introduction by trevor elkin
photos by sigga ella
Some things are worth waiting for. Releasing two EPs over two years, Iceland’s Vök always seemed on the verge of releasing their debut album. Finally, it’s here. Incubated over three years, ‘Figure’ captures the band’s evolution from music competition-winners to a fully-formed, creative ‘family’ of players and all that entails.
Vök was originally assembled by Margrét Rán (vocals, guitar, keyboards) and Andri Mar (saxophone, synths) with the sole purpose of winning Iceland’s rising talent contest, ‘Músíktilraunir’, which they did, spectacularly. Not bad, considering Iceland has (among several other ‘per capita‘ records) the most musicians by population. Joined by instrumentalist Ólafur Alexander, Vök’s first EP, ‘Tension’ (2013) quickly consolidated their position. Shortly after, percussionist Einar Stef (pictured left, above) completed the current line up, and ‘Circles’ EP (2015) pushed the band even further into the electronic dream-pop genre.
For Vök, ‘Figure’ represents a fresh start and an attempt to infuse something a little more human into the colder, digital sound that served them so well on the EPs:“We took the music out of the computer and into a more live and organic environment.” The result is a palpable shift in mood, creating the sense of perpetual dawn. Lead track ‘Show Me’ typifies this, glowing in a beautifully obscure half-light where it’s hard to make out the living, organic flesh from the machinery. Most songs were written in Margrét’s Reykjavik home, with its views onto the magnificent city-scape, and recorded in Einar’s home-studio in a “beautiful utopian neighbourhood in Reykjavik that is full of century-old corrugated houses”.
With external, natural sources of inspiration at every stage of the creative process it was maybe inevitable that some of their beauty would seep into the album’s expansive atmosphere, but Vök took no chances. Working alongside producer and Jack Garrett collaborator Brett Cox, Vök truly have instilled the dynamism and breathtaking diversity of their homeland’s landscapes into their music. While the songs rarely emerge from that twilight, timeless space, the band shows another side to its character when playing live, connecting to the audience and each other through a sense of humility and surprising, sometimes goofy, humour.
This, then, is definitely a band you should get to know. We spoke to drummer Einar Stef, below, to help fill in the missing (and sometimes hidden) details!
After ‘Tension’ and ‘Circles’ did so well as EP’s how did you decide it would be the right time to do the album?
After the two EP’s we were overdue for a full-length album. We had planned on releasing an album in 2016, but this process takes significant time and we were happy to have our debut album finished in January of this year.
By comparison the EPs were quite quickly pulled together, so was it frustrating for you that it took so long, or did it enable you to get it exactly how you wanted?
I think it enabled us to take a the amount of time to work this album to our fullest abilities. When we were approaching the deadline we wished for more time, but I think that’s quite common for artists. Initially we had planned to make a twelve track album, but we agreed in the end that these ten songs would make the cut.
Figure feels like an important waypoint, it’s a hopeful and dreamy record – what do you hope this record achieves for you as a band?
We would like to perform this album as much as we can. Tour more. Go to new places. Make this album be heard by as many people as we can. When we’re done we’re gonna go back into the studio and make another one. Lather, rinse, repeat!
You mention that the songs on ‘Figure’ are inspired by “Einar’s peaceful, beautiful house”, “unromantic walks on the beach”, Massive Attack, the film Ex Machina and… Ringo, Magrét’s dog (pictured). Are there any other important inspirations you want to mention?
We forgot to mention coffee which has a huge impact on our ability to work (we may have a problem). Bad humour also plays a big role in our studio vibes: How do you kill a vegetarian vampire? Steak to the heart.
That’s pretty bad – is that the worst joke you know?
Worst joke I know… why was 8 afraid of 7? Because 7 8 9
Haha, we’re also big Coffee fans ourselves – what’s your favourite way to drink it?
Americano most of the time. Double Espresso after eating. Soy Cappuccino when I’m treating myself
You also say that you were sometimes pushed out of your comfort zone on the album what did you mean by that?
At certain moments during the process of making this album we had to make decisions about things that we were sometimes uncomfortable with. We’re a four-piece working with a producer, so that’s quite few opinions. Most of the time we agree on pretty much everything, but every now and then we have to debate something, settle and reach an ultimatum. It’s all part of the creative process.
It sounds a very democratic process – is that where the coffee comes in!?
Coffee comes in all the time, whenever, wherever, however. (I reiterate; we may have a problem).
Did any of the songs change dramatically as a result of these discussions?
The song that changed the most during the recording process is the final track ‘Hiding’. Listening to the original version now is almost like listening to another song!
How/why did Brett Cox get involved with the production?
We decided early on that we’d like to involve a producer for this album. We went searching for people to work with and our manager sent our demo recordings to a few producers. We received some ideas back and our manager didn’t tell us the names of the people that had worked on it, so it was an anonymous pick. We ended up picking Brett’s work and went on to work with him. In hindsight, he was the perfect man for the job.
What was it in particular about his work that you all liked?
His dynamic workflow and sound. He’s got a talent for capturing particular moments, mistakes and bloopers and finding space for them within the track. You can hear a number of these on the album! (Keep an ear out for Margrét telling Brett to “shut up” in Don’t Let Me Go at 1min 50secs).
How has moving onto a big label changed things for you? Is there anything you’ve let go of since starting out, anything you miss/don’t miss?
So far so good! The people at Nettwerk seem really nice and passionate about what they are doing and we expected nothing else. We had heard only good things about them before we signed and what matters to us is working with people that care. Care about music, care about the musicians and care about the cooperation.
Are you surprised with where Vök has got to now, as a group compared to maybe your aspirations at the beginning?
I can’t say that I am that surprised. I had high hopes for Vök since the start. I think the music appeals to a relatively large audience and the live shows pack a punch. It’s a combination that makes sense for me and for a lot of other people as well.
Do you have big tour plans this year – beyond Europe? Is there anywhere you really desperately want to see & experience & why?
We are really looking forward to our Euro tour this spring. We’ll also be doing a few festivals this summer and this autumn is getting pieced together as we speak. Nothing we can reveal about beyond Europe at the moment. But we’d love to travel to Asia – Japan & China are dream destinations. We’re also overdue to go on a US tour so hopefully that happens soon.
‘Figure’ is released on 28th April, via Nettwerk
UK Tour Dates:
May 17 London – Bush Hall
May 18 Salford – The Eagle Inn
May 19 Bristol – The Louisiana