Morgunblaðið – “From Fame to Schoolwork”

This is a translation of the article “Úr frægðinni í fræðin”, published in Icelandic newspaper Morgunblaðið on
November 19th. 2011.

All the pictures were taken at Quarashi’s old rehearsal space in the west end of Reykjavík.


From fame to schoolwork


Sölvi Blöndal overturned his life when he decided to leave the pop-world and Quarashi behind to study economics.



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Sölvi Blöndal led the popular band Quarashi for years but decided to leave the music behind when the band quit and decided instead to sit at a school bench: He bid farewell to the champagne and popstar-parties for a cup of coffee and heavy school books at Oddi as he took up the study of  economics at the University of Iceland.


 Now he lives in Stockholm where he completed his master’s degree and conducts research for the central bank of Sweden.  He isn’t the type to look back but will do so now and tell us what has been going on in his life since the end of Quarashi in 2005. The band got back together last summer at Besta Útihátíðin and two final concerts at Nasa. Even so, this was not the beginning of a new life for the band, but rather a goodbye to their old fans even though the music will keep living.




A substantial package has been released


A substantial package called Anthology, with all of Quarashi’s hits, rare material and DVD, has just been released.


 “ The band sort of died and it was good for me personally when it ended. It had been a big part of my life for nine years and it took me five years to find myself again. The band was such a huge part of my self-image,” says Sölvi who then got a phone call in February about a possible reunion for the band. “I didn’t even answer it, didn’t even dream of thinking about it. That ship had sailed, I never listened to Quarashi and never watched the videos. Quarashi was in no way part of my life anymore. To open that door, to me it felt like opening the door to a monster,” he says but then some things happened that changed his outlook.


                “I spoke to some people that I trust and the outcome was this. It was the band’s 15 year anniversary but that wasn’t the main reason. The main reason was simply that I couldn’t run away from that period in my life anymore. I wanted to face it, love it and say goodbye to it. I couldn’t just run away and become some economist and act like it had never happened. I’m really proud of what we did. This is my music, this band was my brainchild,” he says and as it turned out the timing was good for other members of the band as well.



At a turning point


“A few members of the band were at a turning point in their lives. Particularly I. Actually it turned out that in the week after we threw the concert at Besta útihátíðin I got to know that I was expecting my first child. So I was in fact saying goodbye to an era of my life and hello to a new one,” says Sölvi, who is of course very happy. His girlfriend’s name is is Sunna Diðriksdóttir and the child is expected in march 2012.


                “This was an incredibly fun comeback within the band. It was fun to see the original band and later members become one band and it was very healing for all of us. When you’ve been in the dugouts with someone for a long time you form ties, those ties don’t just disappear. It’s also fun to see how the music lives,” he says but it seems a new generation has begun listening to Quarashi.


                “Quarashi was revived on YouTube, online, but not because of us. There’s a group of fans, a tight core, most of whom are foreign, who’ve been relentless in spreading the gospel.” Says Sölvi who is thankful for this.


                “The same as many other artists have, I’ve always been plagued by self-doubt. It lived there even though I had completely let go. Bloody, sweat and tears went into these albums in every way. Art isn’t something I pull out of my sleeves. I have to really put effort into it,” he says.



Worked for Kaupthing’s research department


Sölvi played the drums for a few punk-bands before he started Quarashi. Perhaps that explains why the band was never a purebred hip-hop band. Digital-recording technology was also in its early stages at the time and Sölvi really enjoyed himself at the buttons.


                The band’s music was experimental and they often took risks, particularly at the start of their career with unconventional arrangements. “When we were doing it we felt like it was really pop-influenced!”


                After the demise of Quarashi Sölvi has only had music as a hobby. “After Quarashi ended I went to study economics at the University of Iceland. My last year in economics I was working at the research department for Kaupthing. I quickly felt that I wanted to try something new and keep studying so I quit my work there in august 2008,” says Sölvi who had already moved to Sweden and begun his studies there when the collapse of the banks occurred. “ Then I just watched Iceland collapse on the internet. I’m not one of those who knew it would happen. If there was a club of those who knew what would happen I was not in it. If you always knew when a financial crisis was on the horizon there would never be one!”



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Following in his grandfather’s footsteps

He did his master’s degree at the University of Stockholm. “I was told, after I moved there, that I was following in both my grandfather’s footsteps, they studied economics at the same school,” he says.


                Were you always good at mathematics?


                “Had I wanted an easy subject I would have gone into history but I needed a challenge. I read a lot of history books because I enjoy them. Good music is often good math. I’m an alright mathematician but I had to make an effort for this.”


                Sölvi says that when he began his studies in economics he kind of closed the door on his past life. “I went from being some kind of pop-star to sitting in classes wearing a fleece-sweater in Oddi. Those were some heavy steps from the pop-business to the University of Iceland,” says Sölvi who took on his studies with full weight.


