SINDRI MÁR SIGFÚSSON GETS IN TOUCH WITH HIS INNER TEEN
Words and Interview By Laura Studarus.
Ethereal. The word haunts nearly every description of Sindri Már Sigfússon’s work as Sing Fang. And with good reason. Over his previous two albums (the first released when he was still sporting the jumbled name Sin Fang Bous), the Icelandic musician has explored music at its most delicate, piecing together lush layers of folk, pop and orchestral instrumentation. Recording every part in his Reykjavik studio, Sigfússon created an air of otherworldly intimacy—and certainly did his part to contribute to the idealized vision of Iceland that so many music fans carry with them.
No less beautiful than its predecessors, there’s a notable shift in tone to the newest Sin Fang offering, Flowers. Alongside producer Alex Somers (Sigur Rós, Jónsi, Pascal Pinon), Sigfússon has created an album that splits the difference between forest and the city; its airy orchestration rounded out with chants, shiny pop choruses and a touch of down and dirty garage rock. The result is a mature, polished homage to teenage confusion that never looses its sense of fun.
We chatted with Sigfússon about the process of getting in touch with his inner teen, the crooked path he took to becoming a musician, and why he’ll always see the glass as half full. Sin Fang’s new album Flowers is out February 19 via Morr Music.
It seems like youth is a running theme to Flowers. Was that something you went in looking to explore?
As the album developed, the idea of the lyrical theme—the loose lyrical theme—grew. It became a concept album. I was thinking a lot about being a teen and a teenager. Trying to remember how I felt at that time. I wouldn’t say it’s from childhood, more of the time of turning into an adult.
Is that a time that you feel very connected to? Or did you have to work to remember those emotions?
I don’t feel so connected to that. I think everyone goes through that teenage period, where you don’t know what you should do with your life. You’re just confused. There are a lot of ups and downs. I exaggerated hormonal feelings. Stuff like that. Sometimes I wasn’t drawing from my own experience, but just imagining. Trying to get back into that mindset.
When you were a teenager trying to decide what to do with your life, did you foresee yourself becoming a musician and a visual artist?
I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I didn’t really start playing music until I was nineteen or twenty. So there was a few years, from maybe sixteen to twenty, where I was trying my hand at lots of things. I quit school. I knew I didn’t have any interest in the things that I was learning. I started working these labor jobs, where I was outside doing manual labor. Really horrible jobs. I was trying to write poems and stories and stuff. I was always drawing. I guess I was trying to find out what I wanted to do. I had no clue what I wanted to do until I started to make music.
I went to art school, and studied and majored in visual art when I was 22. I guess I was more planning on being a visual artist than a musician. But then after the first year of school I got a record contract. Then music just kind of took over my life. Now I’m a hobby painter and a professional musician.
There are certainly worse fates.
Yeah! I wouldn’t trade my life with anyone.
What was the point during that process of self-discovery where you did realize that you had something to say as a musician?
I don’t know. I feel like I’ve been very lucky since I started doing music. I never really asked to play shows. I also didn’t send demos everywhere. I always got contacted by someone who asked, “Do you want to play this show?” “Do you want to release this record?” I would just say yes. It’s been really random, and I feel like I’ve been really lucky.
It’s funny, I did this EP under the name Seabear—my old band. When I started it was just me in my bedroom. I did a seven song EP and put it online for free. That album somehow got into the hands of a label in Germany who contacted me about doing a split seven-inch with Grizzly Bear. Ed, the singer in Grizzly Bear— he was introduced to me by a mutual friend in 2002. We would always talk on instant messenger and send each other demos of our music. At the time he was also alone in Grizzly Bear. So he was sending me demos from the album he did before Yellow House. Somehow two of those songs ended up on a seven-inch in Germany, which then lead to me being offered to play in a huge theater in Germany, opening up for a band called The Books.
When I got offered that, I hadn’t played any live shows. I almost got a stomach ulcer from stress. In the audience for that show was Thomas Morr, who has released all my records. He introduced himself to me after the show, and we’ve been working together since. I feel like I’ve been really lucky. Things have just fallen into my lap.
I imagine struggling musicians reading this and feeling really frustrated.
Do you believe in the idea of fate?
Maybe. I believe in luck at least. I believe that if you think you’re lucky you will be lucky. Your attitude towards life, the way you look at things, if you look at the good side of everything, you will be lucky. If you look at the bad side of everything, then I think you will have a bad life.
Sounds like a good case for optimism.
[Laughs] Yeah. I’m very optimistic. But I feel like I’ve been really lucky in that sense. It’s all just fallen into place for me.
With an album name like Flowers—do you have a strong connection to nature?
