Interview // Samúel Jón Samúelsson

Interview // Samúel Jón Samúelsson
  • Quick presentation: can you introduce yourself with the basics (what, who, where, why, when)?

My name is Samúel Jón Samúelsson and I have been working as a musician since I guess around 1995, when I was in my first band that released a record which was like an acid jazz band. Since that I have been a part of many different projects but my focus has been mainly on funk and afro-rooted music so I’ve been in different bands like that and I played in Latin bands, reggae bands, funk bands, jazz bands and stuff like that. Now my main focus is on my own project which started out as an eighteen-piece big band and now it’s a fourteen-piece touring. We released four records, we just released a new record last year and it was out on vinyl a few months ago. We play my own music, it’s like a mix of afrobeat, funk, jazz with influences from all around the world.

  • Do your write everything?

Yeah.

  • Ok, so you are the leader.

Yeah, yeah, that’s why I’ve put my name on it. Isn’t that good? I’ve put my name on it! (laugh)

  • Is there a part of improvisation?

Yeah it’s a lot of improvisation and open sessions, solos, and also I like to play around when we play live you know just sort of getting the band to improvise, it can be risky but usually it turns out really exciting. So usually we have this frame of an arrangement that we work with and then we try to go out of it and come back, we just play along and have a good time.

  • Do you consider the project Samúel Jón Samúelsson big band like a huge party with all your friends?

Yeah, it’s a brotherhood. Most of my friends are in this band. These guys are from all the bands that I have been in, and lots of the guys are in my favorite band so in a way it’s like a family affair. I would say that it’s a brotherhood, a band of brotherhood.

  • No sisters?

No, not yet. It’s a very hmm… I don’t know, I don’t want to sound like a… I don’t find the words… It’s been just guys up to here but I can imagine go and take it anywhere in the future. There are a lot of great girl players out there now, which was not when we started out. When we put together originally in 2000, I did not see a lot of girls who I could have in this, but now there are a lot of good players. I want more girls to play like bass and drums so there is more to pick from. It would be really nice, send your daughters to music schools! (laugh)

  • You just said that most of the people you are playing with are also part of your favorite bands so what are your favorite bands?

Yeah, so there is another band I am playing with, it’s called Jagúar. It’s a funk band and everybody in that band is in my big band. The drummer in my big band is the drummer from Hjálmar which is a reggae band, which I play also in and the bass player from Hjálmar also plays in my band sometimes. The guitar player, the drummer, the keyboard player and also the bass player formed a band called Funkmaster 2000, which was one of my favorite bands also. So, yeah, they are my favorite musicians.

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  • You just went touring around Europe…

Yeah, in March.

  • Where did you go and what did you like?

We started in Zurich in Switzerland and then we went to the North and we played five gigs in Germany then we went to Budapest in Hungary and then we went to Prague and another city called Olomouc in Czech Republic and we played in Vienna also. So it was ten days on the road, a lot of driving. All the gigs were really fantastic and we all had a great time. Playing in Czech Republic was the craziest and I really loved the audience. People were there to have a good time.

  • That leads to my next question: on which stage around the world would you like to play and why?

In 2007 we did a tour around Iceland with this band, a really crazy tour and after that I told the guy “ok, now we’ve done this and there are three cities I want to bring this band to” before we quit or whatever… So I told them I want to play in Istanbul, in Tokyo and then Rio de Janeiro. We haven’t played there yet so I would love to play in those three cities.

  • I heard you went to Brazil…

Yeah, me and my wife were there for three months.

  • Were you looking for some places where to play?

Yeah in a way but also getting new influences and getting to know new people and just changing the environment. It was really great.

  • Are you really into world music?

Yeah, the term “world music” is very wide but I guess I would say that I’m into African music a lot, Afrobeat and African drums tradition. I’m also dancing in an Afro-dance workshop here in Reykjavík and they have drummers from Guinea. I went to Guinea last year to study there a little and that was really, really great. Then, I’m also into Caribbean, Cuban and Jamaican music and stuff like that… and I’m heavily in love with Brazilian music. The world music term is too big.

  • Yeah, when I say “world music”, I mean more “ethnic” music.

Yeah, also. There is so much music out there, in Africa but also in the Balkans. So yeah, I’m into world music!

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  • How would you describe the Icelandic scene today?

There is a lot of stuff going on. For example, my band is not like a typical band, you know, doing anything like the other bands. There are lots of really interesting bands which are all doing their own things, it’s not a scene of bands doing the same stuff I would say. The Icelandic scene is made of people doing their own thing, and I really like it. Of course, in that, there are a few bands that you can put in a category or another but everybody has his own identity and his own sound. There is a small jazz scene and there is a growing reggae scene. It’s a nice melting-pot.

  • A reggae scene growing: can you tell me more about that?

