Iceland has always been a fascinating spot on earth and the island also has a lot to offer musically.Part of it is the composer Snorri Hallgrímsson.In 2018 there was the debut album "Orbit", today he writes the film music for Netflix productions.His second album "I Am Weary, Don't Let Me Rest" will be released in mid-June, an enrichment of the neoclassical music area with its emotional range and soul that can be found in the album.Time to introduce the Icelander in more detail in an interview.
A fixture in modern classic: Snorri Hallgrímsson.
Hello Snorri, nice that you have time. How are you doing right now? Hi! I'm doing good thanks. A few too many things on my plate at the moment, but all very exciting things and very much looking forward to the future.
Your new album will be out in mid-June. Are you a little nervous beforehand, or is it already routine for you? It's always a bit strange this feeling that something only you and a handful of people close to you have heard, is now all of a sudden is out there for everyone to hear. I'm not really nervous, (it's too late to back out now I think...) but curious and excited to hear and feel people's reaction.
In 2018 the debut "Orbit" was released with considerable success. Were you surprised that your music would be so well received? Honestly I don't think had any idea of what I was stepping into. I was terrified to finally release my own music for the first time, so I'm very grateful to my younger self for the work I put in, the self-doubt I endured in that process, and for having taken that leap of faith. It was only 5 years ago but in terms of my career progression it feels like a lifetime already, and my ideas at the time of what constitutes success were probably very different from now. Success is what you make it out to be.
Your bio says you fell in love with film music as a kid. Which films did you like back then? I guess it wasn't Nói Albínói, although Slowblow's music was very consistent. I've always been a huge film fan, and devoured pretty much anything I got my hands on as a teenager. But I do have a specific memory of going to the cinema to see Iñárritu's Babel, which has music by Gustavo Santaolalla and Ryuichi Sakamoto among others, and just falling in love... I bought the soundtrack on a CD, and later on Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence as well, and these soundtracks completely changed my life.
So tell me exactly how an Icelandic composer ended up writing the music for a Spanish thriller on Netflix called ‘The Chalk Line’? The short story is simply that the writer & director Ignacio Tatay had heard my solo music and wanted me to write the music for his film. The long story is that I studied film scoring in Valencia in Spain and one day my class met up with students from a Spanish film school for a very awkward day of networking. It was the day after Fallas, this incredible festival in Valencia, had finished and I remember being so incredibly hungover that I almost didn't show up... and made no effort whatsoever to mingle or network. Maybe that indifference made me stand out, because someone from that film school told Ignacio about me and 7 years later I was scoring his film.
Unlike what you are used to, the music is very dark, oppressive and depressing. Was it very difficult to compose these? Yes and no. One of the things I really appreciated about Ignacio is that he felt a darkness in my solo music that he thought could be translated into a horror score. The films I'd worked on previously were more suited to the prettier and more "easy-listening" side of my music. Which I absolutely do enjoy as well, but I do think there's a subtle heavyness and obscurity in my music so Ignacio seeing that meant a lot to me. But of course I had to approach the music in The Chalk Line in a completely different way. I couldn't just sit down at the piano and write what sounded nice to my ears, I had to find ways to make Ignacio's "blood curdle" like he literally asked me to. But once I had created the right soundscape and settled into it, I found that the actual scoring work was very similar - the elements I was working with were just different. So in this case instead of adding maybe a romantic cello line to make you cry, I was just adding another layer of discomfort instead.
I had studied composition at university as well and there I really enjoyed digging into contemporary 20th century composers like Penderecki and Ligeti f.ex. So doing this score gave me a great excuse to rediscover all kinds of different worlds of sound that I once was more familiar with.
How is it different from composing music for other media than recording your own album? The fundamental difference is that when you write for film, you are only serving the film and the director's vision. When people listen to soundtracks, they maybe don't realise that what they're hearing is maybe version no. 4, 5, 6 or 7 of your attempts at scoring a single scene because everything has to be approved by the director/producer. It's a blessing and a curse, because obviously it can be frustrating and hard on your ego to constantly have to redo or scrap music that you maybe liked a lot, but it also forces you to get out of your comfort zone and experiment in ways you never would have otherwise. That's one reason why I like doing both scoring work and my own music, because I genuinely believe my experiences in film scoring makes my solo music better and vice versa.
