Name: Heidrunna Bjornsdottir
Occupation: Singer, songwriter
Current release: Heidrunna's debut album, Melodramatic, is out now.
If you enjoyed this interview with Heidrunna and would like to find out more, visit her on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
It all starts with a feeling … something that has moved me. That’s mostly how all my songs start. It comes from a situation I’ve been in, something that I’ve read or seen.
It can also stem from a scene in a movie or from a conversation with a friend. Sometimes I feel super emotional and need to get something off my chest so I either sit down with the piano or pick up a guitar and start to play around with some chords.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
For me it’s all quite natural and I like it like that. I never try to force a song but I do know now I have to make time for it and not just wait for that lightning to come over me.
When I was younger it was great, all I did was music music music! I woke up and had cup to tea, went to band rehearsal then to the pub to talk about how great that new song sounded or how it wasn’t working out. The next day the same thing all over again. It was great! Now it's more a case of doing it when I can.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
I think what happens is I start to hum something to myself and if I keep on doing that and I like it I think that’s my que to carry on. I do like it when my house is quiet and nobody is around too, just so I can get into the right mind set. If I’m still playing and working on that idea after 3 hours I’m normally onto something good and I don’t really wanna stop.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
The beginning of a song comes more when I’m just walking or dancing around, then later I’ll work on the structure. I’ll get the first verse and then the chorus and then the middle eight and bridge.
I do like coming back to a song the next 2 days after I’ve started just to make any necessary adjustments!
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
For me, the melody is the first thing and if I’m lucky the lyric follow quite quickly after that. But lyrics take more time to finish for me than the melody and the chords.
With my track ‘Daydreamer’, I was walking home on a crisp sunny day and I started to sing that melody with those lyrics and I just kept on going, almost effortlessly. I ran home because I liked it so much and wanted to see how it would sound on the piano.
At the time I had no idea what the subject matter was going be, I just thought this could be a nice, feel-good romantic song still with a little bit of a sad ending.
Most of my songs are like little stories. ‘Daydreamer’ turned out be about two people in a hotel room having some fun. (laughs) Not all of my songs are about me personally, but I have probably experienced most of the things I sing about and I guess most people I know, know those feelings and have done those things I sing about. They are all about life’s daily scenarios.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
I think for me the lyrics are good if you connect with people and they don’t make you cringe! (laughs) I think lyrics are the hardest part and my lyrics are about ordinary things; I’ve always written that way.
I like it when lyrics come across like you’re talking to somebody. I am always trying to be better and I try not to write about feelings, love, relationships and failures but I can’t help it – it always ends up that way!
There are some incredible songwriters out there that I love, such as Tom Waits and Prince.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
I just go with the flow. I’m not very strict in any way, apart from when the song is finished and I’m in the studio to record it!
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
My creative state can be different, spiritual I’m not so sure … Maybe the spirit from the night before …! (laughs)
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
I have to admit that some of my best songs have come about when I’ve been slightly hungover. Not that I’m an alcoholic or anything, I just think that when I’m quite fragile my stations are open without sounding too wanky.
Like with my song ‘You Can Go Your Own Way’, that was one of those situations. I had a brilliant time with friends the night before and when I woke up, probably still a bit drunk, I picked up the guitar and started to strum some chords while I was watching my son playing this video game with his character jumping off a ski slope. That’s how the song started with the lyrics: “I jump into the sea …”
The story ends up being about a guy that goes on a gap year with his girlfriend to this beautiful hot sunny country but his best friend ends up stealing his girlfriend away from him.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
Finishing a song is always a great feeling, especially when it turns out the way you had hoped for. I think I just know when the song is ready and I’m ready to record it, which is probably the most fun element for me.
Especially when you work with a great producer like Liam Howe! He has some seriously cool sounds and going to his studio was so much fun. Obviously we might have had one or two songs that took us longer sound wise. But most of them were just pure pleasure and enjoyable experiences.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
Production is so important! I mean I could never have done this without Liam. I know what I want and what I hear in my head and he totally understood where I’m coming from, then he tops it all off by bringing something else to the party that I could never have dreamed of.
I get very anal about everything in the studio, every little sound, white noise, hiss, my breathing. The same with mixing and mastering, I’m totally there till the end.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
That’s true, maybe not just emptiness but also fear! Though I’m happy with the album and now it’s going to be the question of whether other people are going to like it as much as me or have I been delusional!
Also are people going to hear it? That’s always the tricky part in this digital age. I’ve been doing this for a while now and I guess I will just keep on going until everyone loves me! (laughs)
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
To return to a state of creativity I’ve already started on new two songs … but I’ve decided to let them wait a bit. I’ve got so much on around this album and I’m going to enjoy it. I also have 3 kids, a dog and a tortoise and they all need my attention!
I have to say this writing process has been interesting because I’m trying to shoehorn some time in, you know, a few hours here and there.
For example with ‘Daydreamer’ I enjoyed it so much when I was writing it and before I knew it my time was up and I had do the school run. Then, desperate to carry on, I gave my kids pizza and iPads and told them not to talk to me for a little bit just so I could finish what I was doing. That does make me feel guilty cause really I should just stop and concentrate on them.
But saying that I do let them get involved. They can sing and play, rap into the mic, do double piano playing with me. I also ask them their opinion on the songs and the lyrics, cause they are brutally honest! So it’s all good.
I also think you are born with it. I can’t help myself it’s just there somehow and all I want to do is sing and play. Obviously there are people that are so clever and can learn everything but I think it must be inbuilt mostly. For me, music makes me happy. I can be super sad and crying my eyes out while I’m writing some of my saddest songs. But afterwards I feel good, it’s a release.
I think I can safely say, music keeps me sane. It’s my fix!