Katla. interview (12/2020)
|With:||Guðmundur Óli Pálmason|
|Conducted by:||RaduP (skype)|
Sólstafir were once in my top 5 favorite bands, and I still vividly remember the fallback that occurred back in 2015 once their ex-drummer, Gummi, posted his statement about his forced departure and how that drama left me with a bitter taste. He would later form Katla. (the dot is in the band name) with an ex-bandmate from Potentiam, and they've since released two records, coincidentally in the same years as Sólstafir did. Now five years after the fact, the dust is settled, I thought it would be the right time to talk about music, censorship, and drama.
Allt Þetta Helvítis Myrkur
Radu: How are you doing?
Guðmundur Óli Pálmason: I'm pretty good. For the current situation, I'm pretty good, I guess.
Radu: I mean, the current situation - I don't suppose things are that fine over there. How's the situation in Iceland?
GOP: Um… basically, things are okay. I mean, we've never gone into full lockdown, for example, but I think the economic part is most worse because Iceland was so dependent on tourism, and I was personally working in the tourist industry and -
Radu: And that is no longer the case?
GOP: It's just nonexistent. Since March, it's just nonexistent. I don't think we've even begun to see the serious consequences on the financial side. I think we're gonna start seeing that now in next spring or so.
Radu: Yeah, it's probably gonna be worse than 2008.
GOP: They say it already is. And remember, Iceland was hit especially hard in the 2008 collapse, a lot harder than most other countries, so, financially speaking, I don't think there are very good times up ahead for Iceland.
Radu: Well, let's just hope that maybe is going to turn out to be an accelerationist good thing to the collapse of society.
GOP: Yeah, you know, I don't think society was perfect and I think this gives us a chance to revalue things, what do we want to do, how do we want to shape our society, but I'm very much afraid that we will choose the wrong direction. I feel like we are already going off the rail, we are already in the bend, but are we gonna continue, are we gonna overcorrect? It's hard to say, but we're already going off the rail, and I'm not just talking about Iceland, I'm talking about the entire world.
Radu: The world, yeah.
[Ed: I disagree. I think that we have already removed the rail from the track and are using it to pole-vault over the edge of the cliff.]
Radu: They say that the recovery is K-shaped, so instead of ups and downs, one part is going up and one part is going down. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.
[Ed: I, for one, welcome our new billionaire overlords.]
GOP: Yeah, yeah, I think that pretty much sums it up.
Radu: Yeah. So we're gonna get back to the coronavirus situation maybe a bit later. You have more important news to talk about: you just released a new album.
GOP: Yeah, I don't know why this isn't in the world news. Like, forget about corona; talk about Katla.'s new album.
Radu: Well, I've been trying to get people to talk about it, but…
GOP: Talking about the K-shape, you know, this is the K-shape they should be talking about.
Radu: Let's just hope you're gonna be a bit richer because of it.
GOP: I doubt it. Who has ever made money from heavy metal except Kerry King?
[Ed: Not me, that's for sure.]
Radu: Probably. So what would you say is different this time around compositionally? Because I did listen to it quite a few times and it seems like almost an entirely new band on it compared to Móðurástin.
GOP: Yeah, I agree. I think people could be forgiven - if you would play those two albums for people and you wouldn't tell them anything about the bands or who's playing, I don't think people would say that this is the same band. I think people would say these are two different bands. They just sound totally different.
Radu: Yeah, I mean, other than Einar's vocals, obviously.
GOP: Yeah. Could be two different bands with the same vocalist, but even his vocals this time around are much better. He did some vocal training before this album and it really paid off. I think he's growing as a vocalist, which is pretty good for a man in his 40s, I gotta say. (laughs)
Radu: Yeah, because I listened to Móðurástin quite a few times and after one or two listens I can already remember all the melodies. There were a lot of catchier songs, ones that you could call "hits" in a way, like, I just have to think about it, I already have a melody in my head, but now I listened to this new one - because it's Icelandic and it's more than one word, I don't really recall the name, but it ends with "Myrkur" -
GOP: Allt Þetta Helvítis Myrkur.
Radu: Yeah, yeah, just like that. So I listened to it at least twice just today and I don't remember anything from it, except that it was awesome.
GOP: At least you remember that, so that's good!
Radu: It's more of an album thing than just a singles thing, which maybe you could have said about Móðurástin. [Ed: It's hard to say anything about Móðurástin if you don't speak Icelandic.]
GOP: Yeah, I think Móðurástin you can listen to the songs there in any order, really. I mean, sure when we make albums we always think, "This should be the beginning of the album, this should be the end of the album", but with the new one, it really is that way. You cannot listen to it in any other order. It doesn't make sense, because, I mean, the first five songs, they are all intertwined, so you really have to listen to them as one piece. Then after the five songs, you've got the kind of middle section with two songs, and then you've got two long tracks at the end, which are, like, they are at the end for a very specific reason, so I would say this album is totally constructed like a story or like a movie. It has a beginning, it has a middle, and it has an end, and if you listen to it not in that order, you won't get it. I can tell you, for example, before the album came out, I sent it to a friend of mine - very few people get my albums before they actually come out, but I've got a couple of very close friends and they always get copies before the album is out - but today, of course, you send everything by e-mail and I sent them the album track-by-track. One of my friends listened to the album in alphabetical order and he was like, "It doesn't make any sense". I told him, you've gotta listen to it - like, there's a reason why I put the numbers of the tracks in front. You've gotta listen to it in that order. So it's very much an album you have to listen to it in the right order. [Ed: Conversely, I transcribed this interview backwards and it was actually easier.]
Radu: In a way, why didn't you just make the first five tracks into a single one?
GOP: Because they are different songs. They have different feelings. They're, um…
Radu: They're different scenes in a single act.
GOP: Exactly. I was gonna say it's like scenes from a movie: different scenes, but they connect. It has to go from one point to the other, but they're not necessarily the same thing, though.
Radu: Mhm. Okay, important question: how big of a budget would you need to make this into a movie?
