Ólafur Arnalds is a world-renowned composer and performer from Iceland. With an extensive back catalogue of albums, he decided to venture into the land of soundtracks in 2010 with The Hunger Games and Broadchurch making him a household name. Since then the BAFTA winning musician hasn’t looked back. GoldenPlec spoke to him ahead of his Sold Out, Irish mini-tour this February.
Coming from a musical upbringing Ólafur has played music all his life. Originally as a drummer in a punk band, the world or classical music opened up to him at the age of fourteen. “It slowly became an obsession of mine to try and find that niche area where classical music could fit into the mainstream,” he told us.
To him writing classical music is no different to writing any other genre. “It is all similar,” he says. “I sit with my piano and improvise until I find a melody and then work from there. In terms of classical writing, I don’t write in a traditional sense. I don’t sit down with a pen and sheet music.”
With his own studio to work in Arnalds tends to keep busy. “Once I have something to record I spend every waking hour in the studio.” His studio has its own sound that affects his music and it is something that is “Almost impossible to replicate elsewhere.”
Writing soundtracks for international hit movies like The Hunger Games and Broadchurch would be daunting for the average person but Arnalds is far more worried about writing his own music. “I worry more about disappointing myself than disappointing others which I suppose is a bit odd. My music is the most important thing to me and I really strive for perfection,” he says. The worry of writing music that does not reach his high standards is something that stays with him. “I have a fear of becoming stale. To counteract this I try to work with as many people as possible. It keeps things fresh and helps me to keep learning.”
With a large social media following Arnalds is well aware of the importance of an online presence. The ability for new artists to get music out to their audience is something he loves. “It is great to see new bands building their own personas online. Social Media has the ability to bring music to a level playing field. When I interact with people online, it is not a case of me being two meters above them on stage and having to shout. I can just talk to them and hear their opinions. I love it.”
Stage production is a huge interest of Arnalds. His love of playing large venues compliments this interest but his passion for smaller venues is undying. “The smaller the venue the more intimate you can get. Stage production and intimacy is a balance that is pretty hard to get right. I have a great team with me that I have worked with since the start and they are second to none in terms of creating what I want,” he tells us.
Having toured the world in recent years and an extensive schedule booked for the coming months Arnalds still has not seen much of the world aside from concert venues. “Touring is hard at times. In your fifteenth city in fifteen days, the desire to get out and see the sites is non-existent. At times it is impossible to keep up with where you are in the world because we travel all through the night. The days are all similar. Wake up, sound check, interviews, and dinner and then it’s time for the show. There aren’t enough hours in the day.”
Following a successful 2014 Ólafur is hoping for a slightly quieter 2015 so he can spend time with family and friends. “I am hoping for some time off, but I’m not the kind of person to turn away interesting work, so you never know what will happen,” he laughs.
Ólafur Arnalds plays The Triskell Arts Centre, Cork, February 18th, and The Pavilion Theatre, Dublin, on the 19th and 20th of February, with all three performances sold out.