Pollapönk were founded in 2006 by guitarists Haraldur Freyr Gislason and Heidar Orn Kristjansson of the Icelandic post-punk trio Botnledja. They created Pollapönk when graduating as Bachelors of Education from the Icelandic University of Education – in fact the first Pollapönk album was recorded when Haraldur and Heidar were graduating as pre-school teachers: they made an album as a part of their final work and submitted it along with a final paper. The purpose was to write and perform ambitious music that children and adults alike would enjoy and be able to sing along to. The songs are intended to relate to different age groups in an open and illuminating way.
The first Pollapönk album was a major hit in Iceland. In 2007 drummer Arnar Thor Gislason – who is Haraldur‘s brother - and bassplayer Gudni Finnsson both joined Pollapönk, who then became a quartet. Pollapönk have recorded two subsequent albums and played countless gigs for children and adults all over Iceland. In everyday life Haraldur Freyr is chairman of the Association of pre-school Teachers. Heidar Orn is a pre-school teacher and Arnar Thor and Gudni are professional musicians.
The origins of Pollapönk
Haraldur Freyr and Heidar Orn are childhood friends who have been playing and writing music since their early teens. They formed the band Botnledja and entered the local music contest Battle of the Bands’in 1995 and ended up winning it. Their first ever album Drullumall went gold; they were chosen as Best Newcomers at the Icelandic Music Awards in 1995, and as Best Rock Group in 1996 and 1998. They made five albums and two were chosen as the Album of the Year. Botnledja changed their name to Silt in 1997. They toured Europe supporting Blur and opened for Prodigy, Suede, Pulp and Sparta. Botnledja played the Reading Festival, All Tomorrow‘s Parties and In the City, as well as Eurosonic in Holland, Spot in Denmark, Emmaboda in Sweden and the Iceland Airwaves Festival. They subsequently performed some concerts with the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra before finally calling it a day.
Botnledja participated in Söngvakeppnin, the Icelandic Eurovision pre-selection, in 2003. They wound up in second place with the song Eurovísa and have always maintained they would try for Eurovision again.
Pollapönk have had a few big hits, including Leyniskapurinn (Secret Closet), Thor og Jon eru hjon (Thor and John are a couple) and 113 vaelubillinn (113 Wailing Car), which has had many thousands of hits on Youtube. In 2011 the Icelandic national newspaper Frettabladid nominated Pollapönk for the Fellowship Award in the category “Fighting against prejudice”, which is a cause they have been promoting heavily both on their albums and when playing live. That same year Pollapönk received the Icelandic Ibby Award (International Board of Books for Young People) for their contribution to children's culture.
No Prejudice in Eurovision
Despite their obvious sense of humour, Pollapönk’s serious aim is to help eradicate prejudice and bullying through the medium of music. The song No Prejudice (Enga fordóma) is typical of this running theme in all their work. It is all about a young person who has a speech impediment and is afraid of being teased or bullied because of it. With this song about celebrating our diversity it is Pollapönk’s aim to help eliminate all forms of discrimination, bullying and prejudice, with the message that every individual has the right to live harmoniously with the rest of the world. Eurovision itself is a uniquely diverse institution and Pollapönk are proud to use this musical stage to send their positive message out across Europe to millions of viewers.
Two additional backing vocalists will join Pollapönk on stage in Copenhagen – Snæbjörn Ragnarsson of metal band Skálmöld and Member of Parliament Óttar Proppé of rock band Dr. Spock. This will be the first time that an Icelandic member of parliament has ever competed in Eurovision.
Haraldur Freyr Gislason was born in Hafnarfjordur in 1974. He started playing the drums at a young age, founding four short-lived bands before starting the rock trio Botnledja in 1994 with guitarist, singer Heidar Orn Kristjansson and bass player Ragnar Pall Steinarsson. Botnledja won the Battle of the Bands in 1995 and made five critically acclaimed albums. They had several hits and toured the UK and Europe before putting the band on hold for a few years.
