Interview // Sigtryggur Baldursson

Interview // Sigtryggur Baldursson
  • Who is Sigtryggur Baldursson?

He is an old drummer that works an office job now.

  • And what is he doing exactly?

He is doing the Iceland Music Export office and sometimes plays with his friends, some conga drums, occasionally.

  • Can you tell me about your youth and you music education?

My first music education was my sister’s records collection. She is 8 years older than me and where we lived in the US, when I was 6, 7, 8, 9 years old, she had a great hippie rock collection. So that was my first musical education, and my parents’ Nat King Cole records, I think. That was a lovely mixture. The first thing I remember putting on myself was probably Aqualung with Jethro Tull and a Jimi Hendrix record and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Those are the three records I remember playing as a kid and listening to on my own, when I was alone, at home, you know. Probably in everyone’s life, the first musical education is the music you start seeking out yourself for pleasure. Then, I started playing some drums when I was like 12 years old and listening to a lot of new stuff. I made some new friends, who were music enthusiasts, who also had older siblings that had a record collection… So we handed down all these wonderful records like the Stevie Wonder records in the early seventies and all the Santana stuff and the Steely Dan stuff, this is just off the top of my head. This was on the American side and then we had all this English prog-rock coming out of England, lots of interesting bands like Gentle Giants and King Crimson… Lots of good stuff. Then, I started studying piano, I never studied percussions. I did try once for a winter but that was terribly failed (laugh), I was a terrible student. I didn’t want to play like a snare drum with sticks and read notes, I wanted to play conga drums and go wild! Learning snare drum with the Symphony Orchestra percussionist was not what I needed. I was not getting what I was seeking so I was a useless student. But I started playing and studying piano and I liked that. I could sort of get into that more but I was always playing drums. But I studied some piano and learn some music so that was good. When I was a little bit older, late teens, the punk explosion happened, when I was 17, 18 years old. And all of a sudden I just started listening to new music from England, like Joy Division and all that stuff. I was never much into the Sex Pistols. I was more into experimental stuff, like Wire, Siouxsie and The Banshees. Then of course, Talking Heads, from the American side… Lots of interesting stuff came later on like Blondie.

  • You started to play then with your first band…

I started playing earlier in Kópavogur, where I lived, in sort of a teenage band. We wrote all our music ourselves and we got noticed for that, even though the reason we were writing our own music was that we were such shitty players that we could not play cover versions (laugh). It was much easier just to make up stuff and play that. That was my first band, when I was like 14, 15 years old. My first sort of big band was Þeyr, when I was 18. That grew out of a jam between some friends, we had a summer job together, so that was my first band.

  • How long did it last?

Two years. Two and a half years. Then I was in a band called Kukl which was actually created for a radio show, here in Iceland and out of Kukl grew The Sugarcubes and the rest is history, really.

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  • Are you working on some current projects? Who are you collaborating with?

I collaborate with a few people. I work with Samúel and his orchestra, when I can. I can’t do all the gigs but I come and try to do some recordings and play out when I can. Then, I play with Kippi Kaninus who is also in Amiina, he is an electronica artist… a funeral singer (laugh). Then I play with Tómas R. Einarsson who is a jazz composer. Those are the main things that I play with now. I don’t have much time to do my own projects.

  • ÚTÓN/IMX is an umbrella to promote Icelandic artists. What are the current projects going on?

The current projects are basically sort of ongoing running of two websites, one in Icelandic and one in English and then, there is all sorts of projects in relation to festivals, both Icelandic festivals on the home front and foreign festivals where we go and part-take in festivals and try to help bands to sort of get attention. And then, we are trying to help bands with contacts and we do a lot of consultations. We are also sharing information.

  • What’s the evolution you think this Icelandic scene is taking?

