It was a warm day in Estonia. Way warmer than it is usually in Iceland. Most of us know, that Iceland is not the warmest country, but not all of us know, that this small country with a population just under half a million is home for very many wonderful musicians. In the beginning of August we had the opportunity to meet an Icelandic progressive rock band called Agent Fresco who was performing in Intsikurmu Music Festival.
Häppening sat down with Arnór Dan Arnarson, the lead singer of Agent Fresco, in order to talk about music, feelings, life and love.
Dear friends, please meet Arnór Dan Arnarson, the lead singer of Agent Fresco.
Tell our readers more about yourself. Who is Agent Fresco, what is your story and who are the people behind it?
Agent Fresco is essentially the alter ego of the four of us combined (Arnór Dan Arnarson; Hrafnkell Örn Guðjónsson; Vignir Rafn Hilmarsson; Þórarinn Guðnason). It’s a second self in a way. What we achieve through this companion slash alter ego is completely objective, but I would like to call it an intimate friend of mine that helps me push some emotional and musical boundaries.
You are the main member of Agent Fresco. What does it mean to you? Are you Agent Fresco or Agent Fresco is something/somebody else?
The music that I write is incredibly personal, so in many ways Agent Fresco is a reflection of who I am.
…and really you?
Well, a more extreme and poetic version, I guess!
What makes you write your stories?
Tóti (Þórarinn) my guitarist and pianist writes almost all of the instrumentals and records them as demos that I receive later on. I then work on a way to make my voice and words organically fit with what he’s already created.
I cannot really answer you on how he writes, but for me, most of the time I just listen to his instrumental landscape and that always instantly stir up some kind of a feeling or a memory. Then I just put that personal story into the music.
I always create some lyrical layers, just to hide the personal story behind that and to make the words touch deeper.
I enjoy the layers and find them to be useful in making the songs more open for objective interpretations. I am also like an open-book so I am always ready to talk about what these songs talk about anyways after shows or during interviews. But when I create them, I like to clothe them in metaphors and such. Just a tad, you know.
You add your personal story into music and you do it in English, has it always been like that?
Yes! I just have a big interest in English literature. Well, more the romantic period of poetry and especially in English. But I’ve been in different bands since I was fourteen-fifteen and music has just always been that close companion that’s guided me through ups and downs. It just feels fitting to treat my own music the same manner. I don’t think that I could do it in any different way.
Is it also the reason why the lyrics are in English not Icelandic?
Yeah, I was born in Iceland but I moved to Denmark when I was only five years old. I think that’s the reason why I write in English. Instead of connecting to Icelandic or Danish, I chose English.
I was always watching cartoons that were in English. Also I was reading and writing in English so I think that is why it is so natural for me. I just never identified with the Icelandic nor the Danish language, kinda felt alienated, I guess.
I would love to be able to control the Icelandic and Danish language like I control the English for my poetic purposes. Maybe that day will come soon. You live and learn. Who knows!
Have you tried writing in Icelandic?
Not really in Icelandic, no. Maybe a little bit in Danish. But who knows. Maybe one day. (laughs)
How music hits you?
I just went over the family recordings another day. Actually when Prince died I went through all of them. Because I knew that I had a tape somewhere of me and my sisters “performing” the songs by Prince. So it goes way back and that time we were only five or six years old.
So music has always been a big part of my life, it has been more like a companion and a friend, rather than a mean of entertainment. That explains again why I always go so far being personal with music.
How Agent Fresco came together? You said that you had a lot of bands before but somehow this has lasted almost nine years. Can you say that you brought the guys together?
Oh, no! I moved back to Iceland in 2008. My plan was only to stay there one or a two years. Tóti and Keli – they started the band for an Icelandic music competition, called Músiktilraunir. They started as an instrumental band, but two weeks after that, they contacted me because they knew me from music school. We rehearsed and it just clicked. That is how it started and it has been growing since.
I was always on my way back to Denmark but I was postponing it every year, and today it’s been 10 years since my move to Iceland. It’s crazy how time flies.
Every time when I listen some song what really touches me, I start thinking what is the real story behind the song. Can you open your world to us and speak a little about the most meaningful songs you have?
The most famous one is “Eyes of a Cloud Catcher”. It’s written about a moment when my sisters, my mom and myself were together, surrounding my father at his deathbed in our living room. He was dying due to cancer and we were saying goodbye to him. That song is basically about everything what went on that living room. The lyrics are as straight forward as I do them, even when it sounds poetic. We were preparing him for his final breaths and telling him that it was okay to rest.
Our entire first album is about the loss of my father and how the sorrow and anger kept cycling over and over again.
