Snorri Hallgrímsson is a composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist from Iceland. He boasts an impressive list of credits both as a solo artist and as a collaborator on a wide variety of projects, including ‘The Chopin Project’, ‘Island Songs’, and the BAFTA-award winning score for ‘Broadchurch’ alongside Ólafur Arnalds. His new album 'I Am Weary, Don't Let Me Rest' was released via Moderna Records. Don't miss our interview with Snorri Hallgrímsson about his music and life.


Can you tell us about your journey as a composer and how you discovered your passion for music? What drew you specifically to film composition as a medium for your musical expression?

I grew up in a musical household. My parents both sang in choirs and we had two pianos in my home. My sisters and I learned instruments from an early age and I quickly found music to be a safe place, away from the rest of the world. I honestly don’t remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by music. 

As I got into my teens, I would spend time with my wonderful guitar teacher dissecting Bach arrangements. None of Bach’s music is written for guitar, so it’s common to make your own arrangements and fingerings. I enjoyed that process a lot and it inspired me to start looking into the methodology behind each composition, instead of just the technique of how to perform it. 

Around the same time, I began to fall in love with film music and my first attempts at music production were making midi mock-ups of my favourite scores in GarageBand. By the time I had finished my guitar studies, I knew focusing on playing a single instrument wasn’t enough for me.

What are some of the most rewarding aspects of being a composer? Is there a specific moment or project that stands out as a highlight in your career so far?

It’s such a strange profession to have chosen. You go through so much self-doubt and when deadlines are approaching you work such long hours. But somehow it’s still worth it. I know how much music can move me and impact my everyday life, so I feel privileged by the thought of other people being moved by my music. 

As a film composer, the ultimate highlight for me is to see and hear the films I’ve scored on the big screen. One of them, Innocence by Guy Davidi, was premiered last year at The Venice Film Festival. Sharing that moment with people, some of whom had worked on the film for years, was incredible.

In your experience, what role does music play in enhancing the emotional impact of a film? How do you ensure that your compositions align with the director's vision?

Music changes everything in the film. Pacing, feel... everything. Every sound is a decision and even more importantly, silence is an incredibly musical decision as well. You have to take your ego completely out of the equation. My job often comes at the end of the line, when most other people have been working on the film for months or even years. So you have to respect that you are there to serve the director's vision and not your own. To me, the best composers are able to do that while still putting their own unique stamp on the score. 

This framework can be incredibly helpful as well, and lead you into creative places you might not have gone otherwise. That's why I enjoy doing both film music and my solo music, and I strongly believe doing one benefits the other.

Could you share some insights into the creative process behind your upcoming album, 'I Am Weary, Don't Let Me Rest'? What inspired the album's concept and themes?

It was a different process from my previous solo albums. They, like so many other albums, were written here and there over a longer period of time as I was working on other projects. But for various reasons I only had a three-month window to write, record and produce the entire new album. That time pressure meant I had less time to overthink and reject ideas, so in a way this album is perhaps more organic as a result. 

These three months happened to be November, December, and January - the darkest months of the year in one of the darkest places in the world. There were, and are, certain things happening in the world that made me feel particularly disillusioned. I felt a need to help and to change the world but maybe due to the time of year, instead just felt overwhelmed and well... weary. Then one day I watched the film Argentina, 1985 based on the true story of the "trial of the juntas". There's a line in the film, taken from an actual real-life speech by Julio César Strassera, that mentioned "the painful privilege of knowing". 

And that struck such a chord with me in that state of mind. I am generally curious and love reading up on pretty much everything, but at that time I was really feeling how "painful" knowledge can be. That same speech references Dante's Inferno, so true to my nerdy self I had to explore that as well. In it, Dante f.ex. encounters "the uncommitted": people who lived a life of blissful ignorance but in death are doomed to a miserable non-existence in neither hell nor heaven. But he also encounters his own version of Ulysses, who he condemns for overreaching in his quest for knowledge. I could go on and on, but this struggle between painful awareness and blissful ignorance became the inward feeling I let wash over me as I was writing. Many of the track titles are direct references to Dante or Strassera, and the album title acknowledges this struggle as well.

Can you provide us with a glimpse into your other future projects or collaborations that you are excited about?

I am currently working on a new film score, and there are plenty of other incredibly exciting things ahead which I can't talk about just yet. But it's been very hectic lately, so right now I'm most excited about the upcoming collaboration with my summer vacation... 

Outside of composing, what are some of your other interests and hobbies that help you recharge and find balance in your life?

Having made music my life's work, to relax I try to spend time away from music. Most of my closest friends and family aren't musicians which I'm actually grateful for, because it helps me escape work mode completely when I spend time with them - which ultimately is what gives me the greatest joy. Other than that I enjoy listening to podcasts on long walks, spending time outside of the city, the occasional board game, watching films, and even a sports game every now and then.

Are there any particular techniques or musical influences that you draw upon consistently in your work?

Like I mentioned earlier, one of the great things about making film music is that it forces you out of your comfort zone. So you constantly have to explore new sounds and techniques, which I can then use to benefit my solo music as well. But of course I have my go-to's for certain things. Harmonically I'm constantly trying and failing to emulate John Tavener and Arvo Pärt to name a few. And through my work with Ólafur Arnalds I fell in love with the incredibly warm and rich string sounds of his music, which was heavily shaped by Viktor Orri Árnason who also conducted the string orchestra on my new album. For my darker scores, I've been heavily influenced by the soundscapes of Mica Levi and my friends Bára Gísladóttir and Þorsteinn Eyfjörð.

As a composer, how do you stay inspired and motivated in your creative journey? Are there any rituals or practices that help you find inspiration?

My brain is pretty switched onto music from the moment I wake up (for better and for worse). I've never experienced a writer's block or the romantic sudden burst of inspiration. I think there are some feelings you're not entirely aware of having in the moment, or at least not able to put into words. And ever since childhood I've found music to be the place where those feelings are heard, like I mentioned before. So when in need of inspiration, I try to let those feelings come to me and see where they take me. And they don't always take me to where I want to be musically. Then you have to experiment, and explore other avenues. Listen to other music, what elements can you find that inspire you to make new sounds or new progressions etc.

If you had to make an album in other styles of music, what would it be?

Given I spend most of my time all by myself in the studio, working on the computer... I'd want to be in a band, which is something I haven't really experienced since I was a teenager. Lately I've been obsessed with latin music, so it could be a Buena Vista Social Club style band where I get to play cowbell and yell the occasional "órale!"

Finally, from your perspective, what is the meaning of life?

I can't answer that any better than the next person. But Juan Carlós Strassera said in the same speech: "We have the responsibility to build a peace based not on forgetfulness but on memory." I quite like that. Let's know things and be kind.