GOP: Hm… good question. (laughs)
Radu: You already made one of the songs into a video.
GOP: Yeah, one song from the album and one song from the EP, so we made two videos already for a budget of… zero, basically. Actually, Einar is making another video right now as we speak - it's actually ready, but we haven't premiered it yet. Again, the budget for that was zero, so it can be done; it's just a question of do you value your time as money, or is it just something you want to do without getting paid, you know? For me, I just felt like I'm doing a piece of art. I didn't think about them as music videos and I'm a visual artist anyway, so I just approached it in that way and I didn't think about, "Oh, let's make a music video, but a music video needs a budget, and blah, blah, blah". As a visual artist, or as any kind of artist, I think, you always have to approach a project with the budget that you have, and if you don't have a budget, that has never stopped a real artist. A real artist is going to make the project even if he doesn't have the budget.
Radu: It's easy for you to work with no budget, considering you already have the photography tools for it.
GOP: Yeah, exactly, and that's why we could do it. Staying with the layout of the whole album - I mean, I did the whole layout, I did the whole visual aspect of the album. I don't charge the label anything for that because it would really just come out of the recording budget, and the recording budget was just spent on building our own studio, and Einar did - he did the mixing and the mastering, and, again, yeah, he got some payment for that, but if he would count the hours that he put into it, it would be the lousiest pay that you'd ever get per hour, so -
Radu: Well, for that money, you should have better spent it on drugs and booze.
GOP: (laughs) Yes… but we're too old for that now. And the value of having your own studio is just immense, because you're not gonna be dependent on other people, especially for people like Einar, because he has the skill to work in his own studio. We don't need to get an outside producer or an outside engineer, so the value of having -
Radu: Yeah, this means that it's easier from now on to make new music.
Radu: It's easier and cheaper and everything else. [Ed: And you can put a jacuzzi in the sound booth, too.]
GOP: Yeah, yeah, and we'll yield a better result. One of the worst things about making an album in a studio that is not yours is that you're always freaked out that you're going over budget, that you're going over time, and then things start to get a little bit sloppy.
Radu: Mhm. So you also have an EP for it that's only coming with the artbook, right?
GOP: Yeah, the artbook and the all-inclusive box set, which is a pretty awesome box with everything on vinyl and on CD and some extras.
Radu: Nothing on cassette?
Radu: If it's all-inclusive, you should put something on cassette in there, as well as a memory stick with everything in FLAC files. [Ed: And a Betamax tape with home videos, and a wax tablet with the lyrics carved into it, and a cipher to decode the hidden sheet music embedded on the back of the Declaration of Independence]
GOP: I think the label should do that, but then again, I'm not the label. I don't call the shots, but I think it would add some value if they would do that, but it's up to them, really.
Radu: Yeah, I mean, who even listens to cassettes anymore? A while ago I ordered some merch and I accidentally ordered a cassette and now I have nothing to play it on. My parents' cassette player is broken.
GOP: There are still bands releasing cassettes. I think it's cool to keep it alive. There was a label that released Móðurástin on a cassette in collaboration with Prophecy, and I'm pretty sure that they're gonna do the same with this album, but I think it's cool to have it, but, like you, I don't have a cassette player at the moment. I wish I did, because I have so much old crap on cassettes.
Radu: Cassettes and vinyls have a certain kind of aesthetic, very old-school type, that… CDs feel a bit more commercial, in a way. [Ed: Look at this old feckin' grandpa geezer who knows what a CD is]
GOP: Yeah, and I don't know if - you're young, so you probably never used cassettes in the way that we old folks did [Ed: Gummi is 73 this year, and our lil' Radu has just celebrated his 11th birthday], because one thing you have with the cassette that you don't have with the vinyl is that all the old rehearsals you just put a cassette recorder in the rehearsal room and you just press "record", so I can promise you all the old bands, like pre-2000s bands, they all had shitloads of rehearsal demos just recorded on a cassette player, and that's something I feel that even you can do with smartphones today. I don't think most bands are doing that, though. So yeah, there's probably, in all the garages in the world, there's a lot of hidden treasures in cassettes.
Radu: Yeah, but from a consumer's point of view, the cassette is small, you can put it in your pocket if you want, but also the artwork is small and you don't really have a lot of booklet in it, compared to the vinyl, which is huge. It looks really good on your shelf, but it's really impractical.
GOP: Vinyl is still my preferred format. I love vinyl because I'm such a visual person -
Radu: So you need that cover art to be huge.
GOP: Yeah, or at least I prefer it. I really love if an album has good album art. I love having it big on vinyl and just sitting down and looking at that. And also just the sound and putting the needle on the vinyl - it's a whole ritual, really.
Radu: Compared to finding something on Spotify and clicking "play".
GOP: And at the same time, when I say this, I feel like such a hypocrite, because the way I mostly listen to music nowadays is on Spotify on my phone, so -
Radu: Yeah, same.
GOP: I just don't have the time often now to just sit down and listen to music, so I do it while I do other things, so it often ends up just being on my phone if I'm driving or if I'm in the gym or doing something else, so…
Radu: It's kind of hard to play something on vinyl when you're driving. [Ed: Those are the words of a poser.]
GOP: Yeah. (laughs)
Radu: Speaking of cover arts, what do you think right now, flash of the moment, the worst cover art you remember now?
GOP: Wow, that's a good question. Umm… Probably the old Pantera albums, like the very old ones. [Ed: Now wait a second. What's wrong with giant, pink, buff Thundercats with glistening pecs, highly impractical swords, and text the color of a tuna's stomach lining?]
Radu: Oh, yeah. Absolutely awful. Or that Iron Maiden album where they didn't really render that shit, even. You know, Dance With Death. [Ed: Dance Of Death. Eddie the Head did not die in the great internet wars so that you could dishonor his sacrifice.]
GOP: Yeah, and also, like, Virtual X or something. [Ed: Nearly there. The X Factor and Virtual XI, between which it is tough to decide on a worse offender in terms of cover art. Rest assured, readers, that I will be sending a sternly worded letter to both Radu and Guðmundur about their lack of Iron Maiden knowledge.]
