The story of Mike Lindsay (Cheek Mountain Thief) began in Iceland in 2006. It involved a girl, Harpa, and an unforgettable New Year’s Eve party. In 2011, Lindsay – best known as the frontman of Tunng – took to Iceland to rekindle that romance, and to record a bewitching new album under the name Cheek Mountain Thief inspired by the landscape and the people of Iceland.
Iceland Airwaves festival. In December that year, Lindsay travelled with Harpa to the small, northern fishing town of Husavik, with its view of Kinna Fell – Cheek Mountain. “Everywhere was covered in snow and the sky was pink,” remembers Lindsay. “I witnessed bubbling hot springs and a volcano crater called Hell. I remember feeling like we were in a mythical wonderland.”
On returning to London, Lindsay was plagued by thoughts of Husavik. “It struck me: if I love this place so much why don’t I just move there for a while?” With Tunng on a break, he hatched a plan to move to Husavik for a couple of months, to set up a studio and record an album. The concept was to arrive with no ideas and very little equipment, recording on whatever he could borrow from the locals. He’d been offered a Fender Jaguar guitar, a Fender Bassman amp, two monitor speakers and a DX7 synth before he even left Reykjavik.
“Over the following two months I settled into a very simple life,” says Lindsay. “I worked until six then went for an afternoon swim and hot tub politics with the old guys. All life’s problems are discussed in the hot tub. I remember in the first week plugging in the guitar, turning the amp up, standing on the porch looking at the mountains and just playing, loudly, for hours, not another soul around. It was like a never-ending music video.”
Soon, Lindsay began to meet a colourful cast of local musicians: drummer Gunni, trumpet player Gudni, violin player Lara Soley, effects pedal-obsessed teenager Oskar, bassist Birki and accordian player Asta, 15, who introduced Lindsay to her school’s marimba band. Before long, the album was being shaped by the people of Husavik’s tiny, 2000-strong community.
After two months of wild weather and nightly Northern Lights displays, the changing seasons meant it was time for Lindsay to leave Husavik, albeit with a dozen new songs. “I had the makings of a record telling the story of new beginnings, new people, alien landscapes, and falling in love. It certainly didn’t sound like an album of loneliness in the wilderness. But how could it?”
The album was completed in Rejkjavik with another host of local characters: a male choir named after the Kaffi Barrin pub, producer Sindri and electronica artist Mugison, who has toured with Tunng and who, according to Lindsay, “sings like the devil”. The album was mixed by Gunni Tynes from Icelandic band Mum, with work being completed in Hafnarfirdi studio, notable for having walls made of lava. By this time, Lindsay had mentally bid farewell to London. “I had fallen in love with Harpa and this new life here,” he says. “The record had become the story of this new life. What a year… what a place… What an experience.”
The album is set for release on 10 August 2012 on Full Time Hobby.