Anne: Why did you choose the name KATLA.? Why KATLA. and why not another name?
Gummi: I wanted the band to be named after an icelandic volcano. And I said to Einar: “Hey, you know, we can choose between Katla or Hekla”. Well, I said to him we can use Katla or we can use Hekla or we can use Eyjafjallajökull, but Eyjafjallajökull is quite unpronounceable, so Katla it was. And I just really wanted the name of an icelandic volcano for a few reasons: I think it fits the music, it’s also kind of inspiration from where forming a new band came from. I work as a tour guide and I’m out there in that nature every single day so that actually influenced me directly to form a new product so I had to name it after something that was related to that.
Anne: Would you call KATLA. rather a band or a project? Because you are just two people.
Gummi: We say it’s a project. Because it’s not a band. Because bands, they have a rehearsal room and they meet two times a week and they write music and then they play live shows… and we don’t do that. We never had a single rehearsal. So, yes, it’s a project. But we’ll see. I mean maybe, MAYBE, we will take it to the next step and make it a live band but at the moment there are really no solid plans to do it.
Anne: I was just wondering because your Facebook post from the 31. December was signed by four people.
Gummi: Well (laughs), I know this can be a little bit confusing. The third guy is Atli, he was supposed to be our bass player but because of his very busy work schedule and my very busy work schedule - and Einar has a very busy work schedule - we could actually never really find the time for the three of us to meet up, so it ended up being just me and Einar, but he is still a part of the team. And then we got the forth guy, Hafsteinn, who is helping out, he’s a part of the team. He’s not involved in, well, neither of them are involved in doing the music or the lyrics. But we discuss ideas and they contribute with suggesting ideas and stuff like that, so they’re a part of the bigger team, so to speak.
Anne: And you have that dot behind KATLA. What is the reason for this dot and why is it important?
Gummi: Well, it was an accident. Really. So the thing is: Einar made the first draft for the logo. And he sent it over to me but it was just the outlines. I wanted to fill in the letters to have it solid. And I didn’t want to use the computer to do that so actually I took a pen, and started colouring into the outlines, like a kid in a colouring book. Except that the pen wasn’t working. It was the kind of a pen where you press the nib down and then it’s almost like paint that comes out. I did that a few times and it created this dot. And I thought: Oh, that’s cool, let’s use it. And then I filled in the logo. But we didn’t write it like that, it was only on the logo. But later on, we found out that there is actually another band called KATLA and then we thought “Well, then we are KATLA with a dot.” But, you know, the thing is we didn’t even think that there might be other bands called KATLA, because I know there’s not another band called KATLA in Iceland and who would name themselves after an icelandic volcano? A band in Sweden? Come on!
Anne: I think it’s also a name.
Gummi: It is now. But the origin of the name is the volcano. Katla comes from the word ketill which means a caldera. So that’s the origin of the name. But, yes, you’re right, it is also a female name. And that was also one of the things that I found a little bit interesting. I wanted to have a kind of a female name for the band. To shake off the male stereotype of heavy metal. You know, it’s also male dominated. We are not afraid of being in touch with our feminine side, so to say. The lyrics and the music is quite soft, it deals with emotions. So yes, why not have a female name for it, why not tap directly into the feminine side? And at the same time, remember that the feminine side is also a volcano! That’s how women are (laughs). Ice covered today and the next day you erupt.
Anne: When did you decide to found KATLA.?