There has been a very creative spark in the Icelandic music scene, I would say since the bank crash. I think that a lot of people sort of started seeking out simple pleasures and one of them, indeed, is making music and arts in general. The best things in life are free. The arts have always sort of been good at doing things from scratch and on a low budget. So that’s maybe part of the reason that they are coming strong out of the recession. It’s also helped, because it’s such a small community and information and experience spread easily. It’s part of the reason that we’ve had such a good experience with music export in the last few years. Lots of people can share this experience and knowledge quite easily. It also helps that we have an office like IMX and have had for now five years. I think that’s bearing fruits in a certain way and I also think that Iceland Airwaves has helped out a lot by inviting people here to come and see Icelandic bands. A lot of contacts and business has come out of that. What’s really helped and what’s the most important is that the creative spark has been happening in Iceland from scratch really and that’s where all begins.

  • What’s the craziest thing that happened to you on stage?

(Laugh) That’s a good question, a really good one. I have to think about that. I’ve started wrong songs or stuff like that, which is really funny when the band is playing two different songs… It’s very amusing. The craziest thing… I once played a gig with The Sugarcubes in Los Angeles, where Björk lost her voice in the third song I think and basically run off stage and disappeared. The rest of the band basically finished the gig without her. That was very strange.

  • Were you singing?

No, Einar was singing and we sort of did these extended dub mixes of lots of our songs, which was… scary but kind of fun at the same time. It was kind of dramatic for her, that she lost her voice, she was kind of upset so that was the down side of it. It also had a strangely funny side.

  • How did the audience react?

I would say that they were very accommodating. Some of them were not happy. People were sort of surprised because there was no explanation, the singer just disappeared after three or four songs and the band just kept on playing. We all thought she would come back but she never came back (laugh). There have been some silly things that have happened on stage. I’ve sort of fallen off the drum riser and disappeared (laugh) and stuff like that. But in a sense, I’ve probably been very lucky, I mean there aren’t that many crazy things that happened to me on stage and I played a lot of shows… with both The Sugarcubes and Emiliana Torrini.

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  • You’ve been touring a lot with your different projects. Is there a stage you’ve never been on and you would like to play on?

Hmm, no, I actually don’t have any sort of strange fantasies about places where I’d like to play. I never really had that kind of ambition for what I do. What I do sort of happened to me because of various circumstances. I never had this sort of burning ambition as a teenager like “I’m gonna play the radio city music hall and go to New-York someday”. I never had that sort of ambition.

  • How do you feel when you play? Is it for you a way to express what you can’t say or you can’t do…?

Very differently, very differently. I’ve done so many different things that are very different to do. For me, they all have different meanings and different feelings. It’s a very varied thing. I’ve different tastes in music, I enjoy very different things and for me it’s very much about that, I want to experience different things. But I also respect musicians that are good in doing one kind of things and just do their thing, which is wonderful. For me, it’s very much about doing and experiencing different things. I love the fact that I’ve had a very wide ranging carrier. That means that you are always experiencing new things and that you are always learning new things. And for me you know, I get bored easily…

  • Which artist are you listening  secretly that people would not expect you to listen to?

That’s a good question. I was actually listening to Emiliana’s new record on the way here. I found myself putting that on again and again because firstly I like her a lot and I actually played on this record, but I’m kind of sad that I’m not touring it with her, but that was my decision. So I’ve been secretly listening to that a bit and I also have been listening to Spilverk Þóðanna, which is a very interesting Icelandic band, one of the early sort of folk-pop band in Iceland. It belongs to my sister’s records collection (laugh).

  • Fortunately your sister is here!

Yes, I love my sister, she is a wonderful lady!

Let me think about I’ve been listening secretly… Maybe not secretly but I’ve been listening to a French composer, what’s his name… Hmm… Olivier Messiaen. I listen to all sorts of stuff. When I am at home I’m listening to all jazz records. Recently, I’ve been sort of reconnecting with my old vinyl collection. There I found some wonderful records that I haven’t listened to for many many years. I found my Prince collection the other day, I had a really good Prince collection. Back in the eighties, when I was playing in a very avant-garde band, called Kukl, I was a huge Prince fan. There is a little anecdote that I could tell you is that: I’ve been in certain bands in my life and I never listened to the kind of music that those bands were playing because I don’t find the inspiration. When I was in Þeyr, I was listening to African field recordings a lot, I was really into world music, but I was playing a rock band! When I was in Kukl, I got into Prince, which is completely the other side of the road. In The Sugarcubes, I got back into world music quite a lot but more like Latin music and stuff like that and jazz. I started listening to a sort of Frank Sinatra… There is something about seeking out different things to the environment that you are actually in, that I find inspiring, as an artist, I mean if you are trying to create things… You have to sort of constantly try to challenge the pallet, like being a cook. You have to seek out sort of taste flavors that are challenging or maybe sort of juxtapositionning to what you are doing (smile).

