You can go here to read Mio’s Biography.
When I was still a member of The Swell Season, and extensive touring around the world was my main occupation, I had the fortune and privilege of being in a position to meet many wonderful people and to make friendships and establish connections. Some short-lived, which faded just as quickly as they came to be, and others to be nurtured and grow stronger over the years to come. I believe that all the connections I made with people served a purpose of their own, big or small, for one party or both, but some of them were so significant, and their effects so life-altering, it is easy to track their path backwards in time and recall the steps that were taken in order for certain events to pass and for all the pieces of a grand design to come together.
Over the course of the years The Swell Season worked with a few different sound-engineer in charge of the front of house live sound every night of a tour. For the most part there was the lovely Jelle Kuiper from Holland, whom I grew to respect greatly not only in regards to his work but as a kind, and good human being. The touring party of The Swell Season, band and crew, became very close over the years, fused by the adventures and experiences we lived through together, and it is like meeting a brother or a sister when my path crosses with either of theirs from time to time.
Jelle, like most sound-engineers, used to have a few favorite songs to play through the PA system in each venue during his time tweaking the sound before the band was called to check their instruments. One of them was a piece by Hauschka, a German musician and composer, who’s work I grew to love thanks to this introduction. I was very excited to learn one day, that we were passing through his hometown of Dusseldorf that he would be our guest at the show that night. We had a very interesting conversation at the afterparty backstage and a connection was made. We talked about music and discussed what our ambitions were in our composing efforts. We expressed our shared excitement about unexplored territories we wanted to venture into in our music-making, and inspired by our exchange we decided to stay in touch and collaborate some day in the future.
Few years later, I was living in New York, and having written a body of work solid enough to fill a full length album I decided to reach out to Volker (Hauschka being his artist name), to see if he still wanted to collaborate with me. I had an idea of incorporating rhythmical components into this record along with a programming element which he would be the perfect man to help me with. Volker’s forte is an area called ‘prepared piano’, where different objects are attached to or placed upon the strings of a piano to bring out new sounds. In Volker’s case there are also pre-programmed elements triggered by electronic equipment and the combination of the two gives him quite a rich and interesting palette of sounds to work with while playing his beautiful compositions, creating a truly mesmerizing experience for the listener.
On one beautiful sunny day I was walking through a park on my way back home after a meeting with my painter friend Nahid Hagigat. I had just picked up from her the painting I knew would be the artwork for the album I was about to record, MUNA, and fueled by the excitement of things coming together, I called Volker to see how he felt about coming on board of the project. During this phone-call, he recommended a studio in Iceland, called The Greenhouse, where he had just worked on a record with an American violin player Hilary Hahn. He gave me contacts for the main engineer and producer called Valgeir and the manager of the studio, Mio. I had a very good feeling about this, given that I had been looking for a reason to go back to Iceland ever since we played there with The Swell Season in 2010, and this seemed like the perfect one.
Looking into the possibility and likelihood of recording at Greenhouse, I contacted both Valgeir and Mio, introducing myself and asking them to consider working with me on a record I was currently preparing. It was Mio who responded first and his words were warm and friendly, conveying that despite his brother’s busy schedule, they would like to make things work in such a way that the project can go forward and suggested we look at dates to find a window which suited both parties. Eventually we agreed on a ten day window in March 2012.
A few meetings with Valgeir in New York followed, during which we talked about our expectations about the upcoming session. Among other things we agreed he would ask his brother Mio to be the engineer while he himself sat in the producer chair. We also discussed involving local Icelandic musicians besides my musical companions whom I’d be bringing with me from the States. Sadly, Volker’s participation on the record ended up not coming together, but perhaps it simply wasn’t meant to be and his role was just to point me to the right place, for which I am and will always remain grateful.
6 months after my first email exchange with the studio, I walked through it’s front door with a sense of excitement to have finally arrived. Upon my arrival I met everyone working in the studio and the independent label called Bedroom Community housed there. I was so surprised by the appearance of the studio’s manager who looked so young, unlike the older brother of Valgeir’s I imagined him to be. I expected only a man with many years of experience could run a studio and manage all it’s affairs, and jumped to a conclusion regarding his age. Mio turned out to be Valgeir’s younger brother, though very much experienced in his field and many others as I found out later- like graphic design, construction building, carpentry and even some aircraft engineering to name but a few. I grew ever more impressed with him over the course of the recording session, as he seemed to possess not only the ability to operate studio equipment with incredible swiftness allowing the flow of creativity to be unobstructed, but also sharp intuition which improved communication between all participants as well as their sense of ease and confidence during performances.
