ROK had the honour to catch up with singer/guitarist/producer Biggi (í Maus).
Please introduce yourself to our international audience.
My name is Birgir Örn Steinarsson. I’ve been a creative artist all my life and my outputs have mainly been musical. Recently I have found myself spending more and more time writing movie scripts. I am also a master’s student at the University of Copenhagen, getting closer to becoming a clinical psychologist. First and foremost though I am a father, a husband and a rather private introvert.
“10 short stories” took 8 years in the making. Why so long after the release of your album “Id”? Busy with other projects (Króna f. ex.) perhaps? What happened to Króna by the way?
I actually started working on this album about two months after I released “Id”. The base for a few of the recordings on this album where actually done in London while I was still active there as an artist. But after moving back to Iceland I stopped the process. I completely lost faith in myself. There was an incident in 2008 that became pretty public – and all of a sudden my face was blasted on the front cover of one of Iceland’s daily newspapers. Because of the article I was made to defend myself as an artist and the singing voice I was born with. Just because Bubbi Morthens (one of Iceland’s most established artist) became irritated of something that I wrote about him in an article. More media coverage followed. A week of daily media-bullying from Fréttablaðið, where my voice would be the butt-end of “comic” articles. Then it got even weirder when Kastljós and Spaugstofan followed on television. The public felt forced to side with me or Bubbi like in some kind of media celebrity boxing match. It was quite insane… and I started to notice that a lot of people became very angry with me. Even if me and Bubbi where personally on good terms, people would still think that I insulted the king and should pay the price. Which I felt was really weird because the article that I wrote was really a homage to Bubbi – and was not ment to be disrespectful in any way. But because of this media circus… I felt like my reputation as an artist was severely damaged. I even lost my day job because of this. I guess I took all this negativity to heart, and struggled to find reasons to carry on with music. At the same time I had just become a father and a husband as well – and I became very happy in my personal life. All of a sudden music wasn’t the drive for life for me. Musically, I had constant waves of self doubt/not giving a fuck then self doubt again. While I would be in the “not giving a fuck” stage – I would always produce a lot of material. Write it, record it and then just shelve it once my head started to drag my creativity down.
I started my psychology studies in the University of Iceland and learned a complete new work ethic. I also learned enough about human cognitive biases to understand that the only one stopping me from releasing more music – was myself. I started working with Baddi Z for “Vonarstræti” – and just got deeply into my creative flow again. That was in 2011 and it hasn’t stopped since. Therefore, I will be eternally grateful for my good friend, Baddi, for pulling out my creative plug.
After the movie got its release I felt it was time to release some more music. Maus started performing again and it just felt really natural to be back on stage… and I decided it was something worth pursuing. When I went through the material I had made in those 8 years I had about 30 finished songs + 15 that I have not even recorded yet. I listened through and 12 of them sounded really good. A creation is not its creator so I felt that I owed it to the songs for them to at least have a chance of some kind of audience. So I picked the ones I liked the best, did some more work on them and sent them to ‘Believe Digital’. They immediately liked them and said yes. I finally have an outlet again! A way to get my music to anyone interested… where ever he/she is located in the world.
So, now we have a new album ready for a release! Now there is no need for another eight years of silence. Game on.
Oh, and Króna…? Well, life just kind of happened. We all just got busy with other things and then carried on doing them and then postponed band practices for a bit too long. I’m pretty sure the guys would be ready for a gig if the right circumstances presented themselves. I would definetely be up for it! And they even appear on the new Bigital album! We wrote this amazing rock opus together called “Meðvindur kær”, wich is basically a love letter to our higher creative power. We also wrote a bunch of songs that have never been properly recorded or released. There was real magic there and a bigger slice of manlove. I love playing with those guys.
The new album is like going through a book of the last decade. A sort of patchwork of 10 different styles, echoing Maus and Króna, but also influences of rap/hiphop and a singer-songwriter style song. Is this a sort of portpolio of what you are capable to do or did in the past?
At no point did I sit down and think to myself… “muhaha… now I am going to show everyone what I am truly capable of!”. No, while I was working on these songs I didn’t think I HAD an audience. I truly believed that no one would be interested. I guess in a way this gave me the freedom to just do what came naturally to me. To let each song just take it’s course – do just what I felt was best for each story/song without having to worry about; “does this sound too much/too little like this or that?”. I really felt each song was a story, or some kind of an experience, that I needed to get out of my system. Hence the title. The diversity of the music is probably just because I listen to all kinds of music, and everything I create will be influenced by something that previously moved me emotionally.