Gummi: Probably around August, September 2015, something like that. It happened very quickly. I just needed a new outlet for my music. I’m sure you know all about the…
Gummi: So, first… I thought I’m done with music. I don’t like the music industry, I don’t like the music business. I don’t like particularly the people in the music business and the industry and I thought I am done with it. But then it took me half a year, nine months or so to realize that this wasn’t the reason why I made music in the first place. I was making music for myself. It’s something that you have to do. When you start creating, you can’t just turn it off. Creativity is something that comes from within. So, yes, around August, September or so I felt the urge to do something again. Then I contacted Einar and Atli, and Einar was actually living in Norway at that time. So he was coming over to Iceland, he only had a month or so, so we just had to literally make it happen very quickly. So I started by writing half a song and I am not as prolific a songwriter as he is so he took that idea and we worked on it together but we only had one song and he had to go back to Norway. So we said either we go into studio, record this one song and hopefully one more or this project will just die before it’s born. So we talked to our friend Halldór of the band LEGEND and we booked his studio and we had only one song. We recorded it, recorded the drums and bass and basically in the studio another song was born. So we were like: “Oh cool, at least we can release an EP”, two songs, you know.
"And at the same time, remember that the feminine side is also a volcano!"
Anne: Where do you know Einar from?
Gummi: I’ve known Einar for more than 20 years. So, when my former band was making our first demo tape back in 1995, we heard about another Black Metal band in Iceland that was also making a demo. And it was like I could have literally counted the people that listened to Black Metal in Iceland on the fingers of my hands. That’s literally how many there were, or actually, how few there were. So it was quite natural, and well, quite foreseeable, that our paths would cross. So I heard about them and we met through mutual friends, we became friends and a year or two later Einar had a band with another guitar player, which is now the main guy behind KONTINUUM, and they needed a drummer just to do the drums for the demo tape and I did that. Then that band developed into a band called POTENTIAM, again it was just the two of them but they needed a drummer for the first album, so I stepped in again. This was in 1998. So that was actually the first proper record that I ever recorded and same with Einar. It was the first proper record that he ever recorded. Because before that I had only done demos with SÓLSTAFIR, even though one of them ended up like a mini-CD, but it was recorded as a demo. So I’ve known him since 1995 basically, and we worked together on and off since then. I came back to POTENTIAM back in 2005 and the two of us even recorded an album in 2008 that has never been released. And never will be released by the way (laughs).
Anne: Why not?
Gummi: Because it’s just too good! (laughs)
Anne: When you two write music, how do you write music? Does one write the lyrics and the other the music or do both do both?
Gummi: We both do both. But he writes more of the music and I write more of the lyrics. Because we’re not a band, we work in a different way than I am used to from before. Before, with my former band, we would meet in a room and we would throw ideas into a pot and we would work on that together as a group. Nobody would ever bring in anything that was complete. Except for lyrics actually, but not music. But in this case, because we don’t even see each other that often, I mean, he lived in Norway when we started, I was here in Reykjavík, so it was a lot of just recording ideas and sending them to each other over the internet kind of thing. So it’s a different way of writing.
Anne: The EP you recorded first was rather calm I think. Did you plan to go more straight forward now or did this just develop?
Gummi: It just developed. We have about an idea where we want to head to next but it won’t necessarily go there, we’ll just see what happens because we don’t try to force anything out. That was just the mindset we were in when we did the EP. And when we started writing for the full length we were in a slightly different mindset and when we start writing for our next album - well, we actually started or Einar has started – the mindset might be a little bit different again, so we’ll see. We never decide before how the songs are going to be, we don’t want to confine ourselves in a box. Like one of my favourite bands is ULVER from Norway, and I LOVE the fact that they change every single album. Not saying that KATLA. will have drastic changes, but I respect artists who do that. Who just do what they want to do.
Anne: What is the album about? Is it a concept album?
Gummi: It’s not really a concept but you could say there’s a red thread running through the album which is - it is hard to describe in a few words. But you could say the inspiration for the lyrics and for the music and for the artwork all over comes from the same place. It’s about living in Iceland throughout the ages, battling the elements. And about the connection that the generations have, as well. It’s, like I said, it’s hard to put it into a few words but my parents, born in the 1940s, are not born in the same world that I’m born in, they are not born in the same world that their grandparents are born in and then I’m not born in the same world that my kids are born in. Because everything is changing so fast. But before the generation of my parents nothing changed for 1000 years in Iceland. People lived in turf houses. They were battling the very harsh elements. You know, nowadays we have nice buildings, like this, and coffee houses, but that’s less than 100 years old. So the past isn’t that far removed from us. I will not see it in a kind of romantic, glorious haze, but try to see it as what it was. A very harsh, difficult time. That is roughly what it’s about. And the connection between the generations within the families, so to speak.
