Thrainn Arni Baldvinsson, born and raised in the Northern Iceland is a guitar player for Icelandic viking metal band Skálmöld. The band was founded in 2009 and released six full length albums to date. On the 23rd of October 2020 Skálmöld is launching a new album Live in Reykjavik on Napalm Records.The album will mark band’s 10th anniversary. Thrainn is also a music teacher and a passionate vinyl record collector. RPM Records Team had a pleasure to chat about music on vinyl, his record collection, a little bit about the history and future directions.
Thrainn, please tell us a little bit about your musical background and how vinyl records have taken part in your musical journey.
I grew up in the northern part of Iceland, on a small farm and when I wasn’t helping out on the farm, I would be listening to records. My mom had a nice collection, not a big collection, but a good collection of music from The Shadows, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, some surf music and The Beatles. Mainly 60s to early 80s music, of course some Icelandic records, and a little bit of classical music. I remember when I had already listened to everything a million times over and over, I played the Vienna Boys Choir album on 45 rpm just to have a little laugh. You know, just for fun and to try something a bit different! This happened when I was 8 or 9 years old.
I was lucky enough to have parents and grandparents that realized that I was drawn towards music quite early, and vinyl was the thing back then. Lucky I was, they all bought vinyl for the purpose of educating me, but I could also ask for something special like Iron Maiden and KISS. Deep Purple albums were also one of my first records.
How do you see your future in music? Are there any present or future projects you would like to share with us?
When I’m not touring, I teach guitar. I am so happy teaching music, this is what I will be doing for the rest of my life. That is my future. I have my own music school called Tónholt . I teach at school, but also a lot online through Skype and I have students all over the world. It’s really cool. My band Skálmöld is about to release a live album and I’m really excited about that. We recorded a live album with the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra back in 2013, but this will be our own first live album, just us and not with other 260 musicians on stage. We recorded it 100% live, no overdubs, no backing tracks. I cant wait! It will be released on the 23rd of October on Napalm Records.
How long have you been collecting music on vinyl? How many records do you own and what is in your collection?
I bought my first record when I was 7 or 8 years old. It was Lick It Up by KISS. I remember my mom saying that it’s going to cost me a lot of money and I would not be able to buy candy or toys, it would only be the record. I said: “I don’t care. I just want this album”! At this time I was listening to my mom’s 60s and 70s records and some children’s music. Then KISS was added to my collection. It was quite a mixture.
I honestly don’t know how many records I own at the moment. It’s somewhere close to 3000. If I don’t listen to an album or feel someone else might enjoy it more, I give that album away. Sometimes I offer an album for sale, but very seldomly. I only want records in my collection that I actually listen to or enjoy having. I have to admit that my KISS collection has some pressings I have not yet listened to. I have 40 different pressings of “Lick It Up” and still have not listened to them all. I’m trying to get all Black Sabbath albums on vinyl but I´m missing one – Forbidden from 1995. And I collect everything from Iron Maiden, Kreator, Sepultura, Death, Obituary, Enslaved, Amon Amarth.
The list is endless. You can also find albums by Django Reinhardt in my collection and one of those is a Shellac from the early days. I´m really proud of that album. Old 7inch records are in my collection, as well as old Icelandic albums from the 50s . They are super cool. I like listening to Chuck Berry´s music from the 7inch singles. I also collect violin music, such as Yehudi Menuhin and Sarah Chang. She is also one of the best players. Frederic Chopin is my favorite as well. I like OST albums, The Gladiator by Hans Zimmer, Lisa Gerrard is a favorite as well. Chernobyl by Hildur Gudnadottir is also very good!
“It’s like buying paintings, right? You enjoy the vinyl by listening and looking at it. I’ve never stopped buying vinyl. People thought I was crazy (probably still think I am) but I just keep doing it. This is the greatest format for music. Everybody who jumps into the vinyl-pool gets the fever, the vinyl fever. It’s awesome!”
What is the rarest record in your collection?
