A translation of the interview “Þetta er búið… Að Eilífu.” which appeared in Icelandic newspaper DV on Friday October 21st. 2011.
It’s over… Forever.
Rap-group Quarashi has quit and says it is never going to come back. It is however leaving behind a substantial collectors package that no fan of the band can miss. Just before they disappear into our memories the reporter sat down with Ómar “Swarez” Hauksson and Egill “Tiny” Thorarensen, two of the many members of the band through the years. In an interview with DV they recall the turf-wars in the hip-hop, parties in America, fights with Hells Angels and a band of midgets that played with them in the USA.
Tómas Þór Þórðarson
The comeback of rap-band Quarashi this summer didn’t go unnoticed by anyone. People of all ages flocked to Besta Útihátíðin to see the comeback-concert of the band and people literally fought over tickets at the last two shows in Reykjavík. Members of the band have repeatedly said that this was the last concert. Quarashi is over. However, they are leaving behind a sizable good-bye package, a collection of their work called Anthology, with their best songs, songs that didn’t make it to their previously released albums and all of the bands music videos. Was it always the idea to say goodbye with this package?
Ómar: The main thing is that our albums are no longer available. You can get them in digital form but not otherwise. That is sort of the thought behind this. The demand for the albums is great. This is also a good chance to put all the videos in one place and the concerts. We have done a lot of stuff that’s never been released so it is also fun to own this. Even just for ourselves.
Hope Someone Will Release Sinfó (Iceland Symphony Orchestra)
On the first CD of three in the Anthology-package are 22 of Quarashi’s best songs through the years. Wasn’t it hard to choose something for the CD?
Ómar: Nah, these are all hits man (smirks). I actually had very little to do with this. Sölvi took care of everything. It was actually quite easy to pick something for this.
Egill: It’s mostly the songs we did at the concerts this summer.
Ómar: The Jinx album is sort of a best-of album too. A lot of the songs on it were re-released and re-makes. I don’t really remember if we even wrote one new song for that album. Anthology also has Mess it Up with Opee which was never released on any album. Also a DJ Muggs remix which is a track that never found its way on any album which is sad cause Muggs is, of course, a legend. Many people have asked us why it hasn’t been possible to reach these songs so now they are all there.
Egill: No one’s gonna feel betrayed by this release. That’s for sure.
Ómar: The worst part is that we weren’t able to release our concert with the Symphony. It just costs a whole lot to release stuff with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. Hopefully, someone, someday will be willing to take that on.
Won’t Call off the Quitting
The reception that Quarashi’s comeback this summer was given was insane. Has it not tickled you in the slightest to call off your plans of quitting?
Ómar: Not on my behalf. It was definitely fun but to a degree I also realized why I decided to quit at the time. Personally I have never seen myself as a musician. I fell into this band by accident. I had been rapping with some of my friends but I never went into it on the premises that I wanted to make music.
Egill: Quarashi has always been a unit. When we started with this thing this summer the conditions were that we all needed to be in. Everyone would show unity and brotherhood.
Ómar: There’s also kids that maybe never got to see Quarashi with Hössi while people my age may only remember the old material and like that better. To tell the truth, when Hössi quit and Egill came in, the hard-core Quarashi fans didn’t really like Egill. It didn’t last long though because the boy quickly proved himself.
Needed a Thick Skin
Speaking of Egill coming in. Wasn’t it hard for a nineteen year old boy to take all the criticism that came with filling in Hössi’s shoes when he quit the band?
Egill: I got some tough skin from this. It’s really good for you to go on the Internet and read “Shit this guy should be killed” and things like that (laughs). I had a pretty strong operating base though from hip-hop because of what I had been doing before and there were people in there who fought hard for me. I really appreciated that. At this summer’s concert we managed to blend it all together. I joined in on the songs Hössi was in and he did the same with me.
Ómar: For some incomprehensible reason a lot of people thought there was some sort of beef between Hössi and Egill when the truth is they had never even met before this comeback. They had never spoken and only seen pictures of one another. There was absolutely no base for these rumors. Hössi quit and he was happy. My friends were always asking if there was some sort of beef between them which is just ridiculous.
Both Have Become “Backpackers”
When Egill Tiny came into Quarashi the icelandic hip hop scene was in bloom in the aftershocks of XXX Rottweiler. There was a lot of young rappers but how did Tiny end up in one of the biggest and most popular bands of the country?