Anne: Did you consider offering translations either on the homepage or in the booklet?
Gummi: We did, yes. The record label, Prophecy Productions, they asked us if we could translate the lyrics, at least for this special edition, and we did think about it but we came to the conclusion that we really can’t translate them and get the point across and still keep somewhat of an artistic integrity. And the reason for that is because Icelandic is a very picturesque language. It’s very descriptive. For example, the English word “idea”. You know what it means, but only because you know what it means it tells you something. I have no idea where that word comes from, I just know what it means. In Icelandic, if I translate it directly, an idea is a mind picture. It’s a picture in the mind. So this is just an example of how descriptive Icelandic is, so we could translate something directly, but it wouldn’t give you the same deep meaning. So for this reason we have decided no, we’re not going to do this.
Anne: Have you ever heard of people who tried to learn Icelandic to understand your lyrics?
Gummi: Not our lyrics specifically, no. But with my old band, yes, I heard people saying that that they started to learn Icelandic, just to understand the lyrics which I find very flattering as I wrote most of the lyrics.
Anne: How important are lyrics for you not just in your band but also in other bands?
Gummi: For my own band I think it’s very, very important. Sometimes I listen to bands and I care about the lyrics and sometimes not. It just kind of depends on the lyrics. But with KATLA., we see KATLA. as a – we sometimes say it’s a holistic art project. It’s not just about music. It’s about creating an atmosphere, by using music, words and pictures. And the words are as important as the music and the pictures and vice versa. But, you know, then I can listen to Rock’n’Roll with stupid lyrics and I don’t care. But when I connect to the lyrics as well it also gives me a deeper meaning to the music.
"I will not see it in a kind of romantic, glorious haze, but try to see it as what it was. A very harsh, difficult time."
Anne: The lyrics on the EP were rather based on nature, as far as I understand them, and the lyrics on the album seem to be based on nature, too, but there’s also another meaning in them. At least that’s what I got from the lyrics.
Gummi: Yes, you’re correct. I would also say the same of the EP, too. There’s also a deeper meaning to it, a deeper personal meaning, but of course it might be hard for people to pick that out. But for the album, yes, it’s not as directly nature based, it has more to do with this personal feeling and this connection that we share with the land and like I said, each generation has a different connection and then we have a connection with that generation. So it’s bigger or you could say the lyrics have grown from one small point to a bigger point really. And will probably keep on expanding.
Anne: What is “Móðurástin” about? I don’t speak Icelandic, I speak a bit of Faroese so I understand a bit of Icelandic when I read it and what I got from the song is that it’s about the relationship between a mother and a child and both love each other but somehow they can’t get together or something like that.
