Interview: The Vintage Caravan

The Vintage Caravan, a psychedelic rock trio from Iceland, has been enjoying a steady growth in international recognition since joining the Nuclear Blast roster a couple of years ago and playing major European festivals from Wacken to Roadburn. The band released its third album, Arrival, in May and is touring with Swedish veterans Europe this autumn. Included in the itinerary was their first-ever visit to Finland for one show in Tampere and one in Helsinki. Before the latter, I had the chance to chat with singer, guitarist and songwriter Óskar Logi Ágústsson, who founded the band in 2006. During the interview, bassist Alexander Örn Númason stopped by and answered a couple of questions as well.

How was the show in Tampere last night?
It was really good! We were actually pretty surprised – the guys from the venue told us that they had never seen such a reaction to a band that was warming up. They said that usually in Finland warm-up acts are not asked for an encore. But that audience was pretty wild!

So did you play an encore?
Yes, that was fantastic! They seemed to be really, really kind and open-minded people.

Awesome! Because I was wondering what kind of an audience you would find, touring with Europe who are quite a bit older…
Yeah, but in a way the music we are playing is a good ten or fifteen years older than Europe. We are playing the kind of music that Europe grew up listening to! Which is kind of funny, because I’m about thirty years younger than they.

Well, when you guys started out, you were… twelve?
I started this band when I was ten or eleven.

How did a young kid from the suburbs of Reykjavík get into music that was made some forty years earlier?
That is a good question – I think it just came from some movies. I remember I watched Almost Famous, which came out in 2003, I think, and School Of Rock and a few others. There was a lot of old-school rock in them, and I was like, okay, cool! Especially School Of Rock – I remember thinking, if they can do it, then perhaps I can play an instrument as well. There was a guitar at home, so I just picked it up and tried. My father showed me Led Zeppelin, and that was just it.

You got a pretty cool dad!
Yeah! There was a lot of Fleetwood Mac and Eric Clapton playing at home, it was a good music scene in my house.

Do you have siblings?
Yes, I’m actually the youngest by far. I have two brothers and a sister, and the closest one age-wise is about ten years apart from me – I came a bit late.

Let’s talk a bit about the band – you recorded the new album still with Guðjón [Reynisson, drums] but then he quit just when it was released. What happened?
Basically Guðjón just wasn’t interested in touring anymore. He still loved playing live, but he kind of lost the spark that made him want to get better and practice and play. But I think he did it the right way. He decided a few months earlier but didn’t say anything, so we just went on playing and recorded the album. We did three shows, but then we had two months off and he immediately told us. It was a shock, especially for me because I had played together with him since I was eleven years old. But he moved to Akureyri to study… I don’t know what…
Alex: Fishing industry economics.
Óskar: …fishing industry economics!

Well, that should still have some future…
Sure – as long as there’ll be fish, Guðjón will succeed.

Anyway, it’s comforting to see an Icelandic band changing drummers without any drama involved!
Oh yeah! [both laugh] That [Sólstafir affair] was actually happening at the very same time, and I remember I was just like, really grateful that for us it was all really brotherly and nice.

Óskar & Alex before the Helsinki show

Where did you find Stefán?
Me and Stefán had some kind of jam group, we met a few times together with some other guys. The others were from the metal scene. Stefán used to be in a few really heavy bands, like Gone Postal, which is called Shrine now, and Munnriður. I knew he was a great drummer and could play pretty much anything, so we just talked to him and… It was pretty hard to find a guy that was first of all a great drummer and a good guy and willing to leave pretty much everything behind.

The last time I saw you live, you had Magnús [Ragnarsson, keyboards] of Electric Elephant with you, who also played on the new album. Have you ever considered expanding the band?
It’s been a thought, you know, but I think that it’s pretty important at this stage that we stay just three guys, because we’re really, really close when it comes to the music. It might be cool one day, I won’t say never, but I think just three guys is the way to go.

You’re a classic rock power trio, while Iceland in general is better known for black metal on the one hand and hipster stuff on the other. When you first started, what were the reactions in the Reykjavík scene like?
I think we were the only band [of this kind] – we are still the only one that plays exactly like this, but after we started playing this kind of music, a few others emerged – but when we started, there wasn’t really a huge reaction. But we tried. We entered a Battle Of The Bands kind of thing called Músíktilraunir, where we ended up in third place and I was named best guitarist of the festival, that was in 2009. After that we were just kind of playing every weekend, from then until 2013 in Iceland and then we started touring elsewhere.

What was your first album…
Oh, The Very Best Of Kiss, I think that was the first album I bought, the drum intro of “Deuce” was just awesome!

…actually I was gonna ask what your own first album was like, because I couldn’t find it anywhere, not even on the internet!
Ah, sorry, yeah! Well, that one’s not possible to find anywhere, but we actually have a few on sale tonight. We have a few copies left, I just found a batch that was lying around. That album was recorded when I was fourteen, fifteen – there is some pretty good stuff on it but for a long time I was like, argh, I don’t wanna hear it. It was recorded in 2009 or whatever, but released in 2011 because we didn’t have the money to put it out ourselves. We only made 1000 copies – it sold okay, I guess, as there’s just a few copies left. And a lot of people have been asking us for that album, especially this summer, so maybe we’ll do a re-release, a limited vinyl or something like that.

