The room is stripped down. On the walls, one poster of a centerfold with an unusually well-groomed pubic region, one poster for Bonnie “Prince” Billie, two for Slowblow, and a picture of a bemused Ringo Star with a pipe in his mouth. Otherwise, the band’s practice room contains only amps, all left on, and two drum sets.
No glasses or cans or bottles or wrappers.
“I read about us in the Grapevine,” Henrik tells me.
“Yeah, I wrote that. Do you remember talking to me? You almost threw up on me.”
Henrik raises his hollow-body Epiphone and shows me the pick guard and controls.
“You see this. All this blood. That’s from that night.”
It’s a surprising amount of blood. With the broken glass and other drunken antics, I hadn’t been paying attention to Henrik’s fingers the last time he played.
A pounding monotonous drum beat comes through the ceiling. Somebody is doing track recording upstairs. Just drums, all day.
“Anything else about the Skunks?”
“We have no musical ambition whatsoever in the Skunks… It’s just an event. Not that I wanted people throwing beer bottles at my face. But it felt honest.”
The band files in. Toggi, or “Tank” as he tells me, the bassist; Helgi, on guitar; Einar, on guitar; Bjarni, or Bjarni Bummer, on drums, and Siggy, who plays maracas and tambourine. When they see me interviewing Henrik, they laugh among themselves. In front of them, I say that I’m confused by the Sling website: it says Henrik writes all the songs. Isn’t it more of a collaborative effort?, I ask.
Henrik: I write the music, we play the songs. (No objections whatsoever from the band.)
(I begin to ask him about the layering on this new album, when an electric guitar starts blaring. There isn’t a complicated PA System in the room, so one guitar amp can drown out everything. Henrik and I flee.)
Grapevine: You always practice that loud?
Henrik: Only Helgi.
GV: You’ve talk about atmosphere with this band. What atmosphere, exactly, are you trying to create with Singapore Sling?
Henrik: Dark and dirty.
GV: Like wallowing?
Henrik: Dark isn’t necessarily unhappy. A lot of dark stuff can make you feel… good, about being a piece of shit. And that’s what rock n’ roll is all about.
GV: I wonder about this album. About all the layers. Do you worry you’re over-producing?
Henrik: Not at all. Layering just makes it more interesting… I mean, when you play live, you can be more raw, but we had to use whatever was necessary to get the experience on tape. I use whatever it takes.
(The conversation turns to an extended discussion of guitars and recording techniques. Pro tools and 4-track come up often. Einar apparently has a very nice guitar. We reenter the practice room, despite the discomfort of Helgi’s guitar.)
GV: Do you always read a book during practice?
Siggi: (Reading a Lawrence Block crime novel.) I read, grab glasses, throw out garbage and shake a bit.
GV: Oh, Siggi Shaker. I read about you in the New York Post.
Siggi: (Laughing) Yeah, they gave a paragraph to the band, and then a whole paragraph on me. The secret weapon. I’d like to see this woman.
(Siggy returns to reading his book. Helgi plays riffs on the guitar.)
GV: (To Toggi and Helgi) Is there anything you feel people assume incorrectly about the Sling?
Toggi: That we’re actually nice guys. That we’re healthy.
GV: People assume you’re healthy?
Toggi: That’s an assumption people don’t often make.
GV: Well my Skunks review wouldn’t help.
Toggi: No. ‘I need my drugs.’ Are you sure your translator was reliable?
It all feels like a put on. Six lonely people in a stark practice studio with drums beating overhead.
They play a few songs from the new album. Henrik had told me there weren’t many surprises in recording, that he got exactly the atmosphere he wanted. But I am surprised at how the new work explores “dark and dirty.”
What might strike most listeners are the echoes of surf rock in Helgi’s guitar work. When combined with the almost 50s style phrasing that Henrik is now employing, the Sling’s new music sounds like Brian Wilson played a jam session with Billy Corgan and Chris Isaac. Not a horrible mix. If sad rock n’ roll is nothing new, the texture of this band’s new work is refreshing in the way it combines music that always should have been combined.
The band takes a break from practice, and I finally get a chance to talk with Bjarni Bummer, the “one guy who nags all the time,” according to Henrik. If the rest of the band seems lost in a malaise, maybe he can hit me with something genuinely depressed.
“I got that nickname a long time ago,” Bjarni tells me. “I guess I may not be laughing all the time.”
“So what are you sad about?”
“I’m not. I’ve got two beautiful kids and my life is happy,” he says, delivering an unrehearsed smile.
Then some of the Bummer comes out: “It’s really important to be cool,” he says, laughing.
Singapore Sling’s album “Life is Killing My Rock n Roll” will be released this September. They are currently touring in America. They will play in Iceland in August, then return to the US for a two month tour.