- Start with the basics: who is Epic Rain?
Johannes: We are a five-piece band from Reykjavik, Iceland. It’s me, the singer, Bragi, as well a singer. Then we have Steve who is usually playing turntables on shows and he is a keyboard player. We have 2 guitar players. And we also have some guys who help us in the studio so a drummer, a bass player and a guy who plays all the strings but the actual band is just a five-piece band.
- And how long have you been playing together?
Johannes: Probably like 2 years now.
Bragi: Yeah 2 years.
J: I think it kind of started just with me and Steve.
B: I think we have been working together like for 3 years maybe or something.
J: Yeah. Because it actually kind of started as I was used to work with a lot of different people who just came to the studio and recorded with me. Then Steve came in and we started working on some stuff, then Bragi came in and it just evolved to this band.
B: It was not like we were “hey let’s form a band!”. It kind of just happened. It came out of Joha’s world. It’s his idea in a way, it’s his atmosphere.
- Speaking about this world and this atmosphere: when you are on stage, you put on make-up and you are someone else…
J: The world we are trying to create, we want to keep it visual. We try to connect the videos that we make to the live performance as well so it’s kind of like a theatrical thing going on.
B: Yeah, we try to catch the atmosphere and bring it on the stage also.
J: We are trying to bring something different, not being just another band playing on the stage and we are trying to bring the crowd into it as well so people can feel like part of the show. When me and Björgvin, who is the guy who has directed all the music videos, started to work on the first music video like the progress, the workflow, finding locations and finding props and stuff like that… I just thought it would be a good idea to try to bring that as well to the live performance.
- There is a kind of melancholia during this live performance and you are called Epic Rain. Why?
J: I think that it stands for 2 different things. The rain part stands for the moody part of the music like the blue gloominess and “epic” is basically just a long poem or a long story. So it can be divided into two different meanings. And it also can just mean a heavy rain.
- So you’ve started a long story…
J: Yeah, yeah, basically. I try to write all the lyrics to be like some story-telling and try to keep the lyrics very visuals.
- You describe your music as « rooted in underground hip-hop » and you include many kinds of styles like folk, country, blues. What does influence you? And who?
B: It depends on who you are talking about in the band because we are really different. That’s the funny part because we come together and we make this kind of music but individually we are really different, so our DJ is all about electronic and stuff like that, I’m coming from the blues, one is coming from the classic, and another one is more like blues/country… But one thing that we have all in common is hip-hop
J: Maybe except for Daði.
B: Yeah except for him, he is the classical guy.
- That’s why you describe your music as rooted in hip-hop, because this is where all started…
B: Yeah, that’s the root of our music. It used to be based on sample and in used to work like a hip-hop production.
- So you were singing on samples.
B: Yeah, yeah.
J: Yeah in the beginning, but not with this band. I used to work with a lot of samples.
B: Not with this band but then we developed.
J: Even though I would probably not categorize it under hip-hop…
J: …it’s still rapping going on and the song structure in a way, like the verses are basically put up like hip-hop. It’s actual riming going on and stuff like that. It’s a spoken-word thing as well, and then it’s kind of rooted maybe the beat generation but it developed into hip-hop as well and my background is definitely from hip-hop. I used to be in some hip-hop bands when I was younger. I don’t know, it’s really hard to categorize what we are doing I guess.
B: I heard “dark hip-folk”… (laugh)
J: I heard so many people trying to describe the music but I don’t know… it is just music. People always have to categorize, you know it’s this and this and this or whatever… One guy, I can’t remember his name, but he said either you find the art interesting, or not interesting. It’s maybe a little black and white, but still. People always want to put a label on everything.
B: But that’s how it is and we have to react to it so… I don’t know.
J: It’s usually the first question that we get when we go into interviews like “how would you describe your music?”. I will blog something about it when I find the right word for it.
- You’ve collaborated with many artists on your last album…
J: Yeah, basically the three players I was talking about earlier, and also Elín Ey, who is a folk singer from Iceland and sang on 2 songs. We also had a French girl.
