If he chose to perform under a stage name, this 22 year old Icelandic folk artist could have easily gone with Justin Vernonsson or Ben Howardsdottir. Ásgeir Trausti Einarsson is his real name and he is already one of Iceland’s favorite acts. He performs his songs both in English and in Icelandic, and incorporates the synchronized melodies of what we imagine Iceland’s scenery to be.
Originally, all of Ásgeir’s tracks were recorded in Icelandic on his debut album released in September of 2012 titled Dýrð í dauðaþögn. Since then the album has been successfully translated to English. The English version is titled In the Silence and was released in January of this year on One Little Indian Records. It’s interesting because many of the original lyrics that Ásgeir used on his debut album were Icelandic verses from poetry that his father Einar Georg Einarsson, one of Iceland’s most well-respected poets, had written.
Along with Ásgeir’s father being a notable poet within Iceland, his siblings are also incredibly talented in the arts. An important part of the Icelandic lifestyle to note is that music and the education behind it is a part of many children’s upbringing in school. The country has produced stars, which have resulted in more stars, such as Björk, Jónsi and Sigur Rós as well as Of Monsters and Men at the top of the popularity charts. Below them, also with a respectable following you can find Ólafur Arnalds, Sóley, FM Belfast, and Sin Fang. Ásgeir is soon to fall amongst the top, he is working with the right people and producing melodious tunes that catch the attention of many.
Aside from categorizing his music as Indie Folk, Ásgeir also has a touch of electronic in his tracks. This comes from a couple different influences, one being his producer he chose for the album, another comes from James Blake. Guðmundur Kristinn Jónsson is his producer. Fun fact: Jónsson is the guitarist for an Icelandic reggae group named Hjálmar, you can pick up on some of the comparable electro sounds within reggae that the group creates. Another is James Blake. You may wonder why he is at all influential to Ásgeir. Well, I’ll tell you. First, James Blake and Ásgeir have something special in common as each have used their father’s work in their own. Ásgeir uses his father’s poetry to create lyrics, while James Blake uses his father’s songs. “The Wilhelm Scream” is a reworked cover of “Where to Turn”, a song originally written by James Blake’s father, James Litherland. In an interview with Mikey Cahill of the Herald Sun, Ásgeir happily admitted that “James Blake’s self-titled 2011 album was influential… because it was the first folk album with electronics that I’d heard.”
Are you familiar with the American alternative rock band, The Czars? If not, what about one of their founding members named John Grant? Anyhow, John Grant is the former vocalist for that Denver-based rock group. Since departing the group, he’s been living in Reykjavik. It’s there where he overheard new Ásgeir songs streaming over the radio from Ásgeir’s debut album titled Dýrð í dauðaþögn. Grant offered to take apart the album, and re-work it with English lyrics. Grant did a fantastic job rewording the lyrics to make them flow nicely in English, whilst at the same time not switching up the content at all. So with the help of John Grant, in late January of this year Ásgeir was able to release In the Silence, the English version of his debut album.
Dýrð í dauðaþögn was acknowledged incredibly well by Iceland as it received a triple platinum certification, won 2012 Album of the Year at the Icelandic Music Awards, and peaked the Icelandic Albums Chart. The lyrics on that album originally were written by both Ásgeir’s father and a different poet named Júlíus Aðalsteinn Róbertsson. In the Silence was acclaimed by many more as it charted in Belgium, the Netherlands, and France. Triple J, an Australian radio station also did a fantastic job spreading the album within their country.
When Dýrð í dauðaþögn was released in 2012, the singles that followed were "Sumargestur", "Leyndarmál", and "Dýrð í dauðaþögn". “Leyndarmál” is the only one that continued to be a single when translated to English as it is “King and Cross”. That being said, the other two are still popular. “King and Cross” has over five million plays on Spotify, and over two million on YouTube. It definitely is Ásgeir’s most joyous song, it includes a thump beat and could definitely be categorized as folktronica. “Going Home” or “Heimförin" compares well with works of Ben Howard and even incorporates the minimalistic background that James Blake shows.
The lyrics that Ásgeir has taken from Icelandic poetry to use in his music resonates extremely well with the country and area that he grew up in. Ásgeir grew up in a tiny rural community called Laugarbakki. Population 40. The hamlet is situated halfway between Reykjavik and Akureyri in the west Húnaþing district near the Miðfjarðará River. The town is on flatlands but it is near beautiful fjords and waterfalls. The area is breathtaking.
On In the Silence, “Higher” has Ásgeir incorporating the lush nature of Iceland and long, beautiful crystal clear skies by singing “I lift my mind to to the sky/and I let it take flight/the wind carries to my ears/precious sound of life.” In “In Harmony” Ásgeir sings “I am/a soul I float amongst the fjords.” “Summer Guest” is speaking about a bird, a rare visitor that “brings the joy of spring to me/over the ocean’s endless blue/he never fails, his path is clear and true.” Both “In the Silence” and “Was There Nothing?” speak to soft and silent nights of winter, and show a theme of emptiness which together are incredibly reminiscent of Bon Iver.
The United States is far behind Europe and Australia as our country has not given Ásgeir the complete love and listening that he deserves. I’m very excited to see what he produces in the upcoming years, as Icelandic musicians never seem to disappoint. Ásgeir will be accompanying Hozier on his sold-out tour of this upcoming spring through the US. That show will be one for the books, he may even play one of his covers of “Heart Shaped Box” or “Wrecking Ball”.
By Ben Schechter