múm: Still “Dreamy,” in EVERY Sense of the Word

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I’ve recently chatted with many musical artists who enjoy having a project with a revolving cast of musicians, many of which have commented, “It’s like a Hip-Hop collective… but, you know, not doing Hip-Hop.”  However, this newfound association with “collectives” being property of the Hip-Hop scene is not quite accurate.  Recent history has seen a handful of brilliant ”collectives” not centered on MCs and beat makers (Not that I don’t love a good MC or beat maker.)  Icelandic collective múm have been experimenting with pop music in a progressively haphazard and avant-garde way for nearly two decades (They formed in 1997.)  On September 17th they’re releasing Smilewound, their biggest release in almost half a decade.  At the heart of múm has always been founding members Örvar Þóreyjarson Smárasoneing and Gunnar Örn Tynes, but Smilewound sees the return of original member Gyða Valtýsdóttir for the first time in quite a few years.  The resulting album, which was produced by the band themselves, is a stripped-down exercise in electronic minimalism, but one that is also quite accessibly enjoyable, While their experimentations might be sonically high-minded, the finished product is something that can be easily appreciated by any postmodern daydreamer… In fact, the US edition of the album includes “Whistle,” múm’s 2012 collaboration with Kylie Minogue… a track which realizes a contemporary pop star’s potential for artistic brilliance.  I recently caught up with múm co-founder, Örvar Þóreyjarson Smárasoneing, to talk about their latest release, their current thoughts on both touring and recording, and his recent cinematic influences that are making me love this avant pop collective more than ever before (One of them is actually screening in my apt. as this is being written.)

Izzy Cihak: You’ve been around for quite some time now, but generally remain a bit ambiguous and mysterious.  What do you consider to be the essential elements and characteristics of múm?

Örvar Þóreyjarson Smárasoneing: I don’t know. I guess ambiguity could be considered a consistent characteristic, but it just means that our music is unstable or it’s like it’s in a liquid state. If we are looking for structural or stylistic features in our music overall, I think, for instance, I could point to the way we contrast disjointed rhythms with long temperate movements. But even that would be hard to point a finger at.

Izzy: This is a Philadelphia-based publication and you have played here a few times.  Do you have any particular thoughts on the city or favorite memories of the city?

Örvar: I remember about ten years ago we played a church that seemed quite run-down. It was in the middle of summer and it was extremely hot, humid, and sweaty inside. And I think our support band was Interpol, which might seem an odd blend, but the atmosphere was perfect. Many years later we played another church called the First Unitarian Church, or something like that. That’s a great venue. And I remember going to a very strange museum nextdoor where they had all kinds of strange things, like a baby in a formaldehyde bottle and Siamese twins. But thinking about it, I may have dreamt that.

Izzy: Don’t worry, you didn’t dream that. That would be the Mütter Museum, which is literally nextdoor to the First Unitarian Church and specializes in the kind of medical oddities that you’re remembering. But, moving on, Smilewound is the first album of original material you’ve released in a few years.  How does it compare to previous releases?  Do you feel like the sound is a notable evolution?  Was the writing and recording process any different?

Örvar:  In most respects, the process was similar to the other albums, in the way that it was both chaotic and laid back at the same time, and all over the place. But it will be a while until we can evaluate this album in any real way. And usually we just make the albums and move on and don’t put much thought into it. I can tell you that this album is simpler and more electronic than most of its predecessors, but that’s about it.

Izzy: Is there a track on the album that is most dear to you, or which you are especially proud of and want people to hear most?  “When Girls Collide” is one of my favorite songs of 2013.

Örvar:   My favorite track is probably the final song of the album, “A time to Scream and Shout.” There is something about it, it’s like floating. And it has all the four girls singing alternate verses. It almost became the title-song, until we changed the title.

Izzy: What would you consider to be the album’s biggest influences, whether musical or otherwise?

Örvar: I watched a lot of films in the last few years and I think that seeped in. I can name a couple of films that had a direct influence on the lyrics and atmosphere: Melancholia, Alphaville, M., and El angel exterminator, for example. But we let everything in. We are not afraid of influences, even though we don’t dissect them too much.

Izzy: You have a handful of upcoming live dates.  What can be expected of the live experience in 2013?

Örvar: We have about 30-40 shows coming up for the rest of the year, so it will be a little more than a handful to us, especially since we don’t have the energy to tour as much as we used to do, when we would go for 6-9 months without thinking about it. As for what can be expected… I don’t know what to say. We don’t make plans for what we do live, so let’s see. We are open to surprises. It’s too bad we don’t really play in the States anymore. It’s getting more and more difficult for bands like us to do that.

Izzy: What does the future hold for múm?  Can fans expect anything in the near future, beyond your upcoming dates?

Örvar: More music. There is always more music.

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.