mánudagur, febrúar 18, 2008

Soundz Interview with Siggi "Sugarcube" Baldursson

Siggi (left) in the Sugarcubes
Siggi Baldursson - Sugar Cube

In 1986 the Bad Taste label was established as an artists guild to help provide for the artists' needs. To generate income for the label, some of the members decided to form a pop band. The band was known as the Sugarcubes and would go on to help shape the future of Alternative music. I had a chance to talk to the groups co-founder and drummer, Siggi Baldursson.
This interview takes place in Madison, Wisconsin where Siggi now lives with his daughter and wife who is finishing her PH.D. in biochemistry. His home is scattered with various sticks, drum pads, vintage key boards and a 5 year old daughter's art work. The Aphex Twin set the background music as I sit and wait for him to finish a phone conversation regarding drum syncopation and phrasing. As we begin the interview, he offers up some fresh brewed tea and natural comb honey, leans back in his chair and says, "well...."

Q: What kind of musical training have you had?
A: I tried studying classical percussion one winter in
Iceland. I studied with the timpani player from the Rejleckyvek symphony. But he really envied me, being a rock and roll player, a free-form player. He was one of the most horribly bored people I've ever met. So I decided, man, I'm just better off by myself. Since then, there have become more options to study percussion in Iceland, there is a jazz school there now which is great. It gives young players an opportunity to study percussion. I would have liked that. But no, I've just studied on my own.

Q: How did the Sugarcubes develop?
A: Well, we all joke about as being a sort of happy accident. We had a band Kukl, that had me and both the singers (Björk and Einar) in it. I worked continuously with them from '83 to '92. In the summer of '86, we decided to form Bad Taste. Bjork was then having her first child and was married to a guitar player involved. Bad Taste was supposed to be sort of an artists coop. A
company that could cater to artists needs, whatever they might be. Like we were working with the surrealist group
MEDUSA. they did a lot of poetry and art and stuff. The first two releases on Bad Taste were books actually. So to make money for the label, we decided to form this pop
band, because pop bands make money. Previously we'd been supporting ourselves by working in the mental hospital. We felt that if other people can make pop music, then we can make pop music. Let's make some money here! We recorded some things and Einar had been living in London for a while. One of the people he had met was
Derek Birkett who ad a band and his own little punk label that turned into one little indian. He was interested in the first recordings that we sent him and wanted us come to England and finish that up with him. His then friend Ray Schulvin was a producer guy, and they helped up finish up the first album Life's To Good. When the first single came out, it made quite a splash there. The rest is sort of history.
Q: When did you start doing remixes?
A: After our third record came out. We were sort of breaking up, and there was some question as to if we should put out a greatest hits compilation album. Make us
a little more money. We had squandered all our money on bad books and expensive recording equipment for our records. Instead of putting out a greatest hits record, 'cause we only had three albums out, we thought we could make a remix record. A lot of cool things came out of
that. We just threw them onto the record and put it out. That was the "IF SAID" album.

Q: Describe how you ended up becoming a lounge singer in Iceland...
A: Well, I was never a lounge singer with the Sugarcubes, I never sang a single word with them actually.
Q: But independent of that?
A: Yes. Well, while we were writing our (Sugarcubes) last record in the winter of "91 over in Iceland we sort of had a little spoof band along the side, that involved people
circulating around our little record company. We actually had a little record company back in Iceland called "BAD TASTE RECORDS". And so some of the people from some of the bands on our label formed a little orchestra called
Conrad B's jazz orchestra. That was sort of a fantasy band, where everybody got to play whatever instrument they wanted to.
It sounded absurd! People who were musicians, more or less, were playing all new instruments that they had a shot at playing. Thus not playing them very well, but with a lot of GUSTO! And it was almost like a little surrealistic jazz orchestra. So that's where I devised
this crooner of sorts,
Bogomil. Bogomil was the guest crooner with the band.
Q: Crooner behind the curtain?
A: Yeah, the crooner behind the curtain, so I could grow a big mustache. Always a huge Bulgarian mustache, RAAAAR, and croon. So that was even more of a spoof thing than the
Millionaires. I formed the Millionaires in Iceland in '92, after the Sugarcubes came off our American tour in '92. I needed some money so I formed this little jazz band, the Millionaires, a little 5 piece with added percussion so you could take on more. It became sort of an overnight
sensation back in Iceland. And, much to my surprise and to everyone's surprise, we became a platinum selling band in Iceland, in the summer of '93.
Q: Being a producer/musician, what do you look for in younger players?
A: Well, I like simplicity and feel, as opposed to technical finesse and fireworks. Also fresh outlooks and fresh perspectives on playing the drums. Either challenging yourself by changing the set-up of your kit, or trying to reinvent yourself. Changing your approaches and keeping your playing creative. And tuning, I like drummers who have a sound, who really know how to tune their drums. I think having a sound is very, very important, having a personality. For an artist, in any art, that is important. That's what it's all about. You have to find your niche, find your sound, find your style, combine sound and style to find something that is distinctively you.
It might sound arrogant, but I believe that I too have, by now, developed somewhat of a style and a sound in my playing. It's taken me awhile. The thing is I'm not very good at doing things premeditated. I like things to come along. Things have their time and I'm not very good at
trying to think things out beforehand. I'm not very good at practicing, I can't sit down and practice a particular fill, or specific things. But, I keep on trying to push myself in weird directions when I play and I keepa trying to get new sounds and new ideas. Then being able to take those to other places. I've also gone through periods where I felt I was just hopelessly stagnant as a player. When that happens you really have to jolt yourself. I stopped playing for awhile when I moved here.

