Exclusive; Svavar Knútur talks to escNorge

After last weekend’s two semifinals we are now anxiously waiting for the final of Söngvakeppnin Sjónvarpsins 2013. Some of the finalists may be considered Eurovision veterans, while others are newcomers to the competition. One such newcomer is Svavar Knútur, who took the time to have a ratehr long chat with escNorge. 

Wiv; Svavar Knútur is a brand new name to most Norwegians. Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little about your musical background and your career?

Svavar Knútur; Yeah… Hmm…My name is Svavar Knútur and I’m an indie Singer/songwriter from Iceland. I’ve never actually belonged to any special clique or niche in my country, so I’ve just always been going on my own.
My big project in life is to find a way to break down walls and barriers between people. Be it age-ism, racism, inter-genre-rivalries, snobbery or classism. That’s my eternal goal.

Wiv; Did you always know you wanted to be a singer/songwriter? 

SK; I didn’t plan to become a musician. It kind of just happened slowly as I started using music to get over a lot of difficult stuff in my life and people liked my songs and wanted to come to my concerts and buy my albums. I just gradually became a musician. At first I was kind of afraid of it, because it’s not excactly a secure carreer, but I love it now and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
I’ve been touring in Europe, Australia and a little bit in America for the last couple of years, maybe since 2007, and it’s always getting better. I try always to be honest in my music and just tell it like it is. Also, as I open my heart completely in my music, I find it very helpful to maintain a sense of humor and storytelling between songs, so my concerts don’t turn into hankie fests filled with tears and snot.

Wiv; This is your first time in Söngvakeppni Sjónvarpsins. Have you ever considered participating before?

SK; I have thought about it, but I was never ready, as I thought «This is not for me… This is just for pop-singers and not folkies like me.» But then I realised how horribly snobby I was and I was being very bigoted. So I just said Yes to my friend Hallgrímur and he was very happy to have me with him.

Wiv; You are one of the lyricists of your song, along with Hallgrímur; did you know all along that you would be performing it too? 

SK; Well.. Hallgrímur originally just asked me to sing the song, but I said: «Not with those lyrics… Hehehe…» And I asked if I could fix them a little bit. He was very happy with that, because I really can’t sing something that I’m not feeling.

Wiv; So you became co-lyricist of «Lífið snýst» almost by accident?

SK; Yes, the original lyrics were written by a kind of industry lyricist (no offense) and Hallgrímur was ecstatic that I wanted to re-write the lyrics and make them more to my philosophy and style. I’m not the kind of singer to just sing the tune people put in front of me. I need to feel right about it.

Wiv; What kind of people do you think your song will appeal to, and how will you describe it?

SK; Hopefully the types that are looking for something happy, jolly, free of drama and positive. I believe there’s a lot of people like that in the world. It’s a happy – go lucky song about a simple philosophy of joy and warm hearts.

Wiv; «Lífið snýst» is a duet that you perform with Hreindís Ylva. Have you worked with her before?

SK; No, but I’ve admired her since I first saw her in 2009. She’s just got this amazing spirit and presence. And her voice is completely free of pretense. Just her own voice.

Wiv; In addition to performing as a solo artist you have also worked with your band Hraun. How are the two different from each other; working alone and with other people? And which one do you prefer?

SK; I love working with other people, but working alone gives me a lot of freedom to travel. However, I really miss having people to work with and bounce ideas. On the other hand, my solo stuff has been very personal and honest and uncompromising and I like that as well. But it’s just so much fun having your friends in the band around.

Wiv; All songs have to be performed in Icelandic in Söngvakeppni Sjónvarpsins. Is there a chance «Lífið snýst» will be kept in Icelandic should you win the ticket for Malmö?

SK; I have categorically refused to translate the song to English. This lyric is written in Icelandic and I love my language and I want people to hear how it sounds when it’s sung. Singing a song in your own language in the ESC is a chance for millions of people to hear a unique language. That’s so amazing!

Wiv; I have heard you sing both in English and in Icelandic earlier, though mainly in Icelandic in the past few years. Do you prefer singing in Icelandic or in English? And why?

SK; Both really. There are different ideas going on when I’m singing in different languages. I use Icelandic more in nature themes and ultra-personal stuff and English more to describe general ideas and philosophy. I like to mix it up, as I love it when people understand what I’m saying, but I also like it when people get to hear my language sung. Then I usually tell people the story and sometimes I translate the lyrics before I sing. I like to be able to share my culture with my audience.

