wears the trousers magazine

hafdís huld: interview with the “vampire”
June 17, 2009, 9:05 am
Filed under: feature, interrupting yr broadcast, video | Tags: , , , ,


interrupting yr broadcast: hafdís huld

Yet another export from Iceland’s thriving music scene, Hafdís Huld Þrastardóttir is most definitely one to watch. Sitting, or more likely skipping, somewhere between Sia and Björk on the lovably barmy scale, she released her debut album Dirty Paper Cup in 2006, though you may also know her through various collaborations with Tricky and FC Kahuna, her whimsical cover of Sam Brown’s ‘Stop’ that beamed into millions of homes across Europe as the soundtrack to a Mercedes ad, or even from fronting 4AD favourites GusGus (who also spawned Emilíana Torrini) as a teenager. A collection of pure, sweet pop, Dirty Paper Cup revealed Hafdís to be, yes, sugar and spice, but thankfully not necessarily all things nice. There’s an edge to her lyrics, an impishly wicked streak that reveals the self-proclaimed Glittery Fairy Princess of Iceland to be far more sussed than first meets the eye. She’s just finished recording her much anticipated second album in a barn in Scarborough and is currently on tour across the UK. As effervescent as a Tizer float, Hafdís loves a story and loves to talk. Wears The Trousers caught up with her at Monkey Chews, North London, where she took a break from soundchecking in the dark, sweaty upstairs room to talk to us. We even managed to squeeze in a few questions!

* * *

How’s it all going? It’s very dark up there!

This is Camden, it’s supposed to look like that; apparently it’s cool. There’s a little mixer up there so we’re trying to plug all our instruments into the mixer to make it all sound beautiful. If it doesn’t work and we can’t plug it in then I’ll make Sarah [her keyboard player] wear a bikini!

Do you have any pre-gig rituals?

[turning coyly to the side and batting her lashes] I put guh-litter on my eyes so I look like a popstar. Sometimes still wearing a woolly cardigan, but I put glitter on my eyes so they’ll be fooled. They’ll be like ‘oh, this is pretty rock and roll in here! I wonder when she’s going to throw a TV out of the window!’

So will you be performing any new tracks tonight?

I have a new song called ‘Vampires’. It’s a love song. When I’m in England, the neighbourhood where my house is is very suburban and everybody is a pensioner. They go out in the morning and we go out in the evening and I think they think we’re vampires! ‘Cos they don’t invite us to come to the neighbourhood’s tea parties. Although we’ve got nice curtains and we mow the lawn.

You live in Kettering in Northampton. How come you ended up there?

I came to study here but I’m not prepared to completely live abroad because I just miss Iceland terribly. So I kind of do half and half at the moment because my boyfriend [Alisdair] is English. We’re renting his grandfather’s house and everybody there is a grandparent. And they think we’re suspicious.

So is your new album all finished now?

We’ve finished recording and we’re probably going to finish mixing it properly next month. I recorded it all in a week. I went to a studio in an old farm in Scarborough. Because I wanted to do it in Iceland but then I wanted to work with people who I’d met over here. I met some lovely musicians when I studied music in England [at the London Centre of Contemporary Music] and it was too big of a project to move everyone to Iceland for a week – I wanted to go to this old water tank and record it there, but it was so expensive that I decided to find somewhere that would have a similar atmosphere.

In Scarborough we had frozen ground and we had chickens walking around. So it was easier just to import my mum and dad to come and cook for everybody, ‘cos then it makes it feel like we were in Iceland. So then I was in the kitchen cooking fish and potatoes, Mum was doing cakes and tea, and everybody was very happy. There was snow and everybody was freezing cold and wearing fingerless gloves, drinking cups of tea and singing. I looked like a pink starfish ‘cos I was wearing so many layers and a pink jacket, and I couldn’t put my arms down properly because I had to wear all the layers. You can see it. We did a documentary video – a rockumentary [see below].

When will the album be out?

Autumn. I don’t want to wait for a long time; I don’t have the patience for that. Things need to happen. Things need to happen fast, then it’s more exciting. Then I can go and play my new songs to people.

Your new single ‘Kongulo’ [which takes its name from the Icelandic word for spider] is about Alain Robert, the French urban climber known as ‘The Human Spider’…

He got arrested yesterday! I think subconsciously he’s really on my side and thought it would get me publicity. And I think he didn’t get the Hafdis T-shirt I wanted him to wear while he climbed. It would have been better if he’d worn one saying ‘It’s hard to hang out with Hafdis Huld’. Climbing up in that – that would have been good. I only thought of that afterwards. It’s easy to be clever afterwards.

That’s bizarre inspiration for a song though. Do you normally use that kind of source material when you’re writing? Are there any other stories behind what’s on the album?

