The Icelandic artist Kaktus Einarsson is 29 years old but has already been a professional musician for almost 20 years. He started at the age of ten playing trumpet in the experimental electronica-band Ghostigital; a band where his father Einar Örn, from the Sugarcubes played a central role. Einar also plays the trumpet and is described as Iceland’s first punk; he is also a politician.
Kaktus moved on to play with the techno-band Captain Fufanu which later became the postpunk-band Fufanu. Fufanu released three albums and one EP. The band has also warmed up for big names like Radiohead and Damon Albarn.
Kaktus Einarsson used to be a band member but recently he released his first solo album Kick the Ladder. He has also become a father to a now nine-months-old daughter. Equipped with a baby call while his daughter was having a nap, he hooked up with disharmoni.no on Zoom from his apartment in Reykjavik to talk about the new album, him becoming a father, his supportive parents, and his musical influences.
How’s life in Iceland right now?
– Life in the old part of Reykjavik is good! We still have a bit of a cold northern wind but it’s quite mild, so I guess summer is coming.
You’ve just released your first solo-album, Kick the Ladder. How does it feel to release a solo album compared to release albums with a band?
– It is scarier as you have no one to hide behind. I am fully responsible for this record and have put a lot of myself into it. I wanted to make sure this was the best possible product I could come up with right now.
I am fully responsible for this record and have put a lot of myself into it.
On the album you have collaborated with the French pianist Thibault Gomez. What has he brought to the table?
– That is a big question. This album would not sound like it does without him. I had this idea of using extended – and unusual – playing techniques on classical instruments on the record. Thibault is an amazing character, but he was not used to do «pop» music. He was very enthusiastic about it, and we experimented a lot during the making of the songs. Some of the ideas didn’t work out, but most of the time it worked very well.
– I also have to give a lot of credit to my producer Kurt Uenala. Not only did we have a good professional relationship, but we also developed a great friendship. I can’t thank him enough for his contributions.
In my review of the album, I assumed that becoming a father must have done something with you as a writer and a lyricist. Has it?
– It really has. We just found out that we were expecting a baby when I went to New York to finish the album. I had this jet lag dream, a mix between a dream and a fantasy really, about this little girl running with a kite on a shore I was familiar with. She was so free, and I was watching the kite go between the clouds into some fantasy world out there. I was really connected to that dream, and I thought it was because I was becoming a father. I was thinking: “Why be so serious, why not let the inner child out”. After the dream I rewrote the lyrics to “Oceans Heart” in the studio.
I was thinking: “Why be so serious, why not let the inner child out”.
– I wrote the lyrics for the song “Chimes” when I was grieving the loss of a family member. When I read the lyrics before the final vocal take, I realised it was actually me being excited about becoming a father. Sometimes the lyrics make sense a good while after you’ve written them.
From what I’ve read, “Hypnotized” is about immigrants being deported from Iceland. Can you talk us through the lyrics?
– It’s basically about the beautiful clearness and honesty of children. The spark to write the song was when these immigrant children about to be deported. Their school mates, and a lot of other children, were marching in protest. Like Greta Thunberg they showed no fear, they just went on and did it. I was asking myself: “Why are the children so fearless? They see it so clearly, so black and white”. When we become adults, we start to complicate things and to be more worried about everything.
«We can do things halfway/And still have our holiday»
What does the green house in the video symbolise?
– I arrive in the black and white, dirty world all happy, all good. The kids are scared and worried, and I walk through this world feeling super good, playing the adult who doesn’t see the bad things. I step into a utopian world which the green house is.
The videos for the singles are very cinematic. How important are videos for you?
– When the label asked about videos for the album, I had already decided to not make several independent videos directed by different people. I wanted the videos to be art pieces for the music. The videos for the album are in one way independent, but they also make a whole.
The videos for the album are in one way independent, but they also make a whole.
The videos are made by the Snorri Bros?
– Yes. They are two Icelandic guys who were originally photographers. They went to New York and ended up making impressive music videos. They’ve made videos for artists like R.E.M and commercials for Nokia and Hummel. The split screen idea comes from the director Tómas Örn Tómasson. I had the idea of me with a guitar in every video. The next video is for “Oceans Heart” will be with an Icelandic painter.
Could a really good video push the music?
– You can give the audience a better chance to get into the music and understand the art form to the music. It’s important that the videos and music are talking together and resonate with each other. I think a music video can do a lot for artists.
What has the fact that your father being a musician influenced you in becoming an artist? Has he given you any useful tips and tricks?
– My father has been a part of my professional career from the start as my main advisor and colleague. I was a part of the band Ghostigital with my father from I was ten. We talk about my projects almost every day. My mum – she’s a dancer – deserves as much credit as my father in the part of making me a musician.
– I had a bit of an issue with it when we formed Fufanu. People were saying: «Ah, its Kaktus, the son of Einar from the Sugarcubes», and stuff like that. I remember one journalist asked me when Captain Fufanu changed into Fufanu: «Is it your father who has encouraged you to become a rock band? ». No, this was my thing, not something I did because of my father. That being said: Today I am so happy and so proud and loving to my parents, I owe them for everything they have done for me.
Would you say you are inspired by other Icelandic artists?
– The first name that springs to mind is the band Hairdoctor. I became a super fan of them, and their music became a big part of my life. I became friends with the singer Jón Atli Helgason. He played bass with Fufanu and plays bass on my album on the song «No Runaway». Today he is my best friend, he’s like a big brother.
What music are you listening to at the moment?
– I listen a lot to the French spectralist Sir Gérard Grisey. I am very fond of his work and the ideas that he brought into the music scene from around 84 as a classical temporary composer.
– I have to mention – rest in peace – Tony Allen. He was a big influence on me, and I was lucky enough to get to know Tony a bit through working with Damon Albarn. I was a fan before that. Tony Allen used to play with Fela Kuti, and I love afrobeat. Afrobeat is music I listen a lot to. I also listen to Moroccan gnawa music.
– I saw Damon Albarn playing a stream from Glastonbury. That sounded nice, so I am very much looking forward to his new album which he wrote from his house in Iceland.
– I also love the band Altin Gun from the Netherlands and a band called School of X.
What is happening with Fufanu?
– All the band members are in an incredibly good place. Me and Gulli, the guitarist, have been making music since we were like 16 years old. We had spent so much time together making music it was important that we stepped out to try and find out who we are. Gulli has always been producing and doing his side projects like the band russian.girls. It had been busy years for Fufanu with recordings and touring. I was extremely excited to try and find out who I am as an individual. And the music I was making didn’t quite suit Fufanu. I didn’t want to force it on them.
The music I was making didn’t quite suit Fufanu. I didn’t want to force it on them.
I saw Fufanu in by:Larm in Oslo in 2017. How was it to play there?
– We played Blå and Kulturkirken Jakob the next evening. We had some trouble at by:Larm actually. Two from the group were kicked out from Blå because they couldn’t buy any more drinks. On the second show Gulli had this cross that he had permission to bring on stage and the security didn’t believe him. They tried to take it from the stage several times and Gulli brought it back. Fun times!
Do you have any plans for playing live in the near future?
– I have a tour booked – it’s postponed to June 2022 – opening up for John Grant, who is living in Iceland. It’s Me on guitar and Thibault on piano. I am extremely excited about that live setup. Last summer the Covid-19 didn’t bother me at all. My girlfriend was pregnant, and we were just relaxing. Now I am really itching to play live again.