Interview: Arnór Dan Arnarson and Þórarinn „Toti” Guðnason / Agent Fresco

06.01.2016

Before some of the conversations you have a premonition. There is a quiet whisper inside you telling you, that these guys are not only great musicians, but also interesting people. Where does it get from? Simply everything: music, lyrics, videos, presence on stage, thoughts in interviews – just every form of expression, which emanates what’s inside one’s mind. I did have a premonition about this interview. And it did not deceive me. Meeting and talking with Arnór Dan Arnarson (vocals) and Þórarinn „Toti” Guðnason (guitar, piano) of Icelandic alternative rock quartet Agent Fresco was really something else.

Agent Fresco wywiad

I have to say, that the album cover of your latest album „Destrier” is simply amazing. Could you tell me how it was created?

Arnór: The cover is made by Dóri Andrésson, the photo was taken by Marino Thorlacius and the model is an Icelandic dancer called Heba Eir Kjeld. We started talking what the album would represent and how would it be presented very early on. We did a lot of talking and what you see on this image is a mash-up of all the elements that are present on the album. There is elegance, beauty, destruction, something powerful, something, which is not a disease, but is easy to spread. We wanted to combine it all together and that is the result of it. We are very pleased with it.

Music-wise to me two elements, that stand out most on the album are melodies and rhythm. The choruses enchant with magical melodies of Arnór’s vocal lines, but I also really love the way the rhythm is constructed in the songs, particularly the drums parts. Toti, you write most of your songs, how was that unusual rhythmic structures created?

Toti: I reckon, that I think a lot like a drummer. I have always been really fascinated with this instrument. My main focus when I write is the drums, the rhythm and the harmonic structure. I write at home, all guitars, drums and bass lines are done there and then I send it to Arnór. He adds the melodies and lyrics and then we rehearse it. A song might change a little bit then, but it usually stays as it was initially written.

Lyrical and emotional content of the album is very much about the anger you were filled with after what had happened to you [in 2012 Arnór was assaulted on the streets of Reykjavík]. Buddha once said: „You will not be punished for your anger. You will be punished by your anger”. Do you feel it happened to you?

Arnór: Definitely. I have spent all those years, where I was in a really, really dark place and really angry and had some issues with anxiety as well, but the thing, that elevates me right now is knowing, that at least this album came of it. That is what I’m hanging on to. But yeah, that quote really proves itself. I spent so much time digging further into the anger and anxiety when trying to open new emotions and senses, which I could use in the lyrics, but instead of that happening I was closing more and more. The task was to work the whole experience out with the album and come clean out of it and that’s why we also used the fire on the artwork. It’s an universal topic. There is no one way to deal with anger or anxiety, but this is how I wanted to deal with it, to create something beautiful. And eventually we did, but it just surprised me how much long it took to deal with it. It was too long, way longer, that I was hoping for.

So you held it that long within yourself in order to understand it and eventually get rid of those emotions?

Arnór: Yes, but I think I should have taken a break first, fix myself and then write about those experiences. That is what happened with our first album „A Long Time Listening”. I lost my father, then I had a couple of years to dwell on that, process it in me and after that I met these guys and only then I had a chance to creatively make something our of it. But with „Destrier” the attack happened and I instantly knew what I wanted to do with it, but I just started to early, I think. I didn’t have the distance, I was too much into it. Of course something good came out of it, but it just took too much time. It was more blinding me, than actually opening up my eyes to other emotions or lyrical landscapes.

I guess everyone has a different approach towards dealing with difficult emotions, but when I feel something, that I need to handle, I need to live through it in order to understand it. Understand why do I feel it, how do I feel it and what can I do about it in order to change it into something positive.

Arnór: Well with me instead of doing what you do I just went straight into the making something out of those emotions, which I didn’t fully understand at that time yet. I think that’s where the fault was. That also put the whole creative process on hold, because on one hand I was doing my best to write, but on the other I really couldn’t. That triggered feeling of guilt, that I wasn’t doing enough, so I didn’t allow myself to do anything else, so in the end nothing was progressing – the record wasn’t moving further and I wasn’t moving forward in repairing myself either. If I could choose now I would have done it differently, but this is the result and at least I know the record is incredibly honest. I can hear it in the songs, I can hear it in my voice, that when I was recording the tracks I still wasn’t healed. I can hear the anxiety in my voice, so it’s as honest as it can be. Of course I want to sing better when I’m in the studio and I’d would like to have a bit more time to dwell on those feelings, but at least it’s very direct and honest record.

How about emotions contained in the lyrics. When you sing them live, do you relive what the song is about?