Haraldur got a job working at the pre-school Horduvellir in his hometown of Hafnarfjordur, where he soon felt completely at home and enjoyed the role so much that he went on to train professionally as a teacher. He managed to use his musical background as part of his work with the children, who are used to learning all kinds of music. He took up guitar and started writing new songs and lyrics especially for the youngsters, who quickly picked them up and started singing his songs. When he had written enough material to fill an album he went into the studio in 2001 to record his debut solo album. Haraldur Freyr is nicknamed Halli and it was somehow natural to name the album Hallilujah. The album got great reviews and the songs became popular with both young and old alike. He made his second solo album Hafnarfjordur- capital of the Universe in 2007, using the pseudonym Fulli kallinn.
Haraldur decided to become a pre-school teacher and started his studies at the Icelandic University of Education. When preparing for graduation, Haraldur and Heidar came up with the idea of making an album of songs for children as part of their final work. When the album Pollapönk was released it suddenly became a major hit. His song 113 Vælubíllin (113 Wailing Car) was nominated for an award at the Icelandic Music Awards. Follow-up album Meira Pollapönk (More Pollapönk) was released in 2011 and the third album Enn meira Pollapönk (Even More Pollapönk) followed in 2012.
Haraldur is an enthusiastic supporter of his hometown football club FH, which plays in the Icelandic premier division and has reached the UEFA qualification round several times. Along with his friend Heidar Orn he composed and recorded the football club anthem, which is sung before and during every FH club game. In 2011 Haraldur was elected the chairman of the Association of Pre-school Teachers and re-elected 2014.
Heidar Orn Kristjansson was born in Hafnarfjordur 1974. He started singing at quite a young age when listening to a popular children's musical play written by the Norwegian songwriter and radio employee Thorbjörn Egner. Heidar knew all the songs in it by heart and started collecting records as a boy. He began to play guitar in his teens and immediately started writing his own songs and lyrics, founding his first band with his schoolmates Haraldur Freyr Gislason and Ragnar Pall Steinarsson when they were just fifteen years old. They broke up soon after that but re-united under the name Botnledja in 1994 and won Battle of the Bands in 1995. Heidar Orn was the group's frontman, singing and playing guitar, but all of them collaborated in writing the songs together.
Botnledja opened a concert for Britpop band Blur in Iceland in the autumn of 1996. Damon Albarn invited the band to tour with Blur as a supporting band on their upcoming UK tour. Botnledja changed their name to Silt, toured the UK in 1997 and went to Los Angeles in 1999. They released five albums, won some awards and had several hit songs. Botnledja‘s fifth and last album Iceland National Park was released in 2003. This same year Botnledja participated in Söngvakeppnin, the Icelandic Eurovision pre-selection.
Heidar made a solo album under the pseudonym The Viking Giant Show, released in 2005. He had been working on the album on and off at home for two years when it was released and he had stockpiled almost fifty songs to chose from.
When Botnledja stopped touring, Heidar got a job at the pre-school Engjaskoli and liked the job so much that he applied for the Iceland University of Education and graduated in 2006. The first Pollapönk album was released at the same time. Heidar and Haraldur, along with the other two members of Pollapönk, have made two more Pollapönk albums. The second album Meira pollapönk saw Heidar and Haraldur receive a nomination for best lyrics at the Icelandic Music Awards.
Heidar works as a pre-school teacher at the healthschool Hamravellir and music is now his main hobby.
John Grant was born in 1968 in Buchanan, Michigan, USA. He began his music career as frontman of The Czars, a Colorado based band. John Grant‘s songwriting, coupled with his rich baritone voice, was at the heart of the band, who released two indie albums in the ´90s prior to signing to the UK label Bella Union. The band broke up in 2004 and John Grant moved to New York to work with bands such as Midlake and The Flaming Lips. He made his first critically acclaimed solo album Queen of Denmark, released in 2010. It was chosen by British Mojo music magazine as Best Album of 2010 and named as one of the ten best albums of the year by The Guardian music critics and writers.
John Grant has been living in Iceland for some time and has befriended a wide variety of Icelandic musicians. He recorded his second solo album Pale Green Ghost with producer Biggi Veira of Icelandic electro-pop group GusGus, along with various Icelandic musicians. The album was released in 2013 and he was nominated for a Brit Award as Best International Male Solo Artist. John Grant received two at the Icelandic Music Awards 2013, as Songwriter of the Year and Singer of the Year, on March 14 2014.