Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
amiina: “it was like trying to reach out to the sea with music instead of light”

amiina: “it was like trying to reach out to the sea with music instead of light”

21 June 2013, 16:00

Back in 2009, Icelandic group amiina – once upon a time the string section of Sigur Ros – were invited to undertake a unique summer tour of their homeland, playing unusual venues which included, in particular, some of the country’s lighthouses.

Writing music especially for the unique venues, Edda Rún Ólafsdóttir, Hildur Ársælsdóttir, Maria Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir and Sólrún Sumarliðadóttir embarked upon their tour, playing these specially composed tracks for tiny crowds in spaces such as the Dalatangaviti lighthouse.

Over three years later, the band returned to the project of “little nocturnes” and made The Lighthouse Project, a collection of old and new tracks that recreate the special, intimate atmosphere of those shows. If you know amiina’s beautiful and hushed music in any way at all, you’ll know they’re a special act already, but these recordings push the band to another level of gorgeousness.

Recorded live, they capture how it must have felt to see the stripped down amiina in such a unique venue, and although it’s only five tracks long it’s amongst the Icelanders’ best work to date.

Best Fit recently caught up with Maria and Edda from the band to discuss the project, Lee Hazelwood and the practicalities of touring remote places.

I ask Maria and Edda how the project came about: “Well, this is something we did about three years ago,” begins Maria, “a project here in Iceland that was based on songs for a ‘living room setting’. We wrote some songs for that and did some arrangements.”

So it wasn’t initially for playing in lighthouses? “No, it was for the Iceland IS festival, and as part of the project they sent us to play at a lighthouse,” she explains. “So, playing in that lighthouse and seeing the reaction of the people…it was such a magical experience.

“Lighthouses are special places, but also some of the people said the music was pushed through the ‘cone’ of the lighthouse and out to sea instead of light…so it was like trying to reach out to the sea with music instead of light.”

Out of that came the first shoots of The Lighthouse Project. “Basically we wanted to explore more, and we decided on a tour of Iceland with lighthouses the only destination,” says Sigfúsdóttir, who plays violin and accordion, amongst other instruments, “and although that was three years ago but we always had the urge to finish it and make something beautiful from it because it was such a unique experience.”

Although the recordings on the record are a fine representation of the shows at the lighthouses, did amiina find it difficult to re-create the feeling and experience of the shows three years down the line? Maria confirms: “Yes! It is totally different. Three years later – and four kids later! – I guess we had to try and recreate the intimacy; a lot of the focus was on that. Also, travelling to a place and playing for people in a very small, intimate place – we wanted to keep that feeling as a main goal.”

Was there a certain vibe that they wanted to rediscover when in the studio, and was there a set process to follow? “Yeah, like to have someone play or sing in your living room,” says Maria. “So all the recordings were live; no overdubs of any sort, keep the intimacy as much as we could, even though we were in the studio.”

There’s no variation in the quality of these tracks, but it’s clear that ‘Bíólagið’ and ‘Perth’ are two of the stand out tracks so I ask if there were some pieces of music that they knew would work better than others in a lighthouse setting: “That’s a good question,” ponders Maria. “I guess, I guess… well, we played several lighthouses and each one had different acoustics so some songs worked better in some lighthouses than others. But our favourite songs, or the ones we really cared for, are the ones that grew out of the project – and that’s also why we wanted to finish the project off, to release these songs that hadn’t been heard before.”

Edda reveals that the set-up and structure of the songs had to be re-thought due to the constraints of playing in a lighthouse: “Oh yes, it had to be quite different in some cases!”

Maria adds: “Of course when you think of a lighthouse you think of those tall buildings, and when we got to the buildings it wasn’t like that at all!

“ were these small buildings for the actual light,” explains Maria, “and attached to it was the main room where the machinery to run the light was, and also a big horn – because when the fog gets really thick you have these gigantic horns that produce sound instead of light.

“That’s actually where we played; playing on top of big machinery, it definitely had a big influence on us.”

Wasn’t that going to affect the instrumentation or the gig itself – was it not a distraction, all this machinery buzzing away? “In the beginning we were too romantic about the whole idea,” admits Maria. “It’d be all these big lighthouses and there’d be lots of reverb haha! But in the end it wasn’t quite like that – it was very charismatic!

“But also, one of the places – because it’s a very important navigation point – the easternmost point of Iceland, totally in the middle of nowhere they have to send out a Morse code signal, and we didn’t count on having this constant code over the whole concert – it was quite funny!”



I ask if they were able to take any sounds from the lighthouse and use them either as part of the original shows, or record them and use them on The Lighthouse Project. Edda reveals, “well, that was quite an annoying sound – but we did record some sounds, and they ended up being a tiny separate track at the end of the album. It was the ongoing Morse of that particular lighthouse.”

Lighthouses, while being a place of harbour and safety, can also be viewed as a metaphor for danger, or a warning to us. Yes, they guide us to safety but there’s still an existing terror when a ship’s captain suddenly realises their vessel is dangerously close to dashing against the rocks. I ask Maria and Edda if they considered the various meanings when undertaking the project: “I think we were careful of choosing metaphors,” says Maria. “We took it more as being a message being produced, and the lighthouse being a metaphor for something that guides, and no matter what it’s something that has to keep on shining whether there’s someone seeing it or not.

“And we took that as being symbolic for musicians; making music is something we have to do, and the urge comes from within to produce music and feelings – to try to reach out to someone, and keep doing it even if no-one’s listening!”

Another interesting nugget, away from the lighthouses, is that the record contains a version of Lee Hazelwood’s ‘Leather and Lace’. The original version made by Hazelwood and the band for the ‘Hilli’ single was the last of his recorded work before he died in 2007, so I ask if it was important that they gave that track a new lease of life. “Yes,” agrees Maria, “but the reason that song is part of the set is because of the instrumentation; we had to work semi-acoustically because we couldn’t take all our equipment with us, so it fit really well into the set. But we were really fond of that cover, and we do always feel a bit connected to him – he hadn’t collaborated in two years with anyone, then got together with us to do ‘Leather and Lace’, and then he just died. We do feel really connected to him.”

Having watched the videos that accompany The Lighthouse Project you begin to get some idea of how much of an undertaking the whole project actually was; not just the setting up of equipment in unfamiliar and unique spaces, but also the logistics of travelling to these remote places, along barely-there roads with a van full of equipment, a spouse and a new baby.

So, would amiina consider doing the project again, in Iceland or further afield? “Oh, human beings have such a selective memory!” laughs Edda. “We’ve begun to remember the trip in a romantic way,” agrees Maria, “but when we really think about it….and when we were working on the video clips we were so shocked to see the state of our looks! It looks like no-one remembered to take a hairbrush, or looked in a mirror for three days!”

The last word goes to Edda: “Because of the logistics everything was up in the air, it was always windy…so seriously thinking about it again, I would definitely plan it differently – play the lighthouses one at a time and not in one trip around Iceland!”

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