- Yeah, I heard that.
J: She was a friend of my girlfriend and she is not a musician, she just came to the studio and had never done anything like this before so she was really nervous and shy but it was really nice and she did it really well. We also have another French girl on the EP that is coming in October. We met her in Nantes. She just came to us before the show and she actually played with us in two songs. She plays a musical saw and she also sings. She is really talented.
B: Yeah, she is. Rachel.
J: We were kind of like fortunate to meet her because I’ve been looking for somebody who can play the saw or the theremin so it was really nice to meet her. She is actually playing on one song on the new EP, she plays the musical saw and then she has a small vocal part on another song as well.
- It’s kind of international finally…
J: Yeah. Hopefully yeah.
- Tom Waits said “My reality needs imagination like a bulb needs a socket. My imagination needs reality like a blind man needs a cane.”
J: Tom Waits says so many strange but also really interesting things. Sometimes I think he is also trying to play with your mind, you know what I mean? He sometimes just says something that is clever but sometimes it does not event make sense. I don’t know… I don’t know what he is trying to… I don’t know the meaning behind this.
- You are a band which is playing between reality and imagination because you have theatrical stuff happening on stage.
J: Yeah exactly. I think it’s a funny line to be crossing between imagination and reality. Some of the songs that we write are just truly fictional but they could be something that could happen in reality, you know what I mean? So it’s a funny line to be like criss-crossing between and also when you are telling a story, the story becomes more interesting when you exaggerate a little bit or lie a little bit. That’s also important that you can find this line between reality and imagination.
B: Yeah that’s what he is talking about actually. He needs a little bit of both worlds.
- Who is writing by the way?
J: I write all the lyrics.
- How would you describe the Icelandic scene and according to you, which Icelandic artist has left his mark on the local scene?
J: Björk, definitely. She is a revolution for Icelandic Music. The Sugarcubes too, but she was like the first to be huge on the international scale.
B: I really loved Sigur Rós, actually only one album. That album had a huge impact.
J: I think Björk is like the trail voice force for the Icelandic scene.
- Yeah, when you meet foreign people or when you go abroad and you talk about Iceland, you are sure they will mention first: ”Björk”, “Sigur Rós”…
B: I can take another local one, like KK. For me, he had a huge impact, he is a folk musician.
J: But I think that without a doubt Björk and Sigur Rós probably made the way and I think that Iceland Airwaves has helped a lot of bands as well. I also really like Mugison, I think he is probably one of my favorite Icelandic artist of all time.
B: I think like the punk era in Iceland made a huge impact. It liberated the Icelandic music, they just broke the box and did everything. Actually The Sugarcubes came from that.
J: Something I found out when I started working here in Lucky Records, because Gestur was working here as well and he is very into Icelandic music, there is like a lot of bands from the 70s like folk, psychedelic stuff which are amazing. And I never heard about it before I started working here. I know that people in Europe and America are paying really high prices for these albums. It’s really nice, I mean these shelves over here are full of high price records from Iceland. But yeah, to answer the question, I think Björk, definitely…
B: Yeah, Björk and the punk scene.
- What’s your point of view about the music industry today? Do you buy the music you listen to?
J: I think people just have to come to the reality that downloading is not gonna stop. I think it’s important that if you like something then you should buy it. I download some stuff and if I really like it I will buy it. I think that’s the same for a lot of people. If they really like the music, they are willing to buy it.
B: Yeah people’s minds are changing when it comes to this. If you like you’re gonna buy it probably but you’re gonna download thousands of stuff that you’re probably not gonna listen to.
- I think that you can download something and if you really like it, even if you don’t buy the album or the EP, you also want to go to the concerts and see the live performances…
B: Yeah, true! It always has its benefits.
It convinces people to go to the concerts and lots of artists now are offering free downloads of their tracks or albums because they know how it works.
