Sólstafir Talk Berdreyminn, Spaghetti Westerns And Psychic Dreams
Howling metal. A lone rider crossing a glacier. Towering synths clawing at the stratosphere. Icelandic magicians Sólstafir long ago proved themselves adept at cramming the skyscraping majesty of a mountain range within the confines of a song, but their recently-released seventh album, Berdreyminn, might just be their most expansive to date.
Recorded once again at the fabled Sundlaugin Studio in Iceland (formerly a public swimming bath), Berdreyminn was forged over 47 intense days where the sun rises at 11:00 and sets just 5 hours later.
We caught up with guitarist and vocalist Aðalbjörn Tryggvason to talk spaghetti westerns, psychic dreams and finding a way through the darkness…
Hi Addi! Tell us about the title, Berdreyminn…
“It roughly translates as ‘bare dreamer’ – a kind of prophet. It’s funny, because as a teenager I would dream of people I would meet later. It scared me a lot because I couldn’t explain it, and it was beyond the point of coincidence. It affects you spiritually, and being psychic through dreams of things to come I would dread things that might happen to the band. But I no longer think we’re cursed, because we’ve captured so much magic together.”
Why did you decide to record again at Sundlaugin?
“We feel very comfortable there. The guys can be home to tuck their kids in at night and you can go back to your wife instead of going on Tinder! We work well with Birgir Birgirsson [producer] and we had been professionally flirting with Jaime Gomez Arellano [producer] for a while so it was good to do something new with him.”
The album evokes a lot of different landscapes. What are your main inspirations when creating those sounds?
“Actually, our rehearsal room on the outskirts of Reykjavik has the million dollar view. We look out at oceans, glaciers and mountains. But the main inspiration comes from inside – not through your eyes. It might as well be the oxygen you breathe. Just close your eyes and trust the darkness, because it’s going to bring you a lot of magic. And if you’re with similarly creative people that darkness is only going to get more beautiful.”
You can also hear elements of Ennio Morricone’s soundtracks in there…
“Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western soundtracks have influenced us a lot. If I had to name someone as ‘The Greatest’, I would name Ennio Morricone, because who are you going to put above him? And with the guitar piece that starts the album [Silfur–Refur] that influence was on purpose. It came around in rehearsals one day and I knew immediately this was something good. I could see it in my mind that it would open the album.”
There are some synthesisers as well, especially on the second track Ísafold. Were you influenced by ’80s rock?
“Svavar [Austmann, bass] is a huge synthpop fan and we had this new Hammond keyboard we put through some effect pedals. On Ísafold I wrote the guitar and then Svavar came in with this synth part and I thought, ‘Holy shit, this sounds like Foreigner!’ You could never say that Foreigner sound like Sólstafir, but can we try and make that style of music our own? Fuck yeah!”
This is the first album you have recorded without founding drummer Guðmundur Óli Pálmason, and during that time he filed a lawsuit against the band. The case was dismissed last year, but did that affect the mood when writing at all?
“Yeah, you don’t feel creatively inspired hanging around at the district court. It’s so negative and personal, and there’s been so much money burned up in legal fees that we’ve had to borrow from other people. From both sides it’s a lose-lose situation. And this is the first time we’ve recorded an album where we felt people were outside the door waiting for us to fail. I love the album, but the downward spiral that produced it was terrible.”
Despite that, the album does sound full of hope, though…
“The chemistry in the band was very different in this time, and we had no idea what would happen. At certain points I thought there was no hope, because there was too much darkness and you can’t work when it’s fire all around you. But, we managed to keep a good morale and bond between us, communicating and surrounding ourselves with good people. We rode so blindly I don’t even know yet if it’s a good album or not (laughs)! I think that with every album, though, and there are some really great fucking songs on here.”
Was new drummer Hallgrímur Jón Hallgrímsson a positive force in the writing process then?
“We hired him mainly because he is very good looking! No, he’s very talented and can do backing vocals and keyboards as well as play drums. He’s filled with positivity and very calm, and we needed someone with zero drama. It’s a very complex situation, but he was the guy that we needed.”
Does Berdreyminn feel like a new chapter for Sólstafir?
“Definitely, and it’s very strange coming to that point after 20 years. It’s like when Deep Purple had different versions – we’ve definitely reached Sólstafir Mk.II. But I’m already excited to be doing the next one! This album was the birth, basically, and we survived it.”
Berdreyminn is available now through Seasons Of Mist.
Words: James MacKinnon