MAy 26th, 2016 The interview
Quarashi is one of the best loved bands of the country and has been since it started in 1996. The group is coming back together and now for the first time since the year 2002 all of the band members will be reunited. A new song and a video will be released in the next days and the band will be performing at Þjóðhátíð í Eyjum at the end of July. The nationally recognized media-man Andri Freyr Viðarsson met up with Steinar Fjeldsted and Sölvi Blöndal and interviewed them for Albumm.is. Andri got a lot of things out of the boys, they talked about how it all began, what it was like to hang out with B Real from Cypress Hill, their new song and the comeback to name a few things.
Andri: So, Quarashi is twenty years old now and here you are. Sölvi is wearing a suit and you, Steini, are pretty much the same as when the band first performed, but a lot of things have changed. For example, Sölvi is now an economist, how is that connected to music?
Sölvi: It‘s not connected to music at all! I stopped listening to music for four years, I didn‘t listen to one single song!
Andri: What was that like?
Sölvi: It was painful but necessary. Then in 2009 I started listening again.
Andri: Was there a reason why you started listening to music again?
Sölvi: Yes, there was a pretty good reason for it. I was finishing my masters and summer was coming and I wasn‘t doing anything other than going to the beach in Stockholm and drinking beer. At that time I started DJ-ing at an old German rock bar and then I had to start listening to music again. (Laughter).
Andri: But Steini you contacted me and asked me to take an interview for Albumm.is with the band Quarashi. I refused to do it unless you would be there too but you seemed reluctant to be interviewed. The reason you give is that you own and run Albumm.is along with your wife Sigrún. It‘s where you discuss things that are very important to you, music, culture and extreme sports.
Steini: Yes, it‘s something that‘s been with me for a long time. Many people, e.g., thought that skateboards were only a fad but here I am, almost forty and still skating around the city. I‘ve never stopped listening to music, although I got sick of making it at one point. Albumm.is opened a year and a half ago and has been growing fast ever since, it‘s become our main job today, which was always the end goal. There‘s a lot coming up for Albumm.is and we‘ve got exciting times ahead of us.
Andri: But if we start at the beginning. Sölvi, you‘ve always been a crazy drummer and drummed for many Indie bands, like 2001?
Sölvi: I‘ve been in bands non-stop since I was fifteen and I‘ve been in all kinds of bands. Everything from Happy Mondays indie up to much heavier rock which then ended in the band 2001. All of my friends were into indie but things were starting to change a lot for me. I was listening to a lot of Electronica and Hip Hop and that‘s why I was very unpopular at parties because I was always putting Public Enemy or LL Cool J on (Laughter).
Andri: One could argue that both Public Enemy and LL Cool J are rock influenced Hip Hop which is maybe what Quarashi then became?
Sölvi: Yes, you could probably say that. See, there was a bit of band drama in the band 2001 so it disbanded. Around that time I fell into a different group of friends which were Steini and his friends and that‘s where I found something I had been missing. Steini and the other guys introduced me to loads of new music like A Tribe Called Quest, Pharcyde, Aphex Twin and all kinds of dance music to name a few. That‘s how Quarashi becomes a sort of breed of the punk I brought in and what Steini and his friends were listening to.
Steini: During that time Sölvi and I were just partying and listening to music, beer and music every night.
Sölvi: Yes, we partied a lot!
Andri: Steini where do you come from? Were you involved with music before Quarashi?
Steini: Yes, I have always dabbled in music. I started my first band when I was eleven years old and played a few concerts. When I was thirteen I bought an Amiga 500 computer and a sampler and started making dance music or rather „oldschool hardcore“ Me and a few friends started the band Plan B and had one song called „Startrip“ on the dance compilation Icerave. We played some raves but then we didn‘t do much more. I have always written poetry and lyrics and been fascinated by melodies and chords, but when I was about sixteen I started recording rap in my living room in Reynimelur. I was rapping everything through the phone to get the distortion effect and the cassette player was put in front to record it.
Andri: Then there are other members too like Hössi, he came from a slightly different background, e.g. he was the singer for the band Wool. He was wearing flared jeans and a fur collar and looked a lot like Jim Morrison. How did he end up in Quarashi?
Steini: Sölvi had started making beats and I was writing rhymes. We decided to go to Sölvi‘s garage and check out some tracks, there amongst Switchstance. Sölvi says he knows some guy who could fit the songs so he called him in and the rest is history.
Sölvi: Their voices fit so damn well together, there’s a harmony between them.
Andri: At the time there was nothing like this going on. There was Heavy Metal, new wave and the kind of music played at country dances, but then you guys came along and I remember that it was awesome! Seeing you in concert was more like going to a rock concert than a Hip Hop show. Was that done consciously?
