Hafdis Huld, sometime member of Gus Gus and Icelandic indie film actress, quietly released her debut album Dirty Paper Cup in 2006.
musicOMH caught up with her at Brighton’s Great Escape to hear how Dolly Parton is amongst her influences, that she can do an upper-crust English accent to hilarious effect and that her British band are being taken blueberry-picking in Iceland…
There are as many British guitar bands as there are pebbles on the beach at Brighton’s Great Escape Festival. So it would be easy to miss Hafdis Huld, hunched outside a café, squeezing her tiny frame into a chair and under a hat.
Yet the acclaimed Icelandic pop-folk chanteuse’s music stands out like a marooned Viking ship. Full of sharp wit, assured melodies and enough charm to melt a glacier, it is music as beguilingly unique as Hafdis’ native Iceland. And, no, she sounds nothing like Björk.
“It doesn’t fit in at all but that’s the way I like it. I decided to go with the music and arrangements that supported the stories I was telling in my songs rather than something that made me look trendy and fashionable, because I’m not anyway,” says Hafdis.
Having immersed herself in dance culture at the turn of the century, Hafdis was keen to bring her character to the forefront.
“When I did this first album I really didn’t have any plans other than to tell my story. I did electronica with Gus Gus and I really just wanted to go back to basics and write songs with a start, middle and end. I’ve been in bands where it is all about a good groove but with the songwriters I like its all very personal. You know, like Dolly Parton? Back to basics.”
The idea of Dolly Parton being a key influence, seems as unlikely as a seal in a Stetson. It is also the sort of surreal comic image that wouldn’t be out of place during her live show. As well as turning music on its head, Hafdis is becoming as well known for having the audience rolling in the aisles. Her between song banter could rival most working stand-ups.
“My mum said she was really excited when I said my first words at eight months but that was before they realised that I wasn’t going to stop after that point. Thing is, these songs are so personal to me and I’m talking to a room full of people. So of course, I have to explain a lot of things and try and lighten the mood with jokes.”
It makes sense but must be a struggle, back home on those cold, daylight starved winter nights in Iceland.
“I wouldn’t know as I’ve not played there. My album was released in England, than France and Spain, then it came out in Iceland. I’m playing my first gig in Iceland in a month’s time, which is weird as the album has been getting most awards and recognition there.”
So what does the returning local heroine have planned?
“I’m taking the whole band to stay with mum and dad. They are all Brits, by the way. We’ll pick blueberries, go swimming and grandmother will knit them woolly mittens and hopefully they’ll never want to leave. So we’ll play loads of gigs in Iceland. That’s my plan.”
Having spent so much time away, it is little wonder that Hafdis is eager to reconnect with her motherland. Does she feel anglicised from her time on this grey and cack coated island?
“Well Sarah (guitarist) is teaching me to be an English rose (adopts her best posh English) ‘that went absolutely swimmingly’ and ‘what a ghastly idea’. As you know Icelandic girls don’t have that reputation. The thing that I still find funny is that real people say whoops-a-daisy. They actually do!”
What about the people of London, those that Pete Doherty and that gummy-toothed Jamie T sing about?
“Cockney rhyming slang is weird. Someone came up to me and said ‘those pears are doing me ‘ed in. Oh wait, I did learn something yesterday from Mark Riley, the radio guy. He did a dance with a puppet and taught me ‘jobs a good ‘en’.”
And how would the Brits get by in Iceland?
“Say (insert an unpronouncable sentence). You just said: Can I have one with everything on it. And that is what you need to know. So you’re going to be starving, in need of a hot dog in downtown Reykjavik at 6am and will think ‘thank you Hafdis’. They have these little picnic seats in January and it’s like minus 15 and you’re still sitting there, pissed out of your head, going ‘mmm I’m well cool because of my Viking blood’.”
You heard it here first – even in most northernly outposts of the globe, people get drunk and eat crap.
“It is universal. Besides, our national dish scares everybody and make us seems freaky because it’s actually a sheep’s face, cooked so the hair goes off and it’s black and burnt, then they cut it in half. So you have half of the head and half of the tongue and the eye is looking at you. And they eat the eye. And they have pickled sheeps’ testicles.” Lovely! “It is not that they want to scare people when doing interviews in Brighton, it is just because the country was very poor and they had to eat whatever they could.”
So does this mean that we’re to expect a second album full of cockney rhyming slang electro-folk, penned drunk and fuelled by hotdogs?
“No. After this we are going to France with Paolo Nutini where there will be lots of French girls screaming ‘Paolo, we want your babies!’ then I’m going to make a film in Iceland and then I’m just going to sit in my mum’s kitchen and speak Icelandic.”
Disappointing. Still, it sounds a hundred times more interesting than what local Brighton boys The Kooks have got planned.