I have the very first KISS album as a radio promo. I think maybe about 250 copies exist. Then I have the Icelandic pressing of Creatures Of the Night by KISS and actually some other cool Icelandic pressings like Piece of Mind by Iron Maiden, only 350 were pressed on vinyl in 1983. The same thing from Mike Oldfield and some Led Zeppelin, only 250 – 350 copies pressed in Iceland. I do have some Shellac albums from the 1930s, such as “Sweet Georgia Brown” by Django Reinhard, but they are more valuable to me than to most collectors, I think.
For many years I was looking for two Icelandic records from 1966 by Thor’s Hammer, and just this summer when I was on vacation, somebody was about to throw away some vinyl. He had some records in a suitcase in a barn, and since he knew I was into vinyl, he said I could look through it before it would be thrown away and destroyed. The suitcase had been in the barn for years. What do I find in the suitcase? The two super rare Thor’s Hammer records!!! Very dirty, sleeveless but in surprisingly good shape. I could not believe my eyes. I saved these records, they are of great historic importance and a big part of our musical heritage here in Iceland. I’m glad that I could save them, and after some cleaning, they sounded awesome! Not many copies exist today so I’m very happy to have them in my collection.
Where do you buy records and how do you find new music?
I like to go to my local record stores. Lucky Records in Reykjavík is probably my “go-to” store. I like to go through their huge selection. I would also recommend Geisladiskabúð Valda and Reykjavík Record Shop.
Additionally, teaching kids and young people is the best way to find new music. My students are always asking if they can learn songs by some artists that I have never heard of before and that keeps me up to date. You would not believe how many kids ask to learn the guitar riff from “Smoke On The Water” – good music will survive the tornado of terrible music, that is for sure!
I used to buy a lot online but now I rarely do, so I don’t have any favorite online record stores. Nonetheless, I do dig through Discogs and Ebay from time to time. I collect all KISS pressings and I like to find those when I’m on tour with my band. It’s way cooler to find a Spanish pressing when you are in Spain, than online, sitting on your sofa in Iceland. I remember when we were touring with our good friends Korpiklaani, Jarkko Aaltonen, Matti Johansson (bass and drums for Korpiklaani) and I, we used to go vinyl hunting everyday. I brought home so many records because we would wind each other up. It is one of my favorite memories from touring. I love them boys and we all love vinyl records. It was a good group of friends, a fellowship of the vinyl hunt. So on tour, I would buy a lot of records and try to find records that were missing from my collection, and of course some rare and cool KISS pressings.
What is special about music on vinyl in your opinion?
The sound is superior. I do have CDs with quality sound, but nothing compares to music on vinyl. Don’t try to convince me otherwise. Haha! Then it’s the album itself, the art, the info, the smell of old vinyl, the smell of new vinyl. All is good. Try listening to Frank Sinatra´s “In the wee small hours” on CD, Spotify or whatever else, then play a 1955 pressing on the turntable and tell me you that you can’t feel it too! It’s magic, it’s history and you are somehow a part of it. I love it!
Do you also collect music on other formats? Tape, CD, digital files?
I do like to get my hands on some tape magic. The old cassettes have a bit of magic, especially the old KISS cassettes. They are magical and I do like to collect them. I will never get rid of all my CDs, but some of them have been given away. I also trade audio files a lot with other KISS nerds such as live bootleg recordings. Some of them sound really, really good, but some of them are totally shit recordings and you almost can’t figure out what song the band is playing. But it’s cool, and I love listening to live recordings from KISS tours.
Do you think there is a difference in how your own music sounds on vinyl in comparison to other formats? What is your preference?
The vinyl versions are better. I know for a fact that all our albums sound better on vinyl. They are mastered differently and everything sounds clearer. It’s a hell of a difference if you ask me. I do remember buying Heaven & Hell’s – The Devil You Know and another album from a band I shall not mention, but the difference between brand new records at the time was shocking. The Heaven & Hell album sounded and still sounds awesome, but the other vinyl was poorly mixed. Damn it, I was pissed because the sound quality was ridiculous!
What is your home / studio setup for music listening?
