Ösp Eldjárn grew up in the beautiful valley of Svarfaðardalur, Iceland with her musical family. Together they would play folk and traditional music and perform professionally together across the country. In 2010, along with her brother and close friends, they took to the stage as a band called ‘Brother Grass’. The folk/americana/blue grass group released two albums together and have gained a loyal following in Iceland and other countries and have had airplay on BBC3 Radio. After studying jazz singing, Ösp moved to the city of London in the autumn of 2011 to pursue a solo career and to broaden her musical direction. Inspired by the vocals of Ella Fitzgerald, the stories of Joni Mitchell and by her own folky roots, she began to write her own original material and is currently working on interesting collaborations with numerous up and coming artists.
HVUM: Ösp it’s great to have you with us. We know a little bit about you from our earlier conversation, but tells us about your background. How did you first become interested in music and pursuing a career in music? Were your parents the primary influence?
OE: Yes, my parents were a big influence. I grew up in a very musical household, my parents were in an a capella quartet for many years so I would grow up listening to them singing songs in beautiful harmonies. I guess that is why I’m so drawn to harmonies and find that it comes quite natural to me. Whenever my extended family comes together, we sing and play the guitar. My parents perform a lot together, where my dad plays the guitar and my mom sings. My mother is also a published solo artist and she is a great inspiration and has always been my number one fan.
HVUM: Did you receive formal training along the way and did you have any teachers or mentors that inspired you to become a professional musician?
OE: I started singing lessons at 18, where I studied classical singing. I did that for 3 years, but when I moved to Reykjavík I soon realized that my passion was not within the classical genre. I started studying jazz at FÍH and did that for another 3 years. I’ve been very lucky to have had many good and inspiring teachers. One in particular, Kristjana Stefánsdóttir, who is one of Iceland’s best jazz singers, has been a great support, even after I moved to London. She made me promise her that I would not start teaching, but that I would pursue my career as a singer, ‘cause that’s what I was meant to be, a performer. Then she added, laughing, that I could teach when I was old.
HVUM: So tell us about the journey from Iceland to London. What motivated you to go to London instead of (say) New York?
OE: Well I’ve always wanted to try to live and study in England. But somehow I always planned on studying in Scandinavia. I guess one of the main reasons for that was that it is very expensive to study in the UK and USA, especially if you are from Iceland. But somehow, after a very spontaneous decision caused by a late night, red wine infused phone conversation with my cousin, who lives in London, I ended up in an audition and got into a school in London! And now, three years later I’m still not done with this city. But New York is still very much in the picture.
HVUM: You have studied at the prestigious Institute for Contemporary Music Performance in London http://icmp.co.uk/. Tell us about your work at ICMP.
OE: I actually studied at another college first, London Centre of Contemporary Music. I was there for 2 years in a B.Mus course, but decided to move to ICMP for the last year and got into the 3rd year of a B.A course in Creative Musicianship. It was a very good decision for me and the direction I’m going with my music. I met some amazing and inspiring teachers there, and because of them, I ended up doing a final performance with my original music, that had until that day only been performed within the four walls of my bedroom.
I also made a short documentary about my home and my family. It was some sort of an attempt to explain me as a musician, because I think that where you are from must have a big impact on what you create later on. At least it does for me.
HVUM: We’ve listened to your music posted on SoundCloud https://soundcloud.com/osp-eldjarn. You have a very distinct, strong and melodious voice. You perform a range of genres from jazz, to folk to bluegrass, for example. In fact, you have been in a number of bands including “Brother Grass”.
Tell us about your preferences for different genres of music and your involvement with bands.
OE: I think it is important, especially as a songwriter to be open for different kind of sounds. I love listening to different kinds of genres as well as I like singing different styles of music. Like I said before, I’ve studied both classical and jazz singing, as well as having grown up in a folk music family. You can clearly hear all of those elements in my own music.
Brother Grass was formed in one of those attempts to broaden my musical horizons. I was studying in FÍH at that time, and so was Hildur, Sandra and Soffía, the other members of the band. We decided to arrange one concert together where the music from the movie Oh Brother Where Art Thou was the focus point. 4 years and 2 albums later, we are still going strong. Oh and I must not forget the Brother Grass! My brother, Örn, to be exact. He is the only boy in the band.
But what I’m most excited about these days is my solo project. After that inspiring year at ICMP I’ve started writing even more and have gotten myself a group of amazing people to perform with. Aron Óskarsson (who I also perform with in a London based jazz band called Good as Gold), Helga Ragnarsdóttir and Anil Kamalagharan are 3 fantastic musicians and great friends that I’ve been so lucky to have with me on this adventure.
Me and Anil are also working on a collaboration project we call Tutela. We are making some kind of cinematic, ethereal music that is very much done through improvisation. I’m extremely excited about that project. We plan on releasing an album in the new year.
HVUM: We certainly recommend that our followers check out your music on SoundCloud are there two or three songs that you’d like them to hear? Why do you choose those tracks? Special reasons?
OE: There are three songs that are very close to my heart.
Pillow talk is a song that I wrote when I was going through my first real heartache. I mean, we all have to write that one sentimental song about ones broken heart, right?
Ástarnetið is another song I’m very proud of. The poem is by my favorite Icelandic poet, Páll Ólafsson. Too bad you can’t understand the words, but I assure you, they are beautiful! Anil Kamalagharan did the arrangement for that song.
Conversation in a Cathedral is an improvised piece by me and Anil. It was the first time we met for out Tutela collaboration. Both of us improvised a melody over few piano chords, without hearing what the other had done. We then put the two melodies together and the fitted perfectly, like a conversation.
HVUM: You mentioned earlier that you have an interest in drama and film. Do you consider music to be your lead objective followed by other interests or do your interests converge in one way or another?
OE: I think it is very much intertwined. For me, performing music is to tell a story, or paint a picture with sounds. Folk music is all about telling a story and that is why I am drawn to making music that takes the listener on a journey and I it would be a dream come true to write music for films and theatre.
HVUM: With that in mind, we’d like to show our followers your video-documentary Heim.
Heim from Ösp Eldjárn on Vimeo.
HVUM: What are your career plans for the London scene, or better, what are your short-term goals in general?
OE: My short-term plans are to perform my music live and get more into the London scene. I have some exciting gigs coming up in November and I’m also planning on releasing a single, followed by an EP in the spring. Tutela project is also taking an exciting route, so stay tuned for that
Ösp, thank you very much for taking time to share your story and your work with us. We know that you’ll b releasing exciting new work in the near future, so let’s stay in contact. We look forward to meeting up again soon!
Visit Ösp Eldjárn on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/OspEldjarn