This is a transcript of a video interview with Sölvi titled “A lot of stress surrounded the new Quarashi song” from a music program called “Hlóðheimar” which airs on Icelandic news website visir.is.
The original article can be found here: http://www.visir.is/mikid-stress-i-kringum-nyja-quarashi-lagid/article/2014141209645
In the interview Sölvi talks about how he first got started in music, the pressures of a Quarashi comeback, the making of “Rock On” and his new project Halleluwah. This video is a unique view into the work of our favorite musician and how he works.
*Stick ‘Em up plays*
Hey, we‘re going to meet Sölvi Blöndal from Quarashi, they just released a new song and they‘ve been doing all kinds of stuff so we‘re going to go see him and check out what they‘ve been up to.
Interviewer: Hey Sölvi
Interviewer: So how are you?
Sölvi: I’m good
Interviewer: Thanks for joining us on the show
Sölvi: Yeah it’s just fun
Interviewer: So we are just going to ask about you and your history with music.
Sölvi: Of course I was around music a lot as a kid, both through my parents and later through my siblings. Everything from Kraftwerk to the Sugar Cubes and even Swans and all kinds of things but the step from that to me doing something myself, that came when I started playing drums. I was 15-16 years old. I was just a drummer, you know just a drummer for many years and I practiced like a maniac.
Interviewer: So were you perhaps in a brass band or something like that?
Sölvi: No…I never cared much for that kind of thing, I studied drums for about 2-3 years but after that I just started playing with bands, like punk bands. I was just playing Rock n’ Roll, New Wave and Punk and all sorts of stuff.
My introduction to producing was a bit like…I got my hands on a Roland S50 Sampler, the Roland S50 is like an old legend in the hardcore sample music scene, It’s hardcore 90´s. Somehow it fell into my hands through friends of mine and I started experimenting with sampling and experimenting on my little Macintosh computer, I had a Macintosh classic and managed to use a Cubase program and hook the sampler to it. When I realized you could make your own songs like that I sort of didn’t feel like being in bands with guitar players and base players and just started making my own music instead.
Interviewer: So did you have any specific bands or artists that influenced you, like The Prodigy or something you listened to that inspired you?
Sölvi: Primal Scream, in that era, had gone from Rock ´n Roll and Indie to Electronica and Screamadelica but Ice-T was also a big influence with Original Gangster and Power and such and of course The Prodigy, they were the motherfucking thing back then. That all changed when I got the S50 or was it S10…AKAI, my first AKAI sampler…must have been…S50, yeah…I bought three of those and that allowed me to increase the sample memory and do longer samples. I have these floppy discs with 2MB memory and that’s when I could start using longer samples and making longer songs and play around more and from that Quarashi was born.
Interviewer: And that’s where…or was it maybe sooner? Was it sooner that your interest in Hip-Hop was sparked?
Sölvi: My interest in Hip-Hop probably started around ’91-’92. That’s when I discovered…first I discovered…that is I went to see a movie called Colors and shortly after that I discovered an album called Fear of a Black Planet by Public Enemy and then there were The Beastie Boys and Cypress Hill…it all came in waves, although there was this album that was released in ’96 called Exit Planet Dust by Chemical Brothers, that changed my life a whole fucking lot. That album really affected the initial Quarashi sound. We had a live base in the studio and we were playing it and sampling it and we’d time-stretch the sample, it was a bit of a strange practice but we didn’t have ProTools back then. I know a lot of people today are asking “how did you even do it with nothing but Cubase and tape.” But somehow we did it, I don’t really know how…Okay, I know how (laughs).
(Cuts to inside)
Interviewer: So tell us a bit about your process when you’re making songs, do you have some kind of routine or how does that go?
Sölvi: Well…no, actually not really. I just do all sorts of things. Sometimes I’ll start by putting down some chords on the organ and sometimes, you know, I have a beat and other times just an interesting sound.
Interviewer: So tell us what happened, how did it come to that you started making a new song?