Ómar: Sölvi found him. Sölvi brought a song that he’d done and it was insanely cool. Although he was quite a bit younger than the rest of us and maybe that’s why people weren’t buying it. That and the boy looks like he’s fourteen. People just weren’t buying this dude, this little and young-looking. However, Egill had a really good flow which I thought was missing in Icelandic rap. Everyone was trying to shove too many words in a sentence at that time. He was also really good at English and kept throwing out words I didn’t even understand. He was always cursing the “backpacking rappers” which are guys who always keep their rhyme-book at hand writing lines. I have to admit I had to look these words up online. I didn’t admit it then though.
Egill: It’s kinda funny that today I’ve sort of become a “backpacker”
Ómar: Yeah me too.
Dissed Rottweiler at Fifteen Years Old.
In the nineties and into the turn of the century there was a lot of warring between neighborhoods in Reykjavík and that was also the case in hip hop. Egill is from a neighborhood called Hlíðar and when he was only fifteen years old he wrote a song where he dissed XXX Rottweilerhundar as they were called back then. Bent answered the dis in the first rhyme of the first song of the first album of the group where he says amongst other things: “The only reason you’re dissing all of us, must be cause you’re looking for fame- You’re the reason they say Icelandic hip hop is in a slump”
Egill: When we meet today we always shake hands but at the time there were always fights and something going on. Back then there was the whole war- between- neighborhoods- thing going on. People were taking the bus and gathering enough people together for a fight. Today we’re all friends.
Ómar: The thing is that Quarashi was never part of the whole hip hop scene. The hip hop scene was relatively disgusted by Quarashi because we used too much rock and became too popular. It’s always this thing about being a “sellout” the moment you start selling records. That is of course ridiculous because it’s everyone’s dream to sell records and get played. To actually be a “sellout”. Anyone who says differently should just play alone in their bedroom. There’s always this endless struggle between wanting to be played but not being able to take success. The whole 90’s thing with the hood-wars was such a load of crap though.
Guys Who Had Boy Band-Dreams Were Beaten
Quarashi has made some pretty hard music and used a lot of rock. Today the guys say that the softer the music is the more popular it’s going to be but that guys who are famous today would never have stood a chance back when Egill was getting into Quarashi.
Egill: The times were completely different. When I was coming up the pop-star spirit was making itself at home. Einar Bárðason was coming in with Nylon and Birgitta Haukdal was a total star. When I was younger Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys were not cool like they are today. If someone in my neighborhood would have had some boy-band dream he’d have been beaten. It would have been corrected on the spot.
Ómar: Dudes like Júlí Heiðar and Friðrik Dór would never have had a chance at that time. They would never have been taken seriously. Today they’re doing their thing and do it well and convincingly. But that’s just the way it was back then if you sang some RnB or something you were just a pussy. It was only Real Flavaz who had tried that.
Egill: I just think it’s really funny how this stuff has changed. Today it’s just cool to be supernaturally corny and preferably start crying onstage.
Ómar: Yeah today dudes like Usher are the most famous. Everything needs to be much lighter so middle-class kids and specially their parents can accept the music.
Egill: It’s sad because what always fascinated me about music was the rebellion. When I was six Axl Rose was my hero. Just because my mom didn’t like Welcome to the jungle. There was rebellion behind the music. To challenge the authority and my authorities were my parents. Then rap came and then it was all just “fuck you” and “fuck the police”. Nowadays guys like Justin Bieber pop up and they are the complete opposite of what I grew up with. I’m not saying that’s something bad. It was just other things that fascinated me.
Kept the Party Going
Stories of Quarashi’s partying border on being legendary. When Ómar and later Egill came into the band the worst of the nonsense had already aged off of the band, they say.
Ómar: Thankfully I came into the band when people had come out of the worst of it. And it had been bad. When I came in people were just drinking beer and smoking weed. We did that whole package when we went to America. Still, it’s something people grow out of. You still hear stories of partying and stuff but I wasn’t part of that.
Egill: I remember when I was formally invited into Quarashi. I did not dislike partying as people might have seen in the Race City video. I was about 50kg there. They asked me if I was even capable of making a record. I thought so and finished the project. I even managed to wake a bit of a rock-demon in Sölvi and took a bit of a flip with him and also Steini. I came into this full force and kept the Quarashi party going long after Quarashi was dead (laughs).
Ómar: I’ve never been the party-animal. I’m too lazy and I’ve never had the patience. I’ve never tried anything stronger than weed. I’ve also become such a lightweight. Specially today. I’ve become such a pussy. I’m too lazy to even go downtown anymore.
Took a Picture in the Wrong Place
Quarashi did whatever they could to gain popularity in the USA. The band moved there and Ómar was required to tell a story from their time there. Egill didn’t take part in that adventure. He crosses his arms, looks at Ómar and waits excitedly.