Theory: Riiing riiiing, your cell phone is ringing and there's a Hollywood producer on the other end - Who should call to make your dream come true? (Which filmmaker/franchise would you love to write the music for?) I honestly have no specific dreams like that, the film projects I find most rewarding to work on are ones that have good and important stories to tell, or challenge me artistically. ...but having said that I'd love to have the budget and opportunity to write just one big and majestic orchestral score. I think that'd be fun. So I wouldn't say no to a Star Wars :)
And are there any productions where you would turn them down immediately? Yes, if I don't like the story or more importantly disagree with the message being told I wouldn't hesitate to say no.
The simplest tracks are often the hardest
The new work "I Am Weary, Don't Let Me Res" will be released on June 16, 2023.
I Am Weary, Don't Let Me Rest is your new album. The theme is the constant struggle between blissful ignorance and painful realization - explain that a little more? The album is very much a winter album, it was written November-January, ie. the darkest time in one of the darkest places on earth. And I think the mood reflects that in a way. I was feeling particularly disillusioned with the state of the world at the time. I kept finding myself caught between the urge of wanting to change the world for the better, and being too tired to do anything about it. In the beginning of this process I saw the incredible film Argentina, 1985. There was a line in that film that mentioned "the painful privilege of knowing" which really struck a chord with me. Because at heart I'm a curious person and ever since I was a kid I've felt an urge to know more and more things, about our world and our shared history. And the more I learn, the more understanding, compassion, and empathy I have - but it also wears me out that much more. The title acknowledges this, but also encourages me not to give up on my curiousity or wanting to keep on fighting.
The album contains nine quite calm and peaceful tracks. Which title did you have to work on for a long time until it was perfect for you? The simplest tracks are often the hardest. "At Last We Touched Upon the Lonely Shore" is a short little piece for just string quartet (and is a simplified variation of a theme from the track "Worth and Knowledge"). But I had very strong thoughts on how it should sound, I wanted it somehow to sound eerie and distant but still make you feel the bowing of the string right up against your ears. So me and Styrmir Hauksson who mixed the album with me spent a lot of time getting creative: he ended up running the strings multiple times through a Roland Space Echo at different speeds to satisfy my demanding vision of the track...
You brought many guest musicians together on the album. Tell me what working with an orchestra is like and why it is important for you to use many classical instruments? I grew up with classical music all around me and studied classical music myself for almost 20 years. So the sound and feel of the orchestra is very ingrained in me. Very probably my love of film music encourages my love of the orchestral sound as well. In short I'm a big sucker for majestic sounding orchestral strings, the warmth and celestial beauty of that sound transports me to a place few other sounds can. On this album I had the opportunity to work with a new local orchestra, the Reykjavík Recording Orchestra, in the beautiful Harpa concert hall. That day we recorded the orhestral strings for the album is up there with one of the best days of my life.
In addition to the string arrangements, the piano is always present in your pieces. What makes the instrument so unique in your eyes? I grew up studying classical guitar which was always my primary instrument, and in pure technical standards I'm much better at than the piano. But there were 2 pianos in my home growing up, and one day my mom suggested I'd also learn the piano. I didn't really appreciate it at the time: as a kid I enjoyed playing guitar more maybe simply because I was better at it. But in time the piano became my creative playground whereas the guitar was where I was just a technical tool to play an instrument in a strict, disciplined way.
There's a lot to be said about classical music training, and I think a big reason why I create more on the piano is that I feel like I have the freedom to make mistakes. I don't feel that way when I play guitar: even though I rarely play it nowadays I still keep my nails filed in perfect shape just in case, because still to this day I can't stand the thought of not sounding a particular way when playing the guitar.