Valgeir and Mio seemed like a great team, working very well together. I observed them from a distance and admired what they seemed to have created together around them-the wonderful studio space filled with lovely people and a warm and friendly atmosphere for the outsiders to enjoy during their stay. They ran a smooth operation, kept their equipment in good shape and the interior tidy and clean. Everyone worked like a team and gathered around a big table for meal times like a family. It seemed truly perfect and I thanked God over and over for bringing me there.
I went into the recording session with a very clear idea of what I wanted to achieve and how I wanted the songs to sound, but both Valgeir and Mio offered wonderful input and directed things into all the right places. I trusted their sense of judgement and took comfort in their suggestions for possible changes as well as their complimenting words of encouragement, for they meant they were paying attention and were invested enough to have an opinion.
Over the course of my ten-day stay, as we all got closer and connections were made, I noticed myself looking to Mio more than anyone else for opinion and help with making my ideas translate to reality. Maybe because his first reaction was always a positive one and no task seemed to overwhelm or inconvenience him. Or perhaps because I felt his heart open to the music and knew he understood it. That he knew just what it needed from him and how he could be of service. His ego was nowhere to be found in the equation. He seemed to leave it at home when he came to work. I recognized this being a true gift of his. One that separated him from most people I know, including myself. It expressed as a magical combination of complete presence, patience and service.
I believe that during the process of co-creation people open their hearts to one another, and their spirits entwine for a time to bring forward what is being conceived. All inspiration comes from the realm of spirit and needs to be collected there and brought into the world of matter where it is rooted and takes on a denser form. From my experience, this is a very magical process and the feelings that spring in one’s heart during it are similar to those of falling in love. The heart is open and cosmic energy flows through it more freely than we usually allow it to. It is this very experience I describe that I love most about what I do. It is the closest I ever get to feeling one with all of creation.
At the end of the session, I was happy with the work we did, but felt the record yet incomplete. The foundation was there and it was strong, but needed building onto. My time with Iceland felt just as unfinished. I longed for more time with the land. To get to experience it outside of the realm of the studio and the intense work of birthing a record. And I longed for more time with Mio. I felt myself developing feelings for him and wanted to better understand them. To find out whether they stemmed from a beautiful illusion brought on by the dance of creation our spirits joined to partake in, or if the roots reached all the way into reality. In a way I hoped that it was a friendship in the making, for a friendship had a bigger chance of lasting a lifetime than any romance that might flare up and burn out as quickly as it came ablaze. But another part of me desired to catch fire, and be consumed by it even if it meant my turning to ashes and dust. There was no feeling of danger, however, only the welcoming call of a familiar entity. Getting closer to Mio felt like coming home, and I longed to know everything there was to know about him, for getting to know him meant getting to know myself.
On top of all that, I received an added reason to stay, which was an opportunity to sing on a record of an Icelandic singer-songwriter Svavar Knutur, who’s music I liked very much.
I postponed my return to New York by a week, but when the week was through, and my plane was taking off, I was not on it. By then I had decided to stay in Iceland indefinitely. Mio and I spent the following year falling deeper in love and finishing our record, which he had taken over as a producer. During this time I wrote a song for him and called it Remember Me. It is the song I’m proudest of so far and enjoy singing the most. I will share the lyrics with you here, for although they carry the most intimate sentiments of my heart and soul, I believe they are universal to the purest of human experiences with love.
I’ve always loved you, and
I always will.
Deep down I knew I’d find you,
If I just stood still,
For long enough to feel you,
In a state of passing bliss, and
All the while praying:
“Please, let me hold on to this.”
And with that you would fade away,
Before I could count to three,
A single thought remaining:
Move into me, into my warmth,
All that’s good within me,
I’m bringing forth…
My arms extended to welcome you, and
Hold you in a tight embrace the way
It’s long been overdue.
I can see you standing,
Across the void of time.
I’m looking up,
You’re looking down.
I can climb this mountain,
If I break all ties,
That hold me to the ground and
Claim that I may never ever rise,
High enough to
Collect you unto me.
The body’s heavy, but
The spirit’s free.
I am released from it,
When I sleep at night, and
Travel to you swiftly
Like a comet burning in its flight.
If you recognize me,
Before I do,
Come say hello,
I’ll say: “It’s good to see you too!”
All that longing,
All this time,
Can I be yours?
Will you be mine?
I love you-always have, and
I always will-always will.
You can go here to read Mio’s Biography.