The titles of múm’s albums tell a remarkably self-deprecating tale. There’s Sing Along to Songs You Don’t Know from 2009. Yesterday Was Dramatic—Today Is OK was the group’s 2000 debut full-length. And, of course, 2002’s sophomore effort Finally We Are No One.
Yet such self-deprecation is just one facet of this infinitely intriguing Icelandic combo. Its sound—which quietly terraforms pop and electronic genre standards into its own brand of beautifully rendered, lo-fi hymnals—has been gradually developing over the years, constantly changing and evolving while still staying fundamentally múm, regardless of the years the band has logged. Hence, its new compilation, titled, appropriately, Early Birds: A Compilation of Early Recordingds, Rare Music, and Forgotten Songs from 1998-2000 or Thereabouts, gives fans and casual observers a look back at the group’s sketches, inspirations, and early triumphs, going from ambient soundscapes to bedroom dance parties at the drop of a hat.
To celebrate the occasion, founding member Örvar Smárason sat down to answer PopMatters’ 20 Questions, here revealing to us the neorealist cinema classic that almost made him cry, which band member wears Jabba the Hut underwear, and why he’s proud of “not having gone completely insane yet” . . .
1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Accatone by Pier Pasolini has come the closest in latest years. It’s such a cold film.
2. The fictional character most like you?
Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo, Scottie that is. He’s obsessive and acrophobic just like me.
3. The greatest album, ever?
Appetite for Destruction for obvious reasons.
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Wars. Our drummer is a manic Star Wars freak: he got married in a Jedi suit with Yoda performing the ceremony. He wears a Yoda ring and Jabba the Hut underwear.
5. Your ideal brain food?
Swimming and running both get my brain up and chewing.
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
I am proud of not having gone completely insane yet, because it would possibly be the easiest thing to do. Or not. Maybe it’s the other way around.
7. You want to be remembered for . . . ?
I would like to be remembered as the man who pickled the best herring and made the best mulled wine every single Christmas.
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
Emma Goldman and Sergei Eisenstein.
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
The 808 State remix of “Made of Stone” by the Stone Roses.
10. Your hidden talents . . . ?
I can play two flutes at the same time, standing on one leg.
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
“Don’t eat the yellow snow” is something my parents repeated to me after Frank Zappa. It’s very useful advice when growing up in Iceland. Also, not peeing upwind. That is something my father taught me.
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
I stole a roll of gaffer tape when I was 12, just to understand what stealing felt like. But the tape roll itself turned out to be very useful.
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . . ?
I feel best in full football kit and boots. I guess that would be “soccer gear” and “shoes” to Americans. Or something like that.
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
Emma Goldman for breakfast. Orson Welles and H.G. Wells for afternoon tea and cake. Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Fritz Lang (the old Fritz Lang, mumbling with an eye-patch) as my dinner guests. I would pass the salt. And I would have my night-cap with Fela Kuti.
15. Time travel: where, when, and why?
Rome, 30th of May, 1984 for the European Cup Final between Liverpool and Roma if only to see Grobbelar do the “Spaghetti legs”, because I’m guessing it must have been one of those “had to have been there” moments.
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation, or Prozac?
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . . ?
I’ll have a glass of red wine please, then.
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
I would like to live by the sea. If it’s in the rocks on the northwest of Iceland or a beach somewhere, I do not care.
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
I did meet the Icelandic Prime Minister in 2008, in the big crash . . . well, me and a few people chased him behind a building and simply asked him to address the crowd. But now I wouldn’t know what to say. I think it’s the whole system that’s at fault rather than individual puppets.
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
We are working on a new múm album that should be out next spring or summer. It’s coming together piece by piece.