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Sunna Gunnlaugs: Keys For Traveling

Dave Sumner By

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The world is a big place, and I live on a small island. With cost issues, it's not that easy to go play other places, so I don't do it that frequently. But where would I be without my listeners?
Pianist Sunna Gunnlaugs is back in the USA for a visit. Following on the heels of the critical success of 2011 release Long Pair Bond (Sunny Sky), Gunnlaugs will be touring from coast to coast beginning in Berkeley, California and hitting several cities along the way to a three-day grand finale in Virginia Beach, Virginia. She'll have the Long Pair Bond trio in tow, with Scott McLemore on drums and Thorgrimur Jonsson on bass.

Originally from Iceland, Gunnlaugs attended William Paterson University in New Jersey before setting down roots in Brooklyn, where she immersed herself in the jazz culture. It's her blending of Icelandic folk and N.Y.C. jazz that has developed her voice into something quite compelling and distinct. After a series of solid recordings, Long Pair Bond emerged as the perfect synthesis of the elegance and earthiness that was increasingly defining Gunnlaugs' sound. A collection of tunes that engage both heart and head, Long Pair Bond has established Gunnlaugs as a vital part of the modern jazz scene.

All About Jazz: So you've got a U.S. tour coming up, you're a D.I.Y. musician, you live overseas. How has it been setting this tour up?

Sunna Gunnlaugs: So much work! But it's rewarding when people are receptive. I think I benefit from having lived in New York and knowing people all over the U.S., either from New York or from William Paterson [University]. Even just getting a work permit in the U.S. is a lot of paperwork and very costly, too.

AAJ: Are you still making arrangements?

SG: Yes. according to the search engine we used, we just booked the very last minivan available on the West Coast two days ago, and we are still working out the details for bookings on a few days that I haven't posted yet. It's mind-blowing how much dough we have to cough up even before we leave Iceland—you know, airplane tickets, car rental and such. These days we are focusing more on promotion—contacting radio stations and media [to tell them] where we will be playing.

AAJ: Other than the last few dates of booking venues, what are you doing as far as tour promotion? Are there any outlets that are particularly effective? How much are you relying on word of mouth?

SG: We are setting up radio interviews, which is going well. We are contacting print media and trying to get some write-ups in general newspapers. That's a bit harder. It is rather rare that European groups tour the U.S., so I'm trying to use that angle to get into the papers that, unfortunately, show little interest in jazz. Twitter is useful and also Facebook. I do have a mailing list and will be sending out a newsletter. I don't think you can really rely on word of mouth. I've also been reaching out to Icelandic societies in the U.S., asking them to announce our tour in their newsletters.

Sunna Gunnlaugs—Long Pair BondAAJ: It's funny how technology changes our concepts of general words and phrases. Word of mouth often means social media like Twitter and Facebook. But you're right, the connotations and original usage of "word of mouth" describe more of a face-to- face (or phone) conversation.

SG: I'm going to try to activate a street team by having downloadable posters on my website. Any suggestions on tour promotions are welcome.

AAJ: The tour posters are a nifty idea. A lot of indie bands do exactly that, making very cool posters for people to have in their home and to spread around town. Are you doing the posters yourself or hiring it out?

SG: We designed the poster ourselves. It should go up tonight or tomorrow. It would actually be really nice to have a manager when you are doing a tour like this.

AAJ: Long Pair Bond received some wide critical acclaim, making it into the Top Ten of 2011 lists of various critics and general listeners. Has that recognition made things any easier in setting this tour up? Has the acclaim translated into momentum, going into 2012?

SG: It has definitely translated into some momentum. We are still getting great reviews from Japan and Belgium, and the CD is now being distributed in the U.K. We feel a sense of encouragement from all this, and maybe that's why we put so much energy into booking this tour of the U.S. We started out with an offer from the Rochester Jazz Festival and one offer from San Francisco, and the rest was basically booked around those two. I think all the attention that Long Pair Bond has gotten must make us look more appealing to venues. I'm rather proud of having booked a two-week bicoastal tour of the U.S. from Iceland. Google Maps has been my best friend in recent months—figuring out which cities to target and how to get there. It's so far between places in the U.S. It is actually much easier to tour Europe and quite a bit more comfortable because of the train system. One thing I don't look forward to is sitting in a car for four to six hours almost every day.


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