Arnór: Not during our regular shows, but when we do our acoustic shows I don’t know what it is, but I completely… When we do our regular electric show it’s about energy and aggression, celebration, it’s physical performance, but when do acoustic show, strip it all down and recompose the songs, I just feel incredibly naked. Especially when we play „Eyes of a cloud catcher”, it’s about the moment we were saying goodbye to my father, who died to cancer and every sentence in that song is about what actually happened and our conversations with him. So when we do this song live acoustic then I relive everything and I’m a total wreck. It doesn’t happen during the normal shows, because there is so much power then and that is completely different emotional landscape, it’s more triumphant, while acoustic is way more fragile and emotional. That’s not bad or good, there are just different experiences.

Is the range of that emotional exposure possible to be controlled?

Arnór: I have no power over that during the acoustic show.

Would you like to?

Arnór: Believe me, I’ve tried many things. When we do „Eyes of a cloud catcher” it’s just me and Toti and I’m up there on the stage thinking „potatoes, potatoes, wall, chair, table”. I’m trying to think the most neutral, emotionless things in order not to think about the lyrics, but it doesn’t work.

One might ask why do you actually play this song, because by doing so you basically condemn yourself to suffering.

Arnór: That’s true, but that what the first album is about and the cycle of emotions contained there is not something closed. It’s continuous. I will forever miss my father, it will be always difficult for me and that’s what just life is. It shouldn’t be a taboo. I’d rather talk about it over and over and experience the love and the sadness, than not doing it. That’s just approach to our music.

I think this is exactly why people are so connected to your music, because they feel that intensity of honesty and your emotions. I guess some of them share their emotions while talking to you after the shows.

Arnór: It’s overwhelming. At every show on this European tour there has been at least one or two persons coming up to me either with a really sad story about violence or losing someone dear to cancer.

How do you deal with that?

Arnór: It’s difficult. I’m a really an open book. I really like being social, I fuckng love talking to people after the shows. It’s the best and it keeps the energy going, especially on a a tour as long as this, but there is always this moment where you go: „What can I say?”. You can only embrace that by saying how sorry you are for that person’s loss and thank him or her for being here tonight and hopefully the music was a joyful and unifying experience with the people in the room.

You are a band, that is very aware in terms how you present your art and your videos are part of that approach. I like all of them, the new ones too, but I remember the first time I saw your music video for „Implosions” and it really blew me away with its simplicity, yet such intense emotionality.

Toti: It’s a funny story. We were doing a photo shoot with an Icelandic photographer and all of the sudden he just said to us: „Do you want to try to shoot a music video?”. He just put the camera in the angle, which all of us could be caught in and we spontaneously recorded it.

Arnór: It’s the only video we had almost no input in. He just put us there and we just sang, that’s it.

Toti: We still really like it.

YouTube Preview Image

If you are a creative person, I think the creative process is happening all the time and your imagination is working constantly. Were there any random, funny or weird situations in which you had an idea for a song?

Arnór: That’s a really good question. I want to hear your answer (laughs and turns to Toti)

Toti: I always take notes and write down my ideas on the phone. They are very different. I have hundreds of ideas I haven’t gone through yet, so I have a lot of ideas, at least for the next album. A lot of the times I get ideas when I am at a concert. For example I hear some progression I like and I take my twist on it. Not that I’m stealing (laughs). It’s more about inspiration.

How about you, Arnór?

Arnór: With lyrics it’s similar. If you hear a sentence, read something in a book or come across a sentence or words you haven’t heard before, that’s where inspiration is born. Like with „destrier” [war horse of the medieval era], when I read it first. I can’t even remember when I read it, but I instantly fell in love with it and wrote it down. It would be funny if you went through the voice memos on my phone, especially when we did our first album. I was working at a hotel then and a lot of melodies popped up in my head at work. So usually it was me walking really fast through the hallway trying to sing really really quiet to the recorder and sometimes on the recording you can hear me all of the sudden go „Good morning, sir”, because there was a guest passing through and I was recording all the time, because I didn’t want to loose the melody (laughs).

Toti: Sometimes I also have ideas in my dreams and I always try to write them down, if I remember them after waking up. Most of the times they are really crappy, but I remember the time when I woke up crying, because the music I heard in my dream moved me so much. I couldn’t remember it, when I woke up though,

Arnór: Oh fuck, that’s terrible.

Toti: Yeah and it happened to me twice.

Arnór: Somewhere in your head there is a really beautiful song (laughs).

