Interview: Amiina

You should know Amiina for playing strings on the Sigur Rós albums. Since 2004 they've been releasing minimalistic avant-garde material which can be described as both 'cute' and 'eclectic'. Since releasing their debut album Kurr in 2007, Amiina brought in two new (male) members and released their second album Puzzle, in 2010. Amiina's Maria answers our questions about the new album, the past, Sigur Rós and the vibrant Icelandic music scene.

Music Review Database: People must always ask what it's like playing with Sigur Rós. Their music certainly toys with the emotions, but what is your relationship with Sigur Ros like pre and post performance?

Amiina: We always had a lot of fun at least. 

Were you recording music prior to Amiina's existence? if so, were these recordings early demos of AnimaminA?
AnimaminA was the first music we ever recorded together as a band, and all the sketches we made ended up on that EP. We had done collaborations with several bands apart from Sigur Rós before, mainly strings sessions.

For your early releases, was it a case of using whatever instruments and household objects you could find lying around?

For AnimaminA we didn't have any preconception of what would come out of our music making and we didn't want to stick with just the strings. So yes, we headed out for a lockout in the countryside with an array of things that made sound and started from there. When making Kurr, we added more instruments and sounds to our vocabulary, some of them more conventional as well as unconventional ones.

I've always found Ammælis to be my favourite Amiina track because of the musical saw and deep synthesizer towards the end. Where do you take influence from? Is it the experimental, electronic musicians of the 20th century? or is it the classical composers?

Well, we made that song originally for Solrun's dad when we played at his birthday party and decided last minute to make a birthday song. The whole process of making the song took about 30 minutes, so I guess the biggest influence for that song is the idea about a celebration and having fun. There is nothing more fun in a party than throwing in a deep synth :)

How was the transformation from being 'the Sigur Rós string quartet' to a 'band'?

It was quite liberating for us, since we had wanted to make music on our own for a while. Making music and creating your own sound scape is very different from adding strings to another band's creation. Also making music with other musical instruments than the strings was new for us and that was maybe the most liberating part for us. We had been studying the strings, touring with Sigur Rós playing the strings - but when making music ourselves there were endless possibilities. We felt like kids playing around, being "allowed" to do whatever we wanted. Fun times!

By the time we released AnimaminA we had toured with Sigur Rós for almost 4 years, and been around the music industry and the touring community. It was a great feeling doing all that in our own terms, playing shows where we were able to create our own sonic universe.

2009 saw Maggi and Kippi inducted to Amiina. There arrival changed the sparse experimental sound in to something more dense, but at the same time keeping that elegance and simplicity your early work showcased. What were the reasons for the line-up additions?

In 2007 Maggi joined us on a couple of tours and Kippi had supported amiina on a few shows in Europe before that. In May 2008 amiina was asked to do a bigger version of an Amiina show for the Reykjavik Arts Festival and we asked them to join us. We reworked some of  Amiina's music for us six and some brass and strings as well as making some new songs. The gig and the collaboration went really well - the addition of the new sounds and dimensions to our music felt like a natural progression, so in conclusion we asked them if they were interested in joining the band, which they were.

Puzzle has some interesting sounds. I particularly like Mambó as an updated version of Ammælis. How did you go about recording Puzzle?

Puzzle was recorded in several different places; rehearsal spaces, homes, the studio.. over almost a year. We produced it ourselves with Biggi in the swimming pool studio on the desk. It was quite a puzzle to get i all together.

The musical saw is one of those D.I.Y instruments only skilled musicians play. It's a big part of your sound, I was wondering if you were influenced by the likes of Julian Koster of Neutral Milk Hotel??? What do you make of the musical saws reputation as an 'outsider' instrument?

We started trying the saw out because Hildur's great-grandfather had been a virtuoso. The saw is very hard to play physically, you get tired in your left hand pretty quickly. Also the tonal range of the most common saws is quite limited so it's not a very flexible instrument. But it definitely has it's charm :)

Do you have a third album planned? When can we expect to hear new material?

We have already started making new songs - we don't know when to expect a new album to be out and we don't have clue how it will end up sounding..

Bjork and Sigur Ros have pretty much brought Icelandic music in to the limelight. I urge others to explore beyond the mainstream because Iceland generally does have a long list of fantastic recording artists. Do you keep in close contact with your fellow Icelandic artists? What is the relationship like between you and say... Kira Kira? Seabear? Mum?

We are all one big family..

With the population of Iceland being in the 300,000's, some people seem to think everyone must know somebody who is in a band. Do you have rich music heritage?

It's hard to say, but I think a big reason for the rich music life in Iceland is how good and accessible the music education system has been for years. That has a big impact on how the average person enjoys music. Not only is it common to be in a band or play and instrument, it's very common to to sing in a choir and enjoy music and music making on amateur basis. Most kids grow up with the notion that making music or playing and instrument is as normal as doing sports.

What was the atmosphere like at Inspire Iceland?

Cold and wet.

What was it like playing with Spiritualized and what did you make of Jason Pierce?
It was great fun, except for the cold and rain. We ended up recording strings for his upcoming album. 

Do you have any tours lined up?

We don't have much planned, a few one off gigs here and there. We want to focus on making new music.

Will you be playing with Sigur Rós at this years Bestival? Can you reveal anything about new Sigur Ros material, what are we to expect?

No, we wont be playing with them this time - you just have to wait and have a listen when the album is out!

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Discovery: Interview: Amiina
Interview: Amiina
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