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 Árni Daníel Júlíusson (synths), Ingólfur Júlíusson (guitar player) and Guðjón Guðjónsson (drummer).

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

Árni: The band first played for three years (1980-1983). first with the lineup shown in the film documentary about the Icelandic punk scene, Rokk í Reykjavík (Steinþór, Gunnþór, Ellý, Linda, Kommi) and then with the lineup on the Q1 album. This second lineup was Ellý, Gunnþór and Árni Daníel, 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 Ellý, Árni Daníel and Ingólfur started the band Þetta 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 Ingólfur, Árni Daníel, Ellý, Gunnþór and Guðmundur Gunnarsson, the drummer from Tappi Tíkarrass (Björk´s band). The CD Q2 was released on that occasion with 34 songs. In 2010, the band got together again, now with Ingólfur, Árni Daníel, Ellý, Gunnþór and Guðjón. We have played four gigs so far.

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

Guðjón: I’m new, so I don’t know. I joined the band last year when Ingólfur 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.
Árni: 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?

Árni: When we started, it was nothing. And then we exploded and became world famous!
Ingólfur: 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.
Árni: One guy wants to release a vinyl record.

Are you guys working on a new album?

Árni: 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

Guðjón: 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?

Guðjón: 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?” Árni here tends to hand us the ideas. Something sparks his curiosity, and this is an entry point. Then shit happens.
Árni: 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.
Guðjón: 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?

Ingólfur: She’s the empress.
Árni: She’s the prima donna.
Guðjón: 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?

Árni: Great. Great.
Ingólfur: 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.
Guðjón: Banker is the new wanker.

How did you guys get big in Brazil?

Árni: 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.
Guðjón: The old vinyl album is selling for – what, 300 Euro?
Árni: We can make $500. Put it on ebay.
Ingólfur: That’s ridiculous.
Árni: Yeah, it’s ridiculous.

Are the lyrics of your songs political?

Ingólfur: 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.
Árni: It’s just punk.
Guðjón: New wavy things.
Árni: 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.
Guðjón: I like it. Yeah, sure. Some of the lyrics are pretty political, even controversial. Some are mocking.
Árni: 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.
Guðjón: A lit-tle too political.

For more information on  Q4U , please visit 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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