting point for the songs, and there is a lot of reflection. I often go back
to childhood in songs. I think people do that all the time. Sometimes you
smell something in the air, and you think about some moment you never thought
about before. Sometimes it doesn’t seem so important, and then that memory
comes back to you. That is very important for me. I live for stuff like that.
AL: It’s like a magical moment.
Örvar: Exactly. It’s a really nice feeling. We have always made music based
around that notion, but it’s also us just playing around.
AL: When you are writing a song, do you sit around with an acoustic guitar
and figure out some chords, or do you play around with sounds, and record
Örvar: We do both of those things. We do a hundred song ideas before it
gets cut down to these twenty songs. Some songs begin by playing the piano or
acoustic guitar. Or getting some beats out of an old Casio. It comes from
there. We like to record beats on a cassette tape recorder like the one you
have taping this interview. It has good compression.
AL: How do you decide who plays with you in the band?
Örvar: It’s pretty free and open. It’s a big group of friends.
AL: How many people have been in Múm?
Örvar: About twenty. Now we have these seven people, but it is always
changing. Some people can’t make it. We have had a few different drummers.
AL: Are there any bands that you have been excited by recently?
Örvar: I listen to some Icelandic bands. There are some teenage bands that
I like. The next generation of bands is really interesting. They are very
colorful and energized. It’s happy music. There is no style. There is no scene
that dominates. There are never two bands who do the same thing. That is
AL: Have you played a lot this year?
Örvar: We played a few UK festivals and we did a European tour. We have
been playing for about three months. We went to Israel and Japan. We are
playing until the end of the year.
AL: Is there anywhere in the world you like to go?
Örvar: Japan. We have played there ten times.
AL: Was that one of the first places you became popular?
Örvar: Yes. We play our biggest shows there. They get quiet and they are
very respectful. It’s very quiet. I have had art shows there too. I have shown
my drawings and paintings.
AL: They get loud at the art shows. You don’t have to be polite there.
Playing at the EL REY on November 6th.