In conversation with Högni

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Interview by Shannon Lawlor

Icelandic experimental, electronic and bordering on avant-garde artist Högni (also member of indie band Hjaltalin and former member of ambient-techno group GusGus) takes us through his own auditory journey of what it means to be human through his debut solo album Two Trains, released via Erased Tapes late 2017.

A personal expression of tugging dichotomies in his own life, Högni paints an auditory memoir, as steadily as a steam train – yet with the recognition that coal is finite, and train tracks aren’t always destined to remain linear.

We caught up with Högni on metamorphosis, composing for film and of course, trains:

For anyone foreign to Högni’s anomalous eclecticism, how would you personally describe the music you create?

The music I create are stories, comprised of different emotional components that build up something that I hope will endure the weather. Like little small statues, in the fable of my life.  

In October 2017, Högni’s debut album Two Trains was released via Erased Tapes. Could you detail this recording process, and how it may have differed to previous sessions?

The process was, to cut a long story short, a process of metamorphosis. It took seven years. Before I was a puffin and now I am a seagull!

Where did the inspiration to write “Crash” come from? And where do you usually seek inspiration from when writing?

All the small stories that are comprised in Two Trains are written by my long term friend and collaborator Atli Bollason. The concept of the trains and their mirroring application, how they become our time vessel into the world beyond, our gateway to a land of stories… From there, many lyrics were written and they became the music.

Could you describe Iceland’s live music scene? Is there anything you would change about it if you could?

If I would describe our music scene and how it became a phenomenon, is that we weaponised our serendipity.

Högni has supplied a score to the 2013 film Days of Gray (dir. by Ani Simon-Kennedy). How did this opportunity arise? And how might composing for film compare to producing your own personal material?

All the work, that was created, around the film Days of Gray, was done communally with my band Hjaltalín.  They put their body and soul into the recordings as much I did. I wrote a few songs; Hjörtur as well, Viktor as well, Gummi played some mean bass, Sigga sang like an angel, Axel played his anatomical beats, Rebekka sang through her Bassoon, little Embla sang a small original tune and it was engineered by Oculus.  

Ani-Simon Kennedy found us in Prague where we had a concert. She envisioned the story and the film, with Hjaltalín in mind. It was a fun time. We used the film as inspiration. The story is about when mankind fully develops into a species which communicates only with feeling. I suppose that will never happen, but an interesting thought nonetheless!

What are some of your most favourite aspects of performing live as opposed to recording in studio?

The whole art of performing is about seeing the smile on peoples faces. Or a tear. But more importantly, a smile.

Care to list some of your most influential albums of all time?

Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis, and like most people listened quite a lot to the Beatles and Blur during my formative years. Also Grace, The Bends and Suzuki Violin book #1.

You hold credits as both a past member of electronic group GusGus, and fronting Icelandic indie band Hjaltalín. Do you feel that performing among both of these entities has shaped your current creative vision?

Yes it has! Fate intervened on my behalf and both those bands became my life, and in reality have helped me tone different sides of my creative self. In GusGus, my performative side really blossomed, through standing opposite thousands of people and seeing the music run through their bodies was thrilling. And I made it my utmost task to get into them and feel the presence of life through music. In Hjaltalín, I could develop myself as a songwriter and arranger; trying to perfect the craft of sculpting music and see how it’s radiance and attraction comes out with putting your focus on the smallest detail, like how the melody is built, or how the inner voices react to the bass, or which Instruments feel right for each part of the music, etc.  There are many parameters one has to think about when creating music, but in essence it all comes from atmosphere.

If you could collaborate with anyone on the planet, who would it be, and why?

I’d like to collaborate with the French writer Michel Houllebecq – I’m not sure on what, but he is a great writer, and perhaps we could make a musical together? Perhaps from his new novel, Submission. Or an opera?

What does the future hold for Högni?

Hard to tell. I just hope for the best!

Order Two Trains LP by Högni

For more information follow Högni on Facebook

[Image credit: Özge Cöne]