I have an old 78 rpm player. It is not working properly at the moment. In the living room I also have DUAL from 1972 that my parents had back in the day. It’s not the greatest, but it’s cool and I like it. I can play 33, 45 and 78 rpm on it. In my office/guitar room I have a Pro Ject turntable, Pioneer cassette deck and Marantz PM5005 amplifier. I use old Pioneer speakers from the early 80s. To me, it’s not so much about the sound system as it is about the music. I can listen to good music on a tired and old cassette and still be happy. The only thing that really bothers me is the over compressed high frequency of a digital MP3 file. It can drive me crazy, it is difficult to explain, but the frequency just hits the nerve.
This is why I can never understand when people go to a show and only complain or only show their appreciation regarding the sound during the show. Seeing a live show is supposed to be a LIVE thing with all the mistakes and spontaneity. That is a part of every real live show. Stop thinking only about the sound and experience the concert through your senses, eyes, ears, skin and bones. Close your eyes, relax and feel the bass thumping on your chest!
Are there many record collectors in Iceland? Who is your inspiration as a record collector?
I don’t think I have a certain inspiration. I just got drawn towards records because they had music on it. And it’s art. The whole package is just so awesome. Everything about records just hypnotizes me. How can kids today become vinyl collectors if we don’t inspire them to? Kids are streaming their music today. They don’t know the concept of an album or LP. Even a CD is old news for most of them. If their parents don’t show them the art that is an album and a record, they will never know. We need to educate.
I have many good friends in the record collecting business here in Iceland and I know many more collectors. We have a vinyl group called Vinylvaktin on Facebook, where we share our passion and collections, sell, buy and trade. Nothing but good people there!
Of course, some collectors out there are crazier than others, I can admit that and I often ask myself – “why are some people so crazy about their collections that they are willing to burn all their bridges just for a piece of vinyl”? Not all vinyl is worth becoming an asshole, is it? 99% of record collectors are awesome people, though 1% are not.
What is peculiar about the music that comes from Iceland? Do you have any examples?
Try to listen to Björk and Sólstafir, it will make you smile. If you are from Iceland, you are peculiar. You can’t escape it. Growing up on an active volcanic island makes you a bit peculiar, right? Not necessarily great or even good, but strange for sure.
I think because we, the musicians here in Iceland, can’t just simply play one genre, we get a lot of things mixed inside. I only wanted to be in a metal band, but at the age of fifteen I found myself playing with Paul Weeden, Louis Armstrong guitarist from back in the day. We were playing jazz and blues. Of course, it made me a better guitarist, a better musician. I see that now and I also knew it back then, even though my mind was on metal. It’s a small island and you get involved with things – if you can adapt, you will survive. You have to be able to play with everyone, and if you are lucky, you get to live your dream being in a metal band and tour the world!!!
What are the best sounding records in your collection?
KISS originals box from Japan is easily on my top list. It has all the albums from 1974 up to 1979. The sound is way beyond superior. I’d like to mention Deep Purple – Machine Head, the 40th Anniversary Record. It sounds really good. I like the Rush catalogue, but I guess their sound is always awesome! Like I said before, the music comes before the sound. Maybe it will change as soon as I decide to spend a few millions on the sound system. Until then, I’m just gonna enjoy listening to music. It’s all that matters.
What are the best visually designed records in your collection?
I have a cool album by Amon Amarth, you open up the gate fold and a viking ship jumps right in your face! Björk has some really cool vinyl releases and the last David Bowie album is very good. I suggest you check out our new live album Live in Reykjavík. It’s a picture disc, has a cool cover and it’s a gate fold. I like box sets. The Metallica have been re-releasing their first albums, starting with Kill’em All and each box that comes is bigger and better than the previous one. It´s something that other artists must look at and try to emulate.
Thrainn, your advice for a beginner record collector.
Follow your heart, not trends or fashion. When I was starting to collect for real, I mostly bought the music I really wanted to have. However, I still regret buying records I thought I had to have because they were “cool” at the time. I still cry thinking about the albums I REALLY wanted but passed on because money was tight, but bought “cool” albums instead. Stupid me!