Photo by Gabriel Backman Waltersson
Since first bursting onto the global punk scene in 2018, Icelandic trio GRÓA have thrilled audiences across the world by fully embracing an unruly freedom. Made up of sisters Hrafnhildur Einars Maríudóttir (aka Hrabba, age 22) and Karólína Einars Maríudóttir (aka Karó, age 20) and their childhood friend Fríða Björg Pétursdóttir (also 22), the Reykjavík-bred band merge elements of post-punk and noise-rock and art-pop with absolute abandon, arriving at an explosive yet magnificently arranged sound unlike any other. As shown on their 2019 sophomore album Í Glimmerheimi and its 2021 follow-up What I like to do—both soon to be re-released via U.S.-based record label FOUND—GRÓA approach their output with equal parts DIY spirit, strong-minded vision, and wildly playful imagination (a quality that extends to Karó’s recent excursion into inventing and constructing her own instruments). But while their songs endlessly veer off into unexpected and sublimely jarring directions, all of GRÓA’s music reveals the deep sense of purpose behind their nonstop experimentation: a profound desire to shatter limitations, dismantle worn-out patterns and narrow ways of thinking, and uncover new possibilities for living without restraint in an all-too-rigid world.
“The only rule we follow is that there’s no wrong way to create,” says Karó. “We’re obsessed with trying new things and finding more extreme ways to come up with sounds.” “It’s like our music is a world we’ve made for ourselves, as a way to keep exploring new sounds and new ideas,” Hrabba adds. “Nothing is ever a mistake; it’s about having fun and doing what we want and fucking everything up if that feels right. Rebelliousness is definitely a big part of what drives us.”
Known for their revelatory live show—a highly communal experience that’s won acclaim from tastemaking outlets like Paste Magazine and the U.K.-based Clash Magazine and The Line of Best Fit—GRÓA have toured throughout Europe and the U.K., opened for artists like Wilco and Kælan Mikla, and performed ahead of DJ sets from Pussy Riot and Björk. But long before they took the stage, the trio discovered their combustible musicality through years of dreaming up songs in the Einarsdóttirs’ grandparents’ garage. Although the band didn’t officially launch until 2017, the three members first started making music together in their early teens, expanding on the musical foundation they’d each developed by studying piano as children. “For the first few years we were making music for ourselves—none of our friends even knew we were playing together; we kept everything secret,” Fríða recalls. “It was a safe space away from school, and a way to find ourselves as creative people before showing our music to anyone,” Karó notes. During that time, Hrabba taught herself to play drums, Fríða learned bass, and Karó took up guitar and synth in addition to assuming the role of lead vocalist. Naming themselves after a mutual ancestor, GRÓA began blossoming after linking up with likeminded people involved in post-dreifing (an art collective mainly consisting of young artists within Reykjavík’s underground scene). “With the birth of post-dreifing, the music scene and everything connected to it was suddenly so exciting—all these bands coming together, supporting each other, and forming a real community,” says Fríða.
With their early live experience including gigs at a library, a café/bike-repair shop, and a children’s school (as well as countless shows at a local basement venue), GRÓA released their self-titled debut in 2018 and took the stage at the famed Iceland Airwaves festival in 2019. As their Iceland Airwaves performance earned raves around the globe—and drew praise from the likes of legendary Seattle-based radio station KEXP, who hailed their “fiery, delightfully aggressive energy”—GRÓA soon headed back into the studio to create Í Glimmerheimi (a self-produced eight-song LP whose title translates to “In a glitter world”). Listing iconoclasts like Sonic Youth, PJ Harvey, and Bikini Kill among their longtime inspirations, the band pursued their experimental impulses with more intensity and confidence on Í Glimmerheimi, matching the album’s shapeshifting sound with a surrealist but emotionally potent form of lyrical storytelling. “It’s about a girl who’s trying to escape the world she’s stuck in—this glitter world that looks so good on the surface, but it’s not where she’s meant to be,” says Karó in discussing the album’s concept. “There’s a song called ‘Jetpackstelpan,’ or ‘Jetpack Girl,’ where she leaves the world on a jetpack and flies away to the moon, and she’s never coming back again.” Opening on the kaleidoscopic rhythms and rowdy call-and-response vocals of “Fullkomið” (“Perfect”), Í Glimmerheimi brings that narrative to frenetic and dazzling life, ultimately closing out on “Skrímslið er að ná þér” (“The monster is getting you”): a serpentine and strangely mesmerizing epic whose swirling textures, otherworldly vocals, and sparse yet complex guitar tones illuminate the immense scope and depth of GRÓA’s artistry.
When it came time to create What I like to do, GRÓA took advantage of the prolonged standstill of lockdown and spent months on end in a friend’s studio, slowly building up an elaborate sonic world that unequivocally captures the joyful ferocity of their live show. To achieve the album’s glorious unpredictability, the band allowed themselves an even greater level of freedom in the writing and recording process. “All our songs are made in such different ways,” says Fríða. “Sometimes they come from us jamming in the garage, but other times we’ll sit down and draw a song on paper and then try to put the images to music. Another thing we love to do is switch instruments—when I hear Karó play the bass, for example, it gives me new ideas because she looks at the bass in a completely different way than I do. We’re always trying to find a new angle on what we’re creating.” Encompassing everything from the gorgeously ominous sprawl of “Ég skal bíða eftir þér” (“I will wait for you”) to the hypnotically loopy harmonies of “Grannypants,” What I like to do also marks the first GRÓA release to feature one of Karó self-built instruments. “For the last album I made a waterphone, which is a metal instrument that you pour water into and then play with a bow,” explains Karó, who’s currently studying new media compositions at university. “Now I’m working on the first instrument that I’ve made from scratch myself, which is a flute that lets you control the sound by playing with the light that shines through its holes.”
With their latest projects including a forthcoming live album, GRÓA are now gearing up to make their U.S. debut at iconic New York City venue Pianos. In all of their live shows, the band adds a heady element of free-flowing improvisation to their songs while providing abundant space for audience members to shed their own inhibitions. “The shows are always a huge release for us, but we also want everyone there to dance and let loose and be part of the whole experience—sometimes we’ll even throw our instruments out into the crowd so that they can play along with us,” says Fríða. “We’ve had a lot of people tell us that they feel empowered and more hopeful after coming to see us. In a way it’s funny to think that our songs would give people a positive feeling about the future, but it’s made us aware us that the live performance is the most important aspect of this band. It’s our way of showing all the power that can come from doing whatever you want to do.”
- Elizabeth Barker