Aðalbjörn Tryggvason: “The Lady of the Mountain on the cover… everybody knows this. On the Icelandic national day you see women dressed up like the lady of the mountain. It is like the Statue of Liberty in America. So it is a very well-known symbol in Iceland.”
Sinds ‘Masterpiece Of Bitterness’ (2005) staat Sólstafir voor een eclectische weergave van alle elementen die IJsland zo’n speciaal land maken: de woeste natuur, de mystieke legenden, de schoonheid van diezelfde pure natuur en het toch wel harde leven dat de eilandbewoners soms moeten leiden. Inmiddels presenteert het stoere viertal ons deze herfst hun zevende studioalbum met de poëtische titel ‘Endless Twilight Of Codependent Love’. We hadden een bijzonder hartelijk gesprek met frontman Aðalbjörn Tryggvason over deze schijf en nog veel meer.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 13 november 2020
How are you doing at the moment?
I’m doing alright. I’m just doing some office work for the album. T-shirts and album versions and doing interviews. So yes, I’m doing good. It is very nice weather here in Reykjavik.
In November the new Sólstafir album ‘Endless Twilight Of Codependent Love’ comes out. Was there a specific time when you focused on songwriting or was it spread over the years?
Now it has been one and a half year ago, so it was like December 2018. At that time we decided: let us write a new album, we are going to record it in December 2019. We started collecting the ideas for this album in December 2018. In December 2019 we did not complete it yet, so we entered the studio in February 2020. We took a year to write, but there was also some touring going on. Nothing extraordinary, we do albums, we tour, we come home and spend some time away from each other. We have been doing this now in a similar way since ‘Svartir Sandar’. Write an album, record an album, tour and tour and you are three years later.
And then your cadence was abruptly interrupted by covid-19…
Yes, it is strange. I don’t know if luck is the right word, but this timing was okay for us in the band, because we were just about to write a new album, record a new album and then we had two kids. I mean, I had a child in April and Hallgrímur had a child in July. We had two kids this year and just being in the studio. It is not something that we do every day, record an album and having kids, but I could have imagined a worst time spending in lockdown.
I understand. You were really focused on the home basis at that time…
In the beginning you wrote lyrics about Norse mythology, later about your spiritual connection with nature – which is not so strange when living in Iceland – but I feel that the subjects became darker and darker. We have mental disorder, we have depression, we have alcoholism… In the band you seem to be open now for your personal struggles. Can you tell something more about that evolution?
Well, evolution is the keyword. Even though we are the same band, in a way, since the beginning, we have different members, we have different topics, vocal style is different. But then again it has always been about change and evolution. No one really did expect us – nor I did not expect us to be playing the same music twenty years ago and today. One thing sort of leads to another, nature, spiritualism, it is very connected. Spiritualism is very connected to depression. So spiritualism is what connects this whole thing. The Nordic mythology is very nature connected. Then we have: nature is very spiritual connected. And then you have mental disorder and depression is very spiritual connected as well. Because it is something you cannot see. Everybody knows and feels it, but you can’t see it. And the older you get, the more this affects you. When we were twenty years old, drinking and partying and listening to Slayer, whatever we did… it is not the life we live today. Today we got friends dying, people going insane, people killing themselves, people starving. You cannot see your children, because all lives are fucked up… That affects you. Life gets different and so do our lyrics. But it all changed of course, when I started singing more clean. Clean vocals made me sing more personal. And when I sing something more personal, I can only sing about things I can relate to.
The only song with English lyrics on this album, called ‘Her Fall From Grace’, appears to be the most personal one. Why? If you want to talk about it…
It is just about someone you know, getting sick and you can do nothing about it. It is almost like watching someone dying, but they are not dead. You act like they die, because they became someone else and there is nothing you can do about it. That makes you very sad, you ask yourself why and how can this happen? Why? It is very easy to go too deep into these sorts of things. Asking yourself why… Telling yourself you can save someone. It is a very sick pattern, thinking you can save someone. You can’t. It is just the darkness in someone’s head that takes over and you can’t do anything. So it is very personal yes.
I can understand because I lost my father with dementia..
Yes, dementia is a little bit like that. He is gone! It is your dad, but it is not your dad. Your real dad is gone!
‘Endless Twilight Of Codependent Love’ happens to be a remarkable title. How did you come to this poetic phrase?
It is open for interpretation. We had many different titles as an option. This one I discovered by coincidence when I was reading something which had nothing to do with the album. Some of the other guys were quite skeptical about it and I understand that, since it is an unusual title for us. On the other side we came up with the title ‘Masterpiece Of Bitterness’ fifteen years ago. That was a remarkable title as well. It just crossed my mind, it sounds mystical and it suits the music.
What is the story behind the cover artwork?
I will tell you the story. This was painted in 1864 by a German painter Johann Baptist Zwecker. It was more of a drawing that Icelanders had seen before. In 1866 there was this black and white woodblock replica – they did not have a photo copy machine back in the eighteen sixties – so people in Iceland had only seen this replica painting of the lady of the mountain, representing Iceland. You have the mountains, the literature, the raven. All symbols of Iceland. It has been in Greek mythology, the Romans had their own kind of lady figure… Then two years ago they found the original painting in a museum in Wales. It has been there for so many years. No one in Iceland had ever seen the colored version. The Lady of the Mountain… everybody knows this. On the Icelandic national day you see women dressed up like the lady of the mountain. It is like the Statue of Liberty in America. So it is a very well-known symbol. They found the original drawing two years ago and when we saw it, we just thought: this is the most beautiful thing we have seen, we have to be able to use it, so we were very pleased that we could use it. It is connected with mythology and Odin’s ravens of course and for some reason it reminded me of the album ‘Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness’ from The Smashing Pumpkins with those pastel colours..
