Days before the release of the Fossora single “Ovule” (the music video for which finds her reunited with Nick Knight), GQ talked to Oddný Eir and Ásmundur Jónsson—via video call from Reykjavik—about Sonic Symbolism, growing up in Iceland and the magic of old friendship.
GQ: The series starts with Björk telling this story about being eight years old, walking to school in harsh weather and learning to sing against the elements. It’s such a great story, and I think says so much about her as a singer and an artist. I’m curious, growing up in Reykjavík, did you have a similar experience?
Ásmundur: I did always walk to school, yes. I think most kids did. But I was not singing. [Laughs] But yes, I remember the weather and the circumstances that she was describing in the interview.
Oddný: Yeah, me too. We allow our children to go alone very early. They go quite a long distance alone or in groups of just children. The changes of the weather are so sudden here in Reykjavík. So you can have like 10 different weathers every day. But yeah, I was not singing. I think what she’s describing, her going alone, is singing as a survival mechanism.
You met Björk in quite different ways, right? Oddný, I know you met while working on nature conservation projects, while, Ásmundur, you met her at a record store. Can you tell me about the first time you met her?
Ásmundur: We met during the time when I, with several other people, had created this record label called Gramm Records in the early ’80s. Björk was in several bands then, and we were starting to release [music that] was happening in Reykjavik at that time. Some kids that were actually in bands just came to hang out at the store and she started to work at the store. She was doing all kinds of different things that were needed to run the store—like washing floors—and I think she really enjoyed participating in this. So I’ve worked with her for 35 years or something like that.
Oddný: Actually, what Ásmundur cannot say himself is that he’s actually the pioneer. He made the Icelandic music scene—not singlehandedly, but because it’s a young, small community, you have to do a lot of it yourself. He really had the only shop that would sell something progressive. Somehow, Björk and others, they somehow grouped around him. As I saw it, they were together somehow, a group of people making—not only working on—the scene. The scene had not existed.
Ásmundur: We eventually started to work closer together. I was running this radio show for 10 years with a friend of mine from ’73 to ’83. For the last show, we asked some of the musicians that we had been working with to form a group and perform on this program. At that point, they decided to call it Kukl. From there, we were working very closely together for the next three years until the band split up and they formed the Sugarcubes.