On the road celebrating the release of her new album, The Dream, Icelandic pianist Sunna Gunnlaugs stops in Richmond.
A sensitive touch, a unique persona, and melancholic — yet not tedious — moods. These, and more, are all things that Icelandic pianist Sunna Gunnlaugs has going for her. Rooted in but not reliant on jazz traditions alone, her music explores emotional depths that others fail to reach. It’s been a year since she’s been stateside, when she recorded her latest album. Out now, The Dream is cause for celebration, and for another U.S. tour.
The Dream is her sixth album, her first studio album since moving back to Iceland from New York, and her first time microfunding. Through donations from supporters, she received enough money to actually put out the record. “The good thing is the recording is done,” she told potential sponsors in her Kick Starter video, “and now I need the money to manufacture the CDs and to promote it. So this is your moment to shine.”
Shine they did, and Gunnlaugs surpassed her $2,500 goal, making her dream a reality. She has a new CD to show for it and closes up her tour in Richmond on Monday with her husband, drummer and Norfolk native Scott McLemore, and local bassist Randall Pharr and saxophonist J.C. Kuhl. Brian Jones and J.C. Kuhl open in duo form.
Between gigs in the first leg of her tour, Gunnlaugs managed to make time for some questions via email.
I was looking at your blog post (your first tour diary) and thought your driving playlist at the end was interesting. Dave Douglas, Keith Jarrett, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Bill Frisell, Thelonious Monk. I hear a bit of all of it in your music. But what artists have you been influenced by that you think people would be most surprised to hear?
SG: That’s hard to answer. I think that people are really influenced by everything they hear, bad or good. Some artists that I spent some time listening to and may not come through in my playing are Red Garland and Kenny Barron. I also was a big fan of Kool & the Gang and Earth, Wind & Fire before getting into jazz.
How does Icelandic folk music influence you: your music in general and the compositions on The Dream specifically?
SG: I think that singing folk songs since childhood had ingrained an appreciation for a narrative melody in me. It is not really intentional but it just seems to be that I write those kind of melodies naturally. Maybe that is also where I get the underlying melancholy from. I don’t think that I am a person of melancholy moods, [although] that seems to be the underlying tone in my music.
I’d love to hear about the funding method you used for your newest album. Why did you choose to do it that way?
SG: I had been hearing this term “microfunding” and got curious. I researched it a bit and thought this would be a great way to interact with fans and supporters plus the financial benefits of having basically pre-sold some CDs before the actual release date. I used kickstarter.com because I felt that it gave my project some credentials instead of just asking people to place a pledge on my website.
Would you call it a success?
SG: It was a success! Yeah! But also a lot of work. I sent it out to my mailing list, posted it on Facebook, tried to get into the newspapers in Iceland and tweeted like crazy. With the support of wonderful Twitter buddies the word got out and I reached my goal.
When was the last time you played in the states?
SG: I played in the States last summer. We had an appearance at the Nordic Jazz Days Festival in DC, one gig in New York and then we went into the studio and recorded this album, The Dream.
How did you all hook up with Brian Jones? I know Scott has ties to Virginia, which must be exciting for him to return.
SG: Scott knew Brian and hooked it up.
In the U.S., I think the first thing that comes to mind when Icelandic music is mentioned would probably be Björk. So I have to ask: What do you think about her music?
SG: I think Björk is amazing. She has also tried to do good in Iceland. When the economy collapsed she put together a group of thinkers to come up with ideas of how Iceland could support new creative businesses and then submitted it to the government.
You have over a week between your Richmond gig and the one before it in Boston. What will the band be doing during that break?
SG: The New York part of the tour finishes their duties after the gig on June 20th. Then Scott and I will hook up with our Richmond musicians for the date there.
Sunna Gunnlaugs Quartet and Jones + Kuhl play The Camel on Monday, June 28, 2010, at 9 pm. View event details
photo credit: sara arnard