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Nine Songs

Jófríður Ákadóttir, AKA solo artist JFDR and member of Samaris, GANGLY and Pascal Pinon talks the songs that made her.

27 October 2017, 10:30 | Words by Paddy Kinsella

Icelandic singer/songwriter JFDR is a rare phenomenon.

This isn’t the first time I’ve tried to interview Jófríður Ákadóttir. The first time was when she was supporting Jon Hopkins with her band Samaris in 2013, however the interview was scuppered as the then teenage artist needed to finish her homework.

Four years later we meet on an autumnal night in Leeds and in the intervening period, Ákadóttir has released five albums - two with Samaris, two with her twin sister Ásthildur as Pascal Pinon and her first solo record Brazil as JFDR. Her mastery is that no matter how much she creates, she never leaves quality at the door, songs just flow out of her.

While she rebuffs this idea, classing herself as “inconsistent” and reserving some particularly harsh words for her last album with Pascal Pinon, she does let me in on her secret. “One of the reasons why I do so much is because I don’t really care about things... You can and you should let go of a lot of things and let them take their place and let them become what they are,” she explains. What separates her then is her ability to be free, and it is this freedom, this ability to not give a fuck, that she sees in the artists of the pivotal songs she's selected, a skill that’s permeated from them to her.

“Orphan's Lament” by Robbie Basho

“It was the first song that came to my mind. It’s so simple and it’s so powerful, the chord progression is amazing and his voice is amazing. It was before everything and everyone was doing this, it’s so pure, there’s like a purity in this crazy song that’s rare to find. It’s hard to explain, there’s something spiritual about it, it’s almost religious in a way, like an anthem. I like that in music, it pushes you, it’s demanding of you, but at the same time it has a lot of beauty.

“I’ve blasted this so many times when I’m driving. I really recommend Robbie Basho, some of his guitar picking is really insane, but this is actually one of his few piano songs. He has that really old-school American folk music thing and then he has this singing voice, it’s like Anthony & The Johnsons, but way before that. Maybe he was classically trained or maybe he was just singing like this because it had to be as loud as possible.

“I heard it on YouTube last year, I have a strong memory of playing this to my friend in the car when it was dark, I don’t know if he liked it though.”

“I'm On Fire” by Bruce Springsteen

“I also found this song randomly, I was listening to ‘Dancing in the Dark’ and this just popped up. YouTube seems to be the main way I listen to music, it’s not intentional, but it’s just the easiest.

“There’s a few things I like about this. I like how short it is and the synth line, there’s like one single synth line, it’s perfect. My favourite thing though, that gives me shivers, is the second verse when he says that really creepy thing and he asks her to ‘cool his desire’ it’s like ‘aaaaahhh…’, it gives you shivers, it’s so creepy.

“It’s a really brilliant song about a dark desire, it’s a little bit sexy and I love it. He’s a great performer, I don’t generally like his stuff, I think a lot of it is quite tacky, which is fine, it’s just what I think. I first heard it in LA in August, I just had it on repeat and I went a little bit crazy.”

“Sáráhka Viina” by Marie Boine

“This is from northern Norway, it’s the Sami people. Marie Boine is like the Enya of Norway, she does traditional stuff. It’s amazing, I have no idea what it’s about, but the violin in there is crazy.

“My friend Thor played us this song, I think it’s one of his jams, it’s one of those songs you find and it’s just incredible. “Journey” from Brazil was inspired from this song, it was simple when I first wrote it, but then we put kick drums on it and the crazy synth sound on it, which were inspired by this and particularly the crazy violin part of Marie Boine’s song.

“It’s one of the few incidences were there’s been a direct reference from song to song. I immediately loved this song when I heard it, it immediately said something to me, but I don’t know what it is. That’s the one thing about music you just don’t know, maybe one day I can know and put it into words but I can’t do it right now. In music there’s a sense of truth and also craftsmanship and inspiration.”

“Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush

“This is a kind of weird song. Kate Bush is a legend, she’s so mysterious and so forward-thinking, she’s so badass. She was doing pop music that was way ahead of the curve and trying to shake things up, and this is just a banger of a tune.

