I met up with Ásgeir at Irving Plaza in the early afternoon. The venue was empty of its crowds shuffling, engrossed in exuberant conversations.
Instead, I could hear the creaking of the steps along the side of the stage as the crew unloaded the equipment and set up for the evening. In a few hours, the quiet room which now felt strangely large would be filled with the rumble of an eager crowd.
I followed the narrow staircase up to the green room tucked away above the stage. It was there that I sat down with the soft-spoken artist from Raickovic, Iceland. Ásgeir Trausti Einarsson, known best simply as Ásgeir, first became known to his international fans when he re-released his 2012 full-length album In The Silence, translating it from its original Icelandic to English.
“We hit some walls when we didn’t know how to translate a sentence, but if it didn’t get the exact words, we went about it in a different way. I feel like the lyrics have kept the same meaning and the same feelings,” the songwriter explained about the translation process.
“For me, if I was writing a song with a lyric when I was beginning, it would always be English. It feels easier. I don’t know why that is,” Ásgeir contemplated aloud. “Maybe it was the music I was listening to. I started thinking in English when I was really young. Most of the time I was thinking in English instead of Icelandic for some reason.” While he incorporated some Icelandic in his second album Afterglow which was released earlier this year, the original intention was much different. “In the making of this album, we were thinking about having only half the album be in English, but it didn’t go that way,” he recounted while sharing that would like to incorporate more of his native language in the next.
Ásgeir’s music is both intimate and poetic which made him an overnight success in the indie and folk genres. What began as a warm reception of a debut album turned into three years of touring. “I came home after that and I was really tired of music. I didn’t want to do any music for a while, but I sort of forced myself into doing it. It was a bad idea at the time when I think about it now,” he reflected. The pressure to create or have something tangible to show for his efforts overrode his ability to rest the songwriter explained. “You don’t want to feel like you’re forcing anything. I felt like that at certain points where I was forcing ideas that weren’t really there. Just trying to get something out.”
It wasn’t until he allowed himself time to be away from music that he was able to create his second album. “I did that for a few months until I realised that I just needed a break from it all. I took a little break, a few months, then came back refreshed,” he continued. “Some of the ideas were from the first writing process when I needed a break, but I kept them for the record. Most of it came after I took a break and I could see things more clearly – what I wanted to say and what I wanted it to sound like.” Afterglow, while maintaining much of the folk qualities of the first album, is more experimental with etherial, synthetic textures propelled by a more energetic pace than it’s predecessor.
The atmospheric quality to Ásgeir’s music is complimented by metrical lyrics. Often, the performer will partner with his father on the latter part of his songs. “I’ve always written the music first and then I send him the song. If I have some idea of what it should be about or anything like that, I let him know and we talk about that for a while. Usually, it’s just me sending him a song and he’s free to express what he feels when he listens to the song,” he answered explaining that he’s worked with many lyricists over the years as part of the songwriting process. His father isn’t the only family member Ásgeir involves in his music. “Yes, the guy that we just walked past. He plays in my band and a lot of the bands in Iceland. He’s my brother.” He said motioning in the direction of the adjoining room backstage. Fourteen years his senior, his brother has been a source of inspiration since childhood. “I really looked up to him when I was growing up. He was always writing songs and singing.”
For Ásgeir, the music itself is all he’s ever needed. “I’ve never needed words to express myself. I’m usually quite happy when a song gets a lyric or poem. It makes it even better when I’m working with people like my father. I’ve worked with five different lyricists and they’re all really good. They all bring something more to the song than I could have myself,” he concluded.
We parted ways and I returned to Irving Plaza later that night for his show. The venue became familiar once again as it filled with the anticipatory energy of a crowd eager to hear the songwriter waiting backstage. A burst of cheering erupted from the crowd as Ásgeir and his band took the stage. The soulful and mesmerising harmonies set the tone for the evening as the ballroom venue took on an entirely different quiet than the one from earlier that day. There was no shuffling or side conversation to be heard. Instead, undivided attention was given to the artist as he shared his music.