Name: Ægir aka Ægir Sindri Bjarnason
Occupation: Drummer, producer
Current release: Ægir's The Earth Grew Uncertain will be released on June 18th, 2021. Available via the Ægir bandcamp store.
Book: "Lanark" by Alasdair Gray.
Film: Krzysztof Kieslowski’s "The Double Life of Veronique".
Music: Rachmaninoff’s Trio élégiaque No. 1 in G minor.
I always have a hard time putting thoughts and feelings about art in words but these three have moved me in ways I can’t begin to explain.
if you enjoyed this interview with Ægir, visit his Facebook profile for recent updates.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I remember making songs with my brothers in GarageBand as kids, on our mom’s old Macbook.
I started playing in bands when I was 12 or so, with my brothers and other friends. We had a long list of cover songs, by bands like The Misfits, The Stooges, The Ramones, Dead Boys and Black Flag. I went through many different musical phases in my teen years in terms of what I was listening to, but I think throughout the years most of the more direct influences on my own music have been from hardcore and punk.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
In the beginning this mostly happened in bands through doing covers of the music we liked. Later, when writing more of our own material, I would often (and still do) throw in references to other drummers, borrowing drum fills or interesting beat ideas. But I think I’ve been lucky - for most of my musical life - to get to play with people with very different backgrounds than myself, and playing off of them and learning from their ideas more than aiming for or trying to emulate a specific sound we’d heard somewhere else. And through that I think I’ve never really learned to or sought to copy so much.
I have had some very direct influences, for songs or sounds or drum parts, but they tend to get mixed in with such a wide variety of other sounds and ideas - mine or others’ - that they end up mostly unrecognizable.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I don’t know what I am. Maybe creating is a way to try to figure that out?
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
They’ve often been either physical or, more recently, technical. Not being able to or not knowing how to get to the sound or pattern or feeling I’m looking for. Not being physically able to play the part I hear in my head.
This has been less of an issue when making rhythms electronically, but there the challenge is more about finding the sounds I seek and making it all feel alive in some way. And now, writing by myself after having always made music with other people, there’s a whole lot more space to fill (or not), and I’m gradually learning what to do with that space.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I started with GarageBand on my mother’s computer. When I was fourteen I got an Mbox (2-channel recording interface), which we would plug our mixer into to get a few more mics on the drums, though they’d get mixed down to two channels.
Over time, as my interest in recording has grown, I’ve accumulated more preamps and microphones, the main motivation being to be able to record a full band in the same room (that live energy has been very important to me) and to capture sounds from multiple angles and getting different textures and increased flexibility in post-processing without much need for overdubs.
In starting my solo project, I’ve also fallen quite deep into the rabbit hole of effects pedals and am always looking for things to expand the range of weird sounds and sonic textures I can get from processing drums and voice and other sources.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Some very versatile and weird guitar pedals have really helped open up the sound palette at my disposal while still sitting behind the drum kit and using that as my main source of sound.
Shifting into the digital realm more recently and getting into [Ableton] Live heavily changed the way I approach new ideas (and brought out whole new worlds of sounds and ideas) and also made structuring them a lot more streamlined and straightforward.
I’m excited to continue to explore the possibilities there and ways of mixing the two (digital vs. physical/analog) more.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Having always played drums in bands and thus kind of relied on other people to make music, my solo project has been a way to break free from that a bit, and figure out what I can do on my own, and that I can make things without other people. In that I’ve found that it’s still incredibly helpful to have another pair of ears around, to bounce ideas off or get feedback on works-in-progress, which my partner has been incredibly helpful with and has helped push a lot of my half-finished song ideas further than I would have.
I still deeply love playing in bands with other people and often miss that shared experience when I have long periods of only doing solo stuff. I’ve also been getting interested in expanding on this solo thing and working with others in different ways than I’ve grown used to.
I’ve had the privilege recently of working with a trio of dancers on a live theatre piece, which has been incredibly inspiring and exciting. It’s kind of like playing in a band but being the only one with an instrument.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
My days vary a lot depending on what I’m working on and whether my daughter is with me or not. And I moved house a week ago, into a pretty different situation from what I have been in, so I’m just slowly figuring out how my schedule will be going forward, but I imagine it might be similar to today; if I’m not taking her to or picking her up from school, I like to have a somewhat slow start to my day, with some reading and listening and maybe writing. I walk to my old house - my forever home since I was 1 - where my studio is, and do some work; mixing (my own recordings or others’), organizing, writing, maybe recording or messing with new ideas if I’m feeling inspired or have a project I’m working on, have a good lunch and then keep going until either I have to pick my daughter up from school or go home for dinner. Sometimes this is broken up by a walk to one of the many local pools, for swimming and relaxation.
Note to self: take more breaks, swim more.
Since being in control of most of my time and getting to work in or around music for a lot of it, I’ve tried to separate life and work at least a little bit, because I have a tendency to get quite obsessive with my projects and have to remember to breathe and exist and give time and space for other things also. So after school or dinner I’m usually off the computer until the next day.
I’ve also been trying to make more space for listening to things I’m not involved with myself; taking long walks with my iPod or playing through my records at home.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
My first show as a solo performer. A good friend had suggested to a local experimental music venue that I play a solo show there; they were quite keen and asked if I’d be interested. I had always been in bands and drums were the only thing I knew how to play and I don’t know if I’d ever thought of making music on my own. But I was intrigued by the proposition, so I started thinking about what I would do in a performance by myself.
I slowly started accumulating guitar pedals and started playing around with looping and processing drums through them. Eventually, I brought this setup + a steel drum to my family’s summerhouse and stayed there for a week with my partner, who was recovering from a pretty rough wisdom tooth surgery. As she tried to rest, I spent hours playing, exploring, experimenting, finding sounds and rhythms and melodies. At first I think this was mostly intended as preparation for a show, but I recorded everything and by the end of the week I had 12 hours of recordings. Over the following couple of months I dug through those recordings and from them constructed songs that went on my first album, which I released the day after that first show.
This experience - both making the album and playing the show - opened up a whole new world to me, with a newfound freedom and exploration excitement, and for that I am immensely grateful to everyone that planted seeds and encouraged the endeavour along the way.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I think it’s very important to give yourself space and time to forget about everything else for a little while. Get lost in your world and lose track of time until you feel ready to return. Creative activities can be very meditative if we allow them to absorb us. To give that room to happen it helps to give yourself a fairly spacious timeframe to play in, and to remind yourself that not everything has to become something (but a lot of great things happen when we’re not really trying, so always record!) and try to let go of your internal pressures and judgments.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
↑ music as meditation and practice being present and
→ music as an outlet for everything
↓↓ music as a platform for fostering connections
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I’m not sure we really need my perspective (a privileged white cis male) on lines between appropriation and exchange.
But I think we can learn a lot through listening and taking in art from different cultures than our own, and believe it’s important to seek out more than the Western shit we’re surrounded by and fed on a daily basis, and we can be influenced and inspired by it but we don’t have to pretend that everything is our own.
Be mindful and respectful of where it’s coming from and create what’s true to you.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I think some of my most inspiring sensory experiences might have to do more with elimination than overlap. Like how intensely you listen - and how awake but unaware you become of your immediate surroundings - when you can’t see anything at all.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Being a very socially anxious person for most of my life and often struggling with human relationships, art and music has provided me with a platform for expression and innumerable opportunities for connecting with people.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Everything and nothing.