“I remember I heard it again this summer at a music festival in Ireland in the middle of nowhere and I remembered again how amazing this song is, so I think that maybe I rediscovered it this summer.

“It reminds me of good times, wherever I am I can always dance to this. Also, when you need to lift your spirits it’s perfect for that. It’s almost like you’re walking into the sunset when you have that song playing. How can this song not lift your mood?”

“The Orchids” by Psychic TV

“When we were making the Pascal Pinon record called Twosomeness, me and my friend were sending each other songs and he sent me this song and I couldn’t wrap my head around it and what the hell it was.

“This is probably the weirdest song I’ve chosen for this. I didn’t know if it was a man or woman singing, I didn’t know what instrument it was, there was this crazy beginning and it has this line ‘in the morning after the night you fall in love with the light’ and I think it’s beautiful.”

“A Little Lost” by Arthur Russell

“He played the cello, he never really played it professionally but he treated it with effect. He’s a big inspiration because he does whatever he fucking wants and you never know if he’s just jamming or if it’s all really focused and thought out.

“There’s a spiritual element to his stuff, but there’s also a pop element and he’s just making tunes and doing his thing. It’s free and it’s true. This song is a little bit sad but happy, it has a twisted melancholy to it which I love.

“You need to have that sense of not giving a fuck. One of the reasons why I do so much is because I don’t really care about things, I can be a little inconsistent but at the same time it’s more about being relaxed and trusting that you don’t have to have control over everything. You can and you should let go of a lot of things and let them take their place and become what they are. That’s an important thing both for your mental health and just for creativity in general. I’m not a master at this but I try to relax and maybe Arthur Russell has that. He was doing this lo-fi stuff in the 80s’ and now everyone is trying to be like Arthur Russell.

“I get a little stressed that I’m going to block it and put pressure on myself, but it’s good and bad. Some of the albums I’ve done I’ve been very proud of and happy with and some of them you just did and they're not perfect, like that last Pascal Pinon album, so many things were out of my control and I was very disappointed with a lot of things with that album. I’m constantly genuinely surprised when people say they like that album, I thought it was going to be different when we set out to make it and that’s a mistake.”

“Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell

“Joni Mitchell wrote it ages ago and she did it for Judy Collins, who got famous from that song, but it’s such a boring version.

“It’s an incredible song, it has the most true, beautiful lyrics that I know, it says it all, it’s so zen, it’s so yin and yang. All these things she says in the song are bang on, she’s a great songwriter. She’s not bummed out, though when she sings about it raining, she just says that’s how things are and now I know and that’s a brilliant idea.

“A friend played it to us in New York and then we all learnt it. We sometimes perform this live, it’s a lot of fun. She’s had an influence on me because she’s free, she’s herself, which is a beautiful thing.”

“Pale Blue Eyes” by Velvet Underground

“’Pale Blue Eyes’ is the saddest song in the world. Did you listen to the lyrics? They’re so sad. It’s one song that we wanted to cover, but it actually kind of sucks when someone else does it. Lou Reed wrote it this way and he owns it.

“We used to play it a lot because Albert (Finnbogason) only had one CD in his car and he’d play this song and we’d feel sad for a while. Lou Reed shines a light on things, whether they are his own experiences or somebody else’s, he’s hunting for the truth.”

“Caribbean Blue” by Enya

“She has all my respect, it’s maybe not very cool somehow to say that about Enya. She also has kind of lame music videos but they just cut through that bullshit. I love a lot of her music, she’s really good at using her vocals in a choir-like style and it’s beautiful. I think I take inspiration from her in some way vocally, maybe just the way she enters and hits the notes.

“’Caribbean Blue’ is so dreamy, it’s like the ultimate dream-pop song. Enya is innovative in the same way as Björk, Kate Bush and Arthur Russell, she kind of creates her own world and she’s true to that world - it’s a faraway, mysterious land.”

Brazil is out now. JFDR is perfomng at Iceland Airwaves which runs from 1-5 November
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