The undeniable truth is… Iceland needs more bands like Legend. And so do you.
By Bob Cluness
“I am the plague, I am the swarm. All your hurt sticks on me, and I keep it warm.”
– Nine Inch Nails, The Collector
Legend frontman Krummi Björgvinsson pauses and contemplates, before sipping his beer and continuing our conversation: “War, hate, and all these things we end up talking about. I see it on TV and the media everywhere. I know people around the world who are touched by this and it affects me. I can’t really sit down and be all happy, happy, joy, joy cheery when I don’t think that the world is cheery at all.”
We’re meeting at Krummi’s favourite local haunt, Boston, to discuss his band, Legend, their recent album and the environment whence it sprang. Why it sounds the way it sounds. And why we need its kind of pessimistic honesty. But let’s start at the beginning.
Today in Iceland, we are happy. Or rather: we’re supposed to be happy. The Kreppa is “officially” over and we’re now basking in our status as one of the happiest ranked nations in the world. A utopian Xanadu if ever there was one. Everywhere you look, you’re shown smiling, beautiful faces, along with a near incessant positivism and good time party vibes. Yet scrape below the surface, and you can still feel the frustration and resentment festering amongst many of us, the feeling that something is still wrong with the way things are. The band Legend is in contrast to the prevailing truths, one of those stark reminders that sometimes it’s GOOD to feel bad and angry with things around us. So we talk.
ICY SYNTHS, NO FIST-FUCKING
The band Legend is a duo comprised of Krummi Björgvinsson (Mínus) and Halldór Björnsson (Esja). A swirling mix of industrial rock, synth pop and darkwave sounds, the music they make is one that cuts against the grain of most current Icelandic music.
April saw the release of their debut album, ‘Fearless,’ to positive reviews from all concerned. Although it doesn’t reach the visceral nihilism of their industrial influences (unlike Nine Inch Nails, they’ve yet to sing about the wonders of fistfucking), the album portrays themes of death, pain, loss and spiritualism with a singularly bleak tone that is gothic to the bone. ‘Fearless’ is also an immense sounding album. From the near operatic grandeur of the opening track “Amazon War,” to the erotic feel of “Lust,” you’re treated to crashing drums, cascading pianos, fuzzing guitar noises and icy synths.
We meet in the evening. Krummi takes a seat, and I start recording. I ask him about the state of the Legend camp these days.
“They’ve been really good,” he says. “We’ve just been really busy setting with Artoffact, a Canadian indie label who contacted us about wanting to distribute the album. They’re going to distribute the album in Canada, the US and Europe, and we’ve been working with them on things, such as changing the album artwork and packaging. So we’ve been at our computers doing all these changes and making sure everything’s in place before it goes into production.
Will there be a promotional tour to go with that?
KB: Hopefully there will be some dates next year. The album is going to be released on December 11, so straight afterwards in the next year we’ll definitely promote it in Europe and Canada. We are in talks with some booking agents in Germany about doing something over there. I don’t know about the US though. We’ll see once it’s released—it’s going to be distributed in small indie shops and on online stores.
You and Dóri previously played together in the country rock band Esja, and have known each other for a long time. How did you start making music together?
KB: We met in 1998, the way any two Icelanders will meet, which is out drinking. I had just started Mínus and he invited me to come over to his place, where he had a studio. He had this Latin named band called Atingere, which was him and his friend Maggi. They were really into the same kind of music that I was into. A lot of Nine inch Nails, Depeche Mode, stuff like that. He played me some music from this album that they were working on and I was totally blown away, because they were actually making the kind of music that I was listening to at the time. I had no idea that an Icelander would be making that kind of music.
Where there people who were into EBM/industrial music at the time in ‘90s Iceland?
KB: There was a little bit of EBM, but it never became a scene as such. You would never go to a club where it was only that kind of music that would be playing. There was only a really “happy” scene. And I’m not really into happy stuff.
Many of the reviews ‘Fearless’ saw upon its release referenced a laundry list of artists in trying to describe the band’s sound. Why do think that was the case?
KB: Well it’s mainly because there hasn’t been any proper electro-industrial music or bands like us in Iceland. There were some underground bands in the ‘80s, but they were more like drone and noise with industrial, more off-the-wall stuff, not the pop mainstream side that we’re working in. That sound is fairly unknown and many people will just try to pigeonhole it. Some reviewers can’t find a way to describe it unless they use a band that does similar music. I can’t blame them, but it can be a little annoying sometimes.
SEX, PAIN, DEATH, ETC.
I think that one of the reasons that ‘Fearless’ made an impact is that the lyrical content and themes are much bleaker and forward in their depiction of sex, pain, death, etc. and, frankly, not much music in Iceland touches on those subjects. Why do you think that is?