Radu: Yeah, yeah. Iron Maiden has had some shitty cover arts during their time.
GOP: Yeah, definitely. And a lot of the late-'90s black metal, like the second- or third-wave - depends on how you look at it - black metal from Norway, these bands that were releasing their debut albums in '96, '7, '8, '99. A lot of it was soooo cringey Photoshop, like they were obviously just discovering Photoshop at the time and they just went overboard on all these Photoshop effects and you can literally tell which effect they're using, so a lot of very bad album art.
Radu: I know a lot of black metal bands did release their debuts in 1996. For example, Til Valhallar is absolutely awful.
GOP: (laughs) Well, actually, I mean, that one stuck out a little bit… But also I gotta mention that I never liked most death and black metal album art, this kind of comic book style. Artists like Dan Seagrave, who did Entombed and these classic death metal album covers. I can appreciate the craftsmanship, but I don't like the art. I think it's stupid, I think it's like a comic book, I think it's… I don't see it as "refined art", and now I sound like a fucking art scholar, I don't care, but I always appreciate art. I'm not into comic book shit. Dissection, for example - great albums, but look at the album covers. It's just fucking stupid, you know, Death on a horse, and it's like cut out from a fucking comic book. Even when I was 15 I didn't like that shit.
[Ed: I respect his opinion, but I'm also preparing the headline I'm going to send to MetalSucks: "Katla. Frontman Disses Classic Albums, Says Comic Books Are SHIT, Tells Dan Seagrave to Fuck Off"]
Radu: At least you can appreciate that it was done by a commissioned artist instead of taking some 200-year-old painting and just attaching your band name to it.
GOP: Yeah, yeah, like I say, I appreciate the craftsmanship, but I don't really consider it to be "art" as such, but I know that most metal fans disagree with me. There have been album covers in the metal genre - maybe not really metal - that I've really, really liked as individual pieces of art. Take, for example, Earth - HEX. The full name of the album is HEX; Or Printing In The Infernal Method or something.
Radu: Something like that.
GOP: Yeah, like, this beautiful black-and-white picture of a barn. It's just simple, it's beautiful. I don't know if you know Fields Of The Nephilim -
Radu: Mhm, yeah.
GOP: I think that's one of the best album covers ever, on their album Elizium. It's just beautiful photographic art that has been painted over and the artist is using this kind of light painting, and also - oh, one of my absolute favorites: Death - Human. It's fucking amazing. People that say that Human does not have a good album cover are fucking idiots, and especially if you watch - there's a documentary about the artist that made that album cover, and it's actually a photograph. That's what is so mind-bending about it. It looks like graphic art, but it's a photograph made on photographic paper. I absolutely fucking love it. [Ed: Damn, I always thought it was a painting. Either that or a projected thermograph of what Chuck Schuldiner was dreaming about at the time.]
Radu: Wow, a photographer prefers cover arts that are photographs instead of graphic arts! Who would have thought?
GOP: Yeah, but it doesn't look like a photograph, though; that's the point. It looks like graphic art. But it's just so beautifully done and it's so, like… What I don't like about black and death metal art most of the time is it's so cringey, it's so over-the-top. Take, for example, Emperor, their first full-length album, In The Nightside Eclipse. The music is very sophisticated, in a way - it's serious - and then you have that fucking album cover, which is, like, it degrades the music, because if you take your music seriously, how the fuck can you not take your album cover art seriously? You're presenting a fine art piece of music, but, hey, I'm gonna slap a comic book on it? It doesn't make any fucking sense. It's not in the same field, if you know what I mean?
[Ed: Well, I won't deny that In The Nightside Eclipse has a "winter wonderland" cover and "frostbitten wasteland" music, but you'll have to pry my Kristian Wåhlin covers from my kvlt, undead hands.]
Radu: Mhm. Yeah, okay. So we kind of digressed a lot from your new album, so I wanted to ask: were the two Momentum guys involved in the recording?
GOP: No, we actually recorded most of the album before we started playing live with them, so, no, they were not involved at all.
Radu: (disappointed sound) They broke up that band, right?
GOP: Yeah, unfortunately they did, because they were a fucking amazing band -
Radu: I agree.
GOP: For people that don't know them, I definitely recommend that you check out their album, especially… what was the album called? I can't remember at the moment, but their last album was called The Freak Is Alive. The one before that is fucking amazing.
[Ed: At the moment, Radu is typing away, attempting to find the answer to this question before an uncomfortably long silence passes in this conversation. I, however, have the advantage in being able to take all the time I want, and also put my editorial comments wherever I so choose, so I'm going to go first and tell you that the name of the album is Fixation, At Rest.]
Radu: Fixation, At Rest. [Ed: Haha, too slow.]
GOP: Exactly, exactly. I think it's one of the best metal albums ever to come out of Iceland, hands down.
Radu: I kind of disagree with you on this one.
GOP: (laughs) [Ed: He will remember this.]
Radu: Do you know if they're involved in anything right now, other than playing live for you, when you're no longer playing live right now?
GOP: (laughs) Well, their guitar player is in a death metal band called Severed, used to be called Severed Crotch, and their drummer is actually playing with Einar now in Fortíð.
Radu: Oh, okay. That's good.
GOP: He's played in Fortíð before, and he's also been in Potentiam with Einar, which I was also in Potentiam with Einar, so it's all a little bit of a mixture of this and that. The bass player/singer is a graphic designer, so I think he's just mostly doing that at the moment.
Radu: Okay, okay. So do you think they'll ever be part of the band, or just gonna be live players?
GOP: At the moment, I would say no, I don't think so, because we don't need extra people. Einar is so productive writing music - he could literally write a new album now in a month, so it's not like we need more people to write music, and if we're not playing live, then there's no reason to teach somebody else guitar and bass parts that Einar can easily play himself. It's just a waste of time.
