With their latest album (‘Destrier’) Iceland’s Agent Fresco have delivered an astounding and cathartic collection of expansive alt rock. Songs like ‘See Hell’, ‘Howls’ and ‘Destrier’ prove to be stiff, layered and melodic that is delivered without fear or apprehension. Throughout vocalist Arnor Dan Arnarson releases his inner thoughts and emotions from the delicate ‘Dark Water’ to the stuttering ‘Wait For Me’.
It is no doubt ‘Destrier’ is a hidden gem of an album that instantly won us over when it arrived at Already Heard HQ this past summer, and when we got the chance to work the quartet as part of their forthcoming UK tour, we instantly agreed.
Having made a brief visit to these shores for the UK Tech Fest in the summer, Agent Fresco arrive in the UK this weekend for a short run of shows that precede a European tour. Ahead of the tour we spoke to Arnór Dan to discuss ‘Destrier’, the tour and more.
AH: We’ve heard the band has been described as a mix of alternative, art, metal, prog and math-rock. For our readers who aren’t too familiar with Agent Fresco, how do you like your sound to be defined?
Arnór: I guess that my answer would be that I absolutely don’t want our sound to be defined by genres. But it’s quite the headache, because I do understand why some people need to put us into genres to help them sell us and our music, especially media, labels and booking agencies, but there are far too many musical directions that we explore and to name them all would just be ridiculous and pointless. What is rock today? What is metal? Can pop and other genres seriously still be used and be universally understood? It’s just music man and it’s all objective. We’re just trying to experiment with our songwriting and instruments, trying to compose beauty and leave a heavy touch of humanity and emotions into the creation. Maybe that’s our description right there?
AH: You released your second album, ‘Destrier’, in August. How does it feel to have the album out?
The album is out, it’s weird, it’s strange, you feel empty, but at the same time you walk around with a subtle sense of having accomplished an important personal achievement. We recently performed at this University festival in Reykjavik and to hear people sing along with the new songs was touching. Songs that we’ve been writing and listening to for years now are finally out and it’s overwhelming to see and hear people connect to it.
AH: How has the bands sound developed on this album?
Arnór: Everything has felt quite natural and nothing was forced during the writing process. We just wanted to naturally move on and try out different approaches and soundscapes. A bit more synths were introduced for instance and lyrically I wanted to address some anger and anxiety issues that I was dealing with. We can’t really compare our two albums though. Come to think of it, it would be quite mental to expect the exact same thing from two albums with 5 years between them. Shame on us if we did, because that’s not why we’re writing music for Agent Fresco. When we start writing the same shit over and over again, the band will cease to exist. That or we’ve just become four soul-less assholes.
AH: From hearing ‘Destrier’, you definitely seem like a band who are willing to push themselves?
Arnór: Amen. It goes with everything in life really. The more you dig into your work, the better you feel afterwards. It just gives your work such a precious weight to it and after you’ve been doing this for sometime, it gets difficult to go back to any other formula. I demand myself to be intimate and to push emotional boundaries and I know that Tóti always has some mad rules and inspiring ideas behind his instrumental compositions. Never a complicated idea without a purpose and always minimal and almost childlike approaches to a lot of the stuff that we do. I kinda feel like we push each other professionally and personally by knowing how far we both go into our creative process. We’re opposites in many ways and Agent Fresco is the balance.
AH: Furthermore there is certainly a feeling that ‘Destrier’ is to be listened to as a whole record. Can you discuss the songwriting approach behind the record?
Arnór: We enjoy making albums as a connected piece of art. It just again gives you an opportunity to create something bigger and challenge yourselves in more ways. There’s always a thread between the songs and always a journey that we’ve set up, but never do we want our listener to be caught in this. I mean, we don’t expect the listener to hear and feel what we experience, by the contrary! This album is written with constant contrasts and to tell you the truth, I secretly hoped that the album could be experienced as a destructive, but also hopeful and uplifting album. It’s all up to the listener and we really want them to be able to connect personally in any way possible and to be able to listen to the songs individually, but also be able to dig deep and discover broader lyrical and musical themes by listening to the album as whole.
AH: Additionally how would you advise listeners, both old and new fans, to approach hearing ‘Destrier’?