Recently I read an interview with a Polish actress and she said one interesting about acting, especially the one in a theatre. She said that playing in a theatre is like „touching upon non-existent”, because it isn’t recorded and every performance happens only once. That was an interesting thought, which made me thinking about live shows, but when I thought about it in the context of a concert, I thought, that it’s not really like that, because very often the shows are „recorded” inside of the people. They remember emotions connected with the songs they have been waiting for or maybe something, which happened at the show and was new and surprising. Is there anything particular in the way you approach your live shows?

Arnór: That is really, really deep and to be honest with you I haven’t thought that much about it (laughs). I think in our case it all happens very naturally. There is nothing planned about our shows and what I love is the fact, that I’m in a band with instrumentalists, that wear their hears on their sleeves while they perform.

Toti: We make a lot of mistakes during the live shows. I break a lot strings, fuck up some piano notes, but that gets sort of erased, because everything is played by a person, not a device or playback.

Arnór: Recording the songs and playing them live are two different worlds. When you record, there is some kind of search for perfectionism there, even though you don’t want to admit it, but when you play live things can’t be perfect, because then you loose humanity. That is where you find humanity. You find humanity in flaws, you find it in singer moving around and maybe loosing some of his lines, but that’s not mistake. That is his performance and we always loved bands giving everything on the stage, even if their singer missed his note. Personally I prefer more physical performance. I’m not saying people should jump around or jump on top of the amps. It’s more about expression and live emotions being present there. So in our case it’s a simple approach, that we perform the way we do and it’s our natural dance to our songs, that has been developed by playing a lot. I haven’t given more thought than that so far, but it’s really inspiring thing to hear.

Wywiad Agent Fresco WarszawaAgent Fresco live in Warsaw (29.11.2015)

photo by “Lazzaroni”

If you were to choose one word from the two I am going to say now as description of who you are, your approach towards life or art, which one would you choose: „always” or „never”?

Arnór: I feel „always” has more hope into it and „never” is more negative. I want to say „always”, so I sound more positive, but I kind of want to say „never” too.

Why?

Arnór: Because I want to be a rebel (laughs). „Never” can also be a positive thing.

When?

Arnór: (pauses) No, „never” shouldn’t be the answer. That’s limiting yourself. That’s not good. It has to be „always”. It can only be „always”. But I like „never” better as a word. I see it and it looks better, but when it comes to meaning I’d definitely choose „always”.

Toti: Same with me.

What have you thought most about today?

(both pause)

Toti: I kind of slept the whole way here…(everybody laughs).

No dreams?

Toti: No, no beautiful music (laughs).

Arnór: With me I think it was my girlfriend. I talked to her when we stopped at McDonald’s and I kept thinking about her after too, so I’d say it was her.

Toti: I got the message today, that my grandmom broke her leg, so I thought about her. Fortunately she’s ok.

Arnór: What is happening to out grandparents, when we’re on tour?

Isn’t it one of the biggest challenges for a musician? When you are on tour, life at home doesn’t stop. Things happen, people break legs, problems occur. Same with you on tour. You get sick, feel tired, loose humor, but the public doesn’t know it. What’s more, I don’t think the public really cares. You played in Dresden last night. People in Warsaw don’t care about the show in Dresden and people from the city of tomorrow’s venue don’t think about today’s show.

Arnór: Oh yeah, I thought a lot about that. As a fan myself I had such high expectations towards the band. I remember when I was young, hopefully music addict, who was always up front by the stage, having these crazy expectations, not knowing what the band was going through, not caring about what they do tomorrow or did yesterday. But when you become a touring musician yourself and see everything from the inside you go like „Shit, I should have had much lower expectations and don’t expect perfection every time or give it all attitude during 2 hour set”. That’s just not the reality.

I think on tour multiplying the same intensity every night is very hard, because again, you are only humans with fragile bodies.

Arnór: True, but we take good care of our bodies. Any of us barely drink on this tour. We try to get as much sleep as possible, so I’m firmly confident the people get, what they want.

T:oti I think performing is the easiest part on tour. All the time in between is tough, especially traveling.

Arnór: For it’s mainly about my voice. If I have my voice, then perfect, it’s going to be a good show. If I loose my voice, then the show might not be so good (laughs). That’s the main thing I worry about.

Do you protect it somehow?

Arnór: I try to talk as little as possible during the mornings and then until soundcheck. I don’t really warm up my throat. I should be doing it, though.

Ginger?

Arnór: Oh yeah, a lot of ginger, I love that, but not all the venues provide that, when we ask for it. We have a healthy rider though, I think. Kind of (laughs) So just sleep, relax and don’t overuse the voice. I don’t get drunk. I don’t do drugs, don’t get into fights, don’t be out in the cold too long. Basics.

Interviewer: Chris Bienkiewicz

 
 
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