Radu: Yeah, unless you wanted a liver sound in the studio, which I'm not sure really works with Katla. anyway. [Ed: Note that "liver" here is the semi-nonexistent comparative form of the adjective "live," not the detoxifying organ located in the upper-right abdomen.]
GOP: We've never done that. We've never been a band that rehearses. We have never, ever rehearsed, except for playing live, so we were rehearsing songs that had already been recorded. We've never rehearsed - like, we don't write music in that way, which is new for me, in a way, but, yeah, we don't do that, we just send files to each other and that's how we do it. But also on this album, though, I don't know if you noticed, but there are two songs on the album and two songs on the EP which were written in a very specific way, but they were actually written 14 years ago.
Radu: Ah, okay. That's new. [Ed: No it isn't. It's 14 years old.]
GOP: Yeah! Well, no, it's old. (laughs) [Ed: Rats, he beat me to it.]
Radu: So back when you were in Potentiam, right?
GOP: No, no. So… yeah, similar time, maybe, similar time as I was the second time in Potentiam, so this was 2006. Einar and I decided to make a side project, so what we did - we wanted to approach writing music in a totally new and a different way. We went into the studio with no songs whatsoever and I recorded drums to no music whatsoever, then Einar took that home and he wrote music on top of my song structures that I had done with the drums. We made a full album like this in 2006. It was never released.
Radu: Do you still have it somewhere?
Radu: (incredulous) Why don't you release it, then?
GOP: Um… We're just waiting for the right moment.
Radu: (laughs) My thoughts would be why you're not releasing all those Mind As - what was that band called?
GOP: Mind As Mine, yeah.
GOP: I mean… Mind As Mine was a child of its own time, really, and I don't see much of a reason to release it now, but, sure, if somebody would want to release it on vinyl, I probably would, just because I love vinyl. (laughs) That's the only reason. Music-wise, I think we're doing kind of now what Mind As Mine was always intended for. I was already in Sólstafir when I formed Mind As Mine, and Mind As Mine was formed specifically to be an experiment of that. Then Sólstafir kind of moved into that direction anyway, because I was sick of the heavy metal direction that Sólstafir was going into for a while, so I pushed it into this more experimental direction and then we're doing that with Katla. now anyway, so I don't see a reason to -
Radu: Mostly just historical, because it comes from a time before the entire Icelandic scene actually exploded.
GOP: Oh, yeah, definitely, I mean, I can tell you back then I could count the people in the metal scene in Iceland on the fingers of - yeah, maybe both my hands, but not much more than that. I don't think I would l have to touch my toes. [Ed: I can't touch my toes even if I wanted to.]
Radu: Yeah, and a lot of them are no longer really involved. You have the other three guys in Sólstafir, and you have you, and maybe… There's another band that's formed from a lot of older members…
GOP: Yeah, there's not many. There's one band called Vetur -
Radu: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Those are the guys I meant. With Maggie in it?
GOP: Who, sorry?
Radu: The bass player, Maggie.
GOP: Maddi, yeah.
Radu: Yeah, yeah. [Ed: His full name is Magnús Halldór Pálsson, so I guess you could abbreviate it to Maggie.]
GOP: He's one of the few people from the '90s scene that is still in the scene and making music.
Radu: Yeah, this is what I've come up with through research, but then I closed the tabs and I no longer remember the names.
GOP: (laughs) Yeah, yeah. But most of the bands today are younger guys. Not even guys from - there was another kind of boom of hardcore and metal in Iceland in the early 2000s, but even most of those have disappeared. For example, Momentum would fall into that wave, really.
Radu: They were started, it seems like, in 2002?
GOP: Yeah, something like that, probably.
Radu: But also, yeah, not really - their first album came in 2010, so they came around the time that the actual explosion came.
GOP: Yeah, pretty much, yeah.
Radu: At the same time, around early 2000, there was, like, Myrk, and I think that's the only other band I can name from that period.
GOP: And the drummer of Myrk is also the drummer of Momentum, who's now playing in Fortíð with Einar. There's definitely - it's all the same people. It's like when you look at the Norwegian scene, for example, you see it's all the same people mixing bands. That's pretty much how it is in Iceland as well. I think that happens everywhere where you have a small scene; it's very creative, but there's not that many people, so somebody has an idea for a new band, where are you gonna find members? You're gonna find members from other bands. There's just nothing else available.
Radu: And it sucks if you don't get along with those people.
GOP: (laughs) Yeah. Shit happens.
Radu: Shit happens.
[Ed: I remember getting into the Russian heavy/alt scene about a decade ago and being astonished to find that you could work your way through virtually every artist from Aria to Viper, Inc. just by connecting the dots of shared members.]
Radu: So Einar is gonna release his own album with Fortíð soon. Can you do him a favor and hype it up?
GOP: Yeah! I've been trying to do so on our Facebook. He's not very good at self-promotion, I must say. And I can understand; he's an artist, he makes music, he's not so much involved in marketing and stuff like that, I guess. But it's always very difficult to hype your own stuff as well. I try as a friend to boost Fortíð as well, because also I think it's worth it and I'm very happy for him that it seems like Fortíð are finally getting some recognition, which they should have had years and years ago.
Radu: Now they got signed to the Prophecy label as well.
GOP: Exactly, exactly. It's about time that he has a proper record label. I'm looking forward to hearing their album, because -
Radu: (shocked) You haven't heard it?
GOP: I haven't, no. Einar - (laughs)
Radu: I did! This morning!
[Ed: Uh… This is awkward]
GOP: Einar doesn't trust anybody. He's not gonna give anybody copies of his albums. (laughs) He's always - I gave some people copies of the Katla. album before it was released and Einar was like, "Ah, don't do that, people will leak it!" He doesn't trust anybody.
Radu: But then why do I have a promo of it? (laughs)
GOP: Well, you probably got the promo from the label.
Radu: Well, if you want it, I can send it to you, but don't tell anybody. [Ed: Hey, wait, you can't do that.]
