SVALA: I’ve dealt with severe anxiety throughout my life 

SVALA is an Icelandic singer and songwriter. She is most notable for her 2001 song, „The Real Me”, from the album with the same title and now she will represent Iceland in the Eurovision Song Contest 2017 in Kiev.

Hello, Svala! First of all congratulations for representing Iceland and thanks for accepting to talk to us.

How do you feel about the thought that you are going to represent your country?
I´m very honoured and very thankful. It´s a very humbling experience when you are picked to represent your country. I´m very excited to perform on the big stage in the Ukraine and in front of millions.

Did you expect to represent Iceland?
Yes and no. I had a lot of support from the beginning with my song and so many people loved it. But you never know with these competitions cause it can go either way. There were at least 4 others song that were competing as well that we quite popular on the radio so I didn´t know how the voting was gonna go. Also I´m a very down to earth type of person and humble so I didn´t dare to be sure to win, also that´s bad luck to think you are going to win in my opinion. But I won with overwhelming majority of votes and broke a record in the history of Söngvakeppnin in Iceland. That really freaked me out. Such an amazing feeling when you write a song and people relate to it and love it as much as you do.

Let’s talk about your Eurovision song: „Paper”. Can you tell us the message that stands behind it?
My song is written from a very personal experience. It´s about dealing with difficult times in your life. I´ve been very open in the media in Iceland that I´ve dealt with severe anxiety throughout my life since I was a teenager. Music has always been my salvation and my safe place. I wanted to write about what I go through when I´m dealing with major difficulties in my life. We all deal with something in life. No one has a perfect life. This is what connects us as human beings. The word paper in my song is a metaphor for emotions. When I wrote the lyrics with Lily I wanted to describe the relationship I have with myself while dealing with difficulties. My anxiety makes me fragile and makes me vulnerable like paper. You can take paper and do so many things to it, you can cut it, burn it, rip it, glue it together, punch holes into it, crumple it and so on. But you can also make beautiful things out of paper, like draw on it, paint on it, write poetry and stories, write beautiful letters to loved ones and so on. The purpose of me writing my song is to be open and honest about my life and not be ashamed about dealing with difficulties. Because when we are open and when we talk to each other, we are setting ourselves free. By not being ashamed we are facing our fears and we are not giving up. That´s what Paper is all about.

What are your thoughts regarding the participation in Kyiv?
I´m just very excited. I´ve never been to the Ukraine so I´m curious to see what Kyiv looks like in person and meet the people there. I travel so much around the world because of my music so it kinda feels like I´m just doing one of my gigs like I always so expect it´s on tv in front of 200 million people and they will vote for their favourite song lol.

What is the biggest challenge that can happen to an artist on the Eurovision stage?
If my in ear monitors fail and I won´t be able to hear myself. That would not be good. If the power would go out and there would not be any electricity. If I fall on stage and break my leg. If I would rip my costume in the middle of my performance. These are just worst case scenarios. But in reality I have to be able to connect with people around the world through those cameras and sing from my heart and soul.

Because we are looking forward to getting familiar with you, describe your song with your own words. Can you explain us the video?
The music video was directed by my husband Einar Egilsson. He also co-wrote Paper with me, LilyElise and Lester Mendez and he co-produced it with Lester. Einar is a songwriter, producer and director. He also directed all the musici videos for our band Steed Lord for 10 years and our new band Blissful. Me and him work very closely on all my videos, I do the art direction with him and I also do all the styling. I rarely work with stylists cause I´ve always styled myself but for Paper I hired this young amazing stylist from Iceland called Stella Björt. Our styles are very similar and we worked amazing together. I just love all the looks she pulls for me. The video is about me being chased by someone or something. As you can see I´m in an abandoned coffee factory, Einar loves industrial type looking locations. But then this warrior fighter type figure appears and that´s kinda my alter ego that´s fighting the intruder, which is my anxiety, and you see that I´m not backing down from my fears. I´m facing them head on. We wanted the video to be very simple and have lots of performance shots. I also wanted my personal style and stage performance to be the main focus. We also wanted to tie in the lazer show we had in the live performance in Söngvakeppnin in the video. We also wanted the video to be kind of abstract and not to literal. If you check out all the Steed Lord music videos and the Blissful music video for “Elevate” you will so how our visual work looks like.

Do you think that if you want to win this contest you have to make your song by a recipe or it’s a whole package behind it?
My song “Paper” was not even written for Eurovision. Me and Einar have been for the last 2 years in many writing sessions in LA, where we have lived for 8 years, writing for our new band Blissful. “Paper” was one of the songs that came out of those sessions. Many months after we wrote it we decided to send it in to Söngvakeppnin in Iceland. So there was no Eurovision formula or recipe to my song. I can only speak for myself, I always write from my heart and it´s VERY important for me as an artist, songwriter and performer to be true to myself. So I could never make a song just to win a competition. That would not feel right to me or real to me. It might work for other people but it´s not for me.

