Dad Rocks: the pro-Internet, anti-Disney Icelander fights for free expression in music
By John Rogers
8 November 2011, 23:08
Dad Rocks! is the nom-de-plume of one Snævar Njáll Albertsson, a Denmark-based Icelander who has quickly risen to fame in the European indie scene this year with his affectingly humane, witty and melodic music.
Mount Modern is his first album as Dad Rocks!, and it’s a strikingly complete release for such a young project. Nestled inside its eleven beautiful songs is a sense of kindness and innocence, but also a sense of being embattled by modern life. “Yeah, I think that’s accurate,” says Albertsson. “Since becoming a dad I’ve seen the world from a totally different perspective. The innocence probably comes from that – not just looking as yourself, but also at challenges your children are going to face.”
Albertsson left Iceland as a young teenager. “We moved to Denmark when I was about twelve and I’ve been there the last thirteen years,” he explains. How come the move? “Well we lived in the north of Iceland, and we were really poor—my dad got a job out there that paid much more and he just wanted to try it out, and it worked out good.”
It’s apparent from listening to the record that Albertsson not only has kids, but is very absorbed in their upbringing. It turns out that at the ripe old age of 26, Snævar is already a father of two—a trait less uncommon in Scandinavia than in the UK. “People in Iceland want to just jump into life,” he smiles. “They’re not waiting around to become something big and fancy. If you’re living in a small town somewhere, you kind of know already what you’re going to be working with. There’s no waiting around for that big chance.” He pauses to think. “It’s the same with musicians I guess—a lot of my friends are hoping to become musicians so they postpone fatherhood. But I didn’t see any problem in combining those two things.”
And so, we have Dad Rocks!, a project that embraces twee domesticity and intentional musical naïveté alongside lyrics that are both childlike and thoroughly grown up, taking on themes like pollution, the science of child-rearing and the system of major labels. But Albertsson is reluctant to describe his songs as political. “I’m not trying to preach but rather to raise questions,” he says, carefully. Is he a political person generally? “I guess, and I hope everyone is on some level”.
Although Snævar clearly has a lot of thoughts on political issues, he seems reluctant to answer. Is it a question he’s trying to avoid? “No, not at all,” he replies, “I just don’t think that I belong to a certain political idea or party. I try to sing about stuff that is closest to me. For instance, on copyright – I feel I need to express some of those thoughts, and I think every musician actually should. It wouldn’t be so interesting to hear me sing about love.”
Copyright is something that concerns him to the degree of offering a statement alongside the album that all Dad Rocks! material is held under Creative Commons, a looser version of copyright that allows for free public usage of his output. “I’ve been reading some stuff about law suits by the major labels,” he explains. “There was one instance where a mom filmed her kid dancing along to Prince. She put it on YouTube. She got a letter that she was getting sued. The amount of energy and money that goes into putting big lawyers in the room to bust some mother that’s put up a video of son dancing… it’s ridiculous. I like that kids could kind of use songs—remix them, put pictures with them, play with them and put it up somewhere else without even thinking about majors coming after them. I like that creative flow that’s going on today.”
So is Albertsson is of the opinion that the battle against Internet piracy is lost, and bands should let go and move on? “I like that music is so available,” he says. “The act of consuming music has changed dramatically. I’ve read research that says people are spending less on buying CDs in shops, but spending more on going to concerts, and I don’t see anything wrong with that actually. I sell most records on tour – I feel happy if kids will download it, but then I’ll be playing in their hometown and playing a gig and they’ll be at the show, supporting the venue by buying a few beers, and maybe have enough to pick up the vinyl from the stall.”
On his newest single “Weapons”, Albertsson sings “there’s a cellphone tucked under your pillow, it makes me junk sleep / and it doesn’t do a thing for growth hormones or dreams”. The lyric brings to mind that recent era when mobiles first appeared, and health ramifications were seemingly swept aside by the relentless emergence of an industry that was about to become one of the biggest consumer concerns in the world. “I think the biggest health risk is probably the addiction to cellphones,” says Albertsson. “People sleep with their phones next to them, and if they’re chipping and chirping the whole night, you won’t get a good sleep. I guess that song is just me reflecting on being to addicted to that shit.”
On “Pro-Disney”, Albertsson rails against mass cultural intake. It’s perhaps a running theme on the Mount Modern—individuals with all their hopes and ideas and trials being set against political and cultural machinery that they can’t really control. “Personally I love Disney movies,” he says. “My daughter suggested to me to that we watch a movie and I said, “yeah, let’s watch Pocohontas!” And she was like “no let’s watch something else”.
“But I love Pocohontas. I love the soundtrack. There’s a lot of art in those movies. But the company itself worries me. It has so much power. And the way they go about advertising to kids. The company is not as beautiful as the movies are.”
These kind of anti-corporate sentiments are something that has traditionally been the subject matter of punk rock. So is there a punk heart beating in the sweet balladry of Dad Rocks!? “Definitely,” says Albertsson. “That’s the ironic approach to it I guess. It’s a raised fist but it’s not high in the air. I’m not throwing bricks or anything. I just have my pen.”
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Get the album at www.dadrocks.bandcamp.com