ISBJÖRG: Somewhere Between Hope and Hopelessness

Interview with Danish band Isbjörg

“On ‘IridescentIsbjörg challenges the conventions and cement themselves as a band who strives to give something different to the world of progressive rock.” This is what the description of Denmark-based six-piece includes about the group’s full-length one-year old debut album. Formed in 2015, the band went on to release two EPs and a few singles with a distinctive approach which includes incorporating piano as a main instrument.

Prog Sphere talked with the band about the album, ideas that informed it, and more.

Describe the musical frameworks your latest album Iridescent explores.

Iridescent was our debut album and was quite a long time underway. When we made our second EP Glacier we considered making it a full length. We chose to only release an EP because we felt that we still had to explore our own sound a little more before creating our first album. We are so happy that we did that, because Iridescent turned out exactly as we wanted it. It’s an album with quite a lot going on but we still wanted it to feel as cohesive as possible. The album is heavy, epic, weird, emotional, playful and everything in between but we put a lot of effort into tying everything together and creating an album experience instead of just a collection of “random” songs and ideas.

Isbjörg - Iridescent

Tell me about the ideas that inform the album.

Lyrically speaking the themes we explore throughout the record, are all pretty dark. Ranging from personal experiences with life changing disease, to fictional stories of, let’s call it, “misunderstood” love. I (Niklas) find my inspiration mostly in the melancholic. Somewhere between hope and hopelessness. To me writing more “happy” lyrics always feel fake, almost forced in some way.

How do the diverse, complex rhythmic and global musical influences serve the storylines of the record?

Well that is a difficult question to answer with this particular record, given that all the music was written, before we started writing the lyrics, so it was not a matter of writing music to serve a storyline, but more about writing a story to fit the music as it already was. I (Niklas) approached the lyrics, like i would with any other song no matter the genre. I am always trying to find the story the song wants to tell, or the core emotions it evokes in me. The complex rhythms and changing meters we use in our music, can feel chaotic and dissonant, so in our crazier songs these feeling are carried over into the lyrics.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and lessons learned during the creative process?

One thing that is both a massive gift but also a bit of a challenge when we are writing music is that we are six people in the band with very different and very diverse musical backgrounds. Our combined musical taste covers pretty much all genres, so it can be a challenge to create music with room for everyone’s input, without it becoming unfocused and random. During the writing process for Iridescent we’ve come up with the idea of “Isbjörgification”. When someone in the band writes a part for a song, sometimes we have to “Isbjörgify” it to make it sound like us. This often means that it has to go through our drummer Frederik, who’s actually our main songwriter. He’s probably the one with the clearest idea of what Isbjörg’s sound is, so even though everyone in the band contributes to the writing process, any idea kinda have to pass through him.

Have you managed to make any new discoveries as the time passed during the creative process? Do you think that at some point of that process your writing approach changed drastically?

As we mentioned before we discovered that it’s a good idea for ud to have one person who has “the vision” for the sound. Everyone should contribute and have their voices heard, but if we want to avoid that our music becomes too disconnected, we need a filter and our “Isbjörgification”-process.

During the writing phase of Iridescent our original lead singer Michael left the band, so we had to deal with finding a new singer while writing new songs. This meant that most of the lyrics and vocal lines where written after we had all the instrumentals down. That wasn’t an approach we had planned but that was just something we had to deal with and try to make work. We think it ended up working quite nicely actually, but for the next album, we are gonna get the vocals in earlier in the process.

What types of change do you feel this music can initiate?

Change of time signatures!
No seriously, we feel that our music bridges the gap between prog and pop a bit, so we hope to appeal not only to prog-fans but also more casual listeners. We want people to get more involved with the music they are listening to and appreciate the musicianship, creativity and musical progress as well as the catchines of the songs. We hope that we can help spread the progressive genres to a wider audience.

Isbjörg (band)

Do you tend to follow any pre-defined patterns when composing a piece?

As we mentioned, we’ve so far mostly composed all the music before adding vocals to our songs, which weren’t planned but just ended up becoming our standard workflow. We are trying the kick that habit and try to not be too constricted by templates or anything like that but of course we have worked up some patterns unconsciously over the time. We tend to start out an idea on the piano or guitar, then quickly get it into the computer and then work from there. We write quite a lot in midi and make fairly thorough demos with a combination of recorded ideas and midi-instruments before we even start rehearsing a song.

What non-musical entities and ideas have an impact on your music?

We all consume a lot of different, non-music media. Books, movies, videogames and theater all influence the way we create our music. Any good piece of media can inspire you, even if it is in a completely different ballpark. Of course the real world will find its way into our music as well. whether it is big, global events or small, personal episodes, everything can be an inspiration. We are all friends outside of the band, so we do a lot of non-music related stuff together. We play games, watch movies, drink beer and most importantly we just try to have fun, that way everything seems to go smoother when it is time to focus on the music.

What advice or philosophy might you impart to other musicians, be it in forms of creativity, technical stuff, the business side of it, or anything else?

We can endorse the idea of choosing one person in the band to be the person i charge. Especially when playing in a band with very different people or musical ideas. Not like a boss/employee relationship, but more like a tiebreaker, the guy with a vision or the gut with the final say whenever there is an argument. That way the debates won’t become too heated and the product becomes more cohesive.

That’s our advice! And that’s all from us! Prog on!

Iridescent is out now; order it from Bandcamp. Follow Isbjörg on Facebook.

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