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INTERVIEW: M-Band
Karl Smith , March 27th, 2015 12:17

Before he concludes his UK tour this weekend, we talk to Hörður Már Bjarnason about meshing the ancient and the modern on his debut LP, Haust

At first listen, or first glance, or both, it's easy to think that M-Band (and by proxy Hörður Már Bjarnason, who has performed under the moniker since 2012) is a contradiction: the apparent smashing together of the ethereal and the concrete, like tarmacking a road through the heart of the fucking Amazon. It seems clear there is a collision of sorts, of the ancient and the modern, and, by association, their values - how often does one find a champion of history and a pusher of the avant-garde inhabiting the same body? – in the music he produces.

But this is inappropriate terminology: M-Band is not collision but collusion, not a forced marriage of the past and the extreme present but rather an acceptance of the idea that past, present and future exist simultaneously (the name M-Band itself seemingly a nod to M-Brane theory) and it is us who forces the distinction.

As with stages of grief, when one accepts this – as the music of M-Band does, his 2014 album Haust pairing electronics that conjure the palpable throb of Jon Hopkins and the mathematical quality of Holly Herndon, with vocal melodies that are reminiscent of something more like monastic chanting or Mongolian overtone singing – all that remains is one thing: the feeling that seemingly informs the inquisitive, celestial nature of Bjarnason's music (as he asks on 'All Is Love', "Are we all caused by cosmic waves?") is a kind of hope. It's all a bit like being Hugh Jackman in The Fountain - whether you think Bjarnason is a Kubrick-esque Moby lookalike, enlightened, floating in a bubble free from the trappings of material existence or a gaunt biologist carrying out dubious experiments on chimps for the sake of love, one thing is clear – M-Band is reaching for something.

Between releasing the album in the middle of last year and playing (what, three?) shows at Airwaves 2014, it's been quite quick in terms of sudden recognition…

Hörður Már Bjarnason: Yeah, it's kind of surreal. It's not such an old project, but it's been a dream to do something like this for a long time. How people are reacting to the album so far and how things have been going this year - just surreal.

How are people reacting to Haust, do you think?

HMB: Well, I'm not that sure because most of the PR has been happening in Iceland, and I had just moved from Iceland at the same time as the album was released. It scored quite high on the 2014 lists and stuff like that, which was also not something I expected: I don't know what is happening in Iceland - I don't know who's talking about it and who's not.

You've moved out of – off of? – Iceland?

HMB: Yeah, I currently live in Berlin. Just to try something new; that's the main reason for it. I've done one or two shows there every year since 2012 when I first released a small EP. It's easy to find promoters and things like that in Berlin, easy to have a concert. It's not that easy to get paid for it, but it's for the fun.

Your voice, we're going to have to talk about that, I think: is it something that comes naturally or a sound you decided that you wanted to go out of your way to create?

HMB: I think it came naturally I guess. When I was 19 years old and I tried out some ideas and things like that - my favourite singer at that time was Maynard James Keenan from Tool - I always wanted to be a vocalist in a hardcore band. But I always found it nicer to sing more fragile things, especially things that were written more for female voices. It pretty much started there: you have a starting point and after that it's all just experimenting and rehearsing - listening to your body, to the voice itself, seeing how your neck and how your stomach and everything react to the songs that you're making.

How important are the words? Because when I'm listening to your stuff I'm really listening to the feel of the sound rather than the impact of the lyrics.

HMB: For me the sound comes first: I'm more into melodies. I don't really get this lyrical type of music - I respect it very much - but it's just not for me. But the words do come first because I needed something to sing to and, of course, there is something behind the words. It's like a snowball that starts rolling, you know? You have something you want to say and you have some kind of concept and you finally have a platform where you can express all the things that are going on in your head and how you experience the world.

How did these two seemingly opposing things – the ancient, quasi-religious quality of your vocals and the ultra-modernity of the electronic element – end up coming together? They're both things you're interested in, clearly, but not necessarily things you would presume to merge…

HMB: Pretty much just by accident. That's the thing I like about experiments; you suddenly come up with all those happy accidents that you wouldn't if you had tried to think it through. I feel like it'll never come again if you didn't record it at the exact moment. And I mean, yeah, it's just doing those things and really liking it and really listening to it. The main goal of all this is just to make music that is custom cut to my needs and to what I want to hear.

It's been an old dream, you know? I started learning classical piano when I was seven and I bought my first synthesiser when I was 12 or 13. I knew that there were kinds of electronic music but I didn't have any kind of clue how they were produced or performed. I had heard some mainstream techno tracks and I really liked it and it's always been behind the ear. Having all those instruments and drum machines and you really don't know how it works or anything - just having all this gear - that was so fascinating. You just start experimenting. You can use just about anything to make music: there are endless possibilities of what sound can be used, of how you can perform the music, how you can experiment.

When you're making music what are you aiming for - other than to please yourself - in terms of what effect you want to have on the listener, of what they should take away from your work?

HMB: I can't really think about it. The only person I can make music for is myself and the rest can't really become my concern: I can't control other people's feelings.

So the most important thing for you really is that you're free and able to experiment for yourself and if other people like it then great?

HMB: Exactly, yeah. Of course there are advantages if people like something that you're doing. But we always have something in common: if you like something there's always someone that's going to like it as well.

Are you thinking at all about things like record labels and second albums or is that also outside of your space?

HMB: Yeah, I'm thinking a lot of stuff. I just have to see how this latest release works out. It's not going to go much further than this summer, so I want to start on the next album at least as soon as I can.

So you haven't started on the new stuff yet?

HMB: Yes and no. I haven't like sat down and been like, 'Now I start the album', but there are plenty of ideas growing and I've found quite a lot of starting points. I feel pretty certain on what I want to do next, musically. I've been listening to quite a lot of world music, stuff that's not just in another language but also has other melodies - things that sound strange compared to what we are familiar with in Western countries.

It's strange: I think, in the West, even when we hear something we think is exciting or new it's still almost always the Western norm.

HMB: Yeah, there's a lot of great stuff out there. Everything has been written, pretty much - we are on that point right now. We have a billion artists and they have a billion tracks each… so I think we're done in that kind of way. But it's still manageable to do something fresh. I'm excited for it. And for new music in general. The thing that shines through the most is just when people who are true to themselves. People are very keen to see when you're faking it.

M-Band play Norwich Playhouse on Sunday, March 29. Haust is out now on Raftónar; head to their Bandcamp to get hold of the album

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