It was a long time coming but Icelandic musical veterans múm succeeded in making a suitably strong return with their seventh studio album Smilewound earlier this year. Filled with a resounding quirky pop sensibility (as well as an unexpected duet with Kylie Minogue) Smilewound marks a fine return for the band, who have recently welcomed back founding member Gyða Valtýsdóttir.
There are many things that can be said about múm, but one of the most obvious things is their willingness to embrace originality and have a lot of fun while doing it. We caught up with members Örvar Þóreyjarson Smárason and Gunnar Örn Tynes to talk about how the album came together, the Icelandic music scene and working with Kylie.
It’s been four years since your last album. Why the wait and how did the new one come together?
Örvar: I guess we always take a long time between albums. Three or four years is not unusual for us. After we release an album we have to go and tour it and let it out into the world. And then, you expand and you expand what you do. And then, relax! And then let the ideas start gathering again. It starts gathering pace and then at the end it goes faster and faster and faster until we have an album. That’s the process.
There seems to be a bigger pop sensibility to Smilewound, like you’ve embraced a pop aesthetic to the music, more so than before. Is that something that you agree with?
O: I heard this from a couple of people and I’ve been thinking about it. Our music is basically a curious pop music. But I think as we write the songs and, they get simpler, the pop element comes out more. I think it’s always been there, it’s just more visible here because of the simplicity. And also because we have Kylie. That makes it pop. (laughs)
Did you intend to make it more simple?
Gunnar: We often think about trying to make things simple, because it’s healthy for music, but that’s the only conscious thing we ever do.
múm – ‘Whistle’ (with Kylie) (from Smilewound – Bonus Track)
How did the Kylie collaboration happen? múm and Kylie Minogue aren’t the first two artists that you’d put together. What’s the story?
O: It just happened by chance. We were working on a film and she was acting in the film, and we were asked to come up to make a song for a certain scene. We kind of misunderstood it because our phone went dead, but we did the song anyway. Then all of a sudden Gunnar was in the studio in London recording with her. It was a really confusing process, which is the way we work with most people. (laughs)
You guys have been together as a band for over 10 years.
O: Since 1997, so over 15 years!
Do you see yourselves as veterans of the Icelandic music scene?
O: Because of all these young bands and young kids making music, of course you feel a bit like a generation older than them. Like in a really positive way.
Do you think múm is responsible for spawning some of the new bands in Iceland? Like they’ve felt inspired to make music because of múm?
O: We felt like we were on the outside, but now we feel like we more towards the middle. Maybe the core.
How have things changed do you think in the Icelandic music scene since you’ve started?
O: Not much. There are more bands, more chances for bands, more things to do.
G: I don’t want to use the word serious or professional but we used to call them garage bands, because everybody was just practising in garages. Today there are so many avenues or ways for bands to exist in the real world.
O: But in that way there’s one really big problem that’s rearing its head now, as all the venues are getting closed down in Reykjavík. This is a problem for all these bands at the moment. The most important venues have closed in the last couple of years.
Do you think this is a major problem?
O: Yes, I do. There’s a lack of thought behind it as well. A lot of these venues are being pulled down because they’re building hotels. They’re building hotels because there a lot of people coming to Reykjavík. A lot of people are coming to Reykjavík because of the culture. I know a lot of people are stopping here to see the country, but a lot of people are coming here because of the culture and the music, and now they’re really taking down a lot of the most important places for this culture to build hotels.
Is there a solution to that do you think?
O: Better planning. More regulation of city planning. Iceland really believes in deregulating everything.
G: Some sort of system…a value system that makes sense. Because it seems to be something that does a bad job of realising that nature is a valuable thing, that the culture is a valuable thing. The traditional government is shitting over all the things that are important.
O: But everyone here pretends to have some sort of value system like this, but then private property trumps everything. If you have the money…can’t argue with that. That seems like a mantra here.
Do you think there’s going to be an end to it?
O: Everything is like a fight for balance. This is definitely a big problem.
Have these problems made people act, like, is there some sort of underground scene kicking against it?
G: Well, Reykjavik is so small it’s hard to have an underground scene… maybe just three guys in a room! (laughs) There are some things happening, individuals who are trying to do something good. You hear these stories about people trying to do independent things in small spaces. That’s really positive.
What’s happening for múm in the next year?
O: Some more shows, then just relax again and let the music come to us again.
G: We’re doing some music for a theatre in Poland. It’s an Icelandic children’s book that’s being put on stage. We wrote an original score for it about ten years ago and we’re going to re-do it. A new version of it.
O: We always like doing projects like this. Scoring theatre, radio theatre. It’s really healthy for us as it makes us tink about our music from a slightly different angle. But we still relax and never go too full-on. I think that’s one of the keys to our longevity as a band.