Wiv; It has now been 16 years since Icelandic was last heard on a Eurovision stage. What do you think of the fact that many (most?) countries choose to sing in English instead of in their native language?

SK; I think it’s kind of sad. My favorite acts are definitely when people sing in their own language and I can hear the amazing diversity in the European languages. It’s also kind of awkward to hear badly written english lyrics sung with a heavy accent and usually scetchy pronounciations. I also think that if a song loses, it’s not because of the language, but because it was simply not the best song or performance.


Wiv; What do you think of the other songs that made it to the final of Söngvakeppnin? Are there any you think stand out?

SK; I think they’re all very nice and the performers are the biggest sweethearts. I’m a terrible competitor, because I never care if I win or lose, I’m just happy to be part of the whole thing. Birgitta, Magni and Eyþór are of course all excellent performers and singers, and Jógvan and Stefanía make a beautiful duet team. Halli Reynis is one of the most sincere and gentle people I’ve met and Unnur Eggertsdóttir is just bursting with beautiful energy. Come on! It’s just so much fun. Too much fun to pick a clear winner 😀

Wiv; Most people in Iceland have very strong opinions on the Eurovision Song Contest, most are very positive but some are quite negative as well. How do you feel about this?

SK; Well, I’m not big on talking shit about others, I think it’s very sad to read some of the ugly comments people write about my beautiful friends. I’d rather choose to focus on what I like rather than tearing things down. Having said that, there’s nothing I love better than making fun of a bad entry in the privacy of my living room with my family and friends. But I would never post things on the internet or stuff like that.

Wiv; Do you have a favorite Eurovision entry?

SK; My all time favorite is «Skibet skal sejle I nat.» Denmark 1954.

Wiv; And your favorite Icelandic entry?

SK; Oh my… I couldn’t say.

Wiv; Well, since we’re a Norwegian site; what about a favorite Norwegian entry?

SK; I love the Norwegian entries through the years. The sad folky one with the very short lyric was amazing, and also Alexander Rybak and BOBBYSOCKS!!! 😀

Wiv; If you do not win the ticket to Malmö, what are your plans for the near future? And do you think you will try your luck in Söngvakeppni Sjónvarpsins again?

SK; I don’t know. I’m very busy with my life as a singer/songwriter and I’m touring constantly. I really don’t have any plans other than keep moving and singing and having fun. I might, if the Icelandic Television changes the rules to allow for live performances of music, but until then, I think this was fun, but I just have so much on my plate. I’d love to be part of it again though, sometime.

Wiv; What music do you listen to? And which artists inspire you?

SK; Wow… I listen to all kinds of stuff. A lot of old indie rock and punk. Old singer/songwriters like Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and Kris Kristofferson, also John Grant and Bonnie Prince Billy along with Bright eyes. Weird independent pop acts, electronica, Hip hop, Death cab for cutie and the Decemberists as well. Whatever connects with my heart. I’ve been connecting again with some old school soul and also with classical music. Always been a Beethoven fan. We share the same hairstyle.

Artists that inspire me are honest artists. Artists that are not afraid to show their hearts and do not hide behind a veil of irony and cynicism. Those are few and far between.

Wiv; In addition to singing you are also a composer and lyricist. Have you ever submitted any of your own songs to Söngvakeppni Sjónvarpsins? 

SK; I submitted a song in 2006, but it was disqualified because my band had played it once in concert. It’s called «Komdu» and I like it quite much.


Wiv; Apart from singing and writing music, what does your life look like?

SK; Music has taken over my life almost completely, but I love to go north to my old house and just work on planting trees and tending a garden there. Also I love to help out young artists in Iceland and other countries, to bring their music out. I curate a local branch of an international free music festival in Reykjavík, called Melodica, and I also love just being with my family, reading, singing, playing.

Wiv; With a job that´s also your main interest, do you have time for any other hobbies?

SK; Maybe my one big hobby that I’m happy with is connecting with the older generations. I’ve been working a lot on visiting old people and singing with them and being with them. It’s so healthy and it’s so important to break those barriers.

Wiv; It´s been lovely chatting with you. Is there anything you’d like to say to our readers; a kind of «final message»? 

SK; Just, if anyone wants me to come to Norway, please be in touch! My website is www.svavarknutur.com And my songs can be streamed on spotify and svavarknutur.bandcamp.com

Thanks a lot for taking the time to «talk» to us. I´m really looking forward to finally hearing you live in the final in Harpa. And the best of luck to you and Hreindis Ylva from all of us here at escNorge.

sk lopa

Would you like to meet more Icelandic participants? 

Photos; artist´s own, by permission, ruv

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