Next Wave #553: Ásgeir

Björk-trumping Icelander looks to charm English crowds...
Asgeir

Bigger than Björk back home, Ásgeir is looking to conquer foreign lands with an English-language rework of his hugely popular debut…

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Being recognised in the street is nothing new to Ásgeir. Having grown up in a hamlet of just 40 people in his homeland of Iceland, everyone knows everyone. Even the next town only boasts a further 600 habitants, so he’s always been one to say hello to. Today, he’s pretty much recognisable to everyone in the country.

This is because Ásgeir (Trusti Einarsson, to give him his full name), still only 21, is amongst the biggest-selling artists in Icelandic history. He’s eclipsed the successes of Björk and Sigur Rós with his first native-language LP, 2012’s ‘Dýrð í dauðaþögn’ – it’s the best-selling debut album in Icelandic history, owned by one in 10 Icelanders.

It’s natural, then, that the country’s citizens feel a sense of “ownership” and pride in their musical son, as Ásgeir tells Clash from a Dutch awards ceremony. These days, he’s on the road pretty much all year round, having visited 17 countries in the last 12 months. He misses the “warm, family feeling” of home, but there’s a good reason for him being away for such extended periods.

And that reason is ‘In The Silence’, the English-language reworking of his debut album, reviewed by Clash here. Its appeal is effortless, the lyrical translations by friend and touring partner John Grant connecting its richly melodic music with new audiences. And as we’ve come to learn, anything touched by the fair hand of Grant is likely to prove golden.

This life on the road, in support of an international-of-intent long-player, is a significant contrast to the life he thought was mapped out for him. Recorded while he was still in school, Ásgeir’s Icelandic debut was only put together to see what his songs sounded like in a proper studio. Then it all went, in the man’s own words, “weird”.

“I wasn’t planning on doing anything with my music,” he explains, “but within three months I had the biggest-selling album in Iceland. It all happened without me planning it.

“My whole life just changed. I was still in school and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I always thought I’d be working in music, as a teacher or something, but never as an artist. It was really crazy.”

Grant, an honorary Icelander having recorded his hugely acclaimed ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ LP of 2013 (review) in Reykjavik, and who’s as good as mastered the language, approached the translation for ‘In The Silence’ with the best intentions. His goal was to not alter any of the inherent meaning in the songs, to ensure that the Icelandic lyrics were converted into English without losing their emotion. This meant a lot to Ásgeir, as the words hold a special place in his heart, written as they were by his father.

“It was my idea to get my father to write my lyrics,” he says, explaining the similarities of the ‘guy side’ of his family. “When I came into the studio for the first time, I had my own lyrics, but they didn’t really work. And then I thought of my dad – poetry is his passion. I have been writing songs to his poems since I was growing up.”

The results reflect only a tiny trace of Grant’s own influence, on songs like ‘King And Cross’, with others sitting more snuggly next to the likes of Simon and Garfunkel, or Jeff Buckley with synths. But it’s the singer’s angelic tone and catchy melodies that are set to win him a global following on a par with the whole Icelandic population. Just the 320,000 people or so, then.

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Where: Iceland

What: Electro-tinged folk-pop

Get 3 Songs: ‘In The Silence’, ‘King And Cross’ (video above), ‘Torrent’

Fact: He’s just covered Miley Cyrus’ ‘Wrecking Ball’. Really

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Words: Gemma Hampson

Find Ásgeir online here. ‘In The Silence’ is released in the UK by One Little Indian on January 27th.

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