GOP: Yeah, hey… (considering this proposal) But there, you see, you're press, I'm not, so I'm not listed.
Radu: I'm press and you're oppressed.
GOP: (laughs) Exactly.
Radu: So then you're the marketing guy.
GOP: Nah, I wouldn't say marketing, but I'm quite active on social media trying to boost my band and my art. I've always done that. In my previous band as well I was the one doing the social media thing, so -
Radu: Then you're the one to blame for Iceland being such a big thing on the metal scene. Why can't you make Fortíð a big thing, then?
GOP: They're gonna be the next big thing. You read it first here: Fortíð is the next big thing.
Radu: Okay. But deep inside I'm still waiting for a new Curse album.
GOP: I don't know if that's gonna happen. Einar has now Fortíð, he has Katla., and he has his solo project, Eldur, so I don't know if he's gonna make anything more with Curse. At least, he hasn't mentioned it, but I don't know with that guy. I never know - the guy just totally out of the blue decided to write a children's book. I didn't know that he - like, he's just full of surprises, and he didn't tell me, "Oh, I'm thinking about writing a children's book -"
Radu: He just did.
GOP: He literally just showed me the promotional copy of it. He wrote it and his wife illustrated it and it's actually fucking brilliant [Ed: Not often you hear a children's book described that way], but that's the thing: he doesn't tell me, he just does things. He's full of surprises, so there might be some other projects in his pocket. I don't know.
Radu: On an entirely different subject, can you tell us something about Kuggur and Location Scouting?
GOP: Kuggur is basically just my website for my visual art. I just use it because people seem to have a difficult time remembering and/or pronouncing my name, Guðmundur Óli Pálmason, so…
Radu: I don't see how that's an issue. It's just so easy: Guðmundur Óli Pálmason.
GOP: Yeah, exactly. You obviously did your research. (laughs) Well, we've known each other for a long time, so you don't count, really.
[Ed: I want you all to know that I pronounced his name flawlessly, but you're never going to hear evidence of it.]
Radu: Yeah, well, I'm not the manager of your ex-band. I'm not gonna mistype your name.
GOP: (laughs) Exactly. Wow, yeah… I'd forgotten all about that, but yeah. But I can tell you a funny story: my girlfriend is not Icelandic. It took her almost to the day one year to pronounce my name correctly. It's not an easy name to pronounce, so that's why online I just use Kuggur. [Ed: It's actually pronounced roughly like "Geoffrey Oliver Palmerston."] And, like I say, it's just my visual art and I'm trying to bring it now into galleries and stuff like that. I have three exhibitions lined up already for next year and I'm trying to hook up some more, so hopefully there's more money in art than there is in music.
Radu: Maybe you can do photography at weddings. [Ed: Maybe you can pour acid into your eye sockets and die more painlessly.]
Radu: Maybe that will actually give you some money.
GOP: I would rather drink poison than do that, because that's not art, that's just industry. [Ed: The 11,000 girls who attended my high school and went on to become wedding photographers might feel attacked by these statements if they had any reason to know or care about this publication.]
Radu: Okay, so I'm no longer inviting you to mine.
GOP: Okay, fine.
GOP: I'd like to come just to drink, but I'm not taking pictures. But seriously, though, that's one thing that I'm trying to change - I'm trying to get people to understand that I'm not a photographer, I'm a visual artist. It's not the same. I use photography as a medium for my visual art, but I'm not a photographer in that sense. I still get requests to do band photos, and I'm like, "Why would you ask me? I'm not a photographer." [Ed: Okay, but what do you charge for birthday parties?]
Radu: Haven't you done the photography for your band?
GOP: Yeah, but I approach it in an artistic way - not as promotional photography, but as a part of the overall visual aspect of the band, to put it into the same box as the album art, you know, just to get the same look. That's the only reason why I do it.
Radu: But can't you also do it artistically for other people and get paid? [Ed: Radu, stop trying to help this man make money.]
GOP: Yeah, but, for example, the films that I have been using, they have not been manufactured now for six years or something. They're so expensive that it wouldn't make any sense for anybody to hire me just if they want promotional pictures, you know.
Radu: Maybe they just want to flex?
GOP: I mean, if there are some millionaires out there, sure. Everything is for sale for the right price, like they say, but when it comes to it, like I say, I'm not a photographer; I'm a visual artist that happens to work with photography as my means of visual art.
Radu: And who also happens to know all the best places for photography in Iceland.
GOP: Yeah, well, that's another kind of side of the coin, basically. That comes from me being a tour guide, and not just a tour guide; I don't know that people really realize that - a lot of people know that I was a tour guide before COVID, but I wasn't just a normal tour guide. I was driving these fortified trucks, and what that means is that I was going places where most people, even Icelanders, have never been, so that gives me an advantage, obviously, as a visual artist that also in some aspects uses Icelandic nature as my motif. That's why me and my buddy, we formed Location Scouting, but it's just - the Location Scouting company is basically just we're trying to make some business happen at a very difficult time in Icelandic economics. Like I mentioned earlier, there is no tourism, but there is some production of films and movies and such, so we're trying to get into that business, but it's like everything else; you need to first get one leg in and then the other.
Radu: Out of sheer curiosity, did anyone buy the last tier in your Patreon?
GOP: No. (laughs)
GOP: Not yet.
Radu: Don't worry, I'm not gonna be the first one.
GOP: (laughs) Nah… I mean, I put the price quite high up for a reason, because I'm not necessarily sure that I want to do all the things that I'm basically selling there.
Radu: I don't really remember what all of those were, but I'll just… I know it was something with live Q&A…
GOP: I don't remember either. That's the good thing about it. I'll just put it out there and then, yeah, if you want to pay me for that, sure, I'll go and read the description and see what I have to do.
Radu: It's still better to have a Patreon than an OnlyFans. [Ed: Check the comments section for Radu's details.]
GOP: Yeah, but I think OnlyFans pays better. If you're the right type of person, that is, like blonde and big boobs.
Radu: And you also had a project with leaving art over Iceland?
