Múm are a continuously evolving concern, and for their sixth album, Sing Along To Songs You Don’t Know, the band line-up has changed again.
Two members have remained constants – Gunnar Örn Tynes and Örvar þóreyjarson Smáraso. It’s the former whom we catch up with for a chat about Sing Along To Songs You Don’t Know, amongst much else.
The band are enjoying the morning after a gig at The Tabernacle in Notting Hill, and Gunnar seems to be in a good mood, even though he’s the only one staying on in England. “People are going to their homes and places and I’m staying here, for two more days. I’m happy about that though, I have plenty of things to do and people to see.”
When asked about the genesis of Sing Along To Songs You Don’t Know, he gives a simple answer. “It’s something that just came very naturally for us, out of the need to play and create a lot of music. It was kind of effortless how it came about, we were having so much fun touring with new members of the band that we were very excited to make a new record. Even though we were getting lazy after touring we were very excited to make a new album, it came very naturally for all of us.”
The fresh sound of the record prompts me to ask if there is room for musical elaboration when the band are recording. “We improvise a lot, within some framework of course, but we usually improvise. Maybe that’s misguiding to say that though! There’s usually a static point to start with, but we do experimentation from that, and draw on the bits that work. We take the comfort of a starting point, like some percussion, that we would improvise over.”
The quality control then gets to work. “Things often change from where we started. Sometimes you don’t remember where you started and end up with something totally unfeasible! It does work like that sometimes, but we end up with a lot of material to go over.”
Recording for the new album took place in a house in Estonia, of which Gunnar speaks warmly. “It definitely influenced our music. With things like this we’ve always been fond of working in different places when we make albums, and it’s very hard to pinpoint how the influence gets into the music, but it does. In Estonia we firstly went to a beautiful festival that we played, in a small town, and we got partly paid by being able to stay in the house for five days. It was a wonderful place, and in one song that we recorded there you can actually hear the fire going, and a woman coming in with the tray!”
He goes on to talk about the band’s use of orchestration, an important aspect of the Múm sound. “It can be a bit like painting, when you feel like there should be a tree or a bush in the picture. It’s a way to decorate things. Sometimes you do too much and have to take it out, as I find it is a fine balance between what you hear in your head and what actually works. You have to be humble or honest and edit each other when you need to. We do these edits, and directing chops, and it’s always a fun time when we finish an album. People often ask ‘which take is in’, but there’s not a hierarchy of people having a final say. If it’s good it works!”
The new additions to the fold have brought nothing but positivity for him, the band now numbering seven. “Having more people is a bigger party, and it’s a bigger dialogue of creative minds. There is a very good atmosphere around this group, a lot of minds coming together with different ideas.”
With the band in a vibrant state, has Tynes found himself or the band in a more negative position with Iceland’s financial and political climate of late? He considers for some time. “Not really. The album had got very close to being finished when the biggest upheaval happened, in September 2008. It’s very hard to pinpoint influences on music like that in any case. Everything influencing the musician is going to influence the music. I’ve always been very stupid with money and if I have any I give it away, spend it all at once, so this crisis doesn’t affect me personally!”
There was a flip side to the crisis though. “The protests somehow made people feel optimistic about the future and brought them together, even if it wasn’t something you had to be happy about. Somehow it made its mark. People were generally really angry, as people were very greedy and basically lost all of Iceland’s money. The government wasn’t taking responsibility.”
He continues. “So there was a big protest, an organised one that was very civil, but it was angry normal people banging pots, making their point. Even though it didn’t really do a lot, and there’s a new bunch of people in the same old shit, it was interesting to be part of the demo because it was peaceful. It was 3,500 people outside the parliament, banging pots and pans!”
But respect was shown. “There was a funeral next door, but they all stopped when that was going on, and when the funeral was over and people drove away the people started banging again! It was so powerful to witness this unity, and gave a feeling of hope. That might sound corny in a way but it’s very real.”
Back to the music. Have Múm have been approached to soundtrack films? “No, we haven’t done that but we would really love to. We’ve done radio plays, and worked with dancers, actors and opera singers. Our music has been used in films, though. We’ve always been interested in seeing a movie, and it’s almost happened a few times.”
As for film soundtracks, he’s nostalgic for a different era. “I miss the time when someone like Ennio Morricone would do the music for a whole movie. It’s sad how a lot of film soundtracks use popular songs and not scores now. I like the idea of music accompanying a movie, and being part of it. I’m sure some time we’ll do it, I would really love that.”
Múm have also been collaborating with a vocalist. “Her name is Tomoyo, and she’s an actress and a singer. Her producers approached us and asked us to write two songs for her. I think we said yes because we would get to go to Japan! But it was fun, we found ourselves in the deep end of the pool but really enjoyed it and working for her.”
When asked what other music he listens to, Gunnar ponders; there’s a twinkle in his eye, but his answer is matter-of-fact. “Sometimes I don’t listen to music for days. I love to listen to music in environments I have no idea about, like Tahiti, especially where it is looking at the people it is written for.” It’s an elusive way to finish, but what Gunnar seems to be stressing is that he likes to keep an open mind in the music he listens to – as well as the music he plays.