Problem is, there is not much ‘normally’ with me. I just thought that was interesting. So one is about the woman next door thinking me and my boyfriend are vampires ‘cos we don’t go out gardening in special hats at seven in the morning; one is about Alain Robert being a human spider; one is about treasure hunting on Kilburn High Road. It’s called ‘Boys & Perfume’ and it’s about how you should not buy perfume from pound stores because you go and get spots here [she points to her neck]. One is called ‘Synchronised Swimmers’. I should really have released that before the Olympics though. That could have been good for the smackaroonies [err, cash]. ‘Synchronised Swimmers’ is a love song. I’m looking forward to the video! That’s when the bikini could come in.

Like my ‘Kongulo’ video. That’s just my mate Ben in a Spiderman costume from Argos hanging on a rope with gardening gloves on. And the gardening gloves made him slip so he’s doing the Spiderman pose and then he started to slide all the way down, because they were gardening gloves from Argos.

So were the gardening gloves a tribute to your neighbours in Kettering?

No, it was just because we needed gloves and Alisdair’s grandma’s gloves were there so Spiderman had Alisdair’s grandma’s gloves. We were under a tree and it was “one two three, you have to be fabulous” and we did it in one take, and it’s a music video! Because there wasn’t a plan to do one so I did one. I even used a hairdryer for the wind in my hair. I thought, what would Ms Spears or Beyoncé do at this moment? I thought I’m not going to do the nipple dance thing, that’s a bit too much, but I did this [she squints her eyes and pouts]. I think it was dead sexy. It was better than me doing it now ‘cos I had lip gloss on.

You’re a big Dolly Parton fan. Is it just the kitsch value that’s appealing to you or are you a fan of country music as well?

Mainly I’m just a fan of Dolly because I love her songwriting and I like how it’s got stories. And I like the fact that she’s very tacky and she doesn’t care. I’ve seen her live and she talks between songs and she’s funny and she seems like someone you’d want to have at your barbeque. I do like some country music but I’m not a particularly big fan. I’ve just always found Dolly really inspirational. It is the kitsch value and it is the Barbie qualities, but it’s mainly just her amazing voice and incredible songwriting. I just wish I’d written some of the songs but I wasn’t born when some of the best stuff came out so I can’t pretend I helped her.

And the thing is, she is so in charge of it. You never get the feeling that she’s a puppet or that somebody else is behind it because then she just walks to another instrument that has been obviously smeared in glitter and made to look fabulous. And with fingernails that look longer than my legs! The way she looks and presents herself and then her music and her ability – it’s something that shouldn’t add up but it does so perfectly and that’s what makes her so interesting, I think. It’s just almost doing it the wrong way.

Would you ever cover any of her songs?

Yeah I would. I really did want to cover ‘Jolene’ for my first album but two covers had just recently come out. That’s my all time favourite song. But I’m just going to wait until maybe Dolly suggests that we sing one of mine together. Because I don’t want to go to Dolly as some crazy fan. It’s much better if she goes, “It’s been a while since I’ve done a duet with an Icelandic little popstar. Hmmm, who’s available, err…” then goes to the Yellow Pages and calls me. That is going to happen. You know, you just need to believe it’s gonna happen! You know we have the same taste in glitter. And bleach. It would be a match made in heaven.

You were very young when you joined your first band, GusGus.

[piercingly high squeak] Yee-eees! I was a baby! I was 15 when I joined the band.

Were you still at school when you started touring?

Not at 15. My mother would not have allowed that, let me tell you. I was still at school. I was in the children’s choir, a straight A student and all that. One day I was out walking and I met these guys and I said “what are you taking pictures of?”, and they said they were taking pictures of some landscape and I said “why don’t you take pictures of me?” So I started talking to them and sang to them and made some music with them. My first tour was when I was 16 – almost. And when I look at the pictures now I look about 11! I’m this big [she holds her finger and thumb about an inch apart] and in a proper little party dress going “Huh, this is cool. These guys from England are a bit scary but this is cool!” It’s very funny to look back on.

And you sang on Tricky’s latest album. How did that come about?

He heard ‘Tomoko’ [the first single from Dirty Paper Cup] and he said he was looking for someone who sounded as innocent as Jesus. So that’s why he called.

Jesus? High praise indeed!

That’s why he called me! And I said, well, I have been working for the man upstairs because I was a Sunday School teacher at the time, so I thought that must be where that Jesus thing came from. But apparently he just heard me sing ‘Tomoko’, which is just a song I wrote about a friend of mine who’s really fabulous. When I showed up he was dour and very cool and gave me lots of handwritten lyrics and said, “can you sing this?”  He was very sweet to me. I lent him my pink mittens for a bit because his hands were cold. That broke the ice, it was good. Somebody said to me he was a bit strange but then they said “yeah, but you’re strange too so you’ll probably think he’s normal.” And I did.

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Sacha Whitmarsh




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