KB: I think that we’re so isolated from the world, even online. I think a bit that it’s not really seeing how the world works. Dóri and I for example, we always talk about religion and how it’s so fucked up and crazy, and how it’s killing people every year. War, hate, and all these things we end up talking about. I see it on TV and the media everywhere. I know people around the world who are touched by this and it affects me. I can’t really sit down and be all happy, happy, joy, joy cheery when I don’t think that the world is cheery at all.
Do your lyrics come from personal perspective, or are they more of an observation on what goes on around you?
KB: It’s both. It maybe comes a little more from my personal side, about 60/40. It’s just the way that Dóri and I write lyrics together.
The band has a tumblr site where you post imagery that cover subjects from science fiction, to BDSM and body modification. How much of that is feeding into the aesthetic of Legend as a whole?
KB: All the images on our blog are totally what reflects us and what we’re into. We’re inspired by many things, from post-apocalyptic science fiction, to body modification and fetishism, to religious symbolism.
I noticed how some of those images link in with the design and imagery on the cover of ‘Fearless.’
KB: That was our friend Siggi, the bass player from Mínus, a great graphic artist who’s done previous album covers that we liked. I approached him and told him that I wanted the album cover to properly represent the music that we aspire to, the old ’80s cover designs, with the frame and bleak imagery, a less-is-more approach, similar in a way to the 4AD album covers. He then took some photos of us and changed our features so that it would make people do double takes. You think that I’m smiling until you look closer, and it really messes with your head. I actually didn’t see the final photo until the last minute, but I really liked it. We just wanted the whole design to be very clean, very simple.
HOURS OF WORK
One thing you notice with the album is how impressive it sounds. How was the process of producing the album?
KB: Aww man, it was many hours of work, just Dóri and me. The whole thing took us a year. We had all the tracks ready and then came the arrangements, but when it came to the mixing that was ten straight months of work. Dóri was more hands-on with the mixing, and that was also a lot of work.
What where some reference points of yours when making the album?
KB: I was always bringing references such as EBM music that mixed electronic and live drums, similar to what Skinny Puppy and Ministry did. I was also bringing sound ideas in from Cabaret Voltaire, because I wanted the whole thing to sound as if it was played from hardware instead of software and playing it with a MIDI controller. Most of the album is played on hardware, some of it isn’t. I was really adamant that we get that proper analogue feel. And then we placed the live drums over the track and that gave it an extra level of power.
DREAMING OF SATAN
I’ve noticed that there are also lots of little things in the album, like miniature samples. For example, am I right in thinking on the song “Lust”, you used that moment in the documentary ‘Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey,’ where you have Gaahl from the band Gorgoroth going “Satan” in that really low voice?
KB: [Laughs] Yes we did! We actually took it off YouTube and cleaned it up a bit. I actually wanted to have more samples on the album, but it was a case of it being difficult to get permission and I also didn’t want to put something in only for us to get sick of it after a few months. But we said “Yeah, let’s go with this Satan stuff.”
Why did you want to add it into “Lust” in the first place?
KB: Well if you read the lyrics on the song, it’s about a woman who’s sleeping and taking in her sleep. Her boyfriend sees her talking in her sleep and in her dreams, she’s fucking Satan. She basically has a wet dream about having sex with Satan!
Really? I thought she was just dreaming about another man.
KB: Yeah you could take it as that, but I wrote the lyrics with that in mind. I thought it would be fun to have this situation where she’s having a wet dream about having sex with Satan and the boyfriend’s just sitting there looking at her, touching herself, and then you hear her scream “Satan!” and so the sample is to throw you a little bone, so to speak.
THE BIGGEST BOY BAND IN UGANDA / KRUMMI RAPS
You had a few people who contributed some music and lyrics to the album, Terry Devos and Frenzy Hunter. How did they get involved?
KB: With Terry, he’s an amazing singer and a good friend of Dóri. He’s from Uganda and he was in the biggest boy band in that country for years. Then he quit and moved to England and was studying to be a filmmaker. When we wrote “Devil In Me,” we thought it would be cool to get Terry to do some vocals on it just for fun. I wanted to get those high-end, Prince style harmonies in there, and he can hit those notes so high, much higher than me, and such a smooth voice, really soulful.
With Frenzy, he’s from Atlanta. I met him about the same time I met Dóri because he was hanging around Iceland in the late ‘90s with his friend Stoney. They were two black guys who were trying to start their rap career here. They called themselves Hunter and Stoney.
That sounds like a ‘70s cop drama.
KB: Yeah [laughs]! I got to know them really well, especially Frenzy because he came to Iceland more often. He was helping out in the studio when we were mixing the album and doing the arrangements. Anyway, we were working on the track “Sudden Stop” and I had put some vocals down but Frenzy was really into the album and the music that we were doing, so I said “you should rap on the track,” because I didn’t know what to sing on a couple of parts.
He actually sounds really similar in tone to you. I actually thought you were doing some kind of spoken rap there!