This summer, you guys honored the Icelandic prog tradition by playing the Trúbrot album …Lifun [1971] in its entirety, together with Magnús of Trúbrot and other guests. I was there and it was amazing – was it a one-off thing or did you do several shows?
We only played that one show, and it was a really, really personal and touching experience for me. It’s been one of my favorite albums of all time, and we were playing it together with the guy who wrote it.

He must be quite a legend…
Yes, and he’s one of the coolest dudes I’ve ever worked with. Every single time between songs he would tell a story from the old times!

How did that gig come about?
I really wanted to do this, it has always been my dream to play this album. I think I told our Icelandic manager that it would be cool to do this, and he just asked Magnús Kjartansson – who seemed to be really up for it and did a hell of a job!

The Vintage Caravan with Magnús Kjartansson & special guests, Eistnaflug 2015 – more pics here

At the same event [Eistnaflug in Neskaupstaður, eastern Iceland], you also played a special all-ages show on the first day before the adult-only main part of the festival started. This reminded me of an interview in spring, where Alex said that young kids in Iceland are no longer interested in forming bands. Is getting kids back into rock’n’roll part of your mission?
Alex: I was probably talking about how it was like when we were kids, even at that time people were not really interested in forming bands at a young age but now it’s completely fuckin’ dead.
Óskar: I hope it’s changing…
Alex: I hope so, too, but you know, twenty years ago everybody wanted to form a band, and now kids are a lot more interested in just getting an Mbox and a computer and working with FruitLoops or whatever.
Óskar: But there were quite a bunch of kids at that show, and I thought it was pretty nice to see those groups of kids at Eistnaflug, all wearing Sólstafir and Skálmöld shirts – the Eistnaflug festival is definitely a great thing!

Let’s talk a bit about the visual side – your album covers are pretty cool and so are the videos. Are those all your own ideas or do you give the artists the freedom to do what they want?
We always have some input. For the Voyage album, there was this idea we had about polar bears dragging our caravan through space. Alex Matus – she is a cover artist from San Francisco – did a stellar job with it. And David Paul Seymour did the new one, we had less to do with the artistic input on that one but it turned out really good.

And the videos?
All done by friends of ours. We are lucky to have have really talented directors as friends, and they made these really cool-looking videos which all are like short movies.

Any chance of you doing any more acting in the future? [Óskar played a small role in Ragnar Bragason’s Metalhead (Málmhaus, 2013)]
I don’t know, maybe! That kind of came out of the blue, I just got asked on Facebook if I would like to talk to one of the biggest directors in Iceland, so I’m like, sure. And he goes, “okay, do you know how to play the guitar?” – “Yeah.” – “You have long hair?” – “Yes.” – “Do you know how to drive a car or a tractor?” and I was like, “yeah.” – “OK, you got the job!”
That role didn’t really require a lot of acting skills, I didn’t have any lines or anything, I just had to die. But it was fun, and I would be open for doing more roles. It was actually really funny, we were on tour and talking to this guy, and he says, “I know this one Icelandic movie, it’s called Málmhaus…”, and I’m like, “yes, I’m in it!” But it’s had a really long lifespan, it came out in early 2013 and is still going strong.

Speaking of artistic collaborations, who’s the guy that makes your guitars?
Gunnar Örn – I recommend that people check out his page on Facebook, it’s called Örn Custom Guitars. He’s a great guitar builder, I have two guitars by him with me on the road. I think it’s really important to have some nice Icelandic-made stuff, kind of like a piece of home. They’re really cool and sound great. I haven’t found another guitar that suits me this well. Actually I think Addi from Sólstafir is using one, too, the Flying V. And also the guys from Of Monsters And Men, at least one of them.

Before time runs out, let’s get back to tonight – how did this tour with Europe come to pass?
I think Europe contacted [booking agency] Rock The Nation about getting warm-up bands, so we were suggested to them, and they seem to be very into what we are doing. It’s humbling and very nice – just awesome! It’s been a great tour so far, really awesome to be playing with these legends.

And you’re also touring with Avatarium later this year?
Yes. It’s actually two more shows now, tonight and tomorrow, then we’re going home to do a release show for Arrival at Gamla Bíó [in Reykjavík] and after that we have a UK headline tour. Then we have another run with Europe and then the Avatarium tour.

Touring with a big name like Europe obviously is a good way of getting known more widely and making new fans, but on the other hand there’s also people who would have been interested in seeing you guys tonight but couldn’t afford the expensive tickets for Europe. Is there any chance of getting you back to Finland next year for a club tour of your own, or some festivals?
I hope so! I think we should definitely do some shows in Finland next year, that would be great. Finnish crowds seem to be very energetic and nice, and they seem to like us!

The Vintage Caravan live in Helsinki, 28.9.2015

Photos: Tina Solda. More pics from the Helsinki show here.


Tina Solda - concert and festival reports, photos, interviews - - - Favorite genres: I don't care much about genres, but on a grossly generalized level I like melancholic death, unconventional black, melodic doom, dramatic folk and smart pagan metal (main regions: Iceland, Finland & Norway) - - - Other interests: guitar, books, beer, movies, cats.