It’s a disconcerting fact that around 40% of London music venues have been shuttered over the last decade. As gentrification continues to create demand for new (usually luxury) housing, residents cluster in ever closer to some of the city’s most iconic venues, often bringing noise complaints and increased rental prices along with them. One venue looking to fight this cultural drain may come as a surprise – luxury department store Selfridges has this summer repurposed its downstairs UltraLounge for Music Matters, a series of intimate performances. 20% of ticket profits will be donated to the Music Venue Trust.
A recent headliner was the hypnotic Eivør, who enraptured the crowd with a set lifted largely from her English-language debut, Slør. Despite being new to the UK music scene, the star has carved out a lengthy, impressive career for herself in the Faroe Islands, where she was born and still returns frequently.
Over the last decade, Eivør has crafted a sound entirely her own; set against a sonic backdrop of folk-infused electronica, her voice dips and soars between euphoric whistle notes and experimental throat singing. She jokingly asked the crowd to join in – we weren’t quite as good as she was! Backstage before the gig, Eivør was in high spirits; we sat down for a quick chat about everything from songwriting and gay rights to a regular yet slightly unusual stint as a singer in a Faroese mountain cave.
Jake Hall: Slør is your first UK release and your recent tour was your first UK tour – what has the reception been like?
Eivør: It’s been great! This year has been quite an adventure so far, I loved the tour. I played London, Manchester, Bristol and Glasgow, then I’m coming back in November. It was such a good experience.
The tour was sold out, too!
Yes! I was amazed, my musician friends had told me that England is the hardest market to enter. I’ve been really lucky.
You’ve been releasing albums extensively for over a decade; what makes Slør different to its predecessors?
I guess it felt special and interesting to me; it’s my tenth album actually, I released my first back when I was 16. Back then I was very much into folk music, as my roots are in Faroese folk. That’s what inspired me. Then, I started my musical journey and flirted with all kinds of genres, but a few years ago I felt I had reached some new standing point – like I was back where I started, but with new input. So with Slør, the reason I decided to translate and release it was because I felt it represented a new place for me, one rooted in the world of electronica but still with elements of the folk. It was a mixture of all the things I had done which resulted in a new creative vision; it feels old and familiar, but brand new at the same time.
The album’s themes are quite varied; were there any songs whose meanings were difficult to translate?
Some quite translated quite naturally, but I had to really struggle and try a few angles with some songs before I felt they worked. ‘Into The Mist’, for example, is very Faroese in its metaphors, and they’re always difficult to translate, so I spent a lot of time on that. It was difficult for me to let go – I become a bit mental when I work, I can’t stop until I feel it’s finished!
It’s funny, although ‘Into The Mist’ works on the album, I do notice that I do perform that song and a few others in both Faroese and English live; I mix it up a little bit. In fact, I often feel I don’t fully understand my songs until I perform them live and have the audience reflect them back to me. So with the translations, some didn’t work as well – that’s a really natural thing with songwriting, you just don’t know if they work until you perform them.
‘Trøllabundin’ is the one song on the album still in Faroese. Why is that?
Yes, I just couldn’t with that one; I didn’t even touch it. I just felt that it really couldn’t be translated. It’s also one of my older songs which I re-recorded for this album so I thought, ‘Okay, I’ve re-recorded that one plenty of times!’ It was best to leave it as it is.
Are there any overarching themes or stories on the album?
Generally, the album is about breaking free in many ways. At the time when I was writing the album, there was this huge gay rights movement in the Faroe Islands; they were fighting for marriage, and it had been such a long fight. In fact, today is Pride in the Faroes! Anyway, it really affected me when I was writing because I have so many friends who have struggled for their rights. ‘In My Shoes’ was really inspired by that whole thing; it actually was one of the first songs I wrote, so it led me to write a few others, but that was really about daring to break free. So, from that, many other songs came from that idea of allowing yourself to be who you truly are.
Generally speaking, not much is known in the UK about the Faroe Islands, and many interview questions focus heavily on the Faroese aspect of your identity. How do you feel about that – do you feel close to the Faroe Islands?
I feel very close; I’m very attached to it somehow. I think it’s that mixture of family, nature and all these other things. The place you come from becomes part of who you are, so those values have always been a huge inspiration to me. Especially nature – that’s something I carry with me everywhere, and it’s something that plays into my music. It’s part of my inner soundscape in a way, it shapes the way I visualise music.
What kind of music were you exposed to while you were growing up?
At first, it was Faroese folk music; people would tell stories and sing everywhere. People loved to sing! That’s where it started but then, when I became a teenager, I would listen to more electronic music: Portishead, Massive Attack, Radiohead. All those English bands!
Ultralounge Music Matters at Selfridges by Lewis Ronald
We’re here for Music Matters because so many venues are under threat. What’s the most unconventional venue you’ve ever played in?
Two places come to mind. One is a mountain cave in the Faroes where I would play every week when I was around 14 years old. People would sail in there and hear me sing, I loved it – it was this huge cave, and it was so dark in there. You couldn’t even see anyone, they were all just there in their boats! Then, there was this Lithuanian train station where I played a year ago. All the workers just stopped working and waited until we had finished playing – that was really something!
You’re incredibly accomplished, yet you’re fairly new to the UK. Do you ever feel as though you’re treated as a new artist and, if so, is that difficult for you?
I know what you mean, and it can be tricky when you have such a long history behind you. Yes. Sometimes I feel like it needs a lot of explaining! I try to make it simple, you know? In my own head too, because it’s not that complicated; I’m just a musician, I’ve made all these albums and I’m still learning and changing over time. I hope I will continue to do that – I’ll just make it more complicated!
Do you want to continue that change here and release more albums in English?
I’m actually in the creative process right now. I’ve just started to work on some songs again, some in English, others in Faroese. I just need to let time show me where they want to go.
What is that creative process like for you?
I work best when I’m really stressed and busy. If I have too much time or if it’s too quiet for too long, I can’t write anything. Typically I like to have many things going on at the same time; I don’t know why that is. I do definitely have to empty my head sometimes, though.
How do you do that – how do you relax?
Eivør: I like to paint. At one point in my life, I thought about becoming a painter and putting all of my energy into that. I was 17 years old, and I had lost my voice because I had been singing too much. It was a nightmare. I was afraid I wouldn’t get it working again, so I went to Iceland to study classical singing. It took me a whole year to get it right again, but in that year I decided I might want to become a painter. Then my voice came back, and I was just like, ‘Nah!’ Otherwise, I just like to cook, do normal stuff and hang out with friends. Oh, and watch TV!