Árný Margrét: “When I write songs, they have to really mean something”

by James Hendicott
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Rising Icelandic folk-pop star Árný Margrét is, quite simply, one of those unforgettable voices. Seemingly singing her soul, she brings the texture of her home in the Westfjords of Iceland, where she first intended to write simply for herself, and fuses it with her mellow guitar chords with poetic thoughts.

Hers is a style of simple-meets-poignant songwriting that’s gone international through how gracefully it bares the young vocalist’s older-feeling soul.

For shining examples, take the closing track on the singer’s debut album ‘They Only Talk About The Weather’, entitled ‘Abandoned’, on which her voice briefly cracks as she sings of forgiveness, or the gentle low-key lullaby of ‘The World Is Between Us’, on which her vocal reaches yet new highs. This is a strange road for Árný, but a beautiful and unexpected one.

“It’s strange,” she laughs when we talk of her breakthrough. “I think my songs get a new life when you play them for people. I still try to be myself, like when I used to write these songs in my room. Where I come from is a small town isolated from everything. The weather is very dramatic and contrasting, sunny one day and snowy the next, and the mountains are in your face. It has a real effect on everyday life.”

“I try to write wherever I am, but some songs come together really slowly over a long period. I also write on the plane or in the car. The new EP is less about the weather, as I haven’t been home much. It’s more about myself and the things around me. My songs are literal and honest, but they can be understood in different ways, so it’s about interpretation.”

“‘Abandoned’ is last, with no instruments, just a single-take recording with guitar and vocal, and I give it everything. It’s very sad and vulnerable, and it’s a lot. I find that creepy to do on stage, so I’ve only done ‘Abandoned’ once or twice live, as I find it scary. But I’m really trying to do it more often.” [a few hours after our chat, Árný plays ‘Abandoned’ as part of her set, much to our surprise and delight].

Árný’s breakthrough story comes in part through an Icelandic music icon known simply as ‘Kiddy’, who also produced the album. “He’s around everything, and he knows everyone in the industry,” she says. “When I heard from him, I wasn’t really playing live at all. He saw me in a recording, so I went to his studio and played ten songs, just sat in a chair. I left all my lyrics behind in his studio, so he texted me to tell me to come back.”

“I came back to collect my stuff and did ten more songs, and by then he was into the idea of doing something. The EP and album came after that. It was Gregory Alan Isakov that got me going, though. I was 14 when I found his songs ‘Amsterdam’ and ‘Second Chances’, and I went from that to teaching myself his songs, lots of covers. It took learning his music over time to think maybe I could do something.”

“I think when I write songs, they have to really mean something and say something. They can’t be useless information about my day or whatever, so that’s how I try to write. When it comes out from the other end, it’s not about what I meant with the song anymore. It’s about listening to a story, in some way, but also about what it means to the listener. A conversation.”

There’s a raw truth in Árný’s journey from isolation to the conversation she speaks of, but there’s also a simple beauty: this music works because it delivers a message from the heart with incredible vocal and poetic ability. The combination sends shivers.

Árný Margrét’s new single ‘I Went Outside’ is out now, with an EP due to follow in the coming months.

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