Icelandic-born, New Zealand-based singer-songwriter, Hera, has swapped one island for another. The prolific artist recently took some time out to talk with us about her work, and why it’s the water that inspires her most.
You were born in Iceland, how did you end up in New Zealand?
I grew up in Iceland, both in Reykjavik on the Old West side by the sea, and I spent quite a bit of time in Hafnarfjörður where my grandparents lived when I was younger.
In 1991 my family decided to go somewhere far away on holiday. My parents had some friends from New Zealand who had visited Iceland and worked in the fish factories, so we went there without knowing too much about it (my mum packed mostly books and summer clothes for the trip, which ended up being one of the coldest winters in Christchurch for many years).
We spent 10 months in New Zealand and it really felt like home. We then returned to Iceland and ended up moving back to New Zealand in 1994. Since then I’ve done a bunch of travelling back and forth, but there is a very real connection and a whole lot of similarities between the two countries.
When did you first start performing?
I first started playing classical guitar at eight years old, then started writing poetry. I started performing my poetry at bars from about 14 years old and shortly after that when I started writing songs they sort of pushed out the poetry and all of a sudden I was playing a lot of regular shows. I performed mostly at The Wunderbar, a sort of sailor’s bar in Lyttelton Harbour, the nights were cabaret nights and included incredible drag queens, Elvis impersonators and many really amazing performances; my parents had to come along to every performance as I was underage and none of my friends were allowed in for the same reason.
In addition to your solo work, you also perform with your musical partner, Jed. How did this collaboration come about? Do you prefer playing solo?
Collaborating was a thing I hadn’t really done before the earthquakes in Christchurch. Jed and I met while I was recording the album Rattle My Bones. We recorded one of the tracks in his garage/studio space and he played percussion on it.
Shortly after that I started playing shows with House of Mountain, an incredible rock-band, but also played as my backing band with Jed on the drums. After the earthquakes we were left with no venues in our hometown so we went on tour. Jed and I wrote a song together … it happened so naturally and it was so fun to be doing things a little differently. We ended up starting a duo/band there and then. We wrote a bunch of songs together, and also really enjoy adding harmonies to each other’s.
Who are your musical influences, and how much does your country/countries influence you?
I love the kind of music that tells a story, I grew up listening to Megas, Bubbi and KK in Iceland, also a huge mix of different artists: Tori Amos, Tracy Chapman, Michelle Shocked, ACDC, Meatloaf, A Perfect circle.
I love how many songs Icelanders own and know together – the campfire singalongs are something quite special!
I’m definitely influenced by both countries, the landscape and the sea in Iceland in particular has a very strong connection for me.
What’s the most amazing place you’ve ever performed?
My favourites are the little seaside villages around Iceland. I love to play any location close to the sea. That’s when I feel at home.
Is there a story behind the way you decorate your face?
The design I wear is a tribute to my two homes and my family. It’s inspired by the ‘Moko’ and by Celtic war-paint. It represents many things and sometimes changes depending on how I feel. I always incorporate my family, and the sea.
The process of painting it on is also a part of getting ready to perform; though it has become almost automatic now after 16 years of wearing it. Yikes!
What are your favourite places in Iceland and why?
I grew up both in Reykjavik and Hafnarfjörður, so they are my two homes in Iceland. But I absolutely love touring there – this last tour we discovered an absolutely magical place ‘Hildibrand hotel’ in Neskauppstaður on the east fjords: the food was out-of-this-world amazing.
I played there with the sea and mountains as a backdrop, we also picked wild blueberries, found sparkling crystals in the mountains and went on a sailing trip around the fjords; I highly recommend visiting the east fjords and experiencing Hildibrand Hotel.
I also really love it in Djúpivogur at Hotel Framtíð by the sea, Stokkseyri where the ghost museum is (also the museum of elves and trolls!) Hveragerði where the earth bubbles and pops – I feel somehow creatively and emotionally recharged by the landscape and the energy in the air, it is such a hard thing to describe but it’s very real and unique to Iceland.