To date, Amiina have invariably been introduced as accomplices to fellow Icelanders Sigur Ros, and undoubtedly it’s alongside the post-rock superstars that this all-female quartet have cut their teeth, providing instantly recognisable string arrangements that must claim partial responsibility for defining that grandiose ocean of sound.
The years spent on the road and in the studio with Sigur Ros led Amiina into writing and recording their own music, making a debut with 2005’s ‘Animamina’ EP, a tantalising forerunner of their new album ‘Kurr’, which as it turns out is a remarkably warm and intimate listening experience, one which certainly doesn’t play into the hands of all the usual stereotypes: “A big part of this ‘Icelandic sound from the glacier’ is a cliché journalists have come up with,” dismisses violinist Maria Huld Markan, and certainly, it’d be reasonable to deduce that much of Amiina’s formative musical experience stems not from the topography of the band’s homeland, but from the fact that all four members studied at the Reykjavik College of Music.
“Right now we’re just enjoying being Amiina.”
It was here, while playing together as a string quartet (at this stage under the name Anima) that they were approached by Sigur Ros, who requested they provide back-up at the launch concert for the ‘Ágætis Byrjun’ album. From this point the relationship extended to full-scale touring and recording with the quartet supplying strings for subsequent Sigur Ros albums.
Cellist Sólrún Sumarlidadóttir explains the impact this had on Amiina: “All our touring experience and understanding of the music industry is derived from that collaboration. Also, when we started working with them in 1999 we were still very much a part of the classical tradition and saw ourselves much more as performers than makers of music. The way the guys work is very open, so it did give us a lot of space to experiment and slowly find ourselves with the idea of making our own music.”
Few new bands could boast such an invaluable apprenticeship, but to Amiina’s enormous credit, ‘Kurr’ forges a new direction and sound palette for the foursome, one born from an array of metallic, sonorous instruments - celestes, glockenspiels and bells - in addition to those hallmark achingly mellifluous string sounds. Beyond that you’ll hear experiments with synthesizers, drum machines, electric guitar, and for the first time, vocals. Maria adds: “We like to play around with instruments that have different sound qualities. We tend to be greedy for new sounds and new instruments.”
Sólrún elaborates: “We have no idea how our music is going to develop in the future. We really want to use our voices more, but their inclusion in our music has been happening very slowly and lyrics are even further away on the horizon, but we definitely don’t want to exclude anything.”
Clearly now is a time of flux and development for Amiina, who despite performing in some of the world’s largest venues and having appeared on bestselling albums, are only just setting out on their career. Understandably, violist Edda Rún Ólafsdóttir is keen to assert a distance from those shared glories and the possibilities of any future collaborations, be they with Sigur Ros or otherwise: “Right now we’re just enjoying being Amiina.”