Obviously 10 years is a long time in anyone’s life — let alone in a musical career. How do you feel you’ve developed musically since the record — do you think you bring something different to the record than you would have 10 years ago?
Definitely. I feel like it’s a whole lifetime ago. The album sonically and technically is very imperfect. If was making now, it would sound so different because I’ve learned so much about engineering and mixing. I do think that being an amaetur, as I was back then, really freed me up creatively. I wasn’t concerned with things that didn’t register in my mind. So I honestly think it all happened the way it was meant to be. To be able to make a record that is kind of homemade and DIY and a little bit lo-fi was just part of my path and I’m glad I didn’t know what I know now then because then it would’ve been different.
I guess right after when this record came out I became obsessed with audio engineering and mixing and producing — so more studio kind of work. I got obsessed with sound. So that was the path I went down for a couple of years. I opened my own recording studio in Reykjavík, I invested in studio equipment and microphones. With the help of some friends and a lot of self-teaching, I learned how to record instruments, where to put the microphones, how to space them, how to layer them, how to mix it all together. So that’s where I put my energy.
So now, being someone who writes music and composes music and also is thinking a lot about sound and layering and mixing — it’s really informed my process in a way.
Did you and Jónsi have distinct roles in the compositional process?
For this album, this stuff was all written together. And neither one of us were really engineers back then so it was engineered kind of by both us, working with what we had. Jónsi knew a little bit more about engineering because he had been in a band for a long time and spent some time in recording studios.
If you think about the songs in basic harmony — left hand, right hand — bass, chord progression and upper register/melody. Every single song was co-written. One of us would do the chords and one of us would do the counterpoint like the high-harmony, and vice versa. I’m pretty sure there’s not anything that one of us just wrote. We did so much together — like I would write something and think it was on a good trajectory, and then Jónsi would put these beautiful chord movements under it that I’d never heard. So we really worked closely together in that respect.
The Australian magazine Limelight described your performance of Riceboy Sleeps in Tasmania as being like held by “aurally nurturing hands.” Why do you think ambient music resonates more strongly with people today than ever before?
I don’t know, I’ve been wondering that too. It’s like a joke in my friend circle because I’ve been listening to ambient music since I was fifteen or sixteen, when I discovered Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works II. And then that led me to other things. It’s been such an important part of my life, I feel like it strips away everything else — it’s just pure melody. Maybe for some people it’s a little bit too slow and patient and just boring. But I love melody, I’ve always loved melody. So I love ambient music that doesn’t shy away from being highly melodic. Maybe we need that. It does seem like it’s having a moment, that more people than ever before care a little bit about ambient music or are patient enough to invest listening to ambient music and people are making it and it’s beautiful. Maybe we just need it, it’s a counterpoint to the crazy world, it’s a counterpoint to your outerworld and you create an inner world that’s changing at your own pace. What do you think?
I’ve started to think of it as a response to the intensity and saturation of digital culture — in some ways it offers a form of enforced respite, you have to look away from the information overload, but you do it sonically.
That’s cool, I like that. And this new wave of ambient stuff — it’s not cheesy. I think for a long time, people just thought of it as “New Age” synth pads going on for 18 minutes. I think people are a little bit less allergic to it now, because there’s alternative ambient stuff that can take all different kinds of forms. You can do ambient music that’s like really harsh or intense, or really soothing or beautiful. Orchestral or synthy or acoustic — there are so many different forms of it now which maybe wasn’t the case years ago.
Thanks for taking the time Alex, lovely to chat.
Thanks for being so supportive of our album and our show, it really meant a lot to be doing this at this time in our lives.