  •  If you could collaborate with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?

Aaaah, it’s a wonderful question… Hmm… I’d like to play with Miles Davis, but he is dead. I also would like to play with Laurie Anderson, she is still alive and lots of people, lots of folks… King Sunny Adé, I’d love to be able to play congas in his band, for a night (laugh), that would be funny.

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[BLINDFOLD TEST]

- Track n°1

(Laugh) It could be Erla Þorsteins, hmm, it could be… it could be a lot of ladies. But it does not ring the bell, it’s not something that I know off the top of my head. I’m just trying to guess… No, you got me actually on that one.

Do you think you could guess the year?

It’s probably the early-mid fifties. It could be earlier. Probably radio recordings. I liked it. It gets completely 4 out of 5 in my book. It was a sweet little tune and she sang it really well. It was very sort of unaffected and she was not trying to do something out of her range, she was just keeping it nice and plane. She was nicely educated. Well done.

-> Helena Eyjólfsdóttir – “Þú Sigldir Burt”

Helena Eyjólfsdóttir! I was trying to remember her name. She is from Akureyri. Her first hit song was “Hvítir Mávar” and I thought that might have been her, really really early. She is apparently going to release a solo record soon.

Really?

Yeah, I think she is probably mid or late seventies, that’s why I was saying she started really young, she was like 16 when she started. But she is from Akureyri.

Yeah (laugh).

(Laugh) I said that already. It sounds like it is something to do with her voice or the music in general (laugh). I’m just trying to sort of mask my own ignorance about the lady!

At least you knew something about her!

I knew she was from Akureyri!

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- Track n°2

That was something else. Ufff. This is really tough actually. I have no idea what that was (laugh) but it was pretty funny. It might have been “Íslensk Kjötsúpa”, something off that record but probably not. The singer was probably not Sigurður. It was some bloody hard rock group though… with a saxophone. It could have been… Let me think. No I’m completely lost. I have no idea what that was (laugh). I quite liked it, I think I’ll give it 3 out of 5. It was fun and the drums were all over the place.

-> Án Orma – “Ástardraumur”

This was sort of on the outskirts of the punk scene back in the early eighties. It was sort of an art school band, Hörður Bragason, the organ player was in the art school along with lots of interesting characters. At that time, there was another art school band called … they were in “Rokk í Reykjavík” and were like a performance art group, with chopped chicken heads and things like that (laugh)… Bruni BB . This band is somehow related to Bruni BB because Hörður Bragason was connected with both. This was like an rock opera band and I think that it is actually the guy who played saxophone in the band Júpíters that plays saxophone on this.

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- Track n°3

This is some record from the early eighties that completely escaped from my radar (laugh). You know the early eighties, I have no idea what this is… Some very obscure band from Ísafjörður or something. I’m just kidding. I have no idea what this is. I did not recognize the singer either, but the drummer was good (laugh), I can tell you that! It could have been Reggae on Ice or something like this. There is not that many white reggae bands in Iceland. Well, all of them are white of course (laugh).

-> P.S. and Co – “VÆMINN”

I liked that. That got definitely a 4 out of 5.  I had my head planted so firmly at my own butt that I was not really listening to much else than what I was doing myself, me and my friends. So, I remember hearing one song of this record on the radio, “Ung, gröð og rík”, which was funny but I can’t remember listening to the record. This guy was really good, he is still alive actually, he is still good but he does not play that much anymore. It’s a good record, a good song.

I did not catch any of these three songs. I did sort of catch that it could have been Helena Eyjólfs in the first one. But for the second, you really got me (laugh), I was not even close!  I did think of Hörður Bragason when I heard the second song, it could have been something connected to him and he did write that song. For this last one, I had no idea. My ignorance has no boundaries (laugh).

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Interview & photos by Adeline Le Broc.

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