Meet the Icelandic musician Björk is 'obsessed' with
Jófriður Ákadóttir has at least three acts on the go, including JFDR, Samaris and Pascal Pinon
Jófriður Ákadóttir: “We are close to our nature in Iceland, and you can’t escape it even if you try because the ocean and the mountains and the wind are all around.” Photograph: Timothée Lambrecq
On Samaris: “We want to try something different again now and it could be anything. We could even go back to the Icelandic poetry that we used to use as lyrics, those old ancient poems.”
These are busy times for Jófriður Ákadóttir. As has become the norm for the Icelandic songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and Samaris band member, she is juggling different projects and joining up the dots as she goes along.
There’s a new solo album, Brazil, due to be released next month under her JFDR moniker. This comes on the back of last year’s run of work, including the excellent Black Lights album from Samaris, the Sundur album from her collaboration with her sister Ásthildur as Pascal Pinon, and her involvement with Icelandic electro-pop supergroup Gangly.
All of this activity has had the desired effect on her profile: fellow shapeshifter Björk last year said she was “obsessed” with Ákadóttir’s work. Next on the to-do slate is another Samaris album. Ákadóttir says work will begin imminently, though she’s unclear at this juncture about what it will be like.
“You never really know what is going to happen when you start,” she says. “This will be the first time all of us have met up to make something together since we made Black Lights. You start from nothing and with nothing, which is exciting and scary and good for you, I think. It’s very early still, and too early to say what it’s going to be – and even if it’s going to work out at all.”
One thing is for sure: Ákadóttir and her bandmates hope this album won’t face the same problems beyond their control as the last one. “We spent so much time, too much time, with Black Lights. Making the album was such a difficult process. We spent over a year going back and forth, and that was hard. For me, getting the thing finished was good.
“When it was done, we had so many problems putting it out because we kind of fell out with our label [One Little Indian]. We’re not working with them any more. That all happened around album release time, so it took a lot of energy away from the campaign we were supposed to be doing where we found ourselves talking about other things instead of the album.
“Looking back now, the fact that we finished something that we were all happy with how it turned out was a huge accomplishment.”
One reason why Samaris stand out is the language used to lace their enticing, distinctive electronica. Be it leaning on ancient Icelandic poetry, as they did earlier in their career, or, as was the case on Black Lights, using English-language lyrics, Samaris songs create a major stir.
“The way we approach our lyrics is always up for debate because we want to try different things,” Ákadóttir says. “We did them in English last time because we wanted to see how that would work. Some people loved them, some people hated them, and that’s how it’s always going to be.
“We want to try something different again now and it could be anything. We could even go back to the Icelandic poetry that we used to use as lyrics, those old ancient poems. We found that really freeing because it created a new structure to work within by using other people’s work.”
Ákadóttir has an interesting take on where the inspiration comes from. Like many of her Icelandic contemporaries, she has heard all the theories on the effect of her country’s landscape on artists and musicians, and she’s not exactly buying them.
“We are close to our nature in Iceland,” she says, “and you can’t escape it even if you try because the ocean and the mountains and the wind are all around. You’re always in touch with it, especially when you travel around the country.
“However, when it comes to how this connects with the music, it’s something I’m not sure about. It’s something you’re always conscious of, but it’s very difficult to answer, especially when you’re brought up in the city and don’t necessarily go out to nature to look for inspiration.
“I mean, I think inspiration is often as much in your subconscious as your surroundings. So it’s hard to point your finger on exactly one thing.”
When Ákadóttir isn’t creating music, she’s out promoting it. Like a seasoned industry executive, she compares the various labels and entities, from Kobalt Music to Morr Music, who help her get out her projects.
Does she enjoy this part of the job, of being an independent artist?
“I’m so used to it now that I don’t think about it,” she says. “It’s part of the job and these are tasks which have to be done. I spend some hours every day answering emails and doing the admin stuff. I think all independent artists are the same. It can be difficult depending on the timescale and the frequency. The last few months it’s been fine because there hasn’t been much going on. Now, it’s difficult because I have my own album, and now the Samaris album is coming.
“But I prefer doing it this way because I’m a control freak. I don’t want someone else to do it for me. And I can really see the results of what I do, which is always a good feeling.”
Brazil is released on March 10th on the White Sun label.