Approach the album with an open heart and ears, as tacky as that sounds. Please don’t expect anything, just join us for the ride and give Destrier a spin. That’s all that we can ask for really.
AH: The second single from the album is ‘See Hell’. What can you tell us the track? I’m led to believe it’s about the nature of violence, the act of revenge and its consequences.
Arnór: So the lyrical and emotional catalyst for this album, was an violent incident that I had in downtown Reykjavik some years ago. I got attacked from behind by two guys without any reason and this happened in front of two of my sisters, who were here on visit. It left me with a broken eye socket, concussion and some other stuff, but this incident changed me completely as a human being. The song See Hell is the only song on this album where I address these guys and how and if I should revenge myself, just like you said, the act of revenge and its consequences. Just all the thoughts that I was going through. Waking up and going to sleep with intense anger and furious thoughts of revenge man. I didn’t want to give them more than one song though, cause as I said, the incident was only the catalyst and an eye opener for me in many ways. I never believed that hatred was the opposite of love, it’s the fear that completely messes with you and that’s what I’ve been trying to control and get rid off by creating ‘Destrier’.
AH: The video for ‘See Hell’ is an interesting watch. How did the concept come about and how was it working with Icelandic actor Arnar Dan?
Arnór: I wanted to create a video that reflected not only the message and mood of the song, but also tried to capture some insight on how it was writing this album. This whole process of writing it, turned out to be more than I could handle and by always staying close to raw emotions and feeding off angst and anger made me almost fall victim to my own personal Stockholm Syndrome and that was exactly what we wanted to capture in the music video. This desperate and destructive relationship with fear, that I had a hard time letting go off long after I had finished writing the album. The main character in the video and his relationship with dirt and filth is meant to mirror my experience metaphorically.
Arnar Dan is an actor I knew, but I didn’t just want him for obvious name reasons, although it makes perfect sense for Arnór Dan and Arnar Dan to work together! I wanted him because I knew that he was this intense actor that really breathes for his art and I hope that people can experience that by watching his performance. It was inspiring to brainstorm with him and see how he instantly tried to captivate and animate the feelings and movements that we were discussing. I think he also went on for like 14-18 hours straight that day of shooting, which was insane to witness. Such passion and level of focus and energy is rare to find and Arnar Dan has it!
AH: Moving on to touring, you’ve been playing various shows across Europe over summer including an appearance at the UK Tech Fest. How was that?
Arnór: UK Tech Fest was a love fest alright! We knew that Simon Garrod, director of the festival, had single handely introduced our music to so many people and kind of created a small and loving fan base for us long before even announcing us, so it was fantastic to be able to perform at his festival and be able to thank him in person on stage. It’s because of people like Simon that our music is being heard and we can’t thank him enough.
AH: What were your highlights from UK Tech Fest?
Arnór: We didn’t get to see shit, I’m afraid! We came in late, went through a couple of interviews, went straight onstage and when we we’re done packing up our gear and ready to check out some music, the programme was finished for the night. The day after we had an early acoustic performance and we literally had to go straight to the airport after that show. So yeah, no highlights of other bands, even though we really wanted to be blown away by new music and especially see our friends in Monuments perform, but being there and getting to meet a lot of nice people made the trip absolutely fantastic. Short, but so sweet!
AH: You’re set to return to the UK in November. For those who haven’t Agent Fresco live before, what can they expect?
Arnór: Four Icelandic dudes, one set of ginger afro included in that package, a lot of sweat, passion, gratitude, energy and love. This is just how we celebrate life and we hope to be able to share that moment and connect with as many people as possible.
AH: Additionally why should they come out to a show?
Arnór: Didn’t I just say that one set of ginger afro is included? It’s a must see really.
AH: Do you have any closing comments for the Already Heard readers?
Arnór: We hope to see any of you during our European tour and please, if you like what you hear, help us by sharing our music and make some Agent Fresco noise in your local scene! You have no idea how much it means to us, both professionally and personally! Thanks for your work and thanks for the chat Already Heard! PEACE!
‘Destrier’ by Agent Fresco is out now on Long Branch Records/SPV.
22 Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds
23 Ivory Blacks, Glasgow
24 Crauford Arms, Milton Keynes
25 Dingwalls, London (upgraded from The Black Heart)
Words by Sean Reid (@SeanReid86)