In the spring of 2018, Icelandic singer-songwriter Ásgeir put a vinyl recording in a specifically engineered waterproof bottle and dropped it into Arctic Ocean from a helicopter. The idea was to see how far the bottle could go, understand how far the ocean currents could take it. (And perhaps generate a little publicity as fans could track the bottle’s GPS coordinates online).
Two weeks later the album in a bottle showed up on an uninhabited island off of Iceland’s west coast. Unsatisfied, Ásgeir sent a ship to pick it up and throw it back into the ocean even farther away. But once again, it showed up on Iceland’s shores, this time on the island nation’s east coast.
“We had thought it would end up in Europe or somewhere in America but the winds sort of just took it straight back to us,” he says with a laugh.
It could be said that these same winds are what guided the young musician back to his roots in the Icelandic countryside to write his third international release — 2020’s Bury the Moon.
“I believe that wherever you are in the world, your environment affects your creativity in some way,” he says. “But it’s so hard to pinpoint what it actually is.”
Ásgeir’s music is approachable, yet intricate, written with a certain intentionality to the atmosphere it creates. Set to a mixture of synthesized undertones and acoustic guitar, his falsetto is almost mystical, enveloping the listener in its rich textures. The melodies easily conjure images of the misty cliffs and lush hillsides of Iceland — even if only ever seen in pictures. Undoubtedly his homeland — and the time he spent outside as a child — influences his sound.
Ásgeir’s debut 2012 album (released in English as In the Silence in 2014) became an instant Icelandic sensation as an estimated one-tenth of the country’s population owns a copy.
And while his second release, Afterglow, solidified him as an international artist with its more electronic leanings and elegiac melodies, it also brought the full weight of a world tour to bear. In the midst of it, Ásgeir says, self-doubt crept in and he lost sight of his first love — music.
“I just had this great longing to go back to the place where music isn’t about pressure and stress and all those feelings, just about enjoying it,” he says. “I decided I wanted to do something more simple and something that I’m maybe a bit more familiar with — just going back to my roots.”
So he took his acoustic guitar and headed to a summer cabin in the middle of the Icelandic countryside, hoping the escape into solitude would prove that music could be fun again.
He also simplified his process, attempting to write entire songs at once, untethered from the technology of the studio; songs that could stand on their own.
“I just tried to write whole songs with just an acoustic guitar and a melody so that when we started recording in the studio I knew that I didn’t have to put makeup on the songs,” he says. “They were just good as they were written. That made the whole thing less stressful.”
In that way, Bury the Moon is evolutionary.
On previous albums, Ásgeir wrote the music, then sent the track to his father, Icelandic poet Einar Georg Einarsson, who had “total artistic freedom to go in any direction he wanted to go,” with the lyrics, Ásgeir says.
But this album was different, as Ásgeir was much more intentional about how he wanted it to feel and what he wanted to say.
“I had ideas of what I wanted to talk about for some of the songs before he wrote the lyrics,” he says. “So I sat down with him and we listened to the demos together and I played him the songs, and I told him what I was feeling.”
Growing up, Ásgeir says he was close enough to his dad, but much closer to his mom. She’s the one that insisted he go to music school at a young age, and bought him his first guitar at age 7. From a small rural town, Ásgeir also spent as much time as he could outdoors, while his dad spent most of his time in his room, writing.
Despite their differences, Ásgeir was also inspired by his father, starting to write music to his dad’s unpublished poetry around 13 or so.
“I just took pages from here and there in the house, and wrote some songs to it,” he says. “I always liked [my dad’s] poetry, especially how it sounded with some music.”
Around the same age, Ásgeir began developing his own musical tastes, moving away from the classical stylings of music school and the grunge rock he listened to with his friends and toward folk and electronic music, the mixture of which eventually became his signature sound.
With Bury the Moon, Ásgeir achieves what he set out to do — create an album focused around the simplicity of the music without losing its depth.
“I feel much better now, I’m more sure of what I’m doing,” he says. “I’m happy with the album and I’m not doubting everything I do.”
ON THE BILL: Ásgeir. 7 p.m. Sunday, March 15. Bluebird Theater, 3317 E. Colfax Ave., Denver. Tickets are $24.
Editor’s note: This show has been cancelled due to coronavirus pandemic. See Ásgeir’s statement below:
It is with an extremely heavy heart that I will be postponing [my] show in Denver as well as the rest of my USA/Canada tour dates. My priority here is for everyone to always feel safe, and given the influx of rapidly changing information every day due to COVID-19, I felt it best to postpone the tour.
Refunds are available at the point of purchase and I am currently looking into trying to reschedule dates for those of you that would like to hold on to tickets. Stay tuned for when that may be. Stay safe and hope to see you all soon.