One of the songs that really surprised me – in a positive way – is ‘Or’. That is different, kind of bluesy…
Well, it is a blues song, right. Ever since ‘Masterpiece Of Bitterness’ we had this influence from The Doors. We have always had this influence and this song could be The Doors. Except for the end part, but we always like to mix styles. This song is a mixture of two songs. We have tried this song before. It came out very fast. It was not like we thought about it for months. Like some songs, we try for months and months and months and nothing happens. Sometimes they come fast, sometimes they take months and months to do it. This one was just putting stuff together. We were not sure about it at first, but when we started listening to it, we thought it was very cool. So it was a little bit of an accident, that song, but that goes for the whole thing. Accidents happen when being in a band and that’s what I love about being in a band.
Was ‘Dionysos’ also one of those accidents, because it shows black metal influences again?
Yeah. Half of the song was written almost two years ago. We were working on this song in between tours. I had it on my phone recorded in bits and pieces and a few words… but we never managed to finish it. We always wanted to use this stuff, it was half of a song. But then at the beginning of this year – January or February – Sæþor came up with this riff and I thought about putting some blastbeats under this riff. We were all surprised how it turned out, so there we have a blastbeat song and I wanted to scream over it. Sometimes I scream more live, so it was a natural thing. We never planned: ‘let’s write a black metal song’. No, no, no. That does not happen in this band.
Indeed, it has to happen by coincidence…
It has to happen there, the four of us being in a room together and one thing leads to another.
Another one with a special vibe, this time more storytelling, happens to be ‘Rökkur’…
That’s a story indeed. About rape. It is about a woman being attacked by a sort of animal or a man. An evil man. But later on she gets her revenge and cuts off his genitals and kills him.
Wow, that sounds like Scandi noir series…
Yeah you would be surprised what people can do when you cross the line. Everybody is capable of killing a man. If you destroy some things in people, they will change in a bad way. Sadly, this is what happens every day. Women get attacked, people are abused. A very sad thing, but then again. Revenge has always been there in the history of men. It is still there.
The drummer Hallgrímur contributed to the lyrics for the first time. Which song did he write?
He wrote that one, ‘Rökkur’.
You have been in South America a while ago. It appears that Sólstafir got a warm welcome over there and I also remember that you went to KEXP several times. So there is a special bond with the States. How is the status over there at the moment?
We started to go to the US after the ‘Köld’ album. Oh no, around 2014/2015 we did three tours in America. We went to Maryland Deathfest and played in Baltimore. We did a few shows with that, so it was a sort of first tour. Then we went over very soon again. We toured with Pallbearer. Shortly after that we went on our own headline tour, with Ancient Wisdom. That’s how we started, in 2015. Then we did not go there for two years, but in between we went to South America. Of course when you are in a band for a long time, you always dream about going to South America. Only the big boys go to South America. Touring in South America is of course a fucking hardcore thing. There is no sleep, more than two weeks. You go to bed around 2 à 3 a.m. and you have to wake up at 4 à 5 a.m. every morning. You do the gig, pack the stuff, back to the hotel. You are maybe in the hotel at 1 a.m. You cannot fall asleep, before you are high on adrenaline after the show. Maybe you fall asleep at 3 a.m; and you always have to get up at 4 or 5 a.m; to drive to the airport. We had flights from Iceland to Santiago, Chile. Then of course go to Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil… but even though it is terrible with sleeping and all that traveling, the crowds are just so fucking amazing!!! I mean, even in Mexico… we are a small band, but we had people waiting at the airport! With cameras and albums to sign and a guy with a guitar to sign waiting at the hotel… We even don’t know how they got the info when we arrived. In Colombia, Bogota, the crowd sang along all the songs, they sang every word! Being there is amazing! Then we did a tour with Paradise Lost in America. Great venues we played, like The House of Blues in Chicago and more. I love touring in the US. It is my favourite thing to do. It makes no sense in money and the travel is very long, you play in small venues, less people, but I really like being in America. I truly love it. Then yes. We have been three times to KEXP. We have some very nice connection with them. I remember when we were there the first time, I met a lot of people that had been to Iceland, because Icelandair was flying from Seattle to Iceland directly. So it was a kind of open line. A lot of people have been to Iceland Airwaves festival here. We are so pleased that we have a nice friendship with KEXP. It is always such a pleasure to go there. Everybody is so cool and the venue is so cool. It is just amazing!
Indeed, when you watch the shows, you notice that you have a warm welcome over there…
Yeah, they are the best!
I also understand the connection with the US, because when we were in Iceland, you see the influences from the US in everyday life in Iceland. I think they made the Route No. 1? Then had a basis in Iceland during the war…
Yes, the Brits came here first and then the Americans took over. They stayed here for forty or fifty years. The Americans built the airport, so a lot of people got jobs here. They came with American hamburgers. They came with American TV and radio. And the women loved having pretty Americans dressed in uniforms instead of sheep farmers. So it was pretty popular here.
What are the plans to shoot video clips and for the near future?
We have plans to make three videos, but we haven’t nailed them down yet. We are talking about who is going to make them with us. I cannot tell you right away, it is not certain, but we will probably make three videos. We are working on new merchandise, the album will come out at the sixth of November. By then we should have made three video clips. We are working on a live album. We recorded some shows with strings.