Bergur Ebbi Benediktsson - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Bergur Ebbi Benediktsson

Bergur Ebbi Benediktsson

Published March 7, 2008

I’ll start by congratulating you on your nomination to the Icelandic Music Awards.
Yes, thanks. I was very pleased to hear of it, and, you know, I was a bit surprised.

Were you?
Well yeah, don’t you have to say that? To be perfectly honest I haven’t really been following Icelandic music very closely. I was kind of excited to hear the nominations now, and had waited for it, but I really have very little by way of comparison, like what music has been getting awards and what hasn’t. I’ve also been stuck in a lot of older stuff, and have been listening to a lot of that, and haven’t really been paying attention to what’s just come out and what’s considered fresh and what’s not.

How do you view your success as a band then, comparatively? What’s your reference?
I’m actually really pleased with everything. I feel that most people who are writing about us understand our music close to the way we intended it. And if not, then still not in any negative way, they’re still finding something positive that maybe we hadn’t even considered. I have complete faith in criticism of music and of art generally. I don’t think that artists have the last word with their work – that’s a big misconception that a lot of artists have. But most people still seem to understand our stuff close to the way we intended it.

Does that apply to your lyrics too then?
Yes. Especially, actually, because despite everything, although a lot of the stuff is really thoughtout, a lot of it is also quite light-hearted, and not intended to have any great meaning. But then it’s also just really fun when someone else puts meaning into it. It fits with what I said before: you don’t have the final word or the decisive perspective on your work.

Do you see a divide between those fans who are interested in your lyrics – or in you on a more highbrow level – and those who are interested in the more playful atmosphere surrounding your music?
I don’t see a clear split, that these are two types. I think it mixes up a little bit. Sometimes people who enjoy lyrics don’t want to listen only to the lyrics and sometimes the opposite. There’s much more interest in the words than I think people realise. Páll Óskar said the other day that Icelanders just want to hear music that they can sing along to. It’s maybe not a really deep intellectual interest in lyrics, but people somehow have more interest in the music when they start to recognise the words. That’s exemplified in the fact that we have a harder time familiarising ourselves with music that is in different languages, that is, not in English or Icelandic. There are a lot of cultures whose music is sort of closed to us, and that is first and foremost because of the lyrics.

So you feel you’ve struck some sort of balance between the song’s entertainment value and their more intellectual significance?
Yes, definitely. And that’s also what we’re really all about. This pure-intellectual stuff… it’s not just that it’s tiresome, but I think that in its essence it’s not really sincere. If you’re talking to a normal person, you can’t separate the two: you have to be entertaining so that people will listen to you, and then you preferably have to have something to say, so you’re not just some clown. The stuff that manages to become really timeless, and I’m not going to make any claims that what we’re doing is going to become classic, because only time will tell, but I think that things become timeless if they have entertainment value for the moment, and then also if they leave something behind. It’s like how sometimes it’s said that when high culture and low culture mix, then you have classic material.

I read an interview you did recently in which you declared yourself to be on a personal crusade against irony. Maybe that was intended to be ironic.
No well, of course, it’d be great if I didn’t have to say anything more than that. If that was the end of that. But no, no, I’m still actually pretty sincere about that, even if it was a little hyperbolic to put it that way. What I mean is; irony is just a rhetorical device, there isn’t infinite wisdom stowed in it. But a certain double meaning in things, making people see things from two sides which you can sometimes achieve with irony by projecting some ridiculous alternative, is still a completely effective rhetorical device, but it’s just one of a hundred. Those who put a lot of ambition into something like writing, or just anything, I think they discover very quickly that it’s neither the first nor last device in the book. If you look at really excellent poets and such, they really aren’t that ironic. Bob Dylan for example, if you look at his lyrics, and look past the fact that it’s in his nature to be a kind of a sarcastic personality, to be so incredibly intellectual but at the same time a total brat, it’s kind of a crazy contrast, but if you just listen to his lyrics, you see that there really is no sarcasm in the lyrics themselves.

After I read that, your song Síðasta bloggfærsla ljóshærða drengsins (The Blonde Boy’s Last Blog Entry) immediately came to mind. I listened to it again and tried to imagine that you were being completely earnest, but I couldn’t reconcile it. There is something lightly comical about it, I’m sure it’s satirical.
It’s pretty hard to start making distinctions about it, but it’s supposed to be this guy who, well, it’s like he’s stepped out of his body and he sees how he acts and how he is, and is just articulating that. Of course he has misgivings about it but he’s describing his approval of it in the song anyway. The idea is that he’s not describing things that are, yes, essentially not good. He’s sort of painted himself into a corner ideologically, shouted “Wolf! Wolf!” too often, it’s that kind of statement. But he’s also not saying that it’s wonderful, he’s actually rather frantic and scared, so I think in the end there isn’t necessarily any irony in it. On the other hand it’s true that by projecting this way of thinking, you know, I’m of course pointing to the fact that it’s not good, but it’s also not being said anywhere that it is good.

I’ve both seen myself and heard from others that you seem to enjoy talking to and at the audience between songs at concerts. On Sprengjuhöllin’s Myspace page it says you are responsible for “song, guitar and stories.” Do you enjoy talking about your music as much as you do playing it?
Yeah, it varies quite a bit though. I would start with the disclaimer that it all revolves around music in the end, even music with lyrics, but not just talking. There are some artists who have gotten ahead purporting to be musicians but spend all their time talking about how great they are. Rappers often end up doing that. No one knows the music, they just know how mouthy the artist is. But I think with rappers, and with everyone, that the music needs to be number one, two and three. When it’s appropriate though, which is not always, I think it’s often just as fun to talk about the music as to make it. At certain concerts, like when people are just sitting and listening, I feel like it’s just as fun to talk about the songs and talk between songs and make a connection with the audience in that way as when the music is playing. But sometimes it’s not applicable. I would put it this way; we would never ever come forward as a band and not play anything, just talk. That would never happen.

Except in an interview.
Well, yes.

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