A Soulful Escape: An Interview With Júníus Meyvant
Icelandic folk artist Júníus Meyvant re-released his debut Floating Harmonies today in America and recently performed his first NYC show.
In early May 2017, the Communion night series took over Rockwood Music Hall and guests could rotate between rooms to hear different acts all night for one price. It was here where Júníus Meyvant, the musical project from Unnar Gísli Sigurmundsson, performed his first show in New York City. The small room where Júníus Meyvant performed was packed.
Meyvant became a buzzworthy artist back in the tail end of 2014 when he performed at the Iceland Airwaves festival and KEXP made his song "Color Decay" their song of the day (they later recorded a full live set of his available here). In 2015, he earned the award for "Best Newcomer" at the Icelandic Music Awards. Then in 2016, he released his debut album Floating Harmonies in Europe where it was well received. This month, will see it re-released in North America. PopMatters spoke with Meyvant after his performance to discuss the origins of his moniker, his humor and his music. Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
At last night’s show, you tossed out a lot of one liners. Do you have a favorite joke?
I don't know. It's all about timing. Also, it's all about not timing. When you say, don't tell this. And you tell a joke and it's like shit. “He told it. He ruined the evening.”
You basically pretended the night was over after the first song.
Yeah. Like "Okay, we're going."
Where did you come up the name Júníus? I wasn't sure if Júníus had come from a different culture.
Júníus… I was gonna name my son Júníus Meyvant. But you know I love my dad so I named him Simi after my daddy, so I took the name for me. Meyvant was always a name that I really loved when I was young. [It] is a really old German name but they used it a lot in Denmark and Iceland. I thought it was a cool name.
And Júníus, I thought about the big Abraham Lincoln type guy… like Julius -- Júníus. Like taking from Juno. And when I put those two together I found the name nice.
So "Color Decay" came out well over two years ago in the US. Were you expecting a big response to that?
I wasn't expecting anything. You know life makes somebody famous that doesn't deserve to be famous. And life won't notice a great talent. So I wasn't expecting anything. It is part timing and luck. And I met my manager. My manager knows how to do his work.
So the time period between that song and your follow up was worthwhile? Your album Floating Harmonies came out last year.
Yeah, if you have great talent -- I'm not saying 'I am the great talent' -- if you have something you're passionate about and you have a knack for it, it should allow you to go somewhere. But don't be so possessed [with the idea] that you're going to be famous. The journey, that's what matters. Because every famous person, when they're famous, they're just [like], "Okay. Now it's just more work. I don't feel great."
What was it like playing your first show in New York last night?
Really nice. You know I've been touring a lot in Europe. Being able to just to play in a small place in New York, I really loved it. This is one of these mecca's for musicians, New York. So you have a lot of history. I really loved it.
You re-released Floating Harmonies right? With a vinyl edition?
This year. Two new songs. We wanted to do something between albums.
So have you been working on new material on the road? You released at least the one song for Record Store Day.
These are basically songs that were supposed to be on the album. But time ran out for us. We had to release the album. So I just recorded those afterwards and we made this limited edition thing.
What have you learned while touring? Have your travels brought anything to your music? I read elsewhere you wrote your first song when in Africa.
You learn by doing stuff. There is that famous saying like, "amateurs seek for inspiration professionals go to work". Just by going to work you start being better. And there's nothing better than to perform and learn how to you know play music live. Of course you grow by time. But you don't have to go everywhere to find something awesome, because everything is within.
You work is possibly the happiest sounding music to come from Iceland. Not that it's all happy but it's the most upbeat and positive in my recent memory. What were some of your inspirations?
'60s, '70s, funk, soul. Folk music also. I used to listen to Bob Dylan a lot. Also film scores, film music. I used to listen only to instrumental music also.
I have typical Icelandic songs, like [dramatic voice] foggy, elves, mountains, mystery, darkness. But I'm a happy person. From time to time. I'm not always happy. I'm human.
I would say, like when you live in a cold place, [with] crazy weather, you tend to go to a happier place. When you live in a really hot place, like if I would live in Dubai, I would tend to like more cold in my life. Maybe I'm just talking nonsense.
Your music is sort of an escape?
Yeah an escape. I could do like a really Icelandic album. People [would say] [adopting a rapturous voice], "Yes, it's from Iceland. OH MY GOD." But that's not where I'm at.
What are some current other works, art, music, television, literature, that you are currently enjoying?
[laughs] I really love watching stand-up. I recently started watching Fargo, the [series]. I love Fargo. I love dark humor.
One of my favorite movies is The Big Lebowski. I really love people who go into situations they can't handle, but they have to deal with it. Like The Dude in Lebowski is the laziest person and he has to deal with this case full of money and he's like all about his rug.
Music wise I give everything a chance. I listen when I hear [something]. Like when I hear the newest album from Rihanna, I listen. But I wouldn't buy it. I was like, "what's the fuss about?" Then I hear it and okay, I can see it. It's a good thing. Maybe I would buy John Coltrane but I couldn't listen to him every day. So I take bits and pieces from everything.
So what direction will your second album take? Will those proper Icelandic songs see release?
Yes and no. I have like two songs. Maybe they won't make it. Because when you start really getting into -- often you make up new songs and you toss out some songs. It's all about feeling. Now I have like four typical Icelandic songs, even more. But maybe I won't release them.
What's your favorite song to perform live?
I don't know. [laughs] It's a really hard question. I would say like the song that made me somebody in Iceland -- "Color Decay". So I own that song. It was the first song -- like I have to release this first. It's a feeling.
Last night, you said you wrote that song while doing laundry. Was it inspired by that?
I was doing laundry. When you're doing something you really hate you go to another place.
In my mind, I thought you may have been thinking about colors bleeding in terms of the washing.
Yeah color decays from [the laundry]. You wash this Ratt shirt too many times. It's pink now.
No it's not that. "Color Decay" is about time. Everything is moving. It's all about now. Nothing matters except now. You know we tend to make a fuss about the future. You could die today.
If you were to die today what would be your biggest regret?
My regret would be not giving people more time. That's my only regret. Not hugging this person when she needed. That's my only regret.