GOP: Yeah, that was my way of trying to make site-specific art, because my art is to begin with very site-specific, because - I'm not trying to photograph landscapes. That's not what I'm trying to do with my art. I'm trying to convey to people the feeling of being in Iceland and this connection between abandoned farms in Iceland and how our society has developed into us losing touch with nature, but by putting the actual artwork back out in the places where I took the photos, I'm trying to get the art to come full circle and trying to give something back to these places, especially like the abandoned houses. I'm trying to give them a new purpose, a new meaning. If somebody finds them, that's a bonus, but if not, it's still kind of an abstract installation, in a way, that something exists out there, even though nobody knows about it, if that makes any sense.
Radu: So you mean to tell me it wasn't just a promotional stunt?
GOP: It was, of course, in a way - like, I think all the best artists combine promotion with a good idea, a good concept. I think a good concept just on its own, yeah, that's great, but if you can have a good concept that is also a promotional point, then even better. I mean, look at artists like Andy Warhol, for example. Now, I don't like his art, but you've gotta give him one thing: he was a great salesperson. Everything he did was PR, everything. And Salvador Dalí as well. These kind of guys, their whole life was a PR stunt. That's why they became so successful at what they were doing. Did they sell out? Yeah, probably. I wouldn't do that, but you've still gotta hand it to them; PR is quite important.
Radu: So as someone who has done such a lot in photography, and you also went to university for it, right?
GOP: Yeah, yeah.
Radu: What tips do you have for amateur photographers, especially ones who want to do concert photography?
GOP: Just don't.
Radu: Don't? Why?
GOP: It's the same as with music; just don't! (laughs) No, I'm just kidding. My only advice is just do things your own way. Don't take too much advice. Of course, listen to what people have to say and everything, but other people are not always right, and it's much more important to find your own style rather than to try and duplicate what somebody else has done. I think this goes for every kind of art and I think this is kind of what's wrong with most art and music today, is that people want to be somebody else and want to have somebody else's success and therefore they just try to copy them, so there's a big lack of originality. Just do things your own way. It doesn't matter what equipment you have; it's much more a question of finding your style through the equipment you have. Don't think that the equipment is going to make your style or make it better.
Radu: Yeah, but I sure would like a better camera. [Ed: Well, I'd like a better salary, but here we are.]
GOP: Yeah, I mean, I can understand that point of view; there are some things that you can do with a better camera that you cannot do with a camera -
Radu: For example, if I'm taking a shot and the concert is at night and there's very little light [Ed: As there often is at night], I have to increase the ISO and then when I look at the pictures later they're very grainy and pixelated, but if I don't increase the ISO, they look like shit. They're dark and you cannot fix them by increasing the exposure. [Ed: Grain is the best, though]
GOP: Or you're just approaching it the wrong way, because you're still thinking within the frame of you want to make concert photos the way that you think concert photos should be like and the way that 99.99% of concert photographers do their concert photos. You can approach them in a different way; you could, for example, go for long exposures. That's not what concert photos usually are, but that might be your personal style. You're gonna have blurry photos for sure, yeah, but you might still strike some kind of a genius by just doing things your own way. Sometimes it's very good to be limited, because it makes you work within those limitations and it makes you explore that medium to its fullest. It's more concentrated, you could say. If I could put this in perspective with the stuff that I use, I have three lenses for my camera, which, for a photographer - uh, I'm not a photographer.
GOP: Uh, but I'm using old cameras built in the '60s and the '70s and I'm using a type of film that is very limited. I can only get it as a 100 ISO film. That's very, very limited. Even so, I've managed to do an amazing photo of the northern lights shot over an exposure time of 20 minutes, if I remember correctly, which is something that you would not do with a digital camera, but the result is totally different. It's something you would not get with a digital camera. Do you understand where I'm going?
[Ed: You know, he lost me for a bit over the album art thing, but now I'm back. The man speaks truth.]
GOP: Like, if you work with your limitations, your limitations might become a part of your style and it might become something that sets you apart. When it comes to music, I think in the same way. I'm not the best drummer in the world and I know it. [Ed: Neither am I. It's okay.] I don't care. I don't aspire to be technically the best drummer in the world. What I aspire to do is play my own style, which is based on my limitations, and I don't try to do things the way that Mike Portnoy does them.
Radu: But don't you wish you could just blastbeat at 300 BPM?
GOP: (laughs) No, actually, I don't! I have no desire to do so. I have also no desire to be able to play in 18/7 over 5… I don't know, I don't even understand these things. I just play by feel and I make visual art by feel. Feeling is much more important than the technical ability. Of course there has to be some overlaps of feeling and technical ability…
Radu: Otherwise, you're like those people who say they don't like technical stuff because it doesn't have any feeling and they see a dichotomy between the two, but I think that technical ability is important because it expands what your feeling can actually achieve. It's like a bigger bottle in which you could fill the liquid of your feeling. [Ed: Uh… where are you going with this?] Actually, that sounded really wrong, but you get my point, like it expands the number of colors you can use on your canvas. Something like that. [Ed: We're going to have a talk about metaphors before your next interview.]
GOP: Yeah, I get your point, but it's also - like, let's say you have black-and-white cameras and you only paint with black. It forces you to use that black color in a very thorough way. Black is not just gonna be black; you're gonna have all the variations from black to white to grey, if that makes any sense, instead of just throwing a lot of colors into the canvas. I think too many artists and musicians that are technically great, they lack feeling; they overplay or they just put emphasis on the technicality of it and it becomes some kind of a sport. I don't like music as sport, and it's the same with art and photography. I don't like it to be a sport. I like it to be more based on feeling. I think it's very rare - you have bands like, I would say, Cynic, for example, where they are really, really technically great, but they also have an amazing feeling. Tool is another great example where they use their technique in a way where, when you listen to the music, it doesn't sound complicated. I think that's the magic. It shouldn't have to sound complicated. I don't want to listen to music and be like, what's going on, what's going on, this is so complicated. I want it to flow, but if I dig deeper into it, I'm like, oh, wow, this is complicated, but it's not complicated for the sake of being complicated.
