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Sleepless in Reykjavík – An interview with Sóley

Sóley’s third album “Endless Summer” raises questions. After her dreamy debut “We Sink” and the almost depressive “Ask the Deep” we began thinking she can’t surprise us anymore – but then she suddenly does the unthinkable: creating cheerful music. At least that’s what she claims. Scenic lyrics are still combined with the piano and a remarkable voice. Apart from that she did not only paint her studio in new colours but also definitely stopped killing clowns. Nevertheless she accidentally ended up in an Icelandic thriller. Weird stuff. We have questions. So many questions.

An interview by Moritz Bouws and Gregor van Dülmen


Congratulations for your new album which is called “Endless Summer”. Is that a desire you have during these long Icelandic winters – to have an endless summer?

Yeah, in a way. Because I started writing it in January and it can be quite dark in Iceland then. So there is always this time when you’re craving for summer. Actually the title came up before I started writing the album. Consequently, I decided to make an album that is going to be called “Endless Summer” although I didn’t know how it would sound.

It’s also linked to the Icelandic summer because the sun never goes down, so it feels kind of endless. You just wake up, there’s a new day and you never go to sleep – there’s so much energy. It’s kind of a mixture of both craving for summer and the endless character of the Icelandic summer. Everything fades into each other, like day and night.

In comparison to your previous record “Ask the deep”, which was released in 2015, “Endless Summer” apparently has a far more optimistic approach. You dedicated the opening song (Úa) to your two year old daughter. Would you say that this optimism is due to the impact your daughter has on your work recently?

Probably in a way, yes. It’s funny how children change your life. I don’t know if you have got children, but life will never be the same. First, I’m more tired and I’d never been that tired in my life before. But when you see a child born, there’s just a weird thing going on. Life is just amazing. Having a child is amazing. I never wanted to write ‚mommy songs‘ or something like that. But it definitely has an effect on how I want to be. Obviously I want to be a good role model for her. I don’t want to be in this depressing shit all my life. I guess this is my attempt to get out, like crawling back seeing the lights of the happy end of the tunnel thinking, “I wanted to go there. This is where I want to be.” Maybe she inspired me in a good way. Well, I’m pretty sure she does.

Recording impressions:

https://twitter.com/soleysoleysoley/status/852127261012766721

source: Twitter

And apart from your daughter: what influences you when you make music? For instance, you painted the walls of your studio purple and yellow. Does it matter which colours are surrounding you?

I think so. I think it’s the mood I’m in, the emotional state I’m in when I make albums. I had a plan for this album: I wanted to write a song in a major key. That was one of my goals, because I never had written songs in a major key. So now I achieved that. Besides I wanted to make more music just with piano and voice, going back to my roots. I love sitting by the piano playing a theme. Apart from that I wanted to challenge myself a bit. Regarding the compositions I tried to make it more complex. I just wanted to sit by the piano and make a new album. So I sat down and those songs just came out. That’s what I did.

Which colours are you going to choose for your next album?

Well, that’s a good question. Which are the remaining options? My daughter’s favourite colour is pink. First I replied, “Don’t you like black?”, but she said, “No, I like pink and purple and glitter and gold.” However, I think about a lot of colours when I’m writing albums. For this one I preferred brighter colours. With regard to that my friend Inga (Ingibjörg Birgisdóttir), who does the artwork, and me have a close collaboration. I told her about the colours I was thinking about and she made it kind of bluish. There’s also a little bit of pink in there. But in the end she decides. I have these ideas of colours, but it’s her work to make it visually look like how it sounds. To answer you question, obviously pink will be the colour for the next album.

Album cover by Birgisdóttir Ingibjörg

Last year you played a small tour in order to try if people like your new songs and the new major key sound. Did you really fear losing the interest of your audience while working on your new album?

