Virgin Orchestra: beautiful noises

Virgin Orchestra: beautiful noises

Listening to “fragments”, the new album by Virgin Orchestra, a trio from Iceland that combines organic and electronic in a way you’ve never heard before, is, for me, an experience that comes close to watching a David Lynch movie. Although it seems difficult due to the many layers of instruments that seem to rebel against the synths while the voice tries to gather all the fragments (sorry for the pun) into a single line of understanding and melody, it is rewarding for those, like myself, who let themselves be freed from certain mental patterns. You can say “fragments” is experimental like most of the music that is made in Iceland, however, believe me, the album is never dull.

We try to go with the gut feeling and not to overthink too much.

Stef, Virgin Orchestra lead singer and lyricist

Just as Lynch makes use of the dream and the unconscious to take us to the center of who we really are, the Virgin Orchestra seeks the artifice of strange noises until we are ready to capture the beauty that resides in each of the seven tracks of “fragments”. And don’t waste your time trying to label the band with some genre, as the only thing that defines Virgin Orchestra’s work is the “non-genre”. “We try not to make the ideas of ‘genres’ control the creative process, and we think that elements from every genre can be added to all of the others”, explains Stef, who already talked to us while releasing her magnificent solo material.

A power trio who sound like a full orchestra

Starri, Stef and Rún (Helga Laufey Asgeirsdottir)

The band may sound like a full orchestra, but in fact Virgin Orchestra is only a trio (Starri, Stef and Rún ) who met at the Icelandic University of theArts, drawing inspiration from a wide range of influences, including The Cure, My Bloody Valentine, The Velvet Underground, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Delia Derbyshire. Virgin Orchestra’s live instruments, including guitar, cello,bass, and vocals, combined with programming and experimental soundscapes, create a harmonious and “unforgettable musical experience”. The debut album ‘fragments’ was released on May 12th,2023, under Iceland’s largest independent record label Smekkleysa (see the Track by Track below).

Simply, one of the best albums that you will hear in 2023. If you deserve….

2 7 Things about Virgin Orchestra (by Stef)

(Helga Laufey Asgeirsdottir)

RC – Hello Virgin Orchestra, hello Stef, how are things in Iceland?

VO Hi! Thank you very much for having us, always a pleasure! Iceland is cold, but okay. We’ve been very busy with everything related to our album coming out and not really minding the bad weather. Looking out our window right now it’s raining heavily and the wind is … there’s a lot of it.

RC – For a trio, you make a very full-bodied and produced sound. I imagine that someone, or all of you, get a little overwhelmed at the end of recording a record. How is the dynamic of creating and recording for the band?

VO It’s very intense and time-consuming of course but we love it. It gets kind of factory-like, in a way, where we work together like this three-piece well organized cogwheel. Most of the time someone comes up with an initial idea, or a vibe, like just a synth loop or something. Other times someone comes up with a song structure or a more developed demo for a full song. Then we all add our own thoughts and instrumentation to it, and play it together to get a feeling if it feels right or not. We try to go with the gut feeling and not to overthink too much. But then going to the studio is very nice in continuation of all the ‘creating’ since there it’s more or less just following up on a to-do list, to record everything and make tweaks and experiments in a collaboration with the producers. We love it and it’s super rewarding. But we also need a good rest afterward.

RC – You have such an incredible and unique sound. Because at the same time that you fit into what we call art-rock, you go back there and drink from the post-punk source and increase it with techno, very peculiar to artists like Björk. Who is the creative mind behind all this, let’s say, virgin orchestra environment?

VOThank you! We think the sound of ‘us’ mostly comes from the fact that we are all aware of so many musical genres and we are very confident and sure of what we like and want to sound like. Not genre-wise necessarily but how we want our music to feel. We try not to make the ideas of ‘genres’ control the creative process, and we think that elements from every genre can be added to all of the others. Like trip-hop beats to a dreamy shoegaze-y guitar and classical cello. We all come from different places in music, Rún our cellist is classically trained and Starri has mainly been making hardcore industrial noise-scapes in his solo career while I’ve been mostly into art-pop, sound design, performing arts and writing before we all met in the music department of the University of Arts here in Iceland.

RC – Talking about Post-Punk, the world lost an icon recently, Andy Rourke. What is your opinion about The Smiths and which other post-punk bands would you consider as an influence of the Virgin Orchestra?

