Making an Album
At first, you are alone. Your only companion is yourself; your vision and your faith in what you do. This is the start of a journey that may turn out to be a glorious ride. Or it may end in a less-than-spectacular way.
I started writing Revolution three and a half years ago. I made a story outline and wrote songs into that skeleton. I either wrote some from scratch or modified some recent ones I had written to suit the story. I played them to my brother Gunnlaugur, who loved them. I was not alone anymore.
My idea from the start was to make the best music I possibly could and injecting that into the musical format. An album that could totally stand on its own, regardless of anything else.
Armed with some very rough demos, I cold-called this guy who had recently produced a very cool-sounding album by Jónas Sigurðsson. He had no idea who I was. But Stefán Örn was intrigued, and he gave me a chance. That was a pivotal point in the process. Now, there were three of us.
Stefán proceeded to assemble some very talented session musicians, and he arranged and produced this first batch of songs. This was three years ago. Countless twists and turns, obstacles and victories, awaited us.
Around this time I had the idea to first make a musical app. Sort of a semi-interactive comic book, where you could flip through the story, with song intervals and a narrator. I went to Northern Ireland, where a friend of Stefan recorded the vocals for the demos with talented local artists.
We employed a talented artist to produce the app, and for a few months he was hard at work, until we decided that this was not the right path. I wrote an entirely new script. Gunnlaugur and I met with an Icelandic producer who had produced “Silence! The Musical” off-Broadway, and then went to London, to talk to a West End producer who loved the project. I went through some dramaturgy sessions in London and a new draft of the script was born.
With the new structure and re-shuffling of the script, new songs were needed, so I quickly wrote 12 new ones. A few old ones were discarded, and the piece was improved.
Pretty soon we realized that the only right thing to do would be to take the project to New York. Our Icelandic producer had all the right connections and know-how to pull this off in NYC, so we went right ahead. We got a really talented creative team on board and that was that.
A month before the opening night of the theatre production, we are releasing the concept album Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter. I was fortunate enough to secure the services of many of my favorite Icelandic artists for the vocals. People like Sigríður Thorlacius from Hjaltalín, Arnar Guðjónsson from Leaves and Soffía Björg from Orfia. I also got in touch with my favorite new band, The Family Crest from San Francisco, and was lucky enough that mastermind behind the group, Liam McCormick, agreed to sing two songs on the album.
So, in a span of three years, I went from being alone in my basement in Reykjavík, armed only with a vision in my head, to having a production with almost a hundred people aboard it.
The most difficult thing about the whole process, with its ups and downs and twists and turns, has been to keep the vision. You have to be true to your creation and you have to believe in yourself. You have to have the self-confidence to stand firm behind what you do. There are plenty of nay-sayers out there who are more than willing to doubt you and tell you that this and that can not be done, because it hasn’t been done like that before. At the same time you have to be wise enough and humble enough to draw on the experience and expertise of others. This is a ridiculously difficult balance to strike. It’s not easy to march on unaffected, and you come across countless hurdles on your way.
As I’m writing this, three and a half years on, it seems like an eternity. A lot has been accomplished and a lot has yet to be done. That’s life. You have to be constantly moving on.
–This article was writter by Icelandic composer ÍVAR PÁLL JÓNSSON. Learn about his new album Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter.