Múm - Icelandic collective a family affair
This article is from 2009.
The Icelandic collective Múm make otherworldly, sometimes plinky, always atmospheric soundscapes. Doug Johnstone meets the band’s founder to chat about art and banking
Getting the members of Icelandic folktronica collective Múm in the same place at the same time sounds like something of a cat-herding operation. With nine band members appearing on the band’s forthcoming fifth album, the beautifully titled Sing Along to Songs You Don’t Know, and each of them with a handful of other musical projects on the go, their preparation for an upcoming world tour stretching for months has been, well, pretty much non-existent.
‘We haven’t really been able to rehearse,’ laughs founder member Örvar Dóreyjarson Smárason. ‘Just getting everyone in the same country together is really difficult. We’ve only managed to get everyone in the same room a couple of times.’
That’s not to say their gig at Oran Mor this month will be a shambles, however, far from it.
‘We’ve played a couple of shows, and everything really clicked on stage,’ says Smárason. ‘Most of us have played together for so long and we’re such good friends, that somehow we have a very good instinctual bond with the music. That’s worth at least five or six rehearsals.’
That ‘instinctual bond with the music’ is the key to what makes Múm (pronounced ‘Moom’) a great band. On first listen, the band’s laidback, skewed take on electronica, folk, sea shanties and plinky kidsongs sounds completely otherworldly and alien, but there is an innate organic feel to their atmospheric sound pieces, a beautifully natural vibe which strikes at the listener’s heart immediately.
Sing Along … is a more chilled out affair than 2007’s relatively upbeat Go Go Smear the Poisoned Ivy, recorded in Iceland, Finland and Estonia, where the band enlisted the help of a local choir. There is more of an emphasis on vocals on this record, the experimental band continuing their trend of using the voice as another instrument on tracks like the exuberant ‘Hullaballabalú’ and ‘Kay-Ray-Ku-Ku-Ko-Kex’ (they love a daft song title, do Múm).
The new album was recorded during a time of great social upheaval in Iceland. After the country’s infamous banking industry collapse, there were protests in the streets, forcing the government to resign. According to Smárason, the country’s economic collapse hasn’t all been bad.
‘I had a more difficult time living in Iceland before the collapse, because people in Iceland got very hypnotised by making money,’ he says. ‘Since then, people have opened up their horizons again, it’s had an absolutely positive effect in that way. Of course there are still huge economic problems here now that we have to face.’
Smárason was one of the thousands of people who took to the streets in protest at events, describing it as ‘one of the best times to be alive in Iceland. It was amazing to feel alive and feel like you could possibly take part in changing something’.
And paradoxically, Smárason feels the banking collapse could be to the benefit of his country’s cultural landscape. Iceland’s tiny community has always meant that people created art for love rather than the prospect of money or fame, with Múm being the exemplar of that attitude.
‘I think the current situation is going to have a great influence on culture here,’ says Smárason. ‘We’ve always had a lot of do-it-yourself culture and art here, and this has shown that that is the only way to do things.’
Oran Mor, Glasgow, Sat 15 Aug.