A freelance musician based in Akureyri in the north-east of Iceland, Lára Sóley Jóhannsdóttir spoke to a creative momentum project about developing her livelihood from a peripheral location.
Lára Sóley seemed destined for a career in music. In junior college she specialised in music. After that, at the age of 19, she moved to the UK. She spent a short time in London and then went on to study music in Cardiff at the Royal College of Music and Drama where she graduated as a violinist.
Before going freelance Lára Sóley worked as a music teacher and project manager in Akureyri. Moving from full-time employment to concentrate on her music happened gradually. Lára Sóley took the leap to focus on her music full-time in 2015. While she left a permanent job to pursue creating and performing music with some trepidation, she hasn’t looked back. She now has released a number of successful albums, is leader of a local orchestra, and performs regularly at local and national gigs.
What has also been important to help Lára Sóley to focus on her own creative work is government support for artists. The ‘Artists’ Salaries’ scheme is open to a range of artists, such as designers, actors, writers and musicians and aims to enhance the creation of art in Iceland. It pays artists a monthly salary for a period of for example six months to a year to allow them to focus on their artistic practice. Lára Sóley comments: “It gives you the space for the projects that you want to do and be quite creative…It has helped me to create new projects that I can carry on working with independently”.
While now based in Akureyri, Lára Sóley still maintains her connections in the UK established during her education. She tries to visit London at least twice a year and collaborates with musicians there. She has also developed wider connections, such as in Iceland’s capital Reykjavik, Norway and Russia. This is not just important so she can work on projects collaboratively but also to continue to develop as a musician. Lára Sóley explains “My biggest fear is I stop developing as a musician, as an artist. I don’t want to just be here and do my thing and not connect with anyone. I try regularly just to watch other people perform and chat to them”.
Lára Sóley’s husband Hjalti Jónsson is also a musician. The pair collaborates to create new projects, but also regularly perform and tour together. They raised funds through the crowdfunding platform the Karolina Fund to help support the development of an album which was released last year.
While being based in a small town like Akureyri can be isolating as a musician, Lára Sóley works to combat this by being part of local and national organisations. For example she is part of Konur í Tónlist, or Women in Music which aims to connect female musicians across Iceland. The group is focused on all genres from pop to rock and classical.
The broader cultural infrastructure is also important to developing career in music from Akureyri. The North Iceland Symphony Orchestra is located in the town, as well as having its own music school. The Cultural Council of North East Iceland has also facilitated Lára Sóley to bring her music into the community. For example a recent project supported by the Cultural Council enabled her to perform in 40 schools across the north-east region.