Pétur Ben @ Iceland Airwaves Festival 2006 (Photograph by Wim Van Hooste)
On last Valentine's night he performed @ Kultuurkaffee @ VUB University
Iceland Music Export (IMX) put Pétur Ben in the spotlight this month:
Born in Reykjavik in 1976, Pétur Ben has been playing and writing music since his teens. Although active in the Icelandic underground scene for years, Pétur first became known for playing with Mugison, arranging and writing for Mugison's 2004 album "Mugimama is this Monkeymusic?"
Pétur graduated from the composition department at the Reykjavík Academy of Music in 2004, where he studied with Úlfar Ingi Haraldsson and Hróðmar Ingi Sigurbjörnsson. His composition degree came in handy, giving him the skills to work on Ragnar Bragason's "Children" and "Parents" as well as several theatre productions, such as Strindberg's "Dreamplay" (directed by Benedikt Erlingsson) and his arrangement for "Woyzeck" a Vesturport production with original music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.
Pétur has also become an in-demand arranger for indie artists such as Mugison, Slowblow, Telepathetics and other Icelandic artists, though his biggest achievement to date is his accomplished debut album, "Wine for My Weakness". Released by Icelandic label 12 Tónar in August 2006, the project features 11 tracks that veer from catchy rock & roll to introspective acoustica.
“Wine For My Weakness” was voted “Rock Album Of The Year” at the Icelandic Music Awards, and following its release in Denmark, received rave reviews from Politiken, Soundvenue and GAFFA.
You're known as both an arranger and songwriter - which of these came first?
Like most I guess I started out as a songwriter but I was interested in classical music soon afterwards.
Are you mostly self-taught as a musician, or did you learn through college?
I tried to study jazz guitar when I was younger but I realized that I wasn't as interested in improvisation as in composition.
You studied composition at Reykjavik Academy - how was that experience? Did it teach you valuable things, or was it something you could have managed without?
It is a very valuable thing for me to have done that. Nobody can teach you to create but you can learn how to write for different instruments, orchestration, harmony, counterpoint, etc. - different musical styles and most importantly get hands-on experience working with musicians playing your own music.
You've been involved in quite a few works for film and theatre - is this something you've always been interested in, or something that came along organically?
I just need to make a living. But it's much more appealing to me now that I’ve graduated. And I listen differently to theater productions and films.
Which film/theatre work have you most enjoyed being involved with so far?
Ragnar Bragason the director of “Children and Parents” is one of my best teachers. He has an incredible sense of what makes a film tick. Those films were by far the biggest task I've taken on so far so I'd have say that those films are the jewels in my crown.
Your album came out a while ago in Iceland and has been really well received. What do you think of all the accolades and praise?
I'm getting used to it now, the praise and the crap you get. It doesn't affect me as much as it used to. I realize that my work isn't perfect but it’s mine and I'm proud of it. My album was recently released in Europe and it has had great reviews, far better than in Iceland. I'm touring the album right now and people are showing up, and the reception has been way beyond my expectations.
What did you want to 'achieve' with your album? It's your first so I guess it was pretty personal?
I just wanted to get it right you know. My songs were all written long in advance and just piling up. But I knew when it was finished and it took many concerts and crowd battles to finish it, plus lots of support from friends and the producer Biggi, who is the one that eventually delivered it. He’s a genius.
What do you hope listeners will 'take away' from the album?
My favorite albums become a part of me in a way. I want people to relate to the love on the album. I want them to ask questions about themselves and I want them to have fun and feel good.
Who are your favourite singer/songwriters?
I'm a big admirer of Tom Waits, Nick Cave and PJ Harvey to name a few and Mugison my good friend is also a great inspiration. I'd like to unite my many personalities into one: the singer/songwriter, the composer and the evil bad ass.
Who are your favourite soundtrack producers, and why?
I don't really know any but I like Tarantino's soundtracks and Stanley Kubrick. Both use music in a very different way to their predecessors.
You're currently on tour in Europe – how’s it going?
It's going great. I didn't have high expectations for this tour and I actually thought that around 15 people would show up but people are coming and I guess my booker’s promotion is working. I'll do a support tour with Kaizers Orchestra next month and I don't know what the hell to expect, but I'm really looking forward to it.
What's the best thing about touring/playing live for you?
I can't really describe that. There are moments that you have with the crowd that neither of you can explain.
What other plans do you have for 2008?
I'm producing an album for Bubbi that I have to finish. Then I have some more touring to do both with my band and Mugison. And hopefully I'll have some time write something new. And hopefully something will come. You never know, no matter what you've studied. It's up to me and the Lord…
More Pétur @ www.myspace.com/peturben