It has been just three months since Icelandic singer Hildur Kristín Stefánsdóttir released her very first single as a solo artist that subsequently propelled to the top of local music charts. Her single “I’ll Walk With You” was an instant hit – being both catchy and upbeat while also carrying a strong message of friendship and supporting those closest to us. A refreshing contrast to the typical love songs that tend to rule the pop music industry.
Hildur has been involved with music in one way or another since she was a child and has spent a great deal of time performing and releasing music in collaboration with other artists and as a member of the band Rökkurró before deciding to re-emerge as a solo artist.
I had a chat with Hildur and got to know a bit more about the woman behind the music.
Where does your passion for music come from?
I have connected very strongly to music since I can remember. I learned classical cello when I was a kid and I also remember my sister teaching me songs to sing with her and me realizing that singing was something that made me feel really good. My sisters and dad had great taste of music so I remember listening eagerly to everything they put on and stealing their records when they weren’t around. So my childhood is filled with memories of music in all kinds of ways.
Which musicians inspire or influence your music?
To name a few that really influenced me, the first one was Björk. I have very strong memories related to her album Homogenic. I was only 9 but I remember that I thought she was so incredibly weird and cool at the same time and the song Jóga really touched me in a way that music had not reached me. I remember creating some kind of weird dance to it and thinking how awesome music could be. Later on I would say Portishead and their singer Beth Gibbons really affected me as a singer. I have also admired Kanye West for a long time for his creativity and ways. Finally I would say Grimes really influenced me in the last years as a really powerful DIY female artist. She made me realize I could do this all myself.
You’re quite a versatile musician, what instruments do you play and why is singing your chosen form of expression?
I play the cello, guitar, synth, ukulele and Japanese koto harp. I also produce music in the computer which is kind of the new “playing an instrument”. In the last years I’ve laid back playing live instruments and focused more on singing and producing as that’s where I really feel like I can express myself the most and singing is the form of music that comes the most natural to me.
What was your first live performance and do you still get nervous when performing?
The first real live performance outside of music school was probably when I sang in a singing competition when I was 15. I was so nervous that I thought I would faint like 5 times before hitting the stage. I’ve always been nervous when it comes to performing. I guess it’s because of the perfectionist in me that just wants everything to go awesome. I’m still waiting for the time that I won’t get nervous – if that ever comes!
Do you have a pre-show routine?
No not really. I just try to eat healthy the same day and do things that make me feel well. It really shows on stage if you aren’t feeling well. Backstage I do stuff like pushups, jumping jacks, yoga moves or just dance to get the blood flowing. It’s even more important than warming up your voice.
Music isn’t your only interest. You have a B.A. in Japanese culture and even studied abroad for a while – tell us a bit about that.
Yeah, I chose to study Japanese because I love languages and have been fascinated with the culture ever since I was a kid folding origami. Learning the language is really hard and basically a lifelong learning, but I am at the place where I can carry out most conversations in Japanese. I lived in Tokyo for one year and that was one of the craziest experiences I’ve had. Tokyo is my absolutely favorite city in the world, you can find everything and more there! Even though I don’t really use Japanese on a daily basis, it makes me so happy when I hear it and can use it. It’s my weird skill that makes me me.
Why go solo?
I had been in a band and various other projects for almost 10 years and I never really had the confidence to just be my own act and do it big. I played some solo shows when I lived in Japan but that was just a small project compared to the passion and production I’ve put in my new solo material.
When I decided to compete in the Eurovision preliminaries I was writing a pop song for the first time and I really loved it. I thought it challenged my songwriting skills more than anything I had done and I really wanted to do more. So I figured instead of finding someone who wanted to do pop songs with me I could just as well do it myself. But I’ve found great people to work with me on getting the end result I want and I couldn’t be happier with it all.
What made you decide to try out for Eurovision in 2015 and what was that like?
I have been a Eurovision fan since I can remember. It was a childhood dream of mine to stand on the big stage and be a part of this. I hadn’t really thought of doing it for real until in 2014 when I had been through a lot of changes in my life and I wanted to do something that really challenged me. Somehow this ended up being it. The journey started in the summer of 2014 when I asked my friend Guffi to do this with me. It was one of the most challenging things I’ve done, it was almost a year long process, from writing and producing the song, being selected, creating the live act, doing promotion and then performing. It was like a crash course in the pop business and I realized I loved it and wanted to do more pop songs!