Gummi: So the title translated directly would be like “mother’s love”. Which, you know, is the album title and it can be interpreted in a few ways. The mother could be nature, or your country or language or whatever. But the lyrics to the song itself are a lot more dark actually. It deals with a thing that was actually – well, I wouldn’t say it was common, but it happened in Iceland in older centuries - where poor mothers, usually like workhands on farms, were not allowed to marry because they couldn’t afford their own home. That’s how strict and stupid the laws were in Iceland; but of course they would have children. You know, because you can’t stop people when they’re horny. So they had to conceal their pregnancy and when the child was born then they would take it out and would literally - when you translate it literally, we call it “carrying out the baby”. That’s what they would do. They would take it somewhere out and leave it in a lower field and it would die. Because they were not allowed to have babies. And the big consequences if somebody would find out that they have a baby could be very severe. So that’s what the song is about. It’s about this old brutal reality that some mothers had to face back in the days. Because: Imagine, what can be stronger than a mother’s love for her new-born baby? I mean, there’s no feeling in the world that is stronger than that. But imagine at the same time being forced to basically kill your own baby. You don’t want to, but you have no choice. It’s a horrible situation. So the feelings that must arise from such a situation must be really, really strong. So that is something I wanted to write about. But when I started to write the lyrics I ran into a little bit of a problem because how do you write about such a thing without being overly dramatic or you can kind of just go into history, with cold, historical facts. So I thought, well, maybe I can’t take this all too seriously. So, the conclusion was that we’d have three voices. It’s the voice of the mother, which was sung by Einars sister. She has never sung in a studio before so I think she did a really good job. Then Einar sings the voice of - you could say some kind of an authority, it could be death itself or somebody telling her she must get rid of the child. And then there are the frantic screams of the child, which I did. So these are the three voices that we kind of incorporated into the song to tell the story without going into something like I said overly dramatic. It has a little kid’s feeling to it. It’s almost silly. When we were doing it we were laughing in the studio, we were like “Really?”. But you got beautiful female vocals and you got these crazy screams and you got Einar singing like a priest or something. And we thought people are going to hate this but it seems they liked it.
Anne: And at the end of the song, there’s your great-grandmother singing.
Gummi: Yes, exactly!
Anne: Why does this record even exist? Was she a singer?
Gummi: Yes, she was. So that was recorded in 1934. Which – as you can believe – was very rare that singers would make records in 1934. Especially in Iceland, as there was one place in the whole of the island where you could make a record. It’s recorded straight onto the vinyl. So actually it’s not even a vinyl, it’s what they call silver – like a silver LP. It’s made of a kind of a silvery material. So it’s done straight onto that. So there is only one copy. And my mother has it or used to have it because I kind of stole it and it’s in my collection now. So, you know, I thought it’s cool to actually use that and then I was listening to it and the song she is singing is - if you translate it directly, it’s called “what sings the little bird?” - the little bird singing. So I worked that into the lyrics of our song. Where the mother actually calls her baby her little singing bird because you know, babies sing, they cry. So it really fit very eerily together and I think it gives the end of the song a very eerie atmosphere. It fits in a very strange way.
Anne: I also think the music fits the lyrics quite well because I tried to understand the lyrics, I didn’t understand everything, but I think the music really gives you a meaning of the lyrics.
Gummi: I think so, too, definitely. And when I thought about that title I hadn’t really thought about the concept but immediately I thought this has to be a title for a heavy song. It cannot be a pop song, you know. It has to be something heavy. So I chose the heaviest song on the album for that.
Anne: And as you consider yourself as a holistic band, or a holistic project, have you ever considered releasing a poetry book with just lyrics?
Gummi: We might do that in the future. I mean, the special edition of the album was released with a 72 page photobook and it’s photography that I do, I use old expire films and that was also one of the reasons why I wanted to form this project. Because I wanted an outlet for all of my art, not just music. But for music, lyrics and the visual side of it. So yes, doing a poetry book might very well happen in the future. Yes, it’s definitely a possibility.
"Because I wanted an outlet for all of my art, not just music."
Anne: You left a lot of space on the album for your producer. How did this work?
Gummi: We know him, especially I, I’ve known him for a long time, I worked with him before. So with my old band, we covered a song by his band, LEGEND, and they covered one of our songs and then we did this split release where we basically covered each other’s songs. But he also recorded our version of his song. So I had worked with him before. I thought, for the EP, “Hey, let’s work with him” and it was a really nice work experience and it was the first time Einar worked with him and he really, really liked it. So we just trusted him. I know he’s a musical genius so I thought: “Well, we trust this guy, let’s see what angle he has on our music, like he interprets our music and let’s see what he can do.” And of course at any point we could have said “No, we’re not using that” but we never did. Everything he did we ended up using.
Anne: For the special edition you let eight different artists make a remix of a song. How did you get the idea to do this?
