An Interview with Svavar Knútur 🇮🇸 - Ward Knútur Townes UK Tour!
One of our favourite Icelandic musicians Svavar Knútur has just released an album with the fantastic Lucy Ward and Canadian songwriter Adyn Townes. They've just headed out on tour too, and Svavar has taken some time to have a chat with us!
NMR: Hey Svavar, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. You’re always so busy, touring constantly, where are you right now?!? We need specifics!
Svavar: "Hey Andy, great to hear from you. Yeah, being a troubadour is kind of like being a shark. If you stop swimming, you die. Right now, I'm in wonderful Derbyshire, in the care of my dear friend Lucy Ward's friend. It's a charming village called Heanor, and that's where we are based for the first leg of the tour. We've enjoyed an amazing Derbyshire hospitality, just completely unparalleled."
NMR: I love Heanor and all of that area, so good to hear that's your base. Anwyay we’re really excited by your new release 'Unanswered' with Lucy and Adyn Townes, can you tell us how it came about?
Svavar: "Yeah, so basically, during the pandemic, while artists where pretty much isolated in their own little bubbles, some genius folks in a network of music export offices around the world had the crazy idea to try out an online "Global Music Match", introducing artists to each other and fostering collaborations and new friendships. Adyn, Lucy and I were part of that project and we really clicked and decided to take the work further, write some songs and maybe release an album and tour together. And now, three years later, we've made it happen. And it's just a dream come true to get to sing and play with these sweet songwriters."
NMR: So how did the songwriting and recording process work? I’m guessing there were a lot of files zipping across oceans?
Svavar: "So, yeah. I won't lie to you. It was rough. Mainly because online collaboration lacks so many of the best elements of sitting together in a space and creating. There's no spontaneous harmonising, no quick inspirational injections, no nonverbal cues and clues that sometimes reinforce or halt the progress of an idea and take it into different directions. But I have to say, despite all of that, we really soldiered through it and wrote a fine batch of songs together. It was a creative incentive for all of us, and once the guys came to visit me in Iceland to finish the writing and doing the recordings, everything started to fall into place and we really vibed. The guys stayed in Iceland for two weeks at a wonderful artist residency in the North, called Leifshús, and we did a lot of recording and work there, and also in my home town of Akureyri, only 20 kilometers from the residency.
After the Iceland sessions, there were just a couple of little overdubs that were left, so I guess there actually wasn't too much file zipping in the end. We managed to record some 95% of the album locally." "The only real ways to support independent artists now are buying the album physically, buy a download directly from their website, or on Bandcamp. It's super basic."
NMR: It's great that the project finished in Iceland, hopefully that was a great experience for Lucy and Adyn too. Actually youi've talked before about the fact that it’s almost impossible for an indie artist financially to record full albums now, did doing things as a collective take the pressure off in any way?
Svavar: "Yeah, not really. It just put a lot of pressure on all of us, rather than just one. And now we all kind of feel the added pressure of having put our friends into financial distress. But that's just part of the deal when you're an independent musician today. :D We will probably never recoup our costs of this project, but I don't think that was the point, really. The purpose was to create something beautiful together and to serve our musical calling.
The everyday artist's income from recorded music has gone down around 90-95% on the average. And that accounts for almost half of the income of a lot of independent artists. So basically, since streaming, our income has been roughly cut in half. People also have to know that it doesn't really matter how much you listen to your favourite indie artist on Spotify or any other streaming service. The major labels are going to take 90% of your subscription fee anyway. The streaming income distribution model is pro-rata, not connected to you. So all of the shoe stores, supermarkets, clothing stores, cafes and pubs that have mainstream musician playlists curated by Spotify actually count against your own streams in the big pot and it ends up creating a horribly skewed playing field.
But enough about that, let's talk solutions: The only real ways to support independent artists now are buying the album physically, buy a download directly from their website, or on Bandcamp. It's super basic.
And all that aside. It's not like it's an option for us to stop writing and performing music. We do it for a passion. I only wish the playing field wasn't so completely rigged"
NMR: You must be delighted with the reviews, I spotted that great one in the Guardian, and now you’re out on tour in the UK. Pretty sure it’s been a while, when did you last come here?
Svavar: "Oh yes! It's been absolutely crazy to see all those positive reviews piling in! 4 and 5 stars all around and very kind words about our songs and musicality. And guess what, I don't believe in that whole "I don't read reviews, I don't care what other people think" thing. That's a privilege for already successful musicians. It's something that is easy to say when you're selling millions of copies of your albums. But when you're a basic small time indie type like me, every word really matters and hits you in the heart, also and especially the negative ones. But thank fortune that we haven't had any negative reviews, only super positive stuff. The last time I was in the UK it was in January 2020. I did a little stint in Scotland and one or two gigs in England too. It was absolutely wonderful, and it was just before Covid, so I was very lucky to get to visit then. I really hope I can make the UK a more regular destination to tour. But it all really depends on whether I have a sustainable audience here for the future." NMR: So you’re covering so many places, you have Maidenhead, London, Bath, the brilliant Castle Hotel Manchester amongst other places on the 1st leg, then you come back for a 2nd leg including one of my favourite places, the beautiful but tiny Constantine in Cornwall. Is there anywhere in particular you’re looking forward to playing?
Svavar: "I have never been in Cornwall, and I'm really excited to play there. But I'm also just looking forward to driving around with Lucy and Adyn and finally getting to witness the beauty of the English countryside and smaller cities, and to visit beautiful venues that I have never seen before. That's part of the beauty that an artist's life brings me."
Thanks for taking the time to chat to us Svavar, huge good luck with the tour, and hopefully look forward to seeing you in Manchester.
Don't forget you can support them by buying the album here.