Radu: Let's move to another subject again. We can freely talk about Varg Vikernes here, because I saw that if you try to talk about him on Facebook, you get into trouble.
[Ed: Do you not remember what happened the last time we tried to talk about Varg Vikernes on Metal Storm?]
GOP: Yeah, yeah, it seems like even bands just mentioning his name - which I think is insane. Just to make it clear, I am not a fan of Varg Vikernes as a person. I love his music. But I think it's important that we are able to speak about everything. I mean, imagine if you could not mention Ceaușescu by name. [Ed: Most Americans can't, and there's no one censoring them.]
Radu: Well, part of me wishes we would never have to mention Ceaușescu again, but, yeah, I get the point. It should be free to talk about him. Obviously I wouldn't mind if somebody's censored who's saying, "Varg Vikernes is right, we should move black people back to Africa", or something, but just mentioning his name… Also, I think you got Zucked for posting a Burzum song a few years ago?
[Ed: "[…] we should move black people back to Africa […]" - Radu Patroiu, 2020]
GOP: Yeah, so they're doing that now. First off, it's also important to note that there's nothing in the rules of Facebook that says specifically that posting Burzum songs - that are, by the way, still allowed on YouTube and every other social media -
Radu: And on Spotify.
GOP: They're still there, right? On Spotify?
GOP: So how come that Facebook can say, "Oh, you posted a Burzum song, like, five years ago, which is totally okay for YouTube, but now we are going back in time and saying you cannot -" It doesn't make any sense. Whenever there are new laws passed - and, okay, I understand Facebook is not a sovereign country and they don't have laws, they just have their own fucking rules - but let's look at this from a perspective of a nation. Let's say Iceland passes a law today that says having dreadlocks is illegal.
Radu: It should.
GOP: So I would have to cut my hair. But they cannot fine me because I had dreadlocks before the law was passed. Laws can never work in reverse direction in time, only from the point they are put in motion and into the future. It can never go back. But that's what Facebook is doing: they are putting this rule that you cannot post Burzum songs and you cannot also post them also in the past, which doesn't make any sense. Like, what the fuck, do I look like a time traveler?
Radu: But at the same time, Facebook as a whole, and the entire internet, was a lot more free back in the day, like you could post a lot of slurs and get away with it, you could harass people and get away with it [Ed: Gosh, truly those were the golden years], but I think if Facebook found out that I said the n-word, like, ten years ago, it should delete that post.
GOP: I think it's a very fine line how far you go in censorship.
Radu: Obviously, I don't think they should give me a ban for it or a kick, because it was so many years ago. I'm obviously not the same person anymore. But I did get Zucked just when I said things, but not when I said them years ago, so…
GOP: Yeah, yeah. I agree, especially like it shouldn't work backwards in time. I also think what's totally lacking in this Facebook thing is the context. You can no longer mention Varg Vikernes by name, but it doesn't even matter if you're criticizing him. You just can't mention him. How fucking stupid is that?
Radu: I think it's much easier to just say, "If Varg Vikernes in post, delete post", than trying to get the machine to realize, "Is this criticizing, is this not criticizing?" I think a lot of the algorithm is done by machine learning, which is, like… I'm not sure how tech-savvy you are [Ed: I am not], but machine learning is… you're not going to understand the algorithm, because the machine itself doesn't really understand it. For example, you can have a machine trying to figure out if an image, what number it is, if it's an image of a number, you can try to make it - the way that it works is it's trying, and then you say if it's wrong or if it's right, the result that it gives, and it tries to adjust itself so that it gives the right result the next time, so it gets better and better, but it doesn't really know - if you tell it, "Show me a 5", it doesn't know how to show you a 5. It just knows that if it's an image, then maybe it's a 5. You cannot really tweak it, because the machine is tweaking itself; you can't really tweak it as a human, as a programmer, so if they're using machine learning on YouTube and on Facebook to do censorship, only the machine kind of knows what it's actually looking for. You cannot tweak it as a human and say, "Okay, from now on, just don't do that anymore", so maybe somebody saw a Varg Vikernes post and said, "Okay, this should not be", and from there on the machine understood if it's something with Varg Vikernes, then just remove it.
[Ed: This is going to sound a little off-brand considering how much I hate you all, but machines should not be governing humans. This is, like, "baby's first Twilight Zone"-tier common sense. But then, I'm not a multibillionaire, so I guess I'm still too grounded in reality to understand why this will inevitably result in problems.]
GOP: I see what you mean, but at the same time, why is a name even on the "black list", if we call it that? I don't think any names should be blacklisted ever, and -
Radu: Not even Adolf Hitler, which is the most scapegoat evil man you can think of.
GOP: Yeah. It's very important that we are able to talk about history and learn from it, because if we don't talk about history, we will not learn from it. [Ed: This is how the American education system works, except it's a goal, not a warning.] This is why I think it's a very fine line and I think we're heading over to the wrong side of the line with this much censorship. If you're not allowed to say a name, how are you gonna learn from history? Just my personal perspective on the thing, obviously, but… not that it bothers me a lot. It doesn't keep me up at night.
Radu: This is why you made, like, ten posts about it.
GOP: (laughs) Nah, I mean… It's because I feel like society as a whole is heading into this kind of censorship society where the thought police is becoming a real thing. You have to have the right ideas, the right thoughts, the right political blah blah blah, you can't say anything. I think that's dangerous. I think you should always listen to what people have to say, even if they are completely, utterly wrong, but then tear down their argument with facts. Don't censor shit.
[Ed: Okay, to be even realer for a second, as an American, arguing with facts doesn't work.]
Radu: Yeah, but that would be really good if bad ideas didn't get so much traction.
GOP: I know it's a very fine line, I just -
Radu: It's quite a fallacy to think that bad ideas in the open will just get debated and we get the real winner, which is the best idea, because this doesn't happen in real life. Otherwise we would no longer have white supremacists, we would no longer have Flat Earthers, we would no longer have anti-vaccine people, so - [Ed: There are times when I love Radu's accent, and this was one of them.]
