More Ramones, Less Bizkit In Quarashi’s Icelandic Rap-Rock

Quartet steer clear of nookie for their U.S. debut, Jinx.

For those who think rap-rock is just about tapped out, Quarashi would like to present their spin on the genre.

“We’re trying to do rap music the way Joey Ramone would have done rap music,” said Sölvi Blondal, the band’s producer and drummer.

“What we are trying to do is punk-rock rap music, but a little bit more 1990s, like when Public Enemy was doing Fear of a Black Planet and when Cypress [Hill] was coming up with their first album. We tried to approach that style. … We didn’t want to be like Limp Bizkit or these bands that are coming up now, like Papa Roach.”

The Reykjavik, Iceland, group was formed by Blondal and lead singer/rapper Hössi Olafsson, longtime friends who grew up listening to American rock and rap and playing in punk bands together. Inspired by a copy of Fear of a Black Planet that he got for Christmas (“That’s the day I kind of found myself; I knew I wanted to do rap music”), Blondal became focused on forming a band, eventually corralling rappers Omar Swarez and Stoney Fjelsted.

In addition to his MC skills, Fjelsted brought with him the name Quarashi. It was given to him as a nickname, which he later adopted as his graffiti tag. Since “Quarashi” was on walls all over Iceland, it made sense to turn Fjelsted’s personal publicity into band buzz.

And the buzz has made it to the United States, where the group’s first U.S. release, Jinx, has sold a respectable 18,000 copies since it hit stores on April 9.

The album’s first single, “Stick ‘Em Up,” started off with the sort of nü-metal riffs the band sought to avoid — that is, after the riffs were processed and distorted through a sampler. While the group was working on the track, their engineer joked that the song would get Quarashi signed in America. “And we laughed our asses off,” Blondal said. “We never had a clue that this would get us signed in America. We were just trying to make a cool-ass track.”

For the aggro-rock tune’s video, the group is in an underground boxing match, where they get a chance to show their personalities a bit.

“We don’t really joke around in our songs, but we definitely do when we do videos,” Blondal said. “What we really hate are musicians that take themselves too seriously. We don’t really pretend to be better than anybody else. We’re just trying to have fun and entertain others.

“What we are trying to do with the music is a little bit more related to aggressiveness,” he continued. “We are extremely violent when it comes to making music. But when it comes to making videos, we like to have some laughs. The way we live music is like the way we live in Reykjavik, which is getting drunk three days a week, going out, having crazy parties, getting into fights and laughing at the stuff the next day. Needless to say that we are total wimps in real life. We don’t have any tattoos — we’re skinny-ass white guys.”

Another Jinx track, “Tarfur,” is the first rap song ever recorded entirely in Icelandic, Blondal claims. “Dive In” is a smooth, slow ballad that took only 30 minutes to write, meaning “we didn’t really have to sweat our butts to do it,” Blondal said.

The same isn’t true of “Baseline.” It took more than 12 months to perfect, thanks to an overly picky Blondal who never thought the vocals sounded quite right. Recording began in Iceland and continued in a New York crack house. “I’m absolutely serious. It was a crack house. But it was good. It was a cultural experience.”

“Baseline,” Blondal said, represents Quarashi’s mentality more than most songs. In particular the lyric “I got fools on my case and they’re giving me baseline.” “I guess Hössi was trying to come up with a new kind of slang,” he said. “You’re giving me baseline means you’re giving me sh–.”

Such inventions are the types of things that arise when a band’s members are so diverse yet so connected, Blondal explained. “Hössi, he’s a lot into literature. For instance, the first line in ‘Malone Lives,’ ‘I wanna grow up to be a funky Euripides,’ which is a reference to … whatever. And Omar, he’s all into that ‘Star Wars’ pop culture thing. It is a strange mix, but, amazingly, it works well.”