Pétur Ben is an award-winning musician, producer, scorer of films (he’s got a few under his belt) and, well basically, an all-round good guy (he took time out to talk to Nordic Vibes after all). His second solo album is our tip for your listening pleasure this week, accompanied by some insider information about the album’s inspiration.
Pétur’s second solo album God’s Lonely Man was released towards the end of 2012 to high aclaim and equally high positionings in end-of-year lists, despite only arriving a month before the end of the year. As with the films that he has scored, this album has a soundtrack quality in my eyes (or to my ears).
Dramatic abandonment, sincerity and images of conflict abound, not least due to the song titles and/or content with numerous war-related connotations – like ‘Over The Barricades’, or ‘Cold War Baby’ with its lyrics indicating not just conflict on a grand scale, but also personal conflict on the home front (‘Stay clear of the living room frontier/Your enemy’s under the chandelier’, ‘This will never end and that’s the curse/The red button would kill both of us’).
This all might sound kinda heavy. It may be tinged with darkness, but it’s not a depressing album. It is uplifting, inspiring and honest. Good old pieces of rocking-out goodness in parts, more acoustic tender moments in others. Lyrically and musically a very impressive album indeed. And how honoured are we to get some insight into this album from Mr Ben himself, so without further ado…
What is the essence of God’s Lonely Man? What inspired it?
I wanted to do a non-compromising work of art. I’m very serious about my music. At first I wanted a very heavily-arranged album with a chamber orchestra but I ended up using the string quartet Amiina and Katie Buckley on harp, with Diddi doing the percussion parts. Thematically I found myself drawn to a certain kind of expression, very introverted and I soon found out that the central theme of the album would be loneliness. I was reading and listening to Lou Reed, Leonard Cohen, The Doors, The Rolling Stones, Joy Division, The Catcher in the Rye by Salinger, Murakami, Paul Auster, Taxi Driver – basically work that evolves around people trying to find meaning within themselves. And newer bands like Women and Warpaint. I wanted this album to be a spiritual journey a world in itself but one that questions life and death and religion. I do believe in God though.
I expect the vast, lonely landscape of Iceland must be pretty inspiring in itself?
Often the best music comes from the ugliest or most boring places. I’ve lived here my whole life so I don’t know the actual influense of the landscapes. I like to go hiking sometimes and breathe in the creation, but work gets done in my garage.
What was the process of writing and recording this album like?
It was long and hard, a lot of re-writing and throwing stuff out, re-recording. I was very poor and people were giving up on me. It was a challenging time for me. I recorded the difficult stuff in my favourite studio Sundlaugin and the rest in my garage studio. I changed my voice for this record and the way I write in order to portray a feeling of abandonment and alienation. I didn’t want too many chords or beautiful vocal melodies.
How was the experience of crowd-funding the album (via the Karolina Fund website)? Self-releasing an album must put a lot of pressure on your shoulders?
I was approached by the Ingi Rafn from Karolina Fund because they were starting off around the time I finished the album and it all went really well. I was so busy working on the album that I didn’t realise I didn’t have any money to manufacture it. People came through for me. Friends my family and of course the fans. It’s humbling really.
I love the artwork for the album – a photoshoot underwater – how was that whole experience for you?
When it was time to do the artwork, the album was finished and the whole concept of it was lying there waiting for someone to visualise it. I contacted the guy that did my last cover and he pointed me to Jónas Valtýsson. I checked out his stuff and contacted him and then he got Dóri Andrésson involved and together they came up with this idea of a man underwater. There is much water on the record and the idea fit perfectly but we didn’t know if it would work out. They contacted a friend of theirs Marino to shoot the pictures and I swam in this pool for 3 hours trying to get something. I’m very pleased with the results. Jónas and Dóri really worked hard on this and they are as passionate about their art as I am.
I saw you speak in an online interview about your desire to create a whole new world of visual aspects for your music – do you incorporate this into your live shows?
Yes, I want to do that. I think musicians are entertaining enough if they have love for what they are doing but I have experimented with videos to use as a backdrop live. I haven’t really had the guts to try them out yet. But I will. A very close friend of mine Kippi Kaninus is in my band and he is also a genius in this field. We will come up with something for his and my show as well.
Have you ventured into the visual world of videos at all?
I just finished my very first music video! (for ‘Cold War Baby’) It’s shot and directed, edited and manipulated by yours truly. The computer has made it possible to do amazing things by yourself. It’s unbelievable. We are the first generation of artists that can do that. The uncharted territory here is immense. I honestly believe that the art form itself will change. We have already started to see bands/artists who make videos where it’s hard to distinguish between the music and visual aspect of it. They are one and the same (OK GO, Die Antwoord, etc.). I think the artist will in many cases become the director especially in independent music. I can imagine doing a music video and then dream the music to it. Score it. The opening song, ‘Pieces of the Moon’, has a very strong visual image attached to it. I hope to realise it but my technique is very poor. I just started this thing. I might do it anyway.
What do the next few months look like for you musically?
Well, I started writing my next album. I’m gonna experiment a bit more, but it looks good though.
Thanks Pétur. Now don’t have nightmares, y’all. Dream the music.
God’s Lonely Man – Released 12 November 2012: