[Music] is like reading a book — you project yourself in the book and you project yourself into the music.
Growing up in Iceland can be challenging with long winters are small sunlight, but Icelandic band Vök uses it to their advantage. “Icelandic culture is one that never says die, you know. Never say never,” saxophonist Andri Már says. “Recording can be very, very hard, but Icelandic culture has taught us not to give up, to push through.” Vök won Iceland’s version of Battle of the Bands (Músíktilraunir) back in 2013, and have worked relentlessly to make it to where they are now.
Vök’s debut LP Figure (out 4/28 via Nettwerk Records) is bound to make big waves. The album comes after two critically successful EPs, Tension (2013) and Circles (2015), and builds on the band’s dreamlike, mysterious pop. Vök is Margrét Rán (vocals, keyboard), Andri Már (saxophone, synths), Ólafur Alexander (guitar, bass), and Einar Stef (drums).
Opening with “Breaking Bones,” Rán ings, “Breaking all my bones I am feeling so heavy, still standing on my feet, take a bow.” The synths come in and make you feel like you are floating in space. This song adequately sets the tone of Figure with its reliance on disjointed synth beats paired with Rán’s soft yet powerful pleading vocals.
The 10-track album flows together seamlessly — the songs stay in the same atmosphere yet explore different territories.
Title track “Figure” explores a lighter side of Vök. The song rallies around finding someone you love and who loves you back, and making that last. Rán sings, “We share the connection, you speak to me so focused, you feel me, you like me, I see you again. You should figure it out with eyes of lightning oh oh oh, figure it out, reveal the colors inside.”
“Figure” is immediately followed by “Polar,” which explores being content with one’s individuality. Following “Breaking Bones” style, instead of having a main chorus— “Polar” welcomes outer worldly synths take control, beating into one’s head the main lyric: “It’s alright it’s OK, gonna do just what I want.”
Watch: “Show Me” – Vök
Figure also features Vök’s acclaimed single “Show Me,” that presents vulnerability and desire to its core. The song explores the different levels of those feelings starting with Rán’s innocent and wispy voice, and working its way into deep collapsing synths. “I know there are some things about you I don’t know, so many so many sights we haven’t seen,” Rán sings. “If we get the chance to be alone baby, so much so much that I would like to know. Show me you’re the way.” Vök recently released a cinematic music video for “Show Me.”
The last track on the album “Hiding,” is simple and stirring. Its quiet piano ballad opening and distant “oohs” allow time to reflect on the rest of the album, and settle down to an almost meditative state. The first lyrics are powerful and moving. “It’s so easy not to try at all, but I won’t stand here still no more. Don’t try holding me back, there’s no way you will take this from me.”
Atwood Magazine talked with Már about the inspirations for the new album, pushing through challenges, the best advice he’s ever received, and more.
A CONVERSATION WITH VÖK
For someone who has never listened to Vök, how would you describe your sound?
Vök: I would describe us as being dreamy, poppy but sometimes during concerts we can be a little rock-y as well. There’s this two-faced part about our band that I think people enjoy. We have this soft edge but we can be very hard as well sometimes.
What has the journey been like since your first EP in 2013 to your debut album now?
Vök: It’s definitely a lot more evolved now. For the first EP that we did, we didn’t really know anything about anything [laughs]—about being musicians or recording or anything so that was a very minimalistic approach to what we wanted to do. Our second EP [had] a lot more power to it. But for this album we wanted to have more of an organic feel to it—so we had a lot more recorded instruments and a lot more ambient sounds and these samples that we play a lot with—there’s a typewriter in one song for instance [“Don’t Let Me Go”]. I think definitely we have spent the last couple years growing and now the time was right for us to record this album.
Vök is often likened to The xx, but I am wondering who personally has influenced you guys musically and/or lyrically?
Vök: The xx definitely had its part in influencing us right at the beginning. We’ve steered a little bit away from that influence for this album particularly. I think this album has a lot more power to it than the xx normally has. But for inspiration for lyrics, for me I draw a lot of inspiration from Arctic Monkeys’ lyrics and Damon Albarn’s lyrics from The Good, the Bad & the Queen.
How does living in Iceland and being surrounded by that culture directly influence the songs on this album?
Vök: Icelandic culture is one that never says die, you know. Never say never, kind of. Recording can be very, very hard, but Icelandic culture has taught us not to give up, to push through. Also like the landscape is so overwhelmingly beautiful and you’re just immersed in it always so for an Icelander you don’t notice it, but sometimes you definitely do. The long winters and everything it just accumulates into a lot of wanting to express yourself, and I think we have done that with this album.
Icelandic culture is one that never says die, you know. Never say never…
And if you couldn’t express yourself through music, what would you be doing?
Vök: Hmm…probably just screaming or something [laughs]. I can’t imagine not making music. That’s something that I can’t even imagine being without.
That’s great finding something you’re so passionate about. You guys recently released a striking music video for your single “Show Me,” — can you talk about the process in making that?
Vök: It was quite a process actually. We had our directors come up with some storyboards and then I went over the storyboards with them and we came up with this idea of how to interpret the song with a video. It kind of just flew together—it was actually pretty fun.
That’s awesome. Do you have a favorite song on the new album?
Vök: Um, yeah I think everybody has their own—it might be different for each one of us. For the longest time at least for Ólafur and Einar it was “Figure,” hence that being the title track. But I don’t know—I really love “Breaking Bones,” I love “Floating.” Yeah I can’t choose—I’ve never been one for choosing [laughs].
Listen: “Breaking Bones” – Vök
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As a musician and band, what is the best piece of advice you guys have ever received?
Vök: The best advice I have ever received as a performer and as a musician is to always just keep going. Let’s say for instance you’re playing a song and you mess up. If you stop and put a frown on you face, then everybody notice what’s up. But if you just ignore it and keep on going, 99% won’t notice. That really helped me starting out when I was stressing out about every little detail. In general, I think the best advice would be just do it. Just go out and play your music. That’s how you get the most practice.
Just do it. Just go out and play your music.
Yeah—just kind of go with the flow, let go, and not be afraid to do anything. Is there any certain message you wanted to get across with the new album?
Vök: There’s no certain message with the album I think. I think every song has its own message. Maybe when people listen to it, people will find their own message in it—which is the part about music I like the most. It’s like reading a book—you project yourself in the book and you project yourself into the music. It’s not like TV or movies where you’re watching somebody else’s projection of that story you know.
Yeah, you interpret it for yourself. And lastly, what is one fun fact people should know about Vök?
Vök: Fun fact? Hmm…Put me on the spot much [laughs]. A fun fact might be that we have never played outside of Europe…I just don’t know.
Yeah that’s a fun fact!
Vök: It’s not very fun for me though!
Is that something you guys are striving to do—play more dates outside of Europe?
Vök: Yeah definitely! That’s really something we want to work towards.
Laden with haunting echoes and space-like synths, Figure perfectly captures the essence of Vök and their Icelandic inspirations. It’s hard to listen to any Vök song and not imagine the vast and serene beauty of Iceland. From the end of April to mid-May, Vök is trekking across Europe, playing new songs and old.
Playing shows outside Europe is not outside Vök’s reach. Anything is possible for Vök, a solid band with a sense of direction and purpose. As Már said, “Icelandic culture is one that never says die–Never say never.”
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cover © Sigga Ella