Are you planning to visit Romania in the near future?
I would love to!! I´ve never been to Romania but I have friends that have and they say it´s a stunning country and with a very interesting history.

Who would you like to collaborate with and why?
I would love to work with The Weeknd and Rihanna. I´m a huge fan of them and would love to write with them or be featured on one of their tracks.

Which Eurovision songs do you still have in mind and why are they so special to you?
I love “Heroes” and the message behind it. Great lyrics and a beautiful melody that´s also very catchy and musical.

Could you tell us which is your favourite song that Romania had brought on the Eurovision stage?

I actually loved Nico and Vlad and their song “Pe-o Margine De Lume”. Very beautiful song and amazing singers those two.

We would like to know you better. Please describe your personality in 3 adjectives, tell us who you truly are and what do you usually do.

Kind. Loyal. Funny .

What is Svala, doing when the microphone is off and you’re away from the stage?

I´m always working on music. Writing songs for myself and for other artists. I also have my own clothing line called KALI which is sold online. I´m one of the four main judges on the tv show The Voice in Iceland. I love watching movies and reading books. I read a new book every month. It´s mainly science fiction books. I love hiking and nature. I adore my friends and my family. Going out dancing and having beautiful dinners. I love animals, we have a persian cat called Lucy and she is like our baby. Furry baby.

How did your career started? Was it hard for you to become that successful as you are now?

I was born into the icelandic music industry because of my father Bo Halldorsson who is one of the most successful recording artists in Iceland. I started recording music when I was 7 years old. But I had to beg my father to record music when I was a kid cause my parents didn´t want me going into the music business. They wanted me to educate myself and be in school and enjoy my childhood. But I went into the business anyway and had my first number one hit when I was a 11 years old. My parents were always supportive and amazing but it was very important to them that I stay in school and go to college which I did. I graduated from college with a sociology degree. I´ve released countless popular singles and been in many bands throughout my career. I had my second number one single when I was 16 years old in Iceland. When I was 20 years old I was signed by EMI in America and signed one of the biggest record contract ever made with an icelandic artist. My first american single which I co-wrote came out in 2001 and became quite popular in America and was on the top 30 Billboard Charts over there and number one in Germany. I´ve released 2 solo albums and 3 albums with my band Steed Lord. I formed my band Steed Lord in 2006 and we had great success worldwide. Toured all over the world, designed a clothing line for H&M, had our music in a lot of american tv shows, commercials and a couple of movies. I moved to Los Angeles in 2009 and I´ve lived there for 8 years with my husband. I´ve had to work very hard for my success and I´ve had to prove myself a lot more because my father is such a respected recording artist in Iceland. I´ve always gone my own way in music and had my own path. I never wanted to be the same artist as my father. He is a legend in Iceland and there is only one Bo Halldorsson and it was always very important to me and to him that I have my own voice and my own journy in music and not to be in his shadow. My dad never used his connections to help me in the industry in Iceland. He totally could have but he never did cause he thought that we be wrong and not fair to me as a young artist. I´m so glad he made me work for my success, cause it made me very indepentant and made me headstrong and brave as a songwriter and singer.

What inspires and motivate you to do music?

Music is my life. I would not be here if I didn´t have my music. When I write songs and when I perform live it makes me complete. It´s like oxygen for me. Everyone has a purpose and music is my purpose in life. I write about my life, my emotions and dreams and thoughts. Everything around me inspires me to write music and to sing. It´s what I´ve been doing my whole life.

When did your passion for Eurovision start?

I have to be honest, I never really had a special passion for Eurovision. I watched a lot when I was a kid and I loved it. When I became a teenager I became a total rebel and I never watched it and I thought it was not cool and not artistic enough. But as I became an adult I started having a lot of respect for it and for the songwriters that write the songs that compete and all the amazing performers that sing them. My dad competed for Icelands behalf in 1995 with his song “Núna” and I remember watching it on tv in Iceland and I was so proud of him. It was a moment I´ll never forget. I was a teenager and I was only listening to dance music and rap but I remember being so proud of my dad and proud of our country. In recent years I´ve only been able to see bits and pieces of Eurovision online cause I´ve lived in LA for 8 years and they only started showing Eurovision on tv last year. I think Eurovision has become one of the most spectalular shows in the world. I feel like it started becoming that way 9 years ago. And with every year it´s more epic and huge.

Finally, do you have a message for ESC on POINT readers?

Thank you for reading my interview. Have a beautiful day. Love and light to all. Hope you vote for me and my song “Paper” in the semi finals may 9th. If you want to follow my Eurovision journey join me on my snapchat at svalakali and my instagram and my facebook

Ingrid Marc contributed to this article


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