It's difficult to discuss Ólafur Arnalds without a slight tone of awe. The Icelandic musician has earned his trade through is talent in the worlds of neo-classical, post-rock and hardcore punk. He releases LPs, EPs and film scores at the same rate most artists release singles. He's just released the wonderful For Now I Am Winter, so I caught up with him to discuss the album, his time writing film scores and his plans for the rest of the year. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a musician in every sense of the word.
What are you up to at the moment?
My new album was just released in the US and Canada today so I have spent most of the day on my social networks and answering interviews. More generally, this week i am preparing and rehearsing for tour.
How was SXSW for you?
It was interesting... It's a strange and mad place. I had lots of fun but was also very tired by the end of it.
Do you plan on continuing with the workload you've placed on yourself over the last 5 years? 5 EPs, 2 LPs and 3 movie scores are quite a lot, how do you maintain that without burning out either physically or artistically?
I never plan to work this much, it always just happens. I am totally addicted to making music and I get so many amazing offers to do scores or other types of commissions that are hard to turn down. I hope that I will take some more time to relax next year (this year is already fully booked) but I somehow doubt that will actually happen.
What was your aim with For Now I Am Winter? Did you achieve all you wanted to?
I wanted to try something different, avoid getting stuck doing the same music over and over again. And I wanted to learn something new in the process of it. I definitely did that!
What inspired the record?
Well one of the things that inspired the record was basically that. Learning and experimenting, trying something new. There are plenty of electronic influences on the record and even pop influences.
Why do you decide to implement vocals this time around?
People always used to ask me in interviews "why is your music instrumental?" and I always had an answer. Didn't feel like my music needs vocals, it can say enough without having words. But then one day when working on this record I thought just because it doesn't need vocals, doesn't mean it can't work with vocals. So i just thought I'd try it out and see what happens. I did some demos with Arnór and felt that it came out wonderfully so we kept it in.
How do you set about writing music? Is the writing process as complex as the musical outcome or does it just come to you naturally?
It's just like building something. It's many relatively simple steps that eventually make something that looks very complicated. I usually just start with improvising on the piano until I find a theme that I like, and then i just take it from there - try those melodies on different instruments and build things on top of it.
How do you go about writing a film score? Do you just write the music and try to adapt it? Or do you start off by basing it on the film
I always start off [with] the film. Watch a rough cut (or read the script) and then try to write a bunch of music that i feel fits with the film. Then I start adapting it to the film. So it's a bit of both really, but the film itself is always a starting point.
Why did you decide to do the score for Broadchurch? How was that process?
They sent me the scripts and i thought it was a really wonderful and deep story. It's so much more than just a murder mystery, it's really a deep look into society and relations. I initially wrote the main themes just based on the script, tried to write as much material as iI could as I knew the show was going to need a lot. So when I started getting cuts of episodes sent to me I already had a lot to work with. The music definitely still developed throughout the process (4 months in total) but most of it was always based on those initial ideas.
Do you prefer writing from normal albums or doing the film/tv scores?
They are just different ways of writing. You have to approach it in completely different ways, but I like both equally.
You teamed up with Nils Frahm for Record Store Day last year. Do you have any plans to release for it this year? Are you anticipating any RSD releases?
On RSD this year I will be in New York and I believe we have an instore performance at J&R scheduled for Friday. I'll also have the vinyl of For Now I Am Winter with a limited edition art book.
How did you make the transition from being in hardcore bands to creating neo-classical music? Have both genres always been influences on you? Or has it been an either/or situation?
Both genres have influenced me for my whole life (amongst many other genres too!) so it's not really a transition. It's just me being hyper and trying to be everywhere at once.
What types of people come out to your shows? Would your main audience be indie fans or do you get a lot of support from classical music fans?
I see all kinds of people at my shows. I would guess it's more 'indie' fans than classical fans though, but there is definitely plenty of both. The classical scene has been slower to accept my music, but they are definitely starting to pick up on it now.
I imagine you have highly eclectic influences, what influences you as an artist?
I wouldn't say they are particularly eclectic. I like all kinds of 'normal' music. I listen to a lot of pop and indie music as well as electronic and classical music and I think i draw equally much influence from pop music as classical music even though what comes out is much closer to classical.
How are you geared up for your upcoming European tour? What type of set up will the shows have?
I'm working on that right now! We are starting with some bigger orchestra shows but for the spring I will scale it down to a string quartet along with me on the piano and a multi-instrumentalists who plays synths and stuff. We have been creating a new stage design, lights and visuals as well so I have high hopes that it will be a great show!
Have you any plans for the rest of the year outside of the dates you have announced?
We will be announcing a lot more tour dates in the coming months! The plan is to be on tour pretty much for the rest of the year apart from one month in the summer where I will write a score to an Icelandic film.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me!
Thanks very much for taking the time out for the interview!