JFDR and the Power of saying “No:” an Interview
JFDR at Sunaana 2018 - Photography by Bobby Nicholas.
During the Sunaana Music and Beer Festival, 88.9’s Alex Waters got to chat with Icelandic singer Jófríður Ákadóttir, better known as JFDR. They talked about her evolution as an artist, her unique record label, and the power of the word “no.”
ALEX: Let’s start at the very beginning. The name JFDR seems like it probably comes from your birth name. Is that where you get it?
JFDR: Yeah, me and [producer] Shazad Ismaily put it together. I guess the reason why it stuck with me is that I had already been thinking about it, and then Shazad said the same thing, without us communicating. So we felt like it made sense. It doesn’t give you any idea beforehand, which I kind of like. It’s kind of neutral. Maybe it’s too complicated, I don’t know, honestly, I have no idea. But it’s just selected letters from my name.
ALEX: Very cool, and the name stuck.
JFDR: I guess so, yeah!
ALEX: So you put out a record about a year ago in March 2017. Obviously, you’ve been on the road for a while now, touring in support of it. Looking back now almost a year ago, what do you think has changed with you, if anything at all?
JFDR: I think a lot has changed. Everything is always changing. I think what I’ve learned from the last year’s experience is that I was riding the wave a lot, and I was learning a lot from it. Many of things that I was doing aren’t necessarily brand-new things, but doing it on my own is a different energy. I guess was just trying to “catch the wave” [laughs]. Kind of like when you’re surfing.
JFDR: It was very chaotic. It was truly, beautifully, and also frustratingly chaotic. The process of making the album, at the time, was very organic. It was almost like I was doing it without making any decisions, or making any conscious choices. So it was very intuitive, like something was just growing or appearing. And you’re like, “Oh wow, that’s here.” It’s that kind of process.
And then when you start to follow through, representing a piece of art that’s come together in such a way, I was holding on to it a lot. I got a little bit lost inside all of that. And I got very attached to this idea that everything you do is very organic, or has to be organic. A part of me is learning the balance between the organic, intuitive decisions you make and the conscious choices you make, and seeing a little bit further ahead than just the next week. I feel like I’m trying to do more of that. Zooming out, in a way. If that makes sense.
ALEX: It does. You mentioned the chaos at first, and I know that chaos is one of the driving forces behind your record label, White Sun Recordings.
JFDR: For sure [laughs].
ALEX: You talk about “harnessing the chaos and celebrating the impermanent.” What exactly do you mean by that?
JFDR: Well I mean that in a way that White Sun Recordings, as a record label, is not necessarily a record label. It’s more like a name that you can attach. It feels symbolic to me because record labels these days are very symbolic. The way I was operating, I was utilizing other people’s resources and structures for my own record label. But it really didn’t do anything [laughs].
What I was trying to create, as well as creating JFDR, was a space that has a name. It’s more like planting a little seed. I’m not necessarily saying, “Oh, I’m going to water this thing and take such good care of it, it’ll be amazing.” But it’s like planting it there and saying, “Maybe someday I’ll have the real desire and need to do something with this.” It’s just an open opportunity, and I have no idea what it is.
ALEX: So you’re planting a seed to see what it grows into?
JFDR: Yeah, I think it’s just, instead of putting out the record and saying it’s self-released, and nobody came up and did this thing for me, I’m saying there’s a magical cloud called White Sun Recordings that did this thing. That’s what it is.
ALEX: Okay, very cool. You talk about growth in regards to White Sun, but I know that in previous interviews, you’ve also talked a little bit about destruction. Or, destroying pop music in the process of making pop music.
ALEX: So how do you balance that?
JFDR: I think the funny thing is the word “destruction.” We always think of it as something quite negative. But with any kind of death or end of something or destruction of something, you create an opportunity for something new. That’s inevitably what happens in everything. And again, “celebrating the impermanent.” For me, what I was trying to poetically suggest, maybe pretentiously so, is that you’re creating a thing but also pushing a tiny bit. And you’re trying to push it for something that’s a little bit different, but essentially always true. The idea of “killing your darlings,” not necessarily being attached to one piece of art or a person or an outfit or a job or staying in one place, whatever.
It’s a part of doing something that’s new and moving forward. But it’s pop because “pop” is popular, and it doesn’t have to be bad. It’s not necessarily commercial, that’s a whole business thing that I don’t understand and I’m not even trying to. But “pop” as in, it’s relatable. I don’t want to make something that people would just be confused by, or maybe be intrigued by, or walk away from. It’s something that you can connect with.
ALEX: Any final thoughts?
JFDR: I think that I would like to say, not necessarily about me or anything, but I would like to say, take a moment when it arrives and appreciate the power of “no.” The power of the word “no.” It’s very strong and it’s maybe as strong as the power of “yes.”
ALEX: Thank you so much.
JFDR: Of course!
You can catch JFDR live at the Paradise Rock Club for Reykjavik Calling, featuring Air Traffic Controller, March 9th.