VO I think we can all appreciate The Smiths for their significance in the history of post-punk and Andy Rourke was a truly remarkable bassist. In terms of post-punk influences we are, in general, quite influenced by The Cure, Joy Division and Bauhaus. The most direct post-punk influence is in relation to the guitar, as it is very influenced by Rowland S Howard’s guitar work from The Birthday Party. Recently we have been compared a lot with Cocteau Twins, or fans have told us after concerts, which is always an honor to be compared to those legends.

RC – This one is especially for you, Stef. While on your solo album you were busy deconstructing yourself as a human being with all the existential matters, on your band’s first album you seem to be having fun. What attracts you most about being part of a band?

VOThank you, what a lovely question. So – for me, the main difference is that we are three in the band. That takes away this SUPER personal aspect of making something solo. We all stand behind what we make, instead of being only ‘I’ with the solo project. The ideas happen faster with the band, and things can move pretty fast, since we are all very supportive of each other’s ideas and contributions. We are each other’s biggest fans and are kind of workaholics when it comes to the band. It’s also just so nice to be a part of something that more people are contributing to collectively and there is more of an anonymity, you know. Even though I come up with deeply personal and vulnerable lyrics for a song, I don’t have to stand on stage and perform it alone under my own name, you know, and I feel less like that I have to have myself figured out completely and all the meanings behind what I am doing. We just ‘are’ and ‘make’. I love that aspect.

RC – What were Virgin Orchestra’s most recent achievements and what do you expect from the feedback on the new album? That it accredits the band to major world festivals, such as Primavera Sounds?

VOOur first LP ‘fragments’ that was released in May reached #1 on the vinyl charts here in Iceland which is perhaps our first ‘proper’ acknowledgement of success we have had here, so we’re happy about that. Especially because physical sales aren’t what they used to be. The feedback on the album has been overwhelmingly positive and it has actually been more widespread than we could have expected, and we are being booked for festivals around Europe. That is really nice and we are very excited about the future. We would of course love to perform at major world festivals like Primavera Sounds, and we are definitely ready to venture on those kinds of festivals even though we are technically newcomers right now. We’re not planning to stop anytime soon, that’s for sure.

RC – When will you finally come to Brazil? You would love our famous cheese bread.

VO We would absolutely love to come over soon for a cheese bread and a show!  So for any Brazilian festival organizers or promoters reading this, we’d love to come – hit us up!

Track by Track: “fragments” by Virgin Orchestra

intro: Far beyond being naturally the opening track of the album, the instrumental “Intro” prepares the listener’s entry into the universe of Virgin Orchestra. It starts with a “Depeche Mode” beat that little by little gives space to the band’s sonic diversity, especially with the Rún’s entry.

off guard: The journey started in the “intro” is now joined by Stef’s crystalline voice, who sings about not caring about anything or anyone. “Most days I don’t give a fuck”, she sings, which reminded me of the cathartic Wolf Alice song “Yuk Foo”.

on your kness: Impossible not to feel the influence of bands like Joy Division on this track. The riff goes in the vein of “Love will tear us apart”, but Stef’s voice takes the song to another kind of place, not so less painful, but infinitely more fun.

give in: After the exciting post-punk of “on your knees” it’s time for “give in”, a sugary ballad that becomes bitter and bitter along the way. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a Virgin Orchestra ballad, a band that insists on subverting rules and formulas.

bond: After the brief refreshment of “give in” we return to the dirty guitars and martial beats. A desperate song that demonstrates Stef’s full potential as a rock singer. My Bloody Valentine would be proud.

skin: On “skin” the band tries to have a little fun. But in the Virgin Orchestra way. Stef’s sweet pop is soon supplanted by the other two members’ strong and melancholy instrumentals. Almost as if there was a dialogue between them. Musicians so aligned that, yes, it seems that we are facing a 3-piece orchestra.

rewind: “rewind”, which closes the album, is a typically epic song with its more than 7 minutes. The one that will certainly end the band’s concerts with requests for an encore. Here, the musical elements burst in perfect harmony and melody. It all makes sense in Virgin Orchestra’s weirdness. What’s left is a beauty that’s hard to achieve, but it’s there. But, again, only if you deserve.

ALBUM SCORE: 8/10 (cos’ we needed more tracks)

So, tell us now what did you think of Virgin Orchestra’s debut album!

Marcos Tadeu

Marcos Tadeu

Jornalista, idealizador e apresentador do Rock Cabeça na 100,9 FM, Rádio Inconfidência FM (MG) desde 2016. Acima de tudo, um fã de rock gringo.