Sölvi: That’s just…I’m alive and I like to make music, it’s also that three years ago when we did Besta Útihátíðin, I’d started on a track we were going to make, I had the beat but then we didn’t do it, so the beat was ready and then I was talking to Tiny recently and we said why not finish the song? There was a lot of stress around it cause it was like Jesus, a band with a lot of history coming out with a new song, often when that happens the songs are crap and everyone’s unhappy with them, then there were a lot of people who said: “You have to make a pop song that will get lots of airtime on the radio.” We were all like “Oh shit, man.” But then we decided to just say “fuck it, we’ll just do a cool Quarashi song like we used to do it.” I just used my S3 sampler to make the beat, no bullshit and we just put distortion on the vocals and it was just rap like in the old days. Fuck you!
So this is how we started, and the theme of this is that I wanted to have a gigantic drum and… BOOM, BOOM, which you know, plays the entire time with a crazy big and minimalist beat. And I thought you know, if we are going to do this it has to sound big and it has to sound like ’96 and it has to sound like we mean what we are doing so I thought; let’s do it this way.
(Time codes added from here on out as Sölvi stops and starts explaining what he did at each parts of the song.)
07:20 It is a very simple beat but you know… when you put Tiny on top of it it becomes ridiculously cool.
07:40 You know, the thing about this is… to make beats sound cool they need to have room and to make a voice sound cool it needs to have room so you have to remove everything else, guitar and everything else…
Interviewer: So it‘s just a beat and the voice.
Sölvi: Yes, a beat and a voice and a lot of fucking kettledrums, I want kettledrums and I want a bottom, I want it to sound huge so I just shook Styrmir the mixer man and demanded he gave it more bottom and he said; more bottom? But then you wont be able to play it on the radio (moves to indicate more shaking of the mixer man) more bottom! After that we sent it abroad to be mastered and got an email from them in New York saying; there’s way too much bottom (laughs). Then I thought OK, how are we going to do the chorus and that’s when I thought 80‘s fucking metal with guitars and everything involved and that’s where this came from and I am very happy with this guitar piece.
08: 48 Then I wanted some base in here…
09:02 This is a chorus that sounds like we could have made it in 1997. But then, in the song I twisted things around a bit, added a bit of new school and thats when I did the beat in machine so I did a a bit of piano, put it through machine and that‘s when I got this as a result… Theres a lot of bottom going on as well as this (snaps fingers) a bit of clicking…
Interviewer: is that machine?
Sölvi: That‘s machine, i played like this (demonstrates on machine). The people next door are always laughing at me because I‘m always dancing around and making beats, you know… but this is just how it‘s done. Then I thought, hey, we need to throw in a bit of punk, this is Quarashi, we need a bit of skate rock so I added this.
10:05 You know, I told Styrmir the mixer man; It starts with base, then we get a beat, then we get another beat, then it becomes bigger and bigger and bigger you know, so it starts like this…
10:30 I always want people to listen and think „it can‘t go any higher than this… Shit! It cant go any higher than this… Fuck! It‘s way to high!“ But that‘s how I want it too sound.
Interviewer: One question, regarding the distortion on the beat.
Interviewer: What are you using? It‘s very distinctive, beautiful distortion. What are you using there? Do you remember?
Sölvi: Yes, I use a cheap little plug-in a lot, it works for everything. It‘s really cool. Then it‘s also a compressor.
Interviewer: That‘s it?
Sölvi: That‘s it!
(Cut to outside)
Interviewer: Tell us a little bit about the stuff you‘re doing now? Not Quarashi that is, the Sölvi stuff. What‘s happening there?
Sölvi: It started while I was living in Stockholm for a few years and had a studio there with a few other producers, it was in a basement where there were no windows and complete darkness. Even though it was maybe 40 degrees outside and the sun was shining, in there it was cold and dark and that‘s where i started developing another project called Halleluwah. I was lucky enough to meet a wonderful singer named Rakel Mjöll and this became our duo, our project. It‘s a bit dark, a bit… I sometimes call it my Serge Gainsbourg project because it‘s a bit emo and dark. It‘s an outlet for the more melodic part of my productions and it‘s not as beat driven as Quarashi… Quarashi is of course more like „I‘m going to headbutt you, you idiot!“ (laughs)