GOP: I agree. I totally agree with you, but, for example, if we just take fascism in Europe in the 1930s - why did it rise to the extreme that it did? It was obviously not the best idea, but it was still the idea that came on top, and we all know what happened after that. It was not a very good time for most of the world. But if you start to suppress ideas, then you're leaving it up to somebody else to decide what is wrong and what is right, and eventually that is going to be misused as well. We are already heading into a totalitarian kind of a civilization in the west, I think, and I don't think it's very bad now, but let's see how it is in 30, 50 years. I really think that -
Radu: Once they have the technology to invade our private life even more.
GOP: Yeah. And people are so blind to this. For example, all these programs and apps that you upload a picture of your face and it does all these pictures and stuff -
Radu: Facial recognition.
GOP: Yeah, facial recognition, that's what it is. And today I think these facial recognition programs can recognize your face even with a mask on. And, by the way, I'm not against masks for COVID, I'm just saying that even if the facial recognition program just sees your eyes - it's getting so good that they can recognize you just by that. In most cases, this is fine; I don't think that there is Big Brother or Illuminati spying on every aspect of our life. Why would they? I think that most people have nothing to hide. But -
Radu: But if this falls in the wrong hands - like, of course it's okay if the government has a bit of your privacy, as long as you know that the government is not nefarious. [Ed: Who in the world can say this?]
GOP: It's already in the wrong hands. I mean, just look at what happened with WikiLeaks, for example.
Radu: Or what happens in China.
Radu: Or what happens in China.
GOP: I don't really know so much about the situation in China [Ed: It's not good], but I think the situation with WikiLeaks is very important for people to understand the political landscape of today. I don't know how familiar you are with the whole WikiLeaks history, but Julian Assange founded WikiLeaks with some Icelandic people, so that's why it's been on the news quite a lot in Iceland, and before Assange was arrested, the FBI requested from Facebook, Twitter, and Google to get all the information from some Icelandic Parliamentarians - like, literally they could read their private e-mails and private messages and stuff like that - and all of these companies - I think there were more, but it was mostly Facebook, Twitter, and Google with G-mail - they just said to the FBI or CIA or whoever it was, the American government, "Yeah, fine, you can read whatever you want", so this is already in the wrong hands, because you've got to understand that a thing like WikiLeaks is supposed to be… I mean, they call media the fourth…
Radu: The fourth power in the state, yeah.
GOP: It's being used against them, and just look at what Julian Assange is being put through right now. It's totally inhumane, it's totally fucked-up that this man is being imprisoned for telling us that the governments of the world are killing innocent people in the name of whatever, which turns out to be total fucking bullshit. We should have the right to know this, and the fact that he's being imprisoned and the fact that they've done this by using this technology should be a warning sign to us, but most people don't seem to understand it.
(And then there's some silence while we all contemplate this heavy, heavy shit and how every world power is evil and our society is in decline and none of you are safe and the nuclear war is coming and God has abandoned us)
GOP: Getting quite political. (laughs)
Radu: Yeah, let's… maybe that's enough politics for today, since we already talked about COVID and the likes.
GOP: Yeah, and I should say that also Katla. is not a political band at all. This is my opinion; I don't even know if Einar would agree with me in any of this.
Radu: I don't think anyone is gonna try to cancel you. But has anyone ever tried to cancel you over your Hólókaust 2001 band?
GOP: No, and if they would, I would just point out that the word "holocaust" has nothing to do with the slaughter of Jews in the Second World War. The word "holocaust" is much, much older than the Second World War, and if I remember correctly it means, like, "mass death by fire" specifically, so if anybody thinks that that has some kind of a political meaning behind it, I can just tell them right now that that is totally wrong. [Ed: He's technically correct, but "holocaust" is still somewhat dangerous as a generic term in English - I mean, "Adolf" and "Hitler" were neutral names before WWII as well]. And also bear in mind that when I did that project I was, what, 17 or 18, and my understanding of English was just… So "holocaust" in Icelandic is helför, and helför basically means "genocide", so in a way it should have been called Genocide 2001, but like I say, it has no political meaning; it's not directed against any one ethnicity at all. I had this dream - I had a dream, a real dream, a sleeping dream, that the world would come to an end by fire, basically, apocalypse, in the year 2001, and that's why the project was called Hólókaust 2001. I founded this project in nineteen-ninety… well, the oldest songs were from '94, but most of the songs were done in '98, and that's when I came up with the name, because it even says in the demo, "Recorded X years before the final holocaust", because my "vision", so to speak, was that the world would come to an end in 2001, which is kind of ironic when you look at it [Ed: Well, thematically appropriate more than ironic], because look at what happened. The world did not come to an end, but it changed. It really changed. And because we were talking about this surveillance technology -
Radu: This is partly where it started to really take shape.
Radu: Everything is now the War on Terror.
GOP: Yeah, and in the name of War on Terror, we've given up so much freedom. I don't want to sound like an American, "Oh, freedom, freedom", but that is what it is. [Ed: If he had said "freedom" one more time, he would have summoned the ghost of Ronald Reagan.] We have accepted the fact that we are under constant surveillance, and for Normal Joe that doesn't matter, but for people that are against the system for whatever reason - often for good reasons, like Julian Assange, for example - we totally come back to this, that this power that we have given to big governments like the US and the UK, this is being used in nefarious ways. That's just a fact.
Radu: For example, if I wanted to get involved into politics and somebody somehow got a hold of all my Facebook activity, everything that I posted and all of my messages, they would find something that they would give to the news and it would make the news and I would totally get canceled, or maybe even sent to jail. [Ed: Well, as long as I'm not the only one.]
GOP: And not just that.
Our article length limits force us to split this interview in two parts. You can find part two here.
||Posted on 13.12.2020 by Doesn't matter that much to me if you agree with me, as long as you checked the album out.|
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