Fortið- Interview met Einar Thorberg Guðmundsson
Einar Thorberg Guðmundsson: “I have always seen my music as a diary. If I look back on all my music, I always see it like that, it reminds me of a certain time in my life or some happenings or something. I remember my life through my music actually.”
Einar Thorberg Guðmundsson (AKA Eldur) is een IJslandse muzikant die vele artistieke projecten en bands (ook in Katla) heeft en steeds bereid is om daar uitgebreid over te praten. Voor de vierde keer spreken we met hem over zijn band Fortið, dit naar aanleiding van de release van het zevende studioalbum ‘Narkissos’. Dat werd een bijna avondvullende gebeurtenis met tal van interessante wetenswaardigheden. We delen onze ervaring met onze lezers…
Vera Matthijssens Ι 20 november 2023
Where are you living at the moment?
At the moment I am living in Reykjavik, the capital.
I remember you were building a house…
I am building a house, yes. It has been a much longer process than expected. We went through some legal issues and we had to take the whole thing to court. It has been two years of nightmares for us, but it is getting better now. Things are looking better now for us finally.
I hope it was not in the neighbourhood were the new volcano started to erupt in Reykjanes…
No, no. It was it the opposite direction from Reykjavik, so it was far away from it. Actually we will start building again this week, now. This week we could finally start building after two years of nothing. It is a very long story, but I guess you want to know about my ‘Narkissos’ album, but it is related to that album.
In which way?
Well, people we had to deal with legally, inspired me to let out some feelings and write these lyrics you have on ‘Narkissos’. So yes, it is connected.
So it is a kind of catharsis from all the feelings you had since ‘World Serpent’?
The theme of the album is ‘Narkissos’. It is a Greek myth, but it should be reflected on Icelandic themes. How do you see that?
The album is not Greek mythology at all. It is just this reference to Narkissos who stood later – or maybe at the same time – for narcissism. So the album is about narcissistic people or a narcissistic person.
Don’t you think everybody is becoming narcissistic these days, they all take pictures from themselves with iPhone…
I believe we all have it at some level, but there are different kinds of narcissism and we have something called malignant narcissism. It is this state when everything is about you and you will say what you need to say to people to get your way. You will show your best sides to deceive people and you don’t really care what happens to others as long as you get what you need to get. That is the character that I am trying to get into on this album, trying to understand and at the same time just trying to let out some frustrations, like dealing with these kinds of persons who have tried to destroy everything and take everything we have worked for, my wife and I. They just tried to destroy us, tried to take it away from us. So we have lethal battlefields in court and of course there are a lot of personal things and maybe lethal things that I cannot talk about, I guess, so it is not something I can go into details, but this is the summary of it.
Music-wise it is more coherent and what struck me… more pure classic heavy metal solos on guitar…
About the guitar solos, it is a long story, because we had a lead guitarist in the band before, who is this technical guitarist. He was handling the solos, but he wasn’t writing as much solos as I wanted him to, but we wrote some fantastic solos before anyways. It was never my comfort zone to write or play guitar solos. That was not my thing, I wanted to play just rhythm guitar and do the vocals and I want someone much better than me to do the guitar solos. Then I was writing this album and I felt like one of the songs – I can’t even remember very well which song that was, but – I felt immediately that it needed a guitar solo. I just felt so much pouring out of me, that I decided to make more solos and finally I wanted to have guitar solos in every song on the new album. It was one of my favourite processes in making this album, but I am technically not confident when it comes to intricate guitar solos.
It is not about technique only, it is about feelings…
True and that is actually what my strength was and why they sound good, because they are melodic and they have a feeling.
You also bring a lot of diversity in vocals, because we have the harsh vocals, but a song like ‘Uppskera’ has solemn a capella chants. What is this song about and what can you tell about the vocal approach?
It is not really decided in advance. I don’t sit down and think: ‘now I am going to write a song with clean vocals.’ I just write the song and I get into the feeling of it and then I think sometimes: ‘okay, I shouldn’t be screaming there, I should be singing there’. It is hard to explain, but it is just a feeling I get once the song is coming alive, I feel like this has to be screamed or sung or whatever. It is the feeling of this piece that makes me decide.