J: I think that for most of the bands today, the main income is definitely playing concerts, for the huge bands as well, and maybe sell some merchandise. Of course it has changed. I can remember when I was 15 or 16, there was a record store on Laugavegur and people basically just lined up. They knew maybe on Fridays he was going to have a new shipment people just rushed to the record store to be the first one to come in and buy something. And I can remember being in school, me and my friends, we were changing mixtapes and competing who had the best mixtape and stuff like that. I think it was more personal. It has changed, you can’t do anything about it.
B: I think people today are learning again to appreciate this. They are like making effort to go to the stores, buying vinyl, and realizing that it’s a thing you know.
- Lots of bands today are working on their merchandising and release vinyl. And I think it works, people start to buy it again.
J: Yeah and I can see it here as well, like the younger generations, the kids who are maybe like 15 or 16 or 17… They are coming to the store and they are buying vinyl.
- Maybe it’s also a question of trend but…
J: Yeah it is. Definitely
- … But it’s good finally.
J: But still, some percentage of that group is going to keep on buying vinyl when the trend is over.
B: I think this is a better form for music.
J: Yeah, I look at the CDs as I basically look at the flyers. Expensive flyers. It’s more used for promotion I guess. Vinyl is something you want to keep for a long time.
B: People can listen to music on the Internet so why would they like a CD actually? If you really want something, you are probably gonna buy the vinyl, you have a beautiful artwork, it’s bigger, it’s… I don’t know…
- Something you can hold…
J & B : Yeah!
J: And it’s actually a kind of a ritual to put a vinyl on. You know like you have to take it out, go to the turntable, and switch sides… When you have all your music on your computer, even though you are listening to a song that you really like, I find myself constantly switching between songs, because I have so many songs in my computer that I’m always switching between songs… When you have a vinyl you just listen to the whole album and I think that’s a thing that has changed a lot, people have too many options to choose on their computer, like 50.000 songs… It’s just too much! When I have my iPod, when we are flying or something, even though I really like the song, I’m always switching! I usually end up on just putting on shuffle… I can’t find anything to listen to. So I think it’s like a ritual listening to vinyl. It’s a good ritual.
B: It is!
- If you could bring anyone back to life for a collaboration, who would it be?
B: Who? Wow!
J: Well, I know your answer… It’s probably Jimi.
B: Yeah, probably Jimi Hendrix. I’m a big Jimi Hendrix fan.
- Would you play on the Woodstock stage with him?
B: Yeah of course I would! He is a crazy guy.
J: I would say Charlie Chaplin.
B: Yeah, good answer.
J: It would be interesting to do something with him.
- It would really fit to your music visually.
J: I’ve loved him since I was a kid. He is unbelievable.
- Can you imagine Jimi Hendrix, Epic Rain and Charlie Chaplin on the same stage? It’s gonna rock!
J & B : (Laugh) Yeah!
J: It’s gonna be interesting!
B: Yeah! Really interesting!
J: I would love to see that!
- What’s the best album you’ve listened to this year, 2013, Icelandic or international?
J: I would say Boards of Canada. It’s probably the best one for me and the new Nick Cave internationally. Icelandic, I don’t know…
B: I think Ásgeir Trausti’s album is a really good album. I think it’s one of the best this year, oh wait it was last year! Internationally, I have no idea…
J: I listened to the new Boards of Canada two days ago, it’s really good.
- I did too but I was not convinced…
J: I tell you, you have to listen to it again. It’s really good.
- I will take the time to do it while Bragi is looking for his answer!
B: Yeah, I have no idea. Maybe I’ve been stuck in the old music for too long!
- This is how you realize it!
B: (laugh) Yeah I think so. Actually, I thought John Grant was really interesting, probably not the best one but interesting.
J: We have really different tastes in music.
- That’s what is interesting, this how you learn more and this how you can do more creative stuff. Do you disagree sometimes?
B: Yeah, a lot of the time!
J: I think there is some stuff that we like in common.
B: Yeah but we are really different.
- But it’s good for the creative process.
B: Yes! You can be influenced by a music that is totally different than what you are making. You get an idea from a melody that you hear from electronica or else but you can arrange it to rock or something else… I don’t know… But you know what I’m talking about?