Gummi: The label wanted some bonus material for the special edition and we didn’t have any. Because we spent the whole budget on doing the best album that we could do. We weren’t recording any covers or shit like that. We just spent money on making the best album we could do. So we didn’t have any layover material so I think it was the label who suggested that we could get one or two artists to make remixes. I said, “Yes, ok, sure, remix is a good idea, BUT: it’s all or nothing.” Because, you know, we’re not that kind of a band who would have a couple of remixes. Either we make a whole new album or we skip it. And the amazing thing is that we had less than a month to do this. So we handpicked eight artists, asked them “Hey, can you do this? Can you do a remix for us?” and they have never heard our music before. So we sent them the music, “Here, go do whatever you want to but you have to return it within one month”. And there were no limits we set, we said “You can do whatever you want to. If you want to send us back a blank tape, call it the silence remix, then sure, we’ll release it”, but luckily nobody did that. So in the end we got a really good remix album which is an album in its own right. You can listen to that completely as a different album. And I think the amazing thing is that even though the remixes are very different from each other, they are all flowing in a very nice flow. You can definitely just listen to it as a whole album.
Anne: And how did you get to know those people and did you give everybody one song or could they decide which song they wanted to make?
Gummi: All of them are just friends of mine and Einar. And obviously we got our producers band, LEGEND. As he was our producer, he had first pick. So he picked “Nátthagi”. But for the others we said “Just pick a song and we’ll see”. Really, we didn’t run into much trouble with people picking the same songs. Just one or two, like somebody else wanted “Nátthagi”, we were like “No, sorry, it’s taken already, but why don’t you do this instead?”, and it all worked out very well in the end.
Anne: So far there’s no video to any of the songs. Did you plan to do this or would you want to do this?
Gummi: For sure. We have ideas and we want to but at the same time it’s all about time. We thought about this and we don’t want to be the kind of a band, you know, that pays somebody to do a video where we have no saying to anything and it’s really just something to show on YouTube. If we do a video, we’re going to make it ourselves. And that requires time. We have ideas. I have made music videos before. So it’s all just a question of time right now. Because the idea that I have for a video is very time consuming. But it involves hands on work for us. Because that’s the way we want to do it. There’s no point in us to have somebody else do things for us. Like the album, we were very proud, that we did EVERYTHING ourselves, except mixing and producing. Because you really need somebody else for that but everything else was done by us. Or family. So we want to keep it that way.
"There’s no point in us to have somebody else do things for us."
Anne: You are also a photographer. When you took the photos, did you have the album in mind?
Gummi: No. These photos – some of them are many years old, actually. So no, they were not shot for the album at all, but when we formed KATLA., KATLA. was formed for the same inspiration as these photos were taken. Like I said before it all comes from the same source of inspiration. And it was just a natural thing to use them.
Anne: Do you photograph only analogue or also digital?
Gummi: I only publish analogue photos, yes. I do shoot a little bit digital, but it’s mostly for work. Like, you know, I work as a tour guide and for example tonight I have to do a fucking northern lights tour which I absolutely hate, so that I shoot mostly with digital. But that is nothing that I actually publish. My art is analogue. The other thing is more like for work.
Anne: And you also develop the pictures yourself?
Gummi: I used to, yes. But these pictures, these specific pictures that we used for KATLA., I don’t have to develop them because these are Polaroids. Not the kind of Polaroids that people are used to. And I actually have to put them through a little bit of a chemical process to get all these textures and colours. So yes, it’s a very much kind of hands on way of doing things. There’s no digital editing there, yes.
Anne: Have you ever taken pictures because you listened to a song and had an image in your head and wanted to take a picture of it or have you ever seen a picture, maybe taken by someone else, and wrote music about it?
Gummi: Short answer: No. I don’t think so. No. But, like I said, the inspiration for our art all comes from the same place. I mean, yes, I’ve written lyrics that were inspired by my own pictures, yes. But not that I think of anybody else’s work, no.