Sölvi: No, not at all. It was just some kind of chemistry in our group, we had a lot of energy and so did our music. From the first concert we did at the skateboard shop Týndi Hlekkurinn and then at Kaffi Aulait we‘ve always made everything crazy!
Steini: At that time we only had some four songs and we just played them again and again. (Laughter).
Sölvi: I had been in loads of Indie bands and it had never gone particularly well. Few people would show up for gigs, maybe the singers mom and someone‘s girlfriend if you were lucky, (laughter). But when Quarashi became a hit all the doors opened up and I was e.g. let into clubs and girls started flirting with me, which was very interesting.
Andri: You were very well received by music-thirsty youngsters but how did the music scene take you?
Steini: We were well received everywhere, for example, we toured with all sorts of bands like Botnleðja, Vínyl and Súrefni to name a few and we never had any beef with anyone.
Sölvi: We were sort of our own scene as we were pretty much one of a kind, but the rockers and even dance music fans were into our music. Quarashi became incredibly popular and pretty much overnight, it all happened very fast!
Andri: Switchstance came out and it became extremely popular and you instantly became big rock stars, did it go to your head at all?
Sölvi: Yes, I‘m sure at some point it did.
Steini: We already liked to party a lot before Quarashi but it became multiplied after Quarashi became popular!
Sölvi: (Laughter). Yes exactly, in Hafnarstræti it was just a cute little party but after that there was a lot more booze involved because all of a sudden it was free.
Steini: All of a sudden everything was free. Clothes, alcohol and pretty much everything…
Sölvi: It got a bit crazy at one point! There were fights and stuff…
Andri: Was it the band members that were beating each other up then?
Steini: No, actually we were more into beating others up (laughter).
Sölvi: It was complete chaos a lot of the time but we went back to the studio pretty quickly to record our first LP, “the egg,” as it gets called.
Steini: That period was complete chaos! We released Switchstance and it became a hit over night and we were big pop stars and playing everywhere. At the same time we were writing and recording for the egg album and we usually did that during the nights.
Sölvi: We did nothing but this! But at the time both Hössi and I were on our way to start our studies.
Steini: I was living in Phoenix Arizona and was only going to stay in Iceland over the summer; I was going to be a pro skater. I even had some deals but everything was put on hold and we just hit the gas.
Sölvi: Yes, everything was put on hold, but today Hössi has graduated philosophy and I‘m an economist.
Steini: I‘m not a pro skater though, (laughter).
Sölvi: We toured a lot around the country and it got very dirty. Sometimes it was like being in a Mötley Crue movie.
Steini: Those trips went far across any standards of decency.
Sölvi: Yeah wow! That they did, (laughter). It was complete bull a lot of the time!
Andri: So how was your first LP received, were you happy with the response? Steini: That album was very well received and made the band even bigger with songs like Catch 22, Mr Caulfield and Superwoman which are all hits.
Sölvi: There is a lot of “creative” speculation going on in that record and a lot of crazy samples.
Andri: After that there was an album names Xeneizes.
Sölvi: Yes, the work procedure for that was completely different. On the first album we were doing everything for the first time but for Xeneizes we knew much better what we wanted to do and how we should do it. I‘m very happy with that album and I think it‘s one of the better ones for Quarashi.
Steini: Before we started recording Xeneizes we took a little break from each other. I went to Chicago for three months, Sölvi went to South America and Hössi went to Ireland. We came back fresh and ready for the job and maybe we‘d kind of landed a bit after the way we‘d taken off.
Andri: When Xeinezes came out there had been some changes in the line-up right?
Sölvi: Yes, our DJ, Richard, had quit and Björn Ingimundarson (Dj Dice) joined us instead. Ómar had also fully joined after he‘d been with us pretty much from the start. Smári Tarfur also came in and Gaukur Úlfarsson played base, they were in our live crew.
Andri: It was around that time that things started happening abroad and foreign record companies started showing interest.
Sölvi: Yes, shortly after that we got a deal with EMI
Steini: Which was sick cause none of us had even thought of anything like that.
Andri: So you were probably instantly shot back up, how did you take it?
Sölvi: It was different.
Steini: We didn‘t think much about it, we were just in a bubble of a sort. But we started realizing things when we went over to Columbia Records. Then it all became much bigger and we were treated like stars. Big tour buses, lots of planes and lots of parties.
Sölvi: That‘s when we started selling a lot of records and had a song being power played on MTV and on the radio in the US. We were nominated for the MTV Music Awards and all kinds of stuff that made it all very surreal.
Andri: When did you move to the US and what was it like?
Sölvi: Shortly after Xeneizes, we all moved to New York.
Steini: We had a two story base in East Village in Manhattan, a place to practice nearby and a studio
Andri: How was it split and who shared apartments?
Steini: Us drunks , Hössi and I were on the first floor and Sölvi and Bjössi Dice on the top floor, Ómar just waltzed between floors.