That is what I like about the album. It is harsh, but there are also many moments of tranquillity or reflection…
Yes, I thought: I just let come everything that wants to come, you know. I don’t categorize things and say ‘no, this cannot fit with it’, whatever comes that comes. It is a free flow of whatever comes. It put more soul into it basically. There is another important thing. These songs are written in different time periods. Some of the songs are from 2016 or something, that also plays a role. Not everything is written in one month, it’s different moods and feelings.
In the end it is also a kind of diary of what you have gone through…
Yeah definitely. I have always seen my music as a diary. If I look back on all my music, I always see it like that, it reminds me of a certain time in my life or some happenings or something. I remember my life through my music actually.
That is great, although it can be painful as well…
Yeah that comes with of course, that’s life. It is about reaping as you sow, like what you plant, what you put into the ground. When it grows, you reap what you sew. In this particular song it is about this narcistic person, he is not putting good seeds in the ground, but planting bad and evil seeds, so he does not have a good harvest. It brings misery and is rotten and his reputation is ruined. It is kind of a story, but it is more like a trail of thoughts. The opening of the song is an actor from Hávamál, it is one of our ancient scriptures, which talks about Odin and how your name lives on after you die and how your reputation will live on.
How did you experience the volcano eruptions in Reykjanes?
The first one or the second one? (laughs) In the beginning – like so many people – we went to it and filmed it. It can be seen in one of our videos, called ‘Finbulvetur’ from our EP that came out last year. It was pretty amazing to see it. Then it erupted again, two or three months ago and then we didn’t bother to go there again. It was like we have seen it (chuckles). It did poison the air a bit, it was a bit cloudy all the time, like a haze hanging over everything. Well, it happens all the time in Iceland, we are actually on a huge volcano. Our country is basically made out of volcanoes.
You have returned to Icelandic lyrics? Is there a particular reason for that?
No, that is something I normally decide before I start working on an album. Do I want to make an album in English now or an album in Icelandic? Sometimes I go for English and sometimes I prefer Icelandic. It is always this big question in my head. I don’t want to mix it. I have done that once on our album ‘Pagan Prophecies’, I had a couple of songs in Icelandic and the rest in English, but normally I don’t like to do that, because all the Fortið albums are this concept albums. There are some subjects, some red lines through the albums. I feel like having two languages is a bit destructive.
Duality, like we had on the former album ‘World Serpent’. It was made partly in Norway and partly in Iceland…
Yes, that’s why I called it duality, because in reality it is like two albums or two EP’s let’s say. There for example, when I did the second part of it, I would never have switched over to Icelandic. It was already in English for the first part and then I would not have switched, so I tried English for the second part. It is just a feeling. I don’t know what I will do next. Probably next album will be in Icelandic. Most likely again.
You are the artist and creator, so you have to decide…
Yes but it was also because of the other members of the band, like for example on ‘Pagan Prophecies’ was in English, because the other members wanted to understand the lyrics. I was in Norway at that time with the band and no one spoke Icelandic and they wanted to have some connection with the lyrics and I said ‘fine’, but now I have a band with Icelandic people and we have chosen Icelandic. So it is not all my decision. Well, it is my decision, but I go a bit by the other members also. This was very natural for me this time to go for Icelandic language.
I see you are a three piece now, is that enough to play live gigs?
No there will be some changes in the line up before we go on stage, that’s all I can say right now (chuckles)
Could you do some gigs after ‘World Serpent’ or in the meantime after the pandemic?
No. ‘World Serpent’ was released in 2020 in the middle of the pandemic, so there were no thoughts about that. I am a very seclusive person and I like my privacy. I am not so comfortable around a lot of people and I don’t seek a lot of people, so for me this whole thing of playing concerts is not something I am so enthusiastic about. There is something in me that tells me I have to do it and I have to do at least some concerts and I have at least let them hear and see the music live and experience it, so it is time now to do that and we are now working on that and planning that, but I feel fine not doing it to be honest, like you were saying with covid-19 I felt exactly the same, it was fine just being at home. I remember I watched the Arcturus show, the live stream, during covid-19 and I thought: ‘this is so great, just here in my living room with my beer and just watching one of my favourite bands, this is great!’
