Interview with vocalist Jón Már Ásbjörnsson
Une Misère is not a band that is easily defined. With their full-length debut, Sermon, out on Nov. 1, 2019, on Nuclear Blast Records, the band is seeking to perform their darkened sermon for the world.
“A sermon, to us, is more of a celebration,” vocalist Jón Már Ásbjörnsson explains. “That’s what this album is. It’s a celebration of misery, of anger, of sadness, and of the general feeling of feeling bad. Because that’s just as valid [a] point of life as being happy, as being well is. So, instead of taking sadness and general shittiness and sweeping it under the rug, you should celebrate the fact that you’re actually feeling. Something is making you feel [so] awful that you just can’t function. Of course, it’s a horrible affair, and it is awful to feel that bad, but at least you’re feeling. Through my experience, it’s better to hurt than [to] feel nothing at all.”
“All the lyrics and all the riffs that we write come from a very honest place, and my past experience,” Ásbjörnsson continues. “I talk about my addiction to drugs and alcohol, and world issues, such as veganism and stuff like that. This album really means a lot to us and to me, so it can get really emotional on stage. Like, super emotional. We also bring our problems to the stage and we don’t take them with us off the stage. So, it’s kind of therapy for us, the fact that we take it onstage and we leave it there.”
Beginning their journey just a few years ago in 2016, Une Misère is the culmination of familiar friendships, musical devotion, hardening tragedy, addiction, and the fusing of bandmates from wildly different musical styles.
“We formed another band before we became Une Misère, actually,” Ásbjörnsson explains. “We were just friends from [the] Icelandic heavy metal scene, or actually just [the] hardcore scene. We’re from all over it, we’re from metalcore, hardcore, mathcore, I was in a grindcore band. We became friends through the scene, and we decided one day, ‘Hey, should we try and make the heaviest music in Iceland?’ And we tried and we founded a band, and we were actually known as Damages for like five months or so. But then, when we realized that we might actually have something that was going to matter, we decided that we need the right image, we need our feelings in this, we need a new name, and we need everything to be exactly how it should be. And we just kind of let the music lead us to what Une Misère is.”
“The main feeling and main theme of this band, and the band members, is misery and isolation,” Ásbjörnsson says. “Misery in Icelandic is ‘eymd.’ To be honest, that just sounds like another shitty black metal band, and we’re not a shitty black metal band. So, we thought we [would] still connect to the misery part, ‘misery’ in English is harsh and it’s cold and it’s not flattering at all, but ‘une misère’ [in French] brings this kind of beauty to the feeling and to the word. It makes the feeling dance right in front of you. We feel that ‘une misère’ is more welcoming than ‘misery.’ It’s something that you can see the beauty in misery from.”
The desire to escape the tragic and beautiful poison that is Iceland lit the tenacious fire that led the band to produce this album.
“We have about nine months of darkness throughout the year,” Ásbjörnsson says. “That really can mess with your mind. When you get into the routine of waking up in the morning and it’s total darkness, and then you go to work and it’s still total darkness, and then when you get off work it’s total darkness again, and then you go to sleep in total darkness, that can really affect your mind in a bad way. It becomes harder and harder to wake up. So yeah, that definitely affects our music, and is part of the creative aspect of us as persons.”
“Some years you feel the darkness more than you do others, but it’s basically become normal for us,” he continues. “We have gotten used to feeling super shitty during the winter, and just being sun-deprived throughout these nine months. We’ve gotten kind of used to feeling bad. Depression is one of the most common things here in Iceland, it’s actually called Seasonal Affective Disorder, and that’s basically the whole year here. We get like one or two months of sunlight, and we’re extremely happy when that happens. I’d rather just move out of this country than depend on those one, two months.”
The writing process for Sermon began just after the Wacken Metal Battle in 2017. One benefit to the band members being isolated in Iceland is the consistency of the writing process. Someone comes up with a riff, they meet, discuss, sound it out, and the lyrics and music develop around it.
“When you’re going through such turmoil and the ocean has such huge waves, it’s so easy to respond to them. It becomes a thing you have to write about,” Ásbjörnsson admits. “You have to write these things down in order to understand them fully yourself. For me, I was going through withdrawals from addiction, and I was fixing a lot of problems that I had created with drugs and alcohol. I still am. It’s also therapeutic. Every time that we play these songs, the incidents that I write about become very real to me. They become like brand new. In a way, I want to feel the hurt that I’ve caused others, but I also want to get it out of me. This whole process of writing the record for us all, it was quite difficult, because we’ve all been going through shit for the past three or four years, and we just kind of put everything that we have to give into the music.”
The result is a record that sounds like a personal journal.
“‘Failures’ is written about the first three or four days of withdrawal, when I stopped using drugs,” Ásbjörnsson explains. “Everything that went from my mind. ‘Damages’ was written a few days after I lost a good friend to anxiety and addiction. ‘Overlooked – Disregarded’ is written from a state of mind that I had put myself into while dealing with addiction and still on drugs, where I had brought myself to the point where I hated my family. I made myself believe that I hated my family. After I quit doing drugs, I realized that that was just the drugs talking. It’s quite the journal, actually, when you say it like that.”
Production and recording for Sermon took place over the course of about three weeks, starting at drummer Benjamín Bent Árnason’s place. The guys then hit the studio with producer Sky van Hoff and his team, consisting of Marco Bayati and Marco Kollenz.
“We came into the studio with an idea that we really wanted, and we had all agreed on that,” Ásbjörnsson remembers. “Our producer, Sky van Hoff, just kind of molded us and our ideas into what we now think is just perfect. When he came with these ideas during studio time, we instantly loved it. There were not a lot of sacrifices during this recording period. Not a lot. We had written the songs and we loved every one of those songs, and we really wanted to put them out. Our producer agreed with every song, and so it was just the challenge of time. [Considering this is] a debut album, we’re quite lucky, I guess.”
The album artwork created by Niklas Sundin (Dark Tranquility) shows a woman in a realm of muted flowers and soothing tones amidst a blackness, representing the timeless, yet modern existence of Une Misère.
“When we found this picture that Niklas Sundin had already painted, we just kept staring at it,” Ásbjörnsson says. “We always found new things about the picture, we found sad things and then we found beautiful things, and we kind of went through a huge scale of emotions. When we contacted him to see if he wanted to work with us, he showed us this picture, which [he] had modified a bit from his original, and we were just sold. Still today, when I look at that cover, I’m still finding new things. To me, that is like super, super beautiful, and very interesting. It goes through a scale of emotion. It’s both beautiful and mysterious. It’s kind of sad in a way, because the golden color [is] a celebratory color, but then you have these dark, reddish, blackish tones that symbolize hurt and pain.”
“I feel that modern day culture is way too preoccupied on everything that is nice and none of the things that are going bad,” Ásbjörnsson continues. “There has been an awakening through youth now, on climate problems and veganism and all those things, but still you only see the Instagram side of life, if you know what I mean. Still, you only see the person wearing the fur coat, and you don’t want to see how it’s made. Still, you only see the guy ordering a ham sub at Subway, but you don’t want to know where the ham is from. People don’t want to feel bad, and I can understand that, but it’s a part of life. It really is a part of life. I think people kind of have to get with it.”