                “The pop-world is, when it comes down to it, very occupied with itself. I don’t want to live like that. The good part of art-life is that it’s incredibly fun to create something.”


                But aren’t economists the new pop-stars? Generally speaking Icelanders are beginning to know the names of many economists after the collapse.


                “Personally I think economics are a beautiful discipline. It appeals to me that with it you can positively influence people’s lives,” he says and refers to one of the pop-stars of economics, Jeffrey Sachs, who amongst other things has discussed how it is possible to have a positive effect on economic growth and the world if more people had access to clean water. “Economics can certainly be part of a process to get more people above the poverty level,” says Sölvi, “and it’s possible to demonstrate that the richer parts of the world will profit from the poorer parts making it above that level. I find that fascinating.”  


Everyone has an opinion on economics


Is there such a thing as an impartial economist?


                “The more research I’ve taken part in the more I have tried to remove my political views. I was once a great left-wing man at heart but am perhaps a more right-winged man in my head!” Sölvi has found a good way to unite economics and his hobby, history. “I read a lot about economic-history I really enjoy it and I think it’s a really underestimated phenomena within economics which is getting bigger and bigger.”


                He points out that nowadays everyone has an opinion on economics. “The financial collapse has changed a lot of things. It’s a bit special, when it comes to economics, I know a lot of physicist and it never happens to them that people air their opinions on physics but everyone has an opinion on economics.I try to hide it for as long as possible that I’m an economist when I go to parties.”


                He claims that his education in Sweden has done him a lot of good. “I got acquainted with economics all anew when I moved to Sweden. I had gotten tired here at home. It’s also been great fun to work with Swedish economists,” says Sölvi who really enjoys Sweden. “There’s a lot about them that suits me,  orderliness, formality and other things.”


                Despite of this he stayed the summer in Iceland. “I wrote one report this summer with Ásgeir Jónsson an ex-economist of Kaupthing about the Icelandic housing-market so I haven’t completely let go of the country.”



It’s good not to have to drive

He likes living in Stockholm, which is one of the largest cities of the Nordic Countries, inhabited by more than two million people. “I really like it there. I don’t need a car for instance, driving fills me with very negative tension!”


                So the first born will be born in the city and Sölvi is very excited. He says that in the beginning he thought as some people “Does this mean life is over?!” and jokes that it crossed his mind whether he’d have to move into Garðabær, barbeque hot-dogs and get a job at Statistics.


                Lately he’s been working at a big study for the central bank of Sweden. “ It’s a project I got straight after I graduated, one of my professors offered me to join them. You just sit in a room with a lot of other people and crunch numbers. We created a property-index that goes back to the year 1880. It makes it easier for the bank to catch any real estate bubbles.”

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It’s not enough to make money


He likes working freelance like he’s done for this study. “I enjoy the freedom that comes with it. I haven’t been willing to tie myself down.” He says but doesn’t exclude the possibility of a stable job later on.


                “Music will always be a big part of my life and I will no longer deny that,” says Sölvi, who came to that conclusion after the summer. “one day I will be able to combine these two things but it’s nice to do studies.”


                But what is up next in the music department?


                “ It doesn’t even need to be so that the next project will be a music project. I like doing creative work. It’s not enough for me to just make money. There has to be something a bit more. I like to leave something behind, whether it’s a CD or a report,” he says.

                “I’m not going to get over-dramatic but I’m at a huge turning point in my life these days. I’m saying goodbye to a lot of old things. Even if I’m excited over the new, there’s a lot of nostalgia that comes with saying goodbye to the past,” he says but the interview took place when he was in the country for a short visit on the cosmic day of 11.11’11, when the age of Aquarius and new opportunities and change finally begins.



A powerful but a wearing community


He says that Iceland is “ Fascinating but at the same time wears you out. It’s an incredibly powerful community here. You manage to do twenty things in Iceland compared to five things in Stockholm in one day. But it can take its toll on you.”


                He feels the debate in Iceland has become very harsh. “It is downright nasty. If anything you can see the two camps have dug themselves further down after the collapse, they don’t intend on taking any prisoners.”


                He still sees the future in a positive light looking to his home country. “ Iceland has everything it needs where resources and skill are concerned. As long as the politicians don’t get in the way of the people,” says Sölvi, who is against “tax-torture that prevents the individual from becoming the maker of his own luck.”


                He says that small companies and the people’s own powers will be what most likely will get the country out of it’s financial crisis.


                “Personally I find it really creepy when politicians are speaking about how they must create jobs. They shouldn’t create the jobs, the people and the companies should. Whether people like it or not Icelanders are very much an individualistic country, I see it much clearer after having lived in Sweden. Over here all the roofs are in different colors, this is very well described in Iceland’s Bell : “ The kind of people that Icelanders call learned men and wise are here in Denmark called village idiots and it is banned by law for them to travel beyond their town.”


                There’s something to this. The people we exalt over here are often peculiar branches. It’s cute but it’s not very cosmopolitan of us.


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