RSS feed RSS Twitter Twitter Facebook Facebook 15 Questions 15 Questions

15 Questions to Sunna Gunnlaugs

img  Tobias Fischer

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Hello, I am fine. I am currently at home in Kopavogur, Iceland.

What’s on your schedule right now?
These days I am wrapping up the booking of a US tour in June with my trio. I am preparing to go to JazzAhead in Bremen, Germany in April where my trio will perform and I am promoting my new album the best I can, following up on reviews and such. My trio just played a concert in Reykjavik last week and we have some more coming up in April.

How would you describe and rate the music scene of the city you are currently living in?
The music scene in Reykjavik is quite varied and lively considering its size, (population somewhere around 150.000). There seems to be a lot of creativity bubbling underneath everything and the creative industries have a nice piece of the economic pie. Last week you could hear live jazz at least four nights of the week although that is unusual. I do wish we had better venues for jazz. It can be difficult especially for me as a pianist to find a venue to play in.

When did you start composing - and what or who were your early passions and influences?

I started composing when I was a teenager. My influences at that time were Kool and the Gang, Quincy Jones and Earth, Wind and Fire. I stopped writing music in my late teens when I got into jazz, funny but I guess I was occupied with studying the language of improvisation. I got back into writing in College in New Jersey. At that time my influences where Kenny Wheeler, Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett to name a few. I always tried to write what I heard and not think about what should come next.

What do you personally consider to be incisive moments in your work and/or career?
I think that recording my album Mindful with Tony Malaby, Drew Gress and Scott McLemore was an important point in my career. That's when I turned my focus to performing original music instead of playing standards as a background music at restaurants and cafes. Playing with that band was both liberating and challenging and I think it pushed me as a musician.
I also think that my first tour of Europe was very important. We played 20 concerts in 21 days and I think you develop and mature so much as a musician when you get to play improvised music night after night with the same band in front of an enthusiastic audience. That tour also produced an album that did really well on radio and with critics which is important too.

What are currently your main compositional challenges?
These days I find it hard to find the time to write but if I sit down to do it something usually comes out of it. I had planned to focus on writing for a quintet this year but in light of the attention my latest trio album Long Pair Bond is getting I might need to write for the trio first.

What do you usually start with when composing?
I try to empty my mind and listen. Sometimes when I feel like I need a certain kind of tune I try to put myself mentally into that mood and listen for ideas.

How do you see the relationship between timbre and composition?

Most of my tunes are very flexible and depending on the mood of the band can go into different directions. I think I hear the composition independent of timbre but when I take it to the band to be rehearsed I may have a certain approach in mind. Sometimes it is something that the band will work out as a group.

What do improvisation and composition mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits?
I find both composing and improvising to be very rewarding on an emotional level similar to meditating. Composing leaves me with something tangible while improvising is a snapshot of a moment that is then gone. There is a certain excitement and curiosity in improvising since you don't know what's going to happen and I find that very attractive.

Do you feel it important that an audience is able to deduct the processes and ideas behind a work purely on the basis of the music? If so, how do you make them transparent?
I think it is important that the audience can connect emotionally to the music and that's it.

How would you define the term “interpretation”? How important is it for you to closely work together with the artists performing your work?
Interpretation is someone's take on it. When I play with new people I expect them to bring something personal to the music and therefore my music will sound somewhat different as when played by different people. I like that. I think that working closely with someone brings on a level of trust and familiarity that is nice but the unexpectedness of playing with someone new is also nice.

The role of the composer has always been subject to change. What's your view on the (e.g. political/social/creative) tasks of composers today and how do you try to meet these goals in your work?
I don't think about that at all. I just write music when I feel like that is what I should be doing. Hopefully it is music that will make someone feel good.

How, do you feel, could contemporary compositions reach the attention of a wider audience?
The audience just needs to be exposed to it. If it was on the radio, TV you know, just out there, it wouldn't be so foreign to many people.

Composers have traditionally found it hard to secure a living with their art. What are the financial realities you're living with and in which way, do you feel, could they be improved?
I dedicate a certain amount of time to teaching every week. That is my steady job that gives me the financial security to be creative. I am also very fortunate to live in a country that supports the arts and I have been a recipient of an artist salary from the government on numerous occasions. That is very encouraging and allows me to dedicate more time and efforts to my art. The unfortunate thing is that people are less and less willing to pay for music.

Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
No! I just hope that I continue to find time to compose, opportunities to perform them and the joy in it all.

Image by Hörður Sveinsson

Intro by Lara Corey

Sunna Gunnlaugs Discography:
The Dream (Sunny Sky) 2010
Long Pair Bond (Sunny Sky) 2011

Sunna Gunnlaugs

Related articles

15 Questions to Cem Güney
Cem Güney is the first ...
15 Questions to Maninkari
French duo Maninkari stormed onto ...
Interview with Sara Gazarek
For the last three years, ...
15 Questions to Jair-Rôhm Parker Wells
Some things you only realize ...
15 Questions to James Beaudreau
Belonging to a tradition can ...
15 Questions to Rent Romus
"No rules, no borders.", that's ...

Partner sites