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We talk with legendary Icelandic punk band Q4U

Recently, while attending the Iceland Airwaves Music Festival in Reykjavik, Iceland, I sat down and had a very substantial chat with three of the guys from the legendary Icelandic punk band Q4U. These three guys are 脕rni Dan铆el J煤l铆usson (synths), Ing贸lfur J煤l铆usson (guitar player) and Gu冒j贸n Gu冒j贸nsson (drummer).

Can you summarize the band’s rich but complicated history in a few sentences?

脕rni: The band first played for three years (1980-1983). first with the lineup shown in the film documentary about the Icelandic punk scene, Rokk 铆 Reykjav铆k (Stein镁贸r, Gunn镁贸r, Ell媒, Linda, Kommi) and then with the lineup on the Q1 album. This second lineup was Ell媒, Gunn镁贸r and 脕rni Dan铆el, with various guitar players and a drum machine, and it was much more post-punk than the first lineup, with more synths and goth style. Then the band quit in 1983. In 1984 Ell媒, 脕rni Dan铆el and Ing贸lfur started the band 脼etta er bara kraftaverk, which lasted until 1985. They played some concerts and have one song on the CD Q2, which is a synth unit. In 1996-1997, the band got together again with Ing贸lfur, 脕rni Dan铆el, Ell媒, Gunn镁贸r and Gu冒mundur Gunnarsson, the drummer from Tappi T铆karrass (Bj枚rk麓s band). The CD Q2 was released on that occasion with 34 songs. In 2010, the band got together again, now with Ing贸lfur, 脕rni Dan铆el, Ell媒, Gunn镁贸r and Gu冒j贸n. We have played four gigs so far.

How have all these transitions affected you guys as a band?

Gu冒j贸n: I’m new, so I don’t know. I joined the band last year when Ing贸lfur knocked on the door of the place where I was performing metal and asked if he could borrow a carton of orange juice and a drummer. I haven’t left since…. didn’t have the orange juice, though.
脕rni: Last time we got together, we didn’t write any new music. But now we are writing new music… after twenty-six years!

Could you describe how the music scene has changed in Iceland over the years?

脕rni: When we started, it was nothing. And then we exploded and became world famous!
Ing贸lfur: It’s been really fun for us recently. We released in Brazil in July, and now we have some feelers out in New York… maybe a possible record deal.
脕rni: One guy wants to release a vinyl record.

Are you guys working on a new album?

脕rni: Yes. We have about seven to nine new songs. We haven’t really gotten down to it yet, but it seems promising.

Tell me about your band’s chemistry

Gu冒j贸n: There are 5 of us: the bassist, the synth player, the guitar player, the drummer, and the singer. She (the singer) is crazy. Gotta love her. There’s good chemistry in this band. I come from a metal background, so it was quite a change – a lot of energy going on. I wouldn’t have expected that, coming from (makes low gutteral scream). But I still sweat just as much, and it’s as fun. It’s a very creative group. Songs just sort of happen. We’re like, “Hey! I think we have a song!” (scratches table to mimic pen writing notes down).

Are your songs more commonly written and framed out or raw bursts of creativity?

Gu冒j贸n: It’s probably based on who’s playing and what you’ve learned to do. If you’ve been in improv bands, you probably just sit down and play. But someone in the same genre might sit down and say, “Hmmm, how should we do this?” 脕rni here tends to hand us the ideas. Something sparks his curiosity, and this is an entry point. Then shit happens.
脕rni: The band makes their background and the singer comes and lays over it her lyrics and melody. I think I’ve never written the melody line for the singer. She always does her own part. She’s an absolutely fun person.
Gu冒j贸n: She needs to be able to do her own thing pretty much.

How does having a female singer affect the band? How would that differ if you guys were an all-male punk rock group?

Ing贸lfur: She’s the empress.
脕rni: She’s the prima donna.
Gu冒j贸n: If it were a male singer, we’d probably… no. If she says something, you’d better listen.

What do you think about the Occupy protest?

脕rni: Great. Great.
Ing贸lfur: I think the same kind of people who are starting this now are the same kind of people who started the anti-Vietnam movement: intellectuals, middle class kids. One thing that’s very dangerous about it is that if people don’t have clear goals, it won’t amount to anything. When the protests were here, they had four or five goals, and every single one of them were met. Then it was nothing anymore because their demands had been met. So then nothing came out of it.
Gu冒j贸n: Banker is the new wanker.

How did you guys get big in Brazil?

脕rni: It started with Alex Twin (Wave Records), the guy who owns the record company in Brazil. He contacted us and said, “I’ve been looking for you for two years. Now I’ve found you.” He just wanted to add one of our songs to his compilation. Then he asked if he could do a “Best of Q4U” and he selected 28 songs. I don’t really know how it’s gone down there, but I suppose he’s supported. There was also interest in Germany a couple of years ago. They wanted to publish a compilation, too. I guess they just love the music.
Gu冒j贸n: The old vinyl album is selling for – what, 300 Euro?
脕rni: We can make $500. Put it on ebay.
Ing贸lfur: That’s ridiculous.
脕rni: Yeah, it’s ridiculous.

Are the lyrics of your songs political?

Ing贸lfur: You have to understand this band has gone through three phases: very primitive punk, Siouxsie and the Banshees style, then into goth. We play everything, though.
脕rni: It’s just punk.
Gu冒j贸n: New wavy things.
脕rni: I use the synth like I don’t know how to play the keyboard. I use it in a punk way. I’m not trying to copy in any way. I’m doing it in a different way… very raw.
Gu冒j贸n: I like it. Yeah, sure. Some of the lyrics are pretty political, even controversial. Some are mocking.
脕rni: We have a lyric about the PLO. At the time, we were renting a rehearsal place. The song was called “PLO.” We tried to upload it on Youtube, but it didn’t go through.
Gu冒j贸n: A lit-tle too political.

For more information on 聽Q4U , please visit聽http://www.reverbnation.com/q4u.

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About Christine Thelen

Christine is a music writer, photographer, and English teacher living in New York. She's been writing for Short and Sweet since 2008 but writing about music since 1999. She loves photographing and interviewing bands most of all. Notable interviews include Underworld (England), Supergrass (England), Gorky's Zygotic Mynci (Wales), Hefner (England), Zero 7 (England), Nylon Union (Slovakia), Clinic (England), Hundreds (Germany), Nive Nielsen (Greenland), Alcoholic Faith Mission (Denmark), Captain Fufanu (Iceland), and the Postelles (NYC). Watch her on the ShortandSweetNYC Youtube Channel.
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