I've never been sort of a drummer's drummer. Like hanging out with drummers and talk about rudiments, or keep my practice pad on the table and bounce my sticks on it all the time. I hate that, I've never been into that. I'm not the kind of guy that likes drum magazines, or anything like that. I don't like drums as a lifestyle, so-to speak, I like them as an instrument. I like to play them, but I don't think they're cool. A lot of musicians really get into it as a lifestyle, wear necklaces with little drumsticks on them. I see that all the time.
Q: One thing the I've noticed about you is that you play with a very minimal setup. How did that evolve, large sounds through minimalism?
A: Well, it's a philosophical thing really. No, that would be an overstatement. I started fiddling around with minimalist setups a long time ago. I actually had a monster drum kit when I was in Kukl, the band before the Sugarcubes. It was this weird anarchical punk band with
jungle rhythms. I was totally into African rhythms and applying those principles to the kit. I did a lot of that.
But, when we started the Sugarcubes in '86, we wanted to make pop music. So for us, the people of this clique, to sit down and make pop music was quite a joke. We were all from rather radical, experimental type bands. To take it on I thought it would be good to go for something
completely different. That's when I started using just the bass, snare and hi-hat to try to get..... try to squeeze more ideas out of the simpler form. Now that I started playing with the Reptile Palace Orchestra, I've been using the hand dumbek a lot. The idea then came to use the dumbek, bass drum, and hi-hat a lot, and try to make that play together. But, I also like to be able to slam out some back-beats, so I added a little piccolo snare drum.
The more I played that set-up, the more I liked it. It's very good for you to be able to scale down the instruments. Instead of looking out, is like looking in. Almost like a Zen approach to drumming.

Q: On the other side of it, you also do a lot of sampling with Urban Myth and playing along with drum loops. How do you feel that's affecting what you're doing?
A: I do love fusing together loops, either sound loops or drum loops, with acoustic playing. You
add more organic elements to that repetitive element. The repetitive element has its own
charm, and it took me awhile to see that. Sometimes it's nice to do that because it frees you to just relax on top of a drum loop and bounce along. It really doesn't effect my drum
playing very much.
Q: How do you perceive what you play, or how do you think your style fits into the music you play?
A: I'm just used to being in the corner and driving the boat. People just have to either stay on the boat or fall off. I just sit back there and slam out the groove. Once I get going, it's like a choo-choo train. Get that train running and people sort of jump on and off. I'm a bit of a groove monster.
I did enjoy playing with Pauli Ryan on percussion. He was one of the more tasteful players I've played with. Some of the younger guys are indeed skillful players, but so many of them are used to playing that drum circle music, sort of drum culture music. In what I'm doing that sound is kind of big and bulbous. And it gets to be pretty much overkill. It needs more tasteful, smaller percussion. What Pauli did was put all kinds of different sounds in there, like the chimes and the gong, very tastefully.
Q: You also have a sponsorship with Paiste. How did that transpire?
A: It happened when I was in the Sugarcubes, of course. I was doing a high-profile project. That lead to the sponsorship because it's just advertising.
Q: What are you looking towards now, at this stage?
A: I want to be able to make music and live off it. I don't have any grandiose dreams of fame and fortune. I do want to be able to finish the CD I'm working on, a series of drum loops, and start making music with my own drum loops. Doing my own project. I probably have to cut down on what I'm doing externally: Urban Myth, Headpump, Reptile Palace Orchestra, playing with Bradley Fish and mixing the Natty Nation project. That along with doing my
own stuff, which is what I'm most excited about. Finally, I'm also trying to do some writing. Trying to finish a couple of film scripts and stories.

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