Do you still return to Norway from time to time (because you have lived there for a while)?
I haven’t been there since covid-19. We were invited for Karmageddon festival but then everything was cancelled and shut down, but I will definitely travel to Norway again and I have good friends in Norway and they will definitely at some point some of them will travel to here and visit me. I stay in contact with some of them. I even still make music with some of them. I did some Icelandic contributions for a Norwegian band called Svart Lotus, their second album. A very good friend of mine is in that band and I did some vocals for them for their upcoming album and he did bass for me when we covered Emperor. He did the bass on that for me. We sometimes work like that on line together. We are always planning on meeting also. I still have flights to Norway. I felt very much at home in Norway; same kind of people and it was very easy. And easy to learn the language, even though I did not feel comfortable speaking it all the time. I just stuck to English with my friends all the time. I only used the language if I was buying something or doing some business. With my friends I just stuck to English, because I don’t want to sound like a bummer haha.
There was also an indication that you should also be inspired by dreams when making this album…
Not for this record, but I have written a lot of songs through the years inspired by dreams yes, but not for this particular record now. If I have a very strange, a very strong dream, I have to write a lyric about that. It is all in my book. Even in the middle of the night, I pick up my phone and I start typing something in, just to not forget it. I also record all ideas I have of music on my phone. My phone is full of musical ideas. If I don’t have my guitar and I am out there somewhere, sometimes I get a melody in my head and I just hum it on my phone.
Did you create video clips for the album?
Yes. Two videos. We have a video for song number four ‘Uppskera’ on YouTube and for the fifth song ‘Thusund Þthaninga Smidur’ is a video also.
Maybe something about the artwork… did your wife do it again?
Yes. We worked on it together, but I am more kind of putting things together and she is actually more designing and then it is photography from both of us and we work together all the time like this. In the weekends and basically every free time we have, we are working on something together. This cover is about a photo of our work, my logo is in the middle of it and her artwork is all around it. She has designed now so much for this band and it just brings the visual aspect of the band to a new level. We have such a good chemistry in working together and we have our own photo firm called Electric Horizon. In the weekends we go out, shooting photos. We are always doing something. Always something creative. Laura, my wife, does all kinds of designs. She does sculptures and clothes and everything. She is a multi-talented artist.
The ‘Voluspa’ trilogy is released again by Prophecy Productions. What do you think and can you tell about these reissues?
Well, I am very, very happy about that release, because I have been feeling for a long time like I am actually saying in the booklet: this trilogy was actually never kind of completed properly. I released the first album in 2003, then the second album in 2007 and the third in 2010 and then I started doing other things, but I always felt like they needed to be somehow together in a package. There needed to be this final version of the whole creation and one of the reasons I started with Prophecy was because they release these cool mediabooks and stuff. So I had the opportunity to do that. So we went into that to create this artbook, going through the whole story behind the albums and everything. Now I have, not only all the music together, but I also told the story of it and it is all in one package and it is one of my favourite releases ever, because it is like documentation, it is like a history of Fortið. So I am very happy and excited about that. It is also a matter of revisiting and remembering, because it was twenty years ago when I started this trilogy. Going through how it was back then and from there, compared to how it is now. It is a huge step and it is nice to remember how far I’ve come and how it anyway goes with this band. It was a very humble beginning of a band, very underground, under the radar. Now it is more professional in every way. It is nice to look back and I feel like I have finished it now, this trilogy. I never had that feeling before. It always felt like it was an unfinished work.
What are the plans for the near future?
The future for Fortið at the moment is just rehearsing a live program. I am going to be very careful with writing new music for now, because we have now seven albums and it is time to take some of the songs and play them live. We’ll be a bit of a live band for a while now I think and focus on that. We have a good collection of good songs. We can put together two or three different sets for different occasions, so there is a lot of material there.