Ómar: These were some really good times. It started with us moving to New York for a few months. I was going there for the first time and the day after I got there a guy from Hells Angels attacked me.
Egill: How are you in a fight Ómar? Did you just lay face down? (laughs)
Ómar: I have never been in a fight. The thing is, we lived in an apartment at a street in New York where Hells Angels have their headquarters. That made it so that the street was one of the safest in New York. But with living in that street come some rules like for instance you are not allowed to take any pictures there. I made that mistake my first day and took a picture up the street on a disposable camera. I went to the store, came back and there waiting for me was a hairy fucker who threatened me all sorts of injury. You’d also see them attack tourists regularly to take away their cameras.
Wrong Song Made Famous
Ómar and the guys recorded songs in a little studio they called “the crackhouse”. In there they made a demo and played it a few times for the big shots of the industry. It ended in Columbia taking them on and that’s when the wheels began turning. To start with, however, Quarashi played with midgets.
Ómar: We went touring on the West-Coast with Lost Prophets and some other band. Then we took another tour on the East-Coast which was horrible. There we played with a band of midgets. In that band all members were midgets. It was a very special experience. But then we got this deal and we were thrown back on tour. That’s when we got to know first hand what it’s like to try and make it. We were lucky. We had our own tour bus and had it pretty good. Then there were other bands that had been playing this tour for a few years who were still sleeping in some mini-buses in sleeping bags. Some people there were just barely making ends meet and could barely afford food in the day.
Ómar continues: We got to experience a bit of a Hollywood-feeling when we recorded the Stick em up video. Here at home, when were would record videos, we had maybe three people who worked on it aside from the band. At the peak of the production in the US there were about a 100 people involved. It was absolutely crazy.
But eventually Columbia kicked Quarashi after their second single Mr. Jinx didn’t become popular enough
Ómar: I think Columbia was wrong in making Mr. Jinx the second single. Stick ‘em Up became fairly popular but Mr. Jinx is so completely different from it. That’s how the industry works over in The US, you have to sound the same until you are big enough to be allowed some space to experiment. I always wanted Baseline to be our second single. But it didn’t go well enough and Sony was having some financial trouble and was throwing out bands left and right and we were one of those bands. We were still lucky in the sense that we sold that song so often that we were able to pay for the album pretty quickly.
Put Their Hearts and Souls Into the Final Concert
The guys say they’ve made a good amount of money from being in the band when it played regularly and the albums were coming out. However, the iron had to be struck hard and often while it was hot. They are not so sure that Quarashi would be able to start playing all over today.
Ómar: I don’t know about that. What people forget is that in the end when we quit we had to cancel concerts because no one was buying tickets. We had to cancel concerts both here in town and in Akureyri. At that point we felt people just didn’t give a shit but then we quit and then it’s the typical thing that people couldn’t have us and therefore they wanted us. Some kind of nostalgia hit people cause we quit. I was pretty doubtful about this comeback this summer because of this. I pretty much didn’t believe we could sell this many tickets. That’s why I wanted us to make sure we’d only have a few concerts so it wouldn’t end like last time.
Egill: It was also this mystique we wanted to keep over the band. We only ever did a few interviews while we were offered to perform everywhere. We were also not that sure about this until the ticket sales for Besta Útihátíðin were opened and a thousand tickets sold right away. But when we went into it we didn’t know what would happen.
Ómar: It was just utter insanity to see the reaction at Nasa. I was really wondering whether it was honestly that amazing that we were playing. I even saw Megas in the crowd.
Egill: One of the infamous entrepreneurs even tried to steal a shirt.
Ómar: The most unlikely people were there in some sort of a fit of nostalgia.
Egill: And then you meet people who thank you for the best concert they’ve ever been to. Well we did put our hearts and souls into it.
Was Only a Piece of Meat
It is sad to break the hearts of the fans of Quarashi but the guys seem pretty adamant about quitting the band once and for all this time. The last question is of course simple: Is it really all over, forever?
Egill: Forever. Something else is going to take over now. Ómar is in the advertising business and I’m going to keep making music. I’m going to see how far I can take that. Music is just music. If you have talent then you make music to fill something up in yourself. I learned that after we quit that it is dangerous to base your entire self-image on fame because fame is fickle. I was very young when I joined Quarashi and it went to my head to be in the most popular band and get all the attention. To be downtown and meet girls and stuff who were only interested because I’d been in some band or in the media.
Ómar: You were just a piece of meat.