Sölvi: (laughter). It was great, but we all slept in the same bed, it wasn‘t cozy at all.
Steini: We were just making beats, practicing and playing at some showcases, occasionally jumping to Los Angeles
Sölvi: Yes, we went to LA a lot, e.g. to work with Dj Muggs from Cypress Hill. We recorded a lot and it was a great time!
Andri: You became good friends with some of the members of Cypress Hill didn‘t you?
Sölvi: Dj Muggs worked on some songs, like Baseline and others. We became pretty good friends with B Real, he‘s kind of the nice guy in that group. Dj Muggs is fairly crazy! Always armed and stuff!
Steini: One time we were sitting at a fancy restaurant in New York with Dj Muggs and some people and he snapped at the poor waitress because the champagne wasn‘t cold enough!
Andri: B Real then went traveling with you?
Sölvi: Yes, he came along for at least one trip
Steini: Slept in our bus, he‘s an amateur photographer. He was just taking pictures like crazy and having a lot of fun.
Andri: Then you became really popular in Japan, what was that like for boys from the west of Reykjavik City?
Sölvi: Yes things went really well there but we actually sold a lot more records in the USA and stayed there a lot more.
Andri: One‘s always imagined that your biggest target group was in Japan, is that just wrong?
Steini: No, maybe not completely wrong but we were mostly in the US. We did a lot of big tours there and we played for 40 to 60.000 people each time. On these tours we were playing with Eminem, The strokes and Sum 41 to name a few. We also did Vans Warped Tour which was a very long one and absolutely crazy!
Sölvi: Vans was for a whole two months and we played almost every single day. The more we toured the more the mood in the group soured and we all started distancing ourselves from each other, the brotherhood we had at the start was really lessening.
Steini: At that time we were gigging a lot and all over the place. We were either traveling with buses or planes and we drove many hundred kilometers a day or we flew somewhere every single day. Most in the US but also in Europe, Australia and of course, Japan.
Sölvi: You don‘t know what it is to be tired until you‘ve been on a plane five times a week for a few months.
Andri: Was it maybe beginning to be difficult and even boring?
Sölvi: Yes, toward the end it had become that and it took a toll on people. The last tour was around Europe and it just wasn‘t good! People were blacking out and the mood had dampened.
Steini: Lots of people showed up at all of the concerts and we sold out everywhere but we ourselves were just not in the mood.
Andri: What did you do after that tour, did you take a break?
Steini: Yes we all took a break from one another.
Sölvi: It was pretty hard.
Andri: You took a rather long break, a whole three years passed before the next album?
Sölvi: Yes but in the meantime we made one song: Mess It Up, our good friend Opee or Ólafur Páll Torfason is on that song. It‘s one of our biggest songs that‘s never been released on an album.
Andri: Then Tiny joined (Egill Ólafur Thorarensen). Was he chosen because he has a similar vocal range to Hössi?
Sölvi: No he just has really good lyrics and flow.
Steini: He‘s also got the attitude, which is necessary.
Andri: That‘s when the album Gorilla Disco is released?
Sölvi: Yes exactly and there you have killer songs like: Stun Gun, Payback and Stars. I‘m very happy with that album, although it didn‘t quite reach the heights we were hoping for.
Steini: Soon we disbanded. We went and played some concerts, for example in Japan and stuff, but like Sölvi says, it didn‘t really get the same reception so we just gave up.
Andri: At that point the band went into proper hibernation and everyone dedicated themselves to other things. Then you came back together in 2011 at the Besta Útihátíðin and people realized they‘d missed Quarashi.
Sölvi: Yes, it was absolutely insane, 10.000 people showed up to watch us play. I had been studying and hadn‘t even thought about Quarashi for a long time. I stood in front of 10.000 people and everyone knew the lyrics and it just made me tear up.
Steini: We also felt that when we‘re all together on stage there‘s an unexplainable energy. Standing together on stage like that after all that time was just unbelievable!
Andri: Now we‘re sitting here twenty years later and in a few days Quarashi is going to release a new song and video. Most of you are fathers by now and have your responsibilities. How is all of that working?
Steini: Everyone is on board as they say. Me, Sölvi, Hössi, Ómar and Tiny and it‘s fun to say that Hössi hasn‘t been in a song since 2002. It‘s been fourteen years since the boy took up the microphone, he‘s rapping and singing and we‘re all just having a great time.
Andri: You‘ve all got loads of ideas and are all very creative individuals, aren‘t there any leftovers you could release later?
Sölvi: Sure, there‘s still some stuff there.
Steini: There‘s a lot of speculation and we haven‘t stopped making music but what will come of it, that‘s hard to predict. No one knows the future!
(It should be mentioned that Andri Freyr Viðarsson is working on a special episode from this interview which will air on Rás 2 at a later date, to be announced.)
Link to original interview in Icelandic here