21st May 2017
The Vintage Caravan: meet the rock’n’roll Vikings putting Iceland on the map
They come from the land of ice and snow – and now The Vintage Caravan are heading to Ramblin’ Man. Malcolm Dome braves the elements…
Want to be amazed? The Vintage Caravan started in 2006. Nothing exceptional in that. A lot of bands formed that year. Except that guitarist/vocalist Oskar Logi Agustsson and drummer Guojon Reynisson were just 12 years old at the time. They added bassist Alexander Orn Numason in 2012, but by that point the band had already released a self-titled album. This was put out by The Vintage Caravan themselves in 2009.
Such was the interest created by this debut that they were signed to Icelandic label Sena – oh, it should be pointed out at this juncture that, yes, the band are from Iceland, which has hardly been previously renowned for pumping out stunning hard rock sounds. But The Vintage Caravan are changing all of that.
In 2012, they issued second album ‘Voyage’, with Numason now in situ, and shortly afterwards got a deal with Nuclear Blast, who reissued the second album, ensuring a much wider recognition for the young band.
In 2015, Reynisson left the trio for personal reasons – he remains on good terms with the others – and was replaced by Stefan Ari Stefansson, although the former did finish work on the band’s third album prior to quitting. And The Vintage Caravan released this new album, ‘Arrival, later in that year.
Now, with the three-piece set to play on the Grooverider Stage at Ramblin’ Man, Agustsson takes us inside the Caravan.
You got the band together when very young. What made you want to form Vintage Caravan at such an early age?
“I suppose I just had an epiphany of sorts, and that made me want to get a band together. I recall wandering around my school, asking everyone if they wanted to be in a band with me! But it was very chaotic in the beginning. At our first rehearsal, we had three backing vocalists and no drummer. It was very funny, but I also have to say it was fun. Maybe that was the real reason I wanted to get the band together, because it seemed like a fun thing to do.”
What bands influenced you in those days?
“There were a lot. I know I got a Kiss album on CD, although now I can’t tell you which one it was. I was very young, so wasn’t taking that much notice of titles, more of the music. I also had the soundtrack album for ‘School Of Rock’, with bands like The Stooges, and I loved playing that. Oh, and my brother gave me the first four Black Sabbath albums on vinyl. I was the only person in my school who played vinyl!”
Your brother gave you vinyl? Is he a lot older than you?
“Yes, he is 17 years older than me! I am the youngest of four siblings. My parents are very old. Apart from the that brother, I have a sister who is 11 years older than me, and another brother who is 10 years older. So, there’s a big age gap to me.”
When did you start writing your own songs?
“That was when I was nine or 10. But even then, some of the stuff I was was actually quite decent. And if you have our first album, then a few of the songs were written when I was that age. For instance, there’s a song on there called ‘Black Swan’, and that is something of an epic. Parts of it date back to when I first began to write. But if anyone wants to get a copy of the album, be warned it is hard to find. I gather copies change hands now for 100 Euros!”
Have your musical inspirations changed at all since then?
“They have, yes. That’s inevitable as you get older. But my roots are still very much in the works of Led Zeppelin and Rush. Their music still works for me. I also got into listening to a lot of Jimi Hendrix, and he has influenced what I do, which is inevitable for a guitarist.
“But Alex has broadened my horizons at lot. Thanks to him I now love funk and electronic music. He also introduced me to Jamiroquai. Oh, and I now enjoy listening to Steely Dan a lot. But don’t expect any songs on the next album that are about driving around New York in a limo!”
What made you go for a self-release route on your debut album?
“That just seemed to be the thing to do when we had finished recording. We were only 14 or 15 years old back then, and did the album in three different studios. But once we had done it, there was no interest from any record company, so we had no choice.”
Given how young you were, how on earth did you get the money together to record?
“Well, in all it cost us about 100,000 krona, and that’s not really a lot of money. I think it comes out to £700 or something like that. We managed to get a grant to cover part of that cost. But we were also lucky that we had very supportive parents, who helped us out. That was very important. Without them, we could never have done it. I remember getting a shock when one of the engineers who worked on the album told us how much he was going to charge for his services. It seemed to be a fortune back then. I suppose in all, we only spent 13 hours in the studio.”
Why didn’t you bring in a full time bassist for the recording sessions on ‘The Vintage Caravan’ record?
“Actually, we did have one. His name was Halldors Gunnar, and he was with us from the early days right up to 2010. But we also used a second bassist in the studio for that first album, and that’s Pail Solumundur. So, from the beginning we did have a complete line-up in place.”
Has being on a label like Nuclear Blast changed your attitude at all?
“Well, it obviously helps a lot in getting us attention, and also in making sure our albums are properly distributed. That is very important for any band. Nuclear Blast have been great for The Vintage Caravan from that point of view. However, if you’re asking what difference they’ve made to our music, then the answer is none. We are a lot more aware now of how things work in the music business, and take them in our stride. We don’t allow any outside influences to have an impact on what we do, and to their credit the label never try to interfere. They leave all the artistic side of things to us, which is the way it should be. I want to stress that we have a very good relationship with Nuclear Blast, and they have no problem with staying out of our way when it comes to the creative side.”
In 2014, you relocated from Iceland to Denmark. Why did you make that decision?
“We moved out of Iceland in early 2014, and that was purely because we wanted to tour as much as possible. The problem with living in Iceland is that the cost of travel is so expensive. We realised that if the band was to move forward, then we had to play as many shows as we could. But if this meant always then returning to Iceland, there was no way this could ever have been within our budget.
“So, we left for Denmark, and then did as much touring as we could get. I think it worked well. Having a base there made it a lot more comfortable. It was our own place within easy reach. We also lived for a time in Belgium.”
You’re back in Iceland now. Why did you return?
“We’d been out of the country for nearly two years. But then when it was decided the three of us should take a break, before beginning work on a new album, it made sense to go home. We are financially more capable than before, so now we’re back in Iceland we can manage things a lot better than would have been the case three years ago.”
It’s been two years since your last album, ‘Arrival’, so are you currently working on a new one?
“We are, yes. Right now, we’re writing songs and also taking to potential producers. Our aim is to go into the studio during May to start recording. We will use an Icelandic studio. We now have a lot of equipment here, and also can get in any session musicians very cheaply. So, from every angle, it’s a good thing to stay put.
“Currently, all I can tell you about the release date is that we would like the album out later this year. But obviously, this might change.”
What difference has new drummer Stefán Arf Stefánsson made to your approach?
“One thing Stefan is doing is getting a lot more involved in the writing process than Guojon ever wanted to. So, that’s made an impact. Stefan is a fantastic drummer. He was in an Icelandic black metal band before, called Shrine, and he will clearly bring a different style to the music once we begin recording. He is technically very gifted and skilled. But we will have to wait and see how he fits in when we go into the studio. Right now, I can’t say how much difference he will make. But I would have thought it might be enormous. That’s a good thing, though. We want to move forward, and Stefan will help.”
You’re on the Grooverider Stage at Ramblin’ Man. This celebrates early ’70s hard rock. Is that an era to which you feel drawn?
“All the time. Musically, that period feels like home to me. I always want to immerse myself in the music that came out back then. It has a continual impact. We do a lot of jamming in the studio, and that inspiration comes from the early 1970s. I will go off on an unplanned musical route, and the other guys will follow. Or, I will follow one of them as they let fly. Our style is really a musical conversation, and I reckon all bands should do this more. Every album should sound like it has spontaneous creativity. That’s what I picked up from being in love with those bands from 40 or 50 years ago.”
The Vintage Caravan play the Grooverider Stage on July 29. Buy your tickets to see them here