Gummi: Oh, it’s an old Icelandic word for a boat. It’s just something that I’m…. I’m not blessed with an artist name like Salvador Dalí, you know. So I can’t really publish pictures under the name Guðmundur Óli Pálmason, I mean, that’s just… it’s not a very good artist name. So I had to find something. So I just thought, hey, sure I’ll use that.
Anne: Are there any plans for a tour or a single concert?
Gummi: Not at the moment, no.
Anne: Because of the lack of musicians?
Gummi: A lack of time! Mostly; and the lack of money actually, as well. I don’t want to sound like we’re doing this for the money, but that’s exactly it. Because we aren’t doing it for money, we do this in our spare time, it’s not generating any money for us, but we also cannot afford quitting our jobs or taking a time off from our jobs, having no income for a month. It’s just not in the picture. So no, it’s very unlikely that that will happen any time soon. You know, we will see in the future. Maybe festivals, but not tours, no.
Anne: Have you ever worked as a cover designer for other bands as well or could you imagine doing this?
Gummi: I haven’t no, and I don’t know if I could actually imagine doing this, because I have a very specific style I think, which is not very professional to be honest. It’s just more based on my own feeling. I have shot photographs for other bands, a British Black Metal band, some Icelandic bands, but as for designing something, I don’t know, I think my style is too limited to my own personal style. It’s the same way as I wouldn’t go on drums for other bands as my drumming style is very limited to my own drumming style. I’m not one of the artists that can assume other peoples styles, you know. I just do things the way I do them. And there’s only one way I can do them (laughs).
Anne: The writing of the lyrics in the booklet, it is handwritten. Is it Einars normal writing or is it some sort of calligraphy?
Gummi: It’s actually basically his normal handwriting, yes. Maybe done a little bit more better than usual, but it’s his handwriting, yes.
Anne: Is there a chance that you release the EP on CD as well? As far as I know it’s just on vinyl.
Gummi: It’s just on vinyl, yes, but it’s also available for free download, so I don’t see a reason to release it on CD. So if you want the digital copy you can just download it. So probably not, no.
Anne: How is the metal scene in Iceland?
Gummi: I don’t know. I mean I know there are bands doing good things, but I don’t go to concerts anymore. I haven’t gone to concerts for many years. So I’m not involved in any kind of a scene. I used to be, but I just don’t want to be involved in any kind of scene anymore. It’s just I don’t have time for that. I’m just too busy with work and family and all that.
Anne: I heard that Iceland as a country has some problems with tourists. That they can’t behave and things like that. Do they go on your nerves? I mean, you work with them, but…
Gummi: Yes, sometimes they do, but it’s very exaggerated. People do say “Oh no, tourists, this and that!”. There are definitely some problems, most with the way that they drive on the icy narrow roads here in Iceland that can be dangerous, simply put. But other than that, all the other things, it’s just peanuts, it doesn’t really matter. Tourism has saved Iceland from bankruptcy. We were totally bankrupt after 2008. Tourism started to pick up in 2010. So I don’t know why people are complaining about tourists. If it wasn’t for tourists we’d be fucking bankrupt. So, yeah, stop complaining. Yes, we got to do something about the roads, we got to do something about people driving in icy conditions that have in many cases never even driven a car before, but other than that, we are doing fine, I think.
Anne: I read some interviews that you did, probably via e-mail, I think, and most of the time you end them with the word jarðvarmavirkjun. What is this?
Gummi: Jarðvarmavirkjun? (laughs)
Anne: I understand earth and warm but I don’t understand the last part.
Gummi: Virkjun? Virkjun is like a power plant.
Anne: So it’s just a geothermal…
Gummi: … a geothermal power plant
Anne: So you are just confusing people.
Gummi: Or maybe I’m just very interested in geothermal power plants? Who knows? (laughs)
Anne: Who knows? And that’s it. Thank you very much for the interview!
Gummi: Well, you’re most welcome!
all pictures by Guðmundur Óli Pálmason
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