If you want a condensed example of how globalization affects the music industry, just look at Kúra. The pop/electronica duo is made up of two Icelanders, Fanney Ósk Þórisdóttir and Brynjar Bjarnfoss—but Brynjar has been living in Denmark for the past twenty years... and just moved to Spain for a creative retreat. As well, the way Kúra works together is somewhat transient: although Fanney and Brynjar try to meet as much as possible, they’ll often build ideas virtually while perched in their respective countries. That distance is pretty normal for Brynjar, though: he's also quite busy as a ghost producer—often making beats for people spread all over the world he’s never personally met and may not ever meet. People like Zebra Katz, even: the American rapper features on Kúra’s latest track, “Our Sun”— a collaboration that came about through some virtual beat-swapping thanks to Brynjar’s work as a ghost producer.
Giving Kúra’s divided nature, it’s quite fitting that their new EP, Our Sun, feels coolly distant and almost removed. We mean that as a compliment: the four tracks impress with precise and brooding production that serves as a rich backdrop for Fanney’s ethereal and haunting vocals. “My Love” elevates her vocals to a piercing pitch against the expansive depth and darkness of the production; “Colorful” feels like a controlled assortment of moody melancholy, with effervescent piano highs and muted-sounding drums. Even Zebra Katz’s earthy rapping on “Our Sun” somehow mutates into the otherworldly along with the vibe of the production. Since we’re streaming the EP today a few days before it officially drops through Sony Music, we thought we’d ask Kúra’s producer, Brynjar, what it’s like to make music with other people when you're rarely ever in the same room.
NOISEY: Hey, Brynjar. Why’d you end up moving to Spain?
Brynjar: I just wanted a place that was more inspiring because winter is so dark in Scandinavia. I wanted more energy from the sun.
Did the energy from the sun end up working on you?
Yeah, it’s way easier to be extremely creative there—when you make music in Copenhagen, there’s a lot of admin work to take care of, too. It’s way more tranquil in Spain; there are tons of hens and dogs everywhere. Being out in the country lets me get out and focus and get some down time and make music.
What’s it like to take yourself away from your creative partners and work in isolation?
A lot of the work I do is ghost producing anyway, so the people are based in different countries all over the world. I’m used to the distance, although it is always nice to get a face to the name. When it comes to Kúra, I try to go Iceland as much as possible and Fanney tries to come to Spain so we can sit together—‘cause that’s a completely different dynamic to ghost producing. Idea-wise, we can do it separately, but when it comes to finishing a track, we need to be together. We need to spend time and giggle around a bit together; that’s also really good for the creative process.
Does the work you do as a ghost producer impact how you work with Kúra, too?
I guess it helps in the sense that the more hours you put into something, the better it becomes, but Kúra is different from making music for others. Making music for others is not my inspiration, whereas Kúra is something within me—it’s something I really want to do. With ghost producing, you’re more like a production company.
You seem to have a very global approach to making music, yet people peg Kúra as something that fits into ‘the Scandinavian sound.’ Do you find that frustrating?
It’s kind of funny because it’s true that people always say that— “Oh, it’s got that Nordic, melancholic sound”. In a way, that makes sense because growing up in Iceland, I always listened to Icelandic music. Even with my solo stuff, people tell me it sounds like it was made in a really dark, cold country somewhere faraway. Fanney wants to do more happy stuff, but I just really like making darker stuff. I have some darkness in me, although that’s a really typical thing people say.
Do you find that label limiting, though—like it puts you into some sort of box?
If you start thinking about your music as a product and start thinking about what other people say, that’ll influence you in a bad way, I think. We just make the music we like making. If Sony wants to release it, cool. If someone says it’s shit, fair enough. If people want to label it, it’s their perspective
This is your first EP released through a big-name label like Sony. Do you feel they have a more market-oriented approach to your music than other smaller labels have in the past?
Well, it’s an exciting time for them, too: Kúra doesn’t fit into their machine but they’re working in a different way with this release than they have before. So for me, it’s hard to explain: we aren’t a part of the machine, but we have the machine behind us. I never think that we’re going to fit into the mainstream music that’s out there. For example, we made one track which will be released late this year that I think is really pop—but the radio people who usually do the plug-in meetings with Danish radio listened to it and were like, “wow, it’s really dark!” So I don’t think we’ll ever turn into MØ or something.
So are you doing music full-time, then?
Yeah, I am. And Fanney is rapping a lot in Icelandic which I think is amazing—her lyrics get a new dimension there because it’s her native tongue.
Did you see yourself doing music-full time when you first got into it?
Not at all. I used to play football on a semi-pro level and then I got injured when I was 19. I had always loved music – had always played around with it – so when something happened, I found myself sitting making music for 16 hours a day. I’d even forget to eat. I just thought it was amazing. So when I couldn’t play football anymore, music became my goal and what I want to do. I’ve spent way more time on music than the 10 000 hours everyone talks about.
Do you find you put the same level on pressure on yourself now when you create music, or are you able to let go more than you could when you started out?
That’s a really good question because when we made the first Kúra track, “Gógó”, a lot of people knew it so that laid the pressure on at the time. I found myself trying to make another track like that, but it just didn’t really work—and I think that had to do with the expectations I put on myself. “Gógó” was a track I made in two hours.
So now, I have the same expectations for what’s going on in the music industry. If there’s a day when I don’t feel like making any music, I don’t. If a week goes by, I don’t. Cause then it’s like I have extra energy. It’s like if you stay away from a lover for two weeks: you want to make better love.
Has that attitude changed the kind of music you’re making?
Well, back when we released “Gógó”, we had to make an album afterwards. We made that album in six months. I just really wanted things to happen and looking back at it, it was overly produced. Some of the tracks had magic from the first time, but then you overthink stuff. I find the magic comes when you spend two hours on a track, record the vocals right away, and use whatever comes out. When you’re making tracks, some of them are absolutely amazing, but maybe it’s like an article: if you read it through a million times, in the end, the magic is gone.
You mentioned you’re already working on another EP that'll come out later this year. If you’re already working on a new EP, do you feel like this one is an accurate representation of Kúra—or does it capture Kúra of the past?
Yeah, we have definitely changed. I made “Our Sun” in 2013 and the other tracks around the same time. So, for me, they’re a part of the old Kúra. “Our Sun” could almost be a part of the old album.
If it feels like a part of the old Kúra, does that make you less excited about it?
I still like it and I’m happy to release it, but this is how it is with music. You release something and it’s two years old because sometimes, things take time. So, you have to focus on making music for the sake of making music. We just like making music and hope that you can still listen to our tracks in ten years and think they’re cool.