Hmmm, good question! I don’t know. It was like this: I showed the album to people saying, „Guys, I made a happy album.“ And everyone who listened to it replied, „It’s not really happy.“ I assume I have a lower standard of happiness than other people. I couldn’t really act like “la la la la”, so we are meeting in the middle. I think it’s not a happy album. It’s more an album where you crave for what you love. Would I love an endless summer? I don’t think so. But I like craving for it. I kind of like it, when you have this desire for summer.

On this tour you also introduced your new live band, including a small orchestra and a second vocalist. What are the main differences playing with such a huge ensemble in comparison to the minimalistic sets you used to play before?

It’s much more fun. I won’t say anything against my friends who were working in my band, they’re unquestionably great. But what I love about it is that I actually could play these songs acoustically without any amplification. I don’t like my voice quietly. Composing and arranging a band is what I always want to do. I definitely would like to make an album with a symphonic orchestra. Maybe the next one, we’ll see. At the moment we’re rehearsing for the upcoming tour but having a big band on tour is quite expensive. In fact there’s a willingness on both sides, but financially we have to wait what happens. It definitely will be a bigger band.

Sóleys aktuelle Single “Grow”:

Quelle: YouTube

Your Berlin concert on that tour was at a church (Passionskirche Kreuzberg). This year in May you come back to Berlin and play a show at a church again (Apostel-Paulus-Kirche in Schöneberg). In Cologne you play at „Kulturkirche“, which also was a church once. Why do you choose churches? Is it just the sound?

Yes, on the one hand it’s the acoustics. Even though it sometimes can evoke a crazy reverb. But that’s the problem of my sound technician. On the other hand I also think when you enter a church the vibe is totally different to when you go to a club. I’m not a big fan of me playing in a club because I don’t think it fits me or my project. So I’m always trying to be at sitting shows where people are not really drunk but listen for an hour and then go for a drink. Because I love just sitting down and listening, enjoying.

And your show in Leipzig is at Felsenkeller which is quite a special venue, too. As you possibly know all these cities are well-known for having many music clubs. Is this characteristic important to you when you are on tour?

I love Germany. I’d like to live in Germany. I like both playing in bigger cities and small towns in Germany, Italy, and so on. It’s also nice to visit towns you’ve never heard about before and to see so many people showing up. It’s a nice mixture of both. It’s also hard when you play only big cities. It’s a longer drive. But it makes sense to do it in a way. I like both. And I love Leipzig.

What’s really interesting for us is the close collaboration that within the Icelandic artistic scene you’re a part of. You support each other on records, go on tour together, and apart from that established artists don’t forget to promote young talents. Do networks like Icelandic Music Export Office play a role for these collaborations or are all of you just friends who support each other in creating their own music?

I think both. Export Office has a really important part in the Icelandic scene. They have contacts and they are willing to help artists – like even me when I’m lost in the music industry. We have a coffee and we talk about it. And it’s important for new bands, too. I’m thirty, I don’t know people who are twenty and starting making music now. So I’m just growing up with my generation of the music scene. I think these networks are really important to get to know each other. There are just tons of bands and musicians, and there a young kids who do cool stuff. So people just talk about new stuff and then go taking it out.

But can you still say that generally you all know each other?

Yes. If we don’t know each other we know the same friends. It’s really small. So it’s really hard not to know each other. The music scene is really close, we’re all buddies. And it’s fun.

The Icelandic music export obviously works very well. Your last album “Ask the Deep” even was used for a German TV crime television series. Do you know about this?

Ehm, what is it called?

“Der Island-Krimi”. Like “The Icelandic Crime Show”.

Really? I don’t know everything that happens with my music. But I might have gotten an email about that. Okay, that’s funny.

It was a big production, starring Franka Potente. So everybody knows you now in Germany.
Is it a crime show about Iceland?

The other kind of music video:

Yes, it’s set in Iceland and has German actors who pretend to be Icelandic.

Oh my god, I have to see it. I’d like to see German people acting like Icelanders.

Since the sound of the record was dark and heavy it actually fit very well with the mood of the series. What kind of TV series do you think would be a good fit for your new album?