KB: I know. It’s funny, when I played it to people they would go, “Man it’s so great to hear you rap!” and I was like, “What?” But he did it in one take, just like that. And I loved it right away, loved the lyrics. He’s such a good lyricist.
CHICKEN WIRE AND CAGES
With regards to your live show, you’ve exhibited a few different stage personas in the past, but this one feels somewhat different to your previous stuff, in terms of look and movement. How does that all come together?
KB: Well you’ve seen us perform in the past, but the live act has recently changed a lot. Now it’s much heavier. We have much more apparatus, from dry ice, to special lights. I’m not wearing the wide brimmed that, or the rags anymore. I was just trying to evolve and see how far I could go with the live set.
For yourself, where are you looking for the live set to progress to?
KB: I really want to have it black and sleek, very ‘80s and German. I want it to be like seeing silhouettes onstage, slightly post-apocalyptic. Kind of ugly but beautiful at the same time. Just putting on a lot of proper war paint and not spending your time looking at your feet. We want Legend to be more of a visual band as well as musical. I’m just trying to walk in the footsteps of my icons that I listened, although Faktorý aren’t quite ready yet for chicken wire and cages!
For example, we played at the LungA festival in Seyðisfjörður and it was one the best shows we did. We got a friend of mine to set up metal structures up on stage and he would be welding pieces together wearing the full kit while we were playing the show. You had the arc lights and the sparks, it was very industrial. And I want to try to go a lot further with that, bring visuals like that together. I want it to be a total immersion experience. But it takes a lot of time and money and many shows to get to that point.
Do you feel that many people aren’t trying to do that kind of show in Iceland?
KB: Well I go to some shows and you see they have some traffic lights going on and nothing more. I understand it’s all about the music, but sometimes I get my hairs standing on end when I go to a show and its like, “Where the hell am I? This is dangerous, but cool!” I’ve always been into theatrics since I was a kid. Stuff like KISS on the TV, or King Diamond, or these metal bands that do all these crazy live shows. I really want to do that with Legend.
Speaking of visuals, you currently have three videos in production (for “Benjamite Bloodline”, “City”, and “Sudden Stop”). What’s the situation with them?
KB: With “Benjamite Bloodline,” we did the footage for that nearly a year ago. We’re doing the editing with a friend of mine named Frosti and it’s half done, but we’re all so busy right now with other things, so that’s on hold for a little while.
Instead, we decided to do another video, this time for “City.” I got this idea around living downtown in the ‘80s. Back then, you had those old school punks who would be hanging around asking for money, and I knew many of them, but sadly some of them are dead now. I miss them and the culture they had. You don’t see them anymore because it’s all different now. So I thought it would be cool to have a story where we had these two punks who are lovers, and the video would follow them around downtown on Independence Day doing whatever. We got a simple camera and we just went downtown with them I recorded and directed it myself. It’s very gonzo, just filming things as they happened. And we’re just about finished editing, so it should be out before Airwaves.
With “Sudden Stop,” we simply recorded live footage from when we played at the Besta Útihátið festival this summer. That’s just a simple live performance style video, where we’re playing and having a good time. But we don’t want to release that until the other two come out.
With this year’s Airwaves, on some of the line ups you’re playing with, you do stick out a little compared to some of the other bands on the list.
KB: I know, but I think that we would stick out anywhere we play. They were saying that last year, that it was so hard to find a place where we could fit well into a line up. All I was praying for was “Please don’t put us next to or after some quiet acoustic act!” or somewhere where we really don’t fit into that genre at all. But I think that it’s pretty cool to have Agent Fresco playing after us on Wednesday. You’ve also got Hellvar who use a lot of electronics and guitars.
But even if there are only five people who show up, we’re still going all out there with our war paint on. We want it with our set up so that when we come on, it’s completely different from the band who’s been on before.
IT’S HIS ART AND IT’S HIS HEART
So what does the near future hold for Legend?
KB: We’re trying to push it as far as I can. We’ve started writing our next album and we’re working on two new songs, and they’re HEAVY. For us to learn from our first album, I’m so excited to do the next one. I can just feel that it’s the next step.
‘Fearless’ is not going to be a onetime album project. That happened to Esja. It is not going to happen to Legend. We’re going to be releasing more stuff with this band. It just feels right. The way that Dóri and I work together, it’s even better than when we first started writing ‘Fearless.’ I’m having a blast doing this! But the music is hard work. The singing for example, it’s hard. It’s nothing like screaming or shouting. These are quite intricate melodic lines that I have to hit just right, pitch wise it has to be fucking perfect, all the while the drummer is working to a click track live and has to hit it completely on the beat. And amongst all these things, I’m managing the band and setting up all the shows. But that’s why I’m pushing this, because it’s closest to my heart.
Legend are playing Wednesday 31st October, 23:20 at Gamli Gaukurinn, and Saturday November 3rd, 23:20 at Faktorý upstairs.