Iceland fascinates me. It has always been firmly rooted in the upper echelons of my wanderlust wonderings, as it seems to somehow embody and beautify some of the stark contrasts seen in human nature – from beautiful and bold to jagged and chilling. I also don’t think I have ever seen a photo of Iceland and not had my pupils dilate at the mere thought of physically soaking in its visual majesty.
The music of our latest Weekly Featured Artist occupies my listening habits with the same aural fervour that her home nation generates visually. 20-year-old Arny Margret has been warmly received for her understated, peaceful folk music, and since her debut release in February of this year via One Little Independent Records, the Icelandic native has cemented herself glowing support and a rapidly increasing listenership.
Sitting down to speak with the singer-songwriter several days before the EP’s release, it doesn’t take long to spot the similarities shared between creator and creation, as someone fortunate enough to have already had plenty of time with the record up to this point. I was struck by the sense of humble softness and awe for the position Margret finds herself in – despite being fully deserving of it. ‘I never thought I would work doing music,’ Margret says, as she casts her mind back to her early songwriting days, ‘and it’s kind of weird to me as well.’
Photo credit: Benni Valsson
Hailing from a peninsula known as the Westfjords, Margret engaged with music from a young age. She enthusiastically confesses to Gregory Alan Isakov being a notable influence on her as both a consumer and creative, as ‘the lyrics are so nice and the melodies are so nice. I think he was, like, the start of my inspiration for music and to make music…at least when I was a bit younger and I was starting out.’
Beset on all sides by fantastical scenery (honestly, look at this place) and nestled in community, Margret first played piano – eventually finding a craving to pick up the guitar in her early teens. Having joined a class at school, Margret explains it was, ‘nothing serious…just chords… I started playing a bit, but I was…not good at all. And then I got my guitar…and basically taught myself to play.’
While this perhaps didn’t instantly unleash her inner songwriter, Margret admits that it wasn’t long before her attention was drawn beyond simply learning to play the music of others:
‘When I got my guitar, I started playing those songs by Gregory Alan Isakov…The Paper Kites… Fingerpicking guitar, like, really raw stuff? I like that, so I taught myself that, played the songs, and then I tried to make a song… There was a drama in my class and I tried to make something out of that, but it didn’t work out and I just threw that away. Then I made two songs in, like, an hour… It was weird, like a ‘What? I can make a song now,’ and it kind of…I don’t know, it just worked out… It came out at the same time – lyric and melody.’
What became of those early compositions? Are they still a part of her roster? Did they evolve into something new? It transpires that they weren’t quite on the same par as the sweetened, soothing folk that Margret writes now, judging by her chuckled response: ‘I have them, but I never play them.’
Doors opened for Margret to perform her modest roster of tracks locally – a concept both exciting and intimidating. She played at a few small-scale festivals, coffee shops, and art shows, which she admits ‘wasn’t big, but was still progress… I didn’t really think it big back then.’ Although these were often attended by residents of nearby towns – adding to the 3,000-strong population of her hometown – it was her first ever show that Margret expands on in particular: ‘My first one was a goodbye concert for the teacher that taught me guitar, and I did one song and it was really terrifying… It was my first song that I made, and I had never sung in front of an audience before… I didn’t really eat, like, the whole day before.’
With her name gaining traction, it was actually a strand of connection to renowned Icelandic artist Högni – a link owed to the same small-town backdrop where Margret began her journey – that really propelled her musical ventures forward:
‘His stepsister lived in my town, and I showed her my song… She showed him some of my songs and then I got to meet him, and I went to the studio for, like, two years. If I went to the city, we would meet up and do something… It was only back in April [of last year] that I met my manager and producer. So, it was like a bunch of tiny steps and then suddenly…yeah… It was crazy.’
Photo credit: Benni Valsson
This brings us to 2022, and the release of Margret’s debut EP, intertwined. I enthusiastically sang its praises in depth around four weeks ago, but allow me to summarise: just listen to it, invest in it, because my words won’t fully do it justice and for such a brief record (clocking in under 15 minutes), a remarkable spectrum of emotional sincerity and lyrical imagery unfurls amidst the charming yet weighty simplicity of Margret’s mature songwriting.
The gentle fingerpicking of guitar entwines seamlessly throughout with her staggeringly beautiful voice, adorned with a beguiling natural trill. In addition, sporadic flourishes of keys, piano, and bass help to form a comforting chrysalis of sound that is equal parts meandering rhythm and wistful melody. From subtle tides of melancholy momentum on the titular track and the lambent energy of “akureyri”, to the unquestionable allure of slow-building closer “sometimes” (our shared favourite) and enchanting take on John Hartford’s “in tall buildings” – a mainstay feature of her set over the years – every track is staggeringly written and executed. Speaking of the finished product before its release, Margret admits, ‘The way that I listen to music, I really listen to the lyrics and get into the song, and I hope that people can really get themselves into it… It would be so nice if it had an impact, or some kind of meaning.’