That’s why the songs are put in a chronological order by what time during the day those moments happened and the final song “Tempo” connects to the first song “Anemoi” smoothly. Repeated sadness. I’m making this sound way more melancholic than it is, but yes, there are emotional concepts going on all of the time.
There are also some happy ones! This song called “Howls” for instance, which is about the feeling of a spiritual rebirth through nostalgia. I’m getting older, my back is failing me and I can’t physically do the things that I could do during my teenage years. This song is about remembering those days. Naive and innocent days you know. It’s a dangerous thing to cling on to those kinds of memories, because that’s what they really just are. Memories.
Do you have your own way how you like to write songs?
The night time seems to be the best time for me somehow. I hope that I can start writing earlier because I didn’t really enjoy writing the last album. It was really difficult and there was a lot of writing during the night time and many sleepless nights, many!
I guess writing at night goes back to that curious feeling of being all alone in a city, when everyone else is asleep. There’s a calmness to it and it kinda feels like your soul is more eager to release itself and you become more adventures and vulnerable in a way.
Why was the last album so hard for you to write?
It was difficult because I decided to write this album based upon a violent episode that I had. I was attacked in Iceland by two guys and it fucked up my head really bad. It was just a random attack, without any reason. I still don’t know why.
So I was like – Ok, now i’m trying to write an album to get through all the anxiety and anger that came after that and well… But yeah, it was just a difficult album in many aspects. I’m really glad to see the result and I’m proud of what we all have accomplished. But I wasn’t in a really good place and I’ve been particularly good at embracing all of the lack of empathy and the insane amount of ignorance that’s going on in this world today. I just didn’t feel happy for a long time. I had a lot of anger and disappointment to deal with and I wanted Destrier to be the emotional release. It just wasn’t as easy as that.
What inspires you the most – happiness or sadness?
With Agent Fresco it has always been more sadness, but i’m hoping to approach a place, where happiness is going to be more our inspiration.
I use music more as a tool to help me get through difficult times. Most of the songs are inspired by sadness. And it is important to understand sadness and get through it.
But do you feel writing your sadness into lyrics is a healing process?
Yes, definitely. It has to be. Because you can’t ignore difficult emotions, otherwise they’ll find a way to eat you up from the inside.
Do you feel relief after you have finished a song, that this emotion is out there now?
I wish I could say “yes”, but I think it has always been 50/50. Finishing a song helps. But well, it has been 10 years this summer since I lost my father and it still hurts. I still cry. I still wake up sometimes overwhelmed by sorrow. It doesn’t matter how many songs I write about that. It never completely heals the scars, but it makes it easier to deal with them. I feel like I’m celebrating life by confronting these experiences and difficulties, and that’s what I want Agent Fresco to be. A celebration.
When you are on the stage and you’re singing, do you still think about the meanings behind the lyrics or do they fade away?
When we do the regular sets, the energy takes over and it’s far more about the performance itself, that luckily helps me to distance me from the stories behind these songs.
But when we do an acoustic or stripped down set, then I get really emotional because I have the time and space to go back to what I’m singing about. That’s when I feel very naked and exposed.
For me, Agent Fresco’s music and lyrics are really different. Words are softer than music. But somehow they fit together so well. Have you noticed it also or are you doing it on purpose?
I don’t know. I think we’re just lucky. That we are a combination of four really different kinds of personalities. We are opposites in many ways, but always seem to find the right balance.
Do you feel public, when you are on the stage?
Oh yes. Especially the front row. And if I hear them singing along the lyrics.. It is quite amazing. We get an insane amount of love from our audience and that’s an incredible feeling and source of energy.
What is love?
For me… Love is something that makes me… it is some kind of evolution, something what helps me grow. Something that helps me become a better version of myself. Love is a collaboration. Where both individuals grow and nurture each other. Taking care of each other. Mending the wounds and strengthening the roots and branches. Ah, it’s nice to talk about love. I needed that.
So, for the final question. What are your plans for the future? Will you be coming back to Estonia again?
We will be touring Europe with Katatonia and Vola for the later part of this year, sadly there are no dates in Estonia, but we will hopefully return next year! If we won’t be touring, we will be writing a new album, so either way, a lot of music will be happening in my life and that’s all that I can ask for.
Band: Arnór Dan Arnarson (vocals); Hrafnkell Örn Guðjónsson (drums/percussion); Vignir Rafn Hilmarsson (bass/upright bass); Þórarinn Guðnason (guitar/piano/programming)
Interview: Anni Viskus (Häppening)
Photos: Anni Viskus Photo
NB! Online-magazine Häppening shares photo material for free ONLY if every channel that uses the photos will add the team references visibly and refers to the online article.