How did you choose the persons to collaborate with on “10 short stories”? Coincidence, audition, mutual friends?
I seem to only work with friends. On all these songs friendship came first. If it felt like making music with them would be fun – I made it a reality. All of these people where very good friends when the recordings took place… which makes me appreciate them even more.
Where do you find your inspiration? Other bands, books, tv, daily life troubles, … ?
All of the above. But I have to say that my creativity flows best when I am able to silence my mind. When I can tap into whatever higher power life provides – and then just flow.
Do you have any studio/recording secrets or rituals you want to share with us?
Yes, I actually do. I’ve made so many albums now… for myself and with others that I think I can say for sure that the most important thing in music production is performance. For this album – I really tried to capture natural performance as much as I could. Although we do have some beat programming in two of the songs… all the other ones are a recorded performance. Most of the takes on the album, music or vocals, are one takes… the same performance from beginning to end. All vocal takes are done like… it made no difference if it was me singing or someone else. I would try to set the mood right… play the song through and just ask them sing it the way they thought was right… we would have one or two practice sessions and then just push record! No post cut or editing – and no auto-tune! The true magic is not how “well” or “flawless” you can sing… it’s how much emotion you can have shine through… and how good you are at expressing the words your singing. Nothing else matters.
The artwork is completely hers. The whole concept, idea and production is from her amazing creative head.
ROK likes the Smekkleysa EP Box from 1997. You produced the ‘Bag of Joys’ EP. Can you tell us some interesting story about the ‘making of’ this EP?
Yes, I can actually. I also recorded their previous 7 inch, ‘Nú á ég Vermand vini’. After that my then girlfriend became a member of the band. So I was always kind of on the sidelines for that band. If there ever was the fifth Baggie… it was me. I was their George Martin. So when they got invited to do a CD for Smekkleysa I don’t think they even asked if I would record the album… they just assumed I would… as I totally did. I had to find a way to do this as cheaply as possible. And this was before the time that pro-tools became something you could have on your home computer. So, I got hold of this 8 track digital recording box-machine. This was all very sciencefiction at the time so the guys would make fun and call me “Head Instructor Bigital”. That’s where I got the name. I started using it as my online id – and have always done. And now… all these years later… I am finally officially using it for my music production.
Maus became a cult group in Iceland, with a lot of devoted fans. Did you play some legendary concerts in Iceland, or even abroad perhaps?
Yeah man, loads. There where a few very rememberable concerts both in Iceland and abroad. I always remember our early days – playing packed concerts in MH’s Norðurkjallari. I don’t know if they even do concerts there anymore but they where always loads of fun. Then there where a few ones where we supported foreign bands that came over to Iceland to play. I especially remember our gig with Placebo as being a very good one. Some of the Iceland Airwaves gig’s where legendary… and our release concert for “Musick” was quite extraordinary. Everytime we would visit Ísafjörður, Akureyri or Húsavík would always be magical. Our best gigs abroad where probably in Denmark and America. One of the last gigs we did before going on that 9 year hiatus was to play Central Park on a hot summer day in front of hundreds of people. Lots of fun.
You’re not only busy with music, but you were also busy with writing a script for a movie, ‘Vonarstræti’ (“Life In A Fishbowl”)? How came this to life? A small step from songwriting to script writing?
My wife and Baddi Z are good friends and kind of grew up together in Akureyri. One night we went over for dinner. Played games, talked about this and that but never once discussed his movies or my enthusiasm to try and write one. When we where leaving I asked him if he had some kind of educational book about screenwriting… because I knew he had gone to school in Denmark. He said yes, ran an got the book and handed it over. Three months later he called me asking if I had read the book. I said yes, and that I would return it to him as soon as possible. He laughed, said that he had no interest in getting the book back… and just blatantly asked if I would be interested in writing his next movie with him. I jumped on the chance. The rest is history.
Finally can you tell us something about future projects and plans, musical and non-musical?
I have two movie projects in production, for scripts that are in progress. One is Baddi Z’s next movie which we are writing together. The other one is a movie I wrote for Reynir Lyngdal which is the first one I wrote alone. As they are both ‘in production’ anything could happen… but Baddi’s next film is getting closer to a shooting date.
Then in august, I have a small mini tour with Maus. I get to ride the wave of nostalgia for a few days. Then I get to disappear again to my family into anonymity in the wonderful city of Copenhagen. Life is sweet.
Something you want to share with our ROK readers? …
Yes. My music… would be delighted if you had a go.
ROK wishes you all the best, especially with your studies and of course your music.
– Wim Van Hooste