These are the deep, harmonious musings of a still and gentle soul whose earnest, stripped-back approach to her craft is garnering rightful acclaim. Despite the impressive level of attention, there remains a tangible, down-to-earth nature from the songwriter, reflecting lyrics that stem from the relatable experiences of the everyday to form a cohesive display of honest humanity:
‘I make my songs on guitar and they’re really, just…raw…and there’s nothing in it… It’s really hard to say this is my sound, or I want to sound like this, because I never know where my song is going to go… It all happens the way it’s supposed to happen… Each song is not about the same thing as the other, but it still fits nicely together… They’re all in the same era.’
Margret describes recording the EP as being ‘really easy; we just recorded it and it happened really quickly and nicely.’ As you’ll hear, there is no deterioration in quality of sound and performance between studio and stage renditions of Margret’s music. The artist chiefly puts this down to a key component of her recording approach: ‘I always record the voice and the guitar at the same time, so it’s basically kind of the same… It flows together and I can’t do it in separate parts. I have to have my guitar with me as I do my singing.’
Does it carry any disadvantage? One in particular springs to her mind, regarding the way in which her melodious vocal harmonies on the EP transition to live performances, with Margret sharing, ‘I miss them sometimes when I’m by myself.’
Along with the EP’s release, a number of videos have been produced (including a lovely, strolling visual accompaniment to “akureyri”, which Margret states took ‘a lot of takes… I have never been so cold in my life’). More recently, another song has also surfaced, which possesses the same sonic allure and warmth that’s found on intertwined. These are delightful things in and of themselves, but when asked about a grander picture of the future, Margret exhales slowly with a smile:
‘We have a bunch more songs…like, a ten-song thing…and we have those ready to go… I really want them to get out…[regarding a year from now] Hopefully an album that is out… I hope to see people, travel, and that music is going well. I just hope it goes well and I’m still making music by then.’
Photo credit: Risa Matsubayashi
Margret’s open mind to future possibilities is refreshing; here is a talented artist with time on her side, who appears unfazed by increasing popularity and instead remains in quiet anticipation of the doors it may open:
‘It’s kind of hard…because I’m from a small town and I like being alone and out in the countryside, so right now I’m feeling it a lot because I’ve been in the city for a bit too long… I need to go back, to feel a bit more peaceful… I’m basically the same person I was before all this happened…I’m just going with the flow, I guess.’
What a flow to go with: certainly, in the time spent putting this article together, I have seen images of Margret adorning featured playlists and curated ‘must-listen’ rosters across various platforms with increasing regularity.
One thing is for sure: alongside the aforementioned album’s worth of songs – and with a future terrain that’s surely as vast and varied as the picturesque peninsula where her story began – Arny Margret can head into the uncharted territory before her composed and full of confidence. We caught up again before publishing this article, at which point she divulged that, ‘It’s been really cool to get messages and comments about the EP; it just makes everything better when you know that people like what you’re doing. It feels really good and heart-warming. I’ve had a few people that have told me it helped them through something, so it’s just been really, really nice.’
As is customary for my WFA articles, a tangential closing question remains: who would form Margret’s ideal three-act gig lineup? The answer comes after a lengthy silence, and with a clear breach of the imaginary rules: ‘Maybe Andy Shauf, Adrianne Lenker (of Big Thief), Bon Iver, and then Aldous Harding…’ Needless to say, any breaking of rules was forgiven.
I feel compelled to highlight that the Arny Margret sat before me seems a far cry from the teenager who reportedly lacked both confidence and appetite. As we close out our time talking, Margret goes on to say that her proudest aspect in all of this is ‘basically just the opportunity to do this and that people like my music; it’s really nice… Not a lot of people get this far this quickly.’
She’s not wrong, but when it comes down to it, it’s not surprising how well things are going for her: Arny Margret offers a heartfelt form of songwriting that is endearingly easy to lose yourself in and wonderfully versatile – borderline chameleonic, even. With the intertwined EP, her snapshot soundscape proves far too enjoyable for a one-off visit. Rather, Margret’s music leaves an indelible mark – the kind that will have you roaming its welcoming wilderness over and over.
Photo credit: Guðmundur Kristinn Jónsson
Arny Margret – guitar/vocals/piano/harmonium
Sigurður Guðmundsson – bass
Article header photo courtesy of Hákon Hjartarson.