More information @ Jónsi & Alex
In the spotlight @ IMX:
Sleeping GiantsKnown primarily for his haunting falsetto and other-worldly presence as the singer in Sigur Rós, Jón Þór (Jónsi) Birgisson has - together with his partner Alex Somers - been exhibiting artwork and staging exhibitions under the name Riceboy Sleeps for two or three years now.
A couple of months back the early fruits of the musical side of this collaboration surfaced in physical form for the first time, with the track "Happiness", on the exemplary ‘Dark Was The Night’ Red Hot compilation. Now the full-length "Riceboy Sleeps" album is finished and ready for release.
‘Riceboy Sleeps’ is a 68-minute ambient odyssey, that embraces the cerebral and the human in equal measure. Played solely on acoustic instruments in Iceland (and featuring long-time Sigur Rós string collaborators Amiina, as well as the Kópavogsdætur Choir) and then endlessly toyed with on solar-powered laptops in a raw food commune in some far corner of Hawaii, ‘Riceboy Sleeps’ has a suitably “organic feel” to it.
Alex - you’re known predominantly as a visual artist. How long have you been making music?
I’ve been making music for a long time, actually since before the visual stuff. I have been in bands since I was 15, mostly rock and roll bands, so making music and collaborating is not new for me. This is the first album I’ve released or published though…
When did you both get into “quieter” music?
Alex: When I was 18 or 19. I used to make music with my brother, which was always quieter. I immediately liked it. It felt somehow like it was my roots. If felt right to lose the pulse. Before Riceboy sleeps I’d been making stuff by myself at home, with good friends or again with my brother.
Jónsi: When I was young I used to put on ambient music. I used to listen to it intensely, it really did something for me. If I was feeling blue and sad it would actually soothe me. As you get older and more boring you tend to put it on and keep it in the background. The challenge for us was to make something quiet but still interesting. I was listening to [our album] recently and was surprised at how intense it is in places. It’s not like a pure ambient album. It’s not really all that relaxing sometimes.
Is this music is intimately tied up with your combined visual art aesthetic?
Alex: Definitely. They are one and the same for me. When Jónsi and I make photos or video projects, they come from exactly the same place as the songs. We’re always hoping to create the same kind of atmosphere.
When did the two of you first start making music?
Alex: We’ve been making music since we met in 2005, on and off. In fact we’ve been working on this project since then. We didn’t know we had an album until recently though. When we realized this, we took a month off and went to Hawaii to mix the album there.
And the whole album was recorded at your home in Reykjavik?
Alex: Yes, in our apartment we have all the instruments - harmonium, celeste, glockenspiels, piano, guitars…we wrote the whole thing on acoustic instruments.
Jonsi: It was really drawn out and involved time spent in our living room and kitchen. It was great.
How did the song-writing process work for this project?
Alex: Often the songs would grow from a sample or something, and just evolve. They very often became something else than they were intended to be. I personally like playing piano, guitar and harmonium. They are my three favourites. I also love the sampler, recording sounds and then playing with them and processing them.
Jónsi: We put in equal amounts. It was such a casual and lengthy project that no one can say what anyone else did. We had no deadline and no pressure. I would maybe fiddle around on a piano, then we’d leave it for half a year and then discover it and think “that sounds nice”. Some songs came quickly, some slowly. The last song, Sleeping Giant, took all five years and was one of the last songs that we finished.
Is the project influenced by any ‘ambient’ producers in particular, Eno for example?
Alex: Hm, nothing that I can think of. I personally think Eno is cool and I like his music. But really it was us doing our own thing. We never sit around listening to ambient music together or anything.
The album spans your entire relationship. Does it feel like some kind of personal archival document to you?
Alex: It is a bit like that. Most couples don’t get the opportunity to share their relationship in this way, and it sounds like the two of us at home to me for sure.
Jónsi: I think so too, but it needs more time to sink in. When you’ve just finished albums you want to get away from them. Only after some time can you think back to the special moments and atmospheres.
Some ambient albums are created electronically but this is way more acoustic
Alex: All the instruments were acoustic, and we added a string section and choir to help give it that feel. Sometimes with ambient bands it sounds too electronic. There’s mistakes here and it sounds rough in places. I mean we’re not the best engineers.
Jónsi - what crossovers were there between this project and your work with Sigur Rós?
There are always going to be parallels with music projects. It was a little bit like Sigur Rós sometimes in the working method and the way we slowed things down, reversed things and tweaked them. And of course we worked with amiina, the string quartet that play with Sigur Rós. You can’t help but have it be similar in some ways.
You went to the jungle in Hawaii to mix it all down. Why there?
Alex: We just wanted to go somewhere warm and to have some real undisturbed focus. We just took our laptops and speakers. Jónsi found out about a raw food community, like 12-15 people living together living off the land and using only solar power. So we had this small hut in the middle of the jungle and had dinners with these people from all over world and for all ages. It was a great way to finish an album. Sometimes we had the music up loud and it was quite amusing one evening to find this hippy lady called Humming Bird meditating outside our hut and making these spiritual comments…
Will you be doing anything live?
Jónsi: Maybe next year we will. It depends on the schedule. We’d want to do it with maybe a small string section or a choir, and of course some visual elements. We haven’t gotten that far yet though….
Source: Iceland Music Export IMX
Read another interview with the Duo @ Woolf and Wilde