If I’m being honest, I can’t say that I really am. I’ve been a city child since I can remember. I have family that live in the countryside that I visit regularly. I really do enjoy spending time in the countryside; I used to spend my summers in the countryside. My grandparents are farmers. My parents are like hippies. They caught the hippy wave. But we’ve been drinking espressos and living in the city. When I was growing up my main hobbies were skateboarding and hip-hop music. I wouldn’t say that I was a big nature boy. I do like nature though!
I feel like there’s this construct in America, that when we think of Icelandic musicians, we’re all thinking of you as nature children. But you have a skateboard as part of your band merch.
Yeah. It’s kind of something that has been attached to the Icelandic music scene for a long time. I don’t think it’s a bad thing.
It almost seems like “Feel See” touches on the idea of man’s spiritual relationship with nature.
Yes. [Laughs] That could be. Part of those lyrics are also about not wanting to belong to society of man. This album, I haven’t listened to it for such a long time, because I finished it in May of last year. I need to listen to it again.
It’s tough to quiz you on some of this, then.
I will say that there was a line that really resonated with me on the theme of not belonging: “Is there someone who feels like me.” In light of what you were describing—that teenage feeling—it seems so appropriate.
Yeah. Also the feeling of, “No one understands me and no one knows what I’m going through.” It’s kind of funny because it’s basically what all teenagers are thinking. Yeah. Lots of the lyrics are of course inspired by this theme. But it takes me a long time to glue together lyrics. If I didn’t have to do lyrics, I think I would do three albums a year. But they are the most rewarding too.
Do you think we ever really grow out of the teenage habit of questioning ourselves?
I don’t know. Maybe just get used to it.
As a musician who has two bands, and having done three albums as Sin Fang, how do you keep the process of making an album fresh for yourself?
I haven’t really done the same thing. For this album I worked with a producer for the first time. Alex Somers. I had never worked with anyone that close before. I had done it in my studio by myself. I guess this time we took a lot of time doing this album, more time than I had done before. In retrospect, it was very good. I think that’s what I’m going to do in the future.
We had an arrangement for a brass band and a string quartet. It’s a lot bigger sounding than my other stuff. I’ve never really done demos before, but for this album we did demos and re-recorded everything. I guess the big change for me on this album was working with Alex. He had a big input in the way things, and even in arrangements of the songs. He had lots to say about that. It was really fun, because we really got to the core of each song and fleshed them out the way that they were supposed to be.
Working with a producer for the first time, especially one with such a definitive style, was it difficult to let someone in on what’s been a personal project up until this point?
We share a pretty similar aesthetic. Even though we are pretty different, we do agree on most things. There wasn’t much artistic conflict in the studio between the two of us. He’s also my good friend and part of my family, really. I’ve known him for years. So it was really fun for us. We were just laughing the whole time in the studio. Not difficult at all. It was a really great experience, really fun. We were listening to it the other day and we couldn’t remember who played what on the album. It’s all a big blurry haze of fun.
I wouldn’t call myself a recording engineer because I’m so sloppy. Alex, he’s really meticulous in mic placement and gear and stuff. I thought that was something really great for me, to work with someone who was so into that. I could just focus on playing guitar or singing or playing piano or whatever.
When it comes to music, do you view it as an extension of your life, or a way to escape from life?
I’m kind of thinking about it all day. My normal work day, I take my kid to kindergarten, and then I go to the studio and then I pick her up at four. I have a workday at my studio, and then maybe somewhere in the back of my head I’m always working on something and thinking about what will come next. Then, I’m also always trying to write lyrics at home in the evening. I’m always so excited to do albums and songs. I’ve been excited since I started experimenting ten years ago. I’m still really excited. I guess I would just say that it’s constant.
I do what I can do other than that. I was thinking about what would happen if I needed to get a real job, what I could do. Basically, I couldn’t do anything. I’ve also been working for doing music for ads. I think that’s really fun, and that also pays the bills.
Are your parents fans of your music?
Oh yeah! They’ve been my biggest supporters since I was born. Very supportive parents. I actually have my studio in a basement that I share with my brother and my father. My father is a photographer and he owns that house. It’s a workspace. Nine years ago, he let me clear out one of the storage rooms there and set up a studio. So we have the same workplace. My little brother is a video artist. He does videos in the studio.
I’m really thankful for my parents. They’ve been really supportive of every stupid thing I’ve ever thought of doing. It’s always been, “Yes, yes, you can do it. If you try hard enough you can do anything you like!” That’s a really good thing. I’ve started to say it to my kids now. If you try hard enough, you can do anything you want.
Want more music from Iceland? Check out these stories and videos from the MTV Iggy Team.