Which title of the new tracks from the album is particularly close to your heart and why? I wrote this album very much as an album, so I can honestly say no one track is more personal to myself than others. How one track transitions to another is so important to me when I listen to albums, and my goal and hope is that each track on the album benefits from what came before and what comes next. In terms of actual titles though I'd have to say "I Am at Home". It's both a love song dedicated to my partner, meaning that in my partner's presence I feel at home. But it's also a reference to the very first single I released called "Homeless", which has a line that goes "...home is people, and I am not at home". It's an acknowledgement that I've come a long way since I wrote that line, and feel much more confident as a person and as a musician than I did then.
Music from Scandinavia is so unique in the world. Can you describe why that is? Why are the melancholic facets much more pronounced than anywhere else in the world, or are there other reasons? In short...no, I can't describe exactly why that is. Or maybe I should say why people outside of the Nordic countries feel that way. But I can guess, and I think a lot has to do with simple geography. And by that I don't mean I sit in front of a glacier with a volcanic eruption right next to it while I write music. But it's the bad weather, the extreme difference in daylight hours between winter and summer, and to me most importantly just how sparsely populated these countries are. There's a sense of vastness, the skies are bigger, there's so much space everywhere compared to where most people in the world live. And maybe that space is reflected in our creation. But your guess is as good as mine...
What struck me from the start, Iceland has a unique, cohesive musical landscape. The great artists help the little ones and vice versa. Why is cohesion so strong in this country? Again, your guess is as good as mine. But I think cohesiveness is somewhat inevitable given our tiny population. (To put it in context, I lived in Mexico for a while in a small city that ranks no. 48 in terms of the most populous Mexican cities (there's my nerdy curiosity for you) - and it still has way more people than the whole of Iceland.) So we're bound to be inspired and influenced by one another. And nothing inspires me more than going to see my friends perform or see them do well. I think there's an understanding here that one person's success creates opportunities for all of us. For that I'm very grateful because it never feels like we're competing with one another. And thanks to some incredible role models (Björk, Sigur Rós, Hildur Guðnadóttir etc.) it's easy for us who try to follow in their footsteps to believe that our biggest chance of success comes by being true to ourselves in our own creation, rather than fit into pre-concieved ideas of what music is supposed to be.
I loved making "Landbrot" and how people reacted to it
Creating true jewels of sound art: Snorri Hallgrímsson.
What does the person Snorri do when he's not composing or in the studio? Hah this was probably the most difficult question to answer! I sing in a choir called Kliður. We only sing music by original members of the choir and often produce the songs together, so I guess we're more like a band than a choir. Apart from that I try to spend time away from music when I'm not in the studio, otherwise my producer brain is constantly at work. I'm at my happiest sharing food or drinks with friends or family. Other than that, just the usual I guess. I watch films, I take long walks and listen to podcasts, and spend the occasional weekend in the countryside.
Will your wonderful EP series "Landbrot" be continued soon? No current plans, no. I loved making "Landbrot" and how people reacted to it meant a lot to me. But just like I didn't want to spend my life playing classical guitar, I don't want to spend it making solo piano albums either. There is an endless possibility of sounds to make music with, so I might have to do at least one more horror film score or something completely different before wanting to do another "Landbrot"...
Do you follow other music releases? What album or composer has left a strong impression on you lately? Like I said before I'm constantly inspired by my friends. One of which is double bassist & composer Bára Gísladóttir, her new album Silva is an otherwordly experience. And when I'm not working, I like to listen to music that's completely different from what I normally work on. Lately I've been obsessed with Cuban "descargas", a form of improvised jam sessions from the 1950s and onwards. It's simple and groovy, and instantly puts me in a better mood even in the pouring rain.
Do you have another goal in life or music that you would like to work towards? I'm very happy to be where I am in this moment. But going forward ideally I can spend more time with family and friends, and more time outside of the city. I'd like to have the mental space to work on other passion projects outside of music even, which is something I've never really allowed myself to do. But everything is connected of course, and my ultimate goal is to build my career in a way where it can support my personal needs - and not the other way around.
Thank you Snorri for your time. The last words are yours: Thank you for this opportunity, and thank you to everyone who haven taken the time to listen to my music. Your support makes me much less weary :)