- Yeah, I understand what you mean.
B: When you are making music, it’s a really good thing if you can listen to all kinds of music because you can get your inspiration from the most unlikely places or the most unlikely music. So my conclusion is be open, listen to music, no matter what it is, be open-minded about things and be creative! That’s how you make new things when you can listen to all kinds of stuff. When you put the most unlikely things together, something will happen. Maybe its crap, a lot of the time it’s crap but sometimes you get something really beautiful!
- It’s like experimenting, you just try again and again…
B: Yeah, you have to try, try, try, try… like you get some crazy ideas, “yeah I have to try this thing”, even though it sounds ridiculous. Believe me I’m the guy who comes with the ideas which sound ridiculous and the others are like “no way, it’s not gonna happen” like it’s totally bullshit… I’m like “you have to try please!” and sometimes, SOMETIMES, something happens! A lot of the time it’s bullshit but it’s worth to try otherwise you cannot do anything new or fantastic!
- Exactly. That’s a good conclusion.
B: (Laugh) Yeah, that’s the conclusion!
- Track n°1
B: It’s a really nice song.
J: I’m just shocked by the song. It’s really really good.
B: It seems that there is some Inuit singing. I think it’s some 60s song, from that era at least.
J: Yeah or 70s…
B: But who could it be? It’s a really tough one.
J: It’s definitely some 70s’ stuff but I don’t know who it is! It’s an amazing song, it’s like a guy riding on a horse… It’s a really, really nice song!
B: I think it’s Hjlómar or something…
J: I don’t know who the artist is but I definitely have to find the album!
-> Savanna Tríóið - “Sakura”
- Have you ever listened to it?
J: No, not really.
B: Actually I have! I have never heard that song before but I have listened to this band before.
J: This was an amazing song, really, really good. I just want to sample it.
B: (laugh) For a moment I thought it was Japanese!
J: I have to dig into that band now!
J: I would give this song 5 stars out of 5, I liked everything about it: the bass, the guitar, the atmosphere…
B: Yeah and the Inuit language works really well. I would give 4 stars just to be like… It’s really nice. No, 5 stars, it’s gonna be 5 stars.
- Track n°2
J: I think it’s from the 70s.
B: Maggi Kjartansson! No…
J: I don’t have a clue.
B: I really like this tune! I’m trying to think… Joey, do you like the song?
J: No, not really.
B: This can be like a good feeling! Oh, I think it’s some 70s band… Jóhann G! I’m not sure…
J: It could also be from the 80s.
B: Do you think so? Early 80s… It’s really good, really well done!
J: I’m not a fan of the song.
B: I like it but I’m not as fan as the song before. I like the 70s’ stuff, it’s rock’n’roll and funky. There is a kind of Jackson 5 influence also. It’s really hard to believe it’s Icelandic!
J: I would say 2 out 5 stars. It’s not my cup of tea.
B: I say 3, I like this more than I don’t. I could put this on my stereo so 3 stars for me.
J: But I don’t have a clue who it is.
B: I think it’s some Jóhann G guy… Maybe… I’m giving 3 and a half stars.
-> Jóhann G – “I Love my Babe”
B: Yeah! I knew it!
- Track n°3
J: I think this is Hjaltalín.
B: If it’s not Hjaltalín, then it’s definitely Hogni singing or Arnaldur Indriðason
J: Ólafur Arnaldsson!
B: Ólafur Arnaldsson.
J: But I think it’s Hjaltalín and it’s a really good song, a beautiful song.
B: Yeah it’s a really nice song.
J: I would say 4 out 5 stars and I think it’s 2012. I think it’s from their last album.
B: I’m gonna give it 4.5 stars.
J: Yeah Hjaltalín, the piano is really nice…
B: Really well done. It was touching, it moved me.
J: That’s my final answer.
-> Hjaltalín – “I Lie” (2007)
B: Oh! 2007!
J: So the first album.
B: Not the good year but the good band!
Interview & photos by Adeline Le Broc.