I don’t have the longing to participate in Eurovision again even though I would have wanted to win and try out the real big stage but once was enough for me!
Your song “I’ll walk with you” is receiving a lot of local attention. It sounds like a love song but seems to convey a message of friendship rather than romantic love, could you tell us a bit about its meaning?
Yes! When I was writing the song I was thinking about all the great people I have around me and how they deserved to be in a song. There are so many love songs out there but not that many about friendship, family and the people around you that deserve your love and time. The feeling in the song is supposed to make you feel warm inside, and I think it does!
What is your favourite part of the process – from writing to releasing?
I love all stages. They are so crazy different. The songwriting can be the hardest but sometimes it’s smooth and fast. The producing and recording is often filled with doubts and overthinking. The process is quite funny – you go from loving the idea to being unsure to hating it and then to loving it again. But when you start loving it again, that is a really good feeling and then you are really proud of yourself and your creation. I love that feeling. Releasing the song and video is in a way stressful as you have no clue how the reception will be even though you have a really clear vision of how you want it to be. But if the reception is good then the feeling will be kind of like it’s your birthday – again and again!
How important is your image?
I love the visual aspect of being an artist and showing the world the image of yourself that you want to be. I really love thinking about my style when I do music videos or perform, I think it has to be in sync with the music – it makes it all more powerful.
Do you find that there is a double standard for women in the music business?
I think it’s not very much present in Iceland as it is in the bigger markets and we’re lucky it’s like that. Maybe it’s because Iceland has always been more driven by indie music rather than pop music. Our biggest stars have been Björk, Sigur Rós and now Of Monsters and Men. None of them is the typically produced pop star, they are just very much themselves which I think is great. I’m pretty sure I would be facing this more if I was releasing my songs for the US market.
Iceland has been called a “feminist paradise”. As a self-proclaimed feminist do you find that to be true?
We’re definitely doing better than most countries but we still have a very long way to go to reach equality – especially in the music business. I am a board member of Kítón, which is an organization for women in music in Iceland and we are focusing heavily on getting more women visible in music.
The fact is we have so many great female musicians but still the male musicians get more radio time, awards and are booked more. Icelandic female artists only get about 10% of all music royalties paid out yearly. I’m really passionate about changing this and I really take my part seriously and use every chance I get to tell girls to go make music and own up to their creativity – but the most important thing is just starting and doing. 95% of the time nobody tells you what to do, you just have to find the drive and start creating opportunites for yourself. And don’t give up if it doesn’t work out from the start. It’s a long process and you get better. I’ve learned the most from all the mistakes I’ve made so I wouldn’t want to have done anything differently!
What is your biggest dream or aspiration?
When I was younger I just wanted to be constantly touring the world. As I grew older I realized that’s crazy hard and I really take my hat off for artists that can do that for a long time. I’ve been on 5 or 6 tours with my band Rökkurró and also with Ólafur Arnalds and the touring lifestyle is way harder than people think.
Right now my dreams are just getting my music out to the most ears and being able to create musically and visually whatever I want. I also really want to get into producing more and my long time goal is being able to fully produce my own songs. We need more female producers out there!
And finally, what’s next on your agenda – can we expect to see any live performances from you soon or a new single?
There are so many exciting things ahead! It has been such a journey already even though this project has only been visible for the public eye for 3 months. Right now I’m working on the next single and music video that will be out in the next weeks. It’s an upbeat song with lyrics that fit very well to what’s happening in my life these days, so I’m super excited to share it and see how people react.
I was just confirmed to be playing Iceland Airwaves in November and I’m currently lining up my summer schedule. I’m focusing on gigs Iceland to start with but who knows what can happen in the future!
Photography by Ellen Inga
Make-up by Hafdís Kristin MUA
Take a look at Hildur’s “I’ll Walk With You” music video:
For more information about Hildur visit her Facebook page or Instagram @hihildur
Tags: Iceland, interview, music, nordic
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