There is Hjálmar, Ojba Rasta, another band called Amaba Dama. There are a few underground bands. There is a lot of stuff around Ojba Rasta. Those kids in that band are also in other bands. There is also RVK Soundsystem and they are very good at promoting the music.

  • Are you buying or downloading the music you listen to? Do you buy vinyl?

Yeah I buy it a lot. I buy both CDs and vinyl. I don’t like to download, I don’t connect with it. I buy it if I can’t get it on a physical record but I don’t have any connection with my download collection. It would not matter if it crash or disappear because it does not mean anything to me. I buy the music, I don’t even know how to download illegally (laugh).

  • You can download legally too.

Yeah, yeah but I’ve never done this. I like to go to record stores. There are a few record stores left here in Reykjavík, thanks God, like Tónar and Bad Taste and then Lucky Records, of course. Every time I go abroad, in other cities, I look for the record stores.

  • This is where you can have a relationship with people. When you download, it’s just a story between you and your computer.

Yeah and I really don’t like this software that recommend stuff to you, I get offended! “Follow this one or this one”… This software is telling everybody on the Internet what you are listening to and when I see that, I freak out! (laugh)

  • Big Brother is watching you! 

Yeah, exactly! So, I love record stores and I like just going to independent shops to buy the stuff instead of going to the big, huge supermarkets. I like it, it’s personal.

  • Are you attending a lot of concerts?

Yeah, I try to. I live downtown so it’s easy for me to check out stuff. But usually I’m busy playing myself so there is not a lot of free time. Sometimes when you have a free night you just want to relax, do something else, go to see a movie or else, but if I’m free and my friends are playing somewhere, I like to check them out. I’m interested in what other people are doing and I’m always looking for the next “wow”, you know, for the next thing that will surprise me. What I don’t know, I’m looking for. That is what you find in record stores, you know, I want to go to a record store and I want to find the record that I didn’t know I was looking for. For me it’s a good day if I find something like that.

  • Which artists have influence on you?

For example, I’m going to Copenhagen tomorrow and I’m going to see a concert with Burt Bacharach. He has a big influence on me. I love his music, he is the greatest songwriter of the 20th century. Ennio Morricone is also my favorite composer, he is Italian. And of course I’m listening to a lot of African and funk music. I like Jamie Lidell, he is doing a very interesting pop music that I like today. I try to check out music the most I can.

  • If you could bring anyone back to life for a collaboration, who would it be?

Well… This is a tough question… Maybe Duke Ellington or Sun Ra. I don’t know. Definitely those two but I would have liked to collaborate with George Clinton and the P-Funk movement. I mean, he is still alive but like in 1977 or something. So if I could bring that project back to life to their golden years, I would rather do that!

  • So you would like to use a time machine.

Yeah I guess more like that. Instead of bringing someone to the present, I would take the time machine and go back to 1977 or maybe I would kidnap them and bring them to the studio! And Fela Kuti of course, it would be crazy to play with him or just to see him in a concert. Fela Kuti, George Clinton, James Brown, Sun Ra… Some of them are still alive so…

  • Yeah so maybe it can happen one day, in your dreams at least.

Yeah (laugh).

  • What’s the best album you’ve listened to this year?

I would say Jamie Lidell’s last album. It’s called Jamie Lidell. It’s really good! Lucky Records has to get it on vinyl so I can buy it! (laugh)

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[BLINDFOLD TEST]

- Track n°1

I haven’t got a clue what it is but sounds like something like 1968 or 1967, 68, 69. If I was to describe it, I would say it was a mixture of Blood, Sweat & Tears and Nina Simone but I don’t know what it is. Just got a good guitar player and the vocal harmonies are really nice also. I hate to give marks but I’ll give it a 4 out of 5.

-> Óðmenn – “It Takes Love”

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- Track n°2

The song is Do You Know the Way to San José? by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. It’s performed by some Icelandic choir, either Sílfur Kórinn or Siglfirðingar Kórinn and I would guess it was on a record from SGI Records but I could be wrong, I’m not very deep into the choir scene. It’s from the 70s or something, late 60s. I would guess it’s Siglfirðingar Kórinn. It’s my guess. It’s like a cheesy version of good music, I would give this a 3.

Söngflokkur Eiríks Árna, what the fuck? (laugh). She was asking me about influences and I was telling her that I was going to Copenhagen to see Burt Bacharach on Saturday . I’ll bring this record with me. (laugh)

-> Söngflokkur Eiríks Árna – “Styssta Leiðin Til Stokkseyrar”

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- Track n°3

Wow. First to start out, I thought like “what is this” and then it kind of grew on me and I started liking it. It could be some new Icelandic band that I haven’t heard yet, some young kids of those new bands which have lots of string players or some stuff. I have no idea. I would guess it’s something like a young new Icelandic band but I could be far out. I have no idea. I would give this a 3,5.

-> Lockerbie – “Siðsumar”

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Interview & photos by Adeline Le Broc.

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