‘Often I am permitted to return to a meadow / as if it were given property of the mind / that certain bounds hold against chaos’, so opines Robert Douglas’ poem, the solitude being an unlikely point of inspiration for artist Máni Orrason. The Icelandic-born Berlin-dweller has been on an unprecedented quest to find a meadow of his own.
“We all have this place in our mind that we go to no matter what we’re going through, that’s this memory of comfort.” This longing for comfort and hunger for self-gratification create the cornerstones of The World is Big and You Will Never Find Me, Orrason’s anticipated third album. “I struggled so much with finding the title because everything felt either too small or too big,” he shares, the naming of the project becoming as much of a torment as the rigorous introspection required to facilitate it. “Lyrically, it’s a much sadder album than I thought it was, and it’s so much about this existential dread I’ve had for the last [few] years, from this relationship that ended, and from my own uncertainty about who I am as an artist.”
With songwriting being the one true dialogue that he has with himself, the project has given Orrason a safe space that allows him to be a multitude of things. “This title, The World is Big and You Will Never Find Me, feels like you can never truly pinpoint who I am or what I’m doing and what I represent; I’m constantly fluid, and at the same time, not knowing how to exist in the world.” Building upon the brattish pop punk and folkish acoustic tone of his earliest work, his new output skilfully balances the two whilst weaving an eclectic palette of nostalgic indie and grandiose pop, whilst capturing a frenetic restlessness.
“So much of the album is me trying to hide in public or run away or something; the spectrum of genres and sound is so fast, somehow. It feels cohesive now, but while I was making it, it felt really insane. That was why it was tough to find a title for it, because it felt so vast.” This vastness is best encapsulated by the tracks that bookend the album, the euphoric emo of ‘Just Can’t Have It All’, and the sharply defiant ‘Change the World’. Setting the tone of what’s to come, ‘Just Can’t Have It All’ has Orrason’s insecurities posited through pounding drums and strings for a bombastic air.
“Crying in the hotel, I age but I don’t change,” he reflects on the track. “Some people wear their sadness like it’s armour.” For all its bittersweet euphoria, the song surmises the persistence of existing in your comfort zone for fear of letting your walls drop. “I feel like there are two kinds of people,” explains Orrason. “People that love conflict, and to resolve – even if that means anger and feelings truly expressed – and people that are more afraid of risking problems than the conflict and resolution.” He realises that he internalises a lot. “That’s kind of my feeling, like it’s an armour that protects you because it doesn’t blow up either way.” By comparison, ‘Change the World’ is a cumulative explosion of pent-up feeling. “It’s so much easier to be pessimistic and to be negative somehow, than to really try,” Orrason continues. “‘Change the World’ is so loud and like, ‘this is the world I want to exist within’. It’s huge but it’s so conflicted, scared and nostalgic.”
Fear pursues Orrason throughout The World is Big and You Will Never Find Me like a ravenous carnivore, yet he is tired of running from life. Instead of dwelling on his demons, the album is delivered through a lens of maturity that sees him muster the courage to look his challenges and insecurities staunchly in the eye, and finally face them head-on. Written during the pandemic, he – like most everyone – entered a period of forced introspection amidst the global trauma.
“The future [felt] so bright – and then everything froze.” A break up spurred a long period of confusion. “I really struggle to keep perspective on the past and on relationships because I find it so hard to let go and these things just stay in my head. With this relationship, I feel like I’ve been reliving it almost for as long as it lasted.” Moreso, Orrason felt like he could not imagine a future with his career, and was living day to day. “I think the worst feeling I had was that the train was leaving without me and I made so many mistakes, and it was somehow over. I think the reason why the album is what it is is because I thought ‘fuck it, I’m gonna make the thing that I want to make’, and that was a big change.”
Recent single ‘Coffin’ captures this existential running, a buoyant 80s-inspired play on the romance of the rockstar and the paranoia of making the wrong move; the track exemplifies Orrason’s fantasy of existing as an untouchable music figure and the embodiment of a new identity in place of the old you. “I feel like I’ve [ran away] a lot of times in my life; you come to a point where you’re tired of changing. But at the same time, I see all of this as a performance – [it’s] all theatre to an extent. Everything is so stylistically chosen, it’s not a true portrait of anything. I don’t want to take my music so seriously that I see it as me.” Yet at the flip of a coin, ‘I Don’t Wanna Be a Star’ quips the impracticalities of being a bygone pop idol were they living in the present. The track features German talent Drangsal, who brushes the track with a new romantic flair. “The Germans really figured out pop music in the 80s, in this sort of new romantic, decadent pop-synth world. It felt so fitting to bring him [on].”
In Orrason’s eyes, The World is Big and You Will Never Find Me straddles the “fine line between insight and delusion,” with many of the songs being fantasy about the past and the future. ‘Seven’, for example, is a glitchy, autotuned longing for a return to a place that doesn’t exist anymore, whilst the shimmering, emo pop-punk of ‘A Place Like Home’ conjures a familial history of heartache. “My mum talks at the end of it; she’s reading this letter my grandfather wrote to his mum a few weeks before he died on an oil rig in Norway. He’s saying ‘I can’t deny that my mind often wanders home, but nobody can change their past. And you can tell dad, I hope you’re well and thank you for everything’. When my mum reads it, it almost sounds like she could have written to her father.”
Elsewhere, this penchant for pop is eschewed for Orrason’s love of acoustic guitar. Album closer ‘White Slugs’ resurrects his early work, leaning into delicate arrangements and skilful plucking. Elliot Smith proved a recent inspiration that can be heard in ‘Coming Down’, Orrason’s pitched vocal emulating childish tones. “It sounds like it’s a little boy singing, like it justifies the emotion of the lyrics somehow, because if I sing in my normal voice, it sounds so corny!”
Whilst at his most earnest flying solo, Orrason finds tenacity when working with others, namely dedicated collaborators Yann Lauren and Nikolai Potthoff. “I’m so grateful to Nikolai and Yann for their belief and commitment to this music. I would never have pushed this album to what it’s become without their motivation and ‘no compromise’ perspective.”
Having kind hands to guide him through the process provided Orrason with the opportunity for closure, and letting go of his past. This newfound perspective and empathy towards himself and his work has finally liberated him for a more galvanised future. “My Dad said to me the other week, ‘Máni, you need to move forward, no matter what happens to you in life, you have to keep going and not bury your head in the sand’, and I think that’s true,” he says. “With the storyline of the album, that’s kind of sad and confused and desperate and whatever, it’s still grand and confident despite all the shit I sing about. I wear this on my sleeve, and I mean it.”