I love this one song, the last song “Endless Summer”. I thought it might fit to a teenage movie or maybe to “Skam”. It’s a series from Norway and it’s about kids in college. I watched all episodes. I’m going to talk to my manager to put the song in this season, it’s really popular. There’s a lot of cool music in it. They even have a Spotify playlist featuring many popular songs from Scandinavia.

You used to tell this poetic horror fairytales on your earlier albums. And still your lyrics are very scenic and theatrical. Did you ever think about publishing a book with the stories you make up? Or will music always be more important to you?

No, I thought about it. Actually I started writing a book two times. I’m always to busy and I don’t have time for it.

Maybe when you’re old?

Yeah, maybe when I’m old and have a whisky voice and don’t like to sing anymore. Well, I’m thinking about writing Icelandic poems. I’m going to release a poem book one day, either in Icelandic or English. I mean, Icelandic is my mother tongue, so for me it’s easier to express myself. Let’s see.

Talking to you or watching you playing a show it seems that humour plays a big role in your life. But your songs, especially the older ones, on the other hand have titles like “I’ll drown”, “Smashed Birds”, “Follow me down” or “Kill the clown”. Is that something you do when you write music: Kill the clown inside of you to make some serious art?

(laughter) I don’t know who I am when I write this stuff. I hope this child will make me a better person. I’m afraid of myself sometimes. Why would someone write this down and even release it? I mean, I can’t watch horror movies because I’m so afraid, I can’t go to the bathroom for months after I watch “The Shining” or something comparable. So this is my approach: to write a horror song, and just imagining it – and I know I wrote it so it’s not real. This is my thing to satisfy the horror desire. Because you need something scary in your life, it keeps your heartbeat going.

Sóley – Kill the Clown (live):

Quelle: YouTube

So you write horror stories because you can control them?

Exactly. That’s a good thing. Because I can choose the end. Or can I? I don’t know. I like it, but on my new album I was writing less about horror stuff, I guess. I was just trying something else. And I think it’s always good to not to get stuck anywhere and challenge yourself, do something. Because usually I would say that I would never write a song about my daughter or I’d never write songs in a major key, because it’s not me.

But then I question that and ask myself: Why don’t I do that? Why would I put myself in a box? Why don’t I try out something else and see what happens ? And that was just what I was trying to do on my new album. I just tried out a lot of stuff I thought I wasn’t supposed to do because I had put myself in some sort of box.

And we think it really worked out.

I’m really happy with the album. I did it in a year, I just shut down and all these songs came out and I was pushing songs out and I didn’t force anything. So all these songs just came within four months and then I just finished them. Why should I spend more time with it? So I’ll just release it and start to do something else. I don’t know about working on an album for ten years and I think life is too short to do it. You just start doing something new. I enjoyed the process of making the album, it’s all really natural. I’m really happy.

So best wishes for the release and thank you for the interview.

Danke. See you around.


Sóleys third album “Endless Summer” will be released on may the 5th at Morr Music. Afterwards she’ll play a tour with a small or big band in small and big towns:

May 10 Kulturkirche Cologne, Germany
May 11 Felsenkeller Leipzig, Germany
May 12 Apostel-Paulus-Kirche Berlin, Germany,
May 14 Mousonturm Frankfurt Am Main, Germany
May 16 Hybernia Theater Prague, Czech Republic
May 18 Aula Artis Poznan, Poland
May 19 NIEBO Warszawa, Poland
May 20 Kino-Teatr RIALTO Katowice, Poland
May 21 Brno, Czech Republic
May 23 A38 Budapest, Hungary
May 24 Culture Factory Zagreb, Croatia
May 25 Kino Šiška Ljubljana, Slovenia
May 27 Posthof Linz, Austria
May 28 A4 Bratislava, Slovakia
May 29 WUK Vienna, Austria
Jul 04 Covo Summer Bologna, Italy
Jul 05 Circolo Magnolia Segrate Milano, Italy

Cover picture: © Birgisdóttir Ingibjörg

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