by Alexander Laurence
Sling is a darkly pschedelic band from Reykjavik, Iceland.
They are inexplicable and elusive but remind one of the
drugged out soul power bands like Jesus and Mary Chain and
My Bloody Valentine. Their debut album, "The Curse
Of Singapore Sling", came out in Summer 2003. It has
gained fans from all over the globe. Their leader is singer-songwriter-guitarist
Henrik Björnsson. In addition to Björnsson, the
Sling include Helgi Petursson on guitar and keyboards, Einar
Kristjansson on guitar, Toggi "The Tank" Gumundsson
on bass, Bjarni Johannsson on drums and Siggi Shaker on
maracas and tambourine. They make hypnotizing music that
shoots out into space. They made their first tour of America
this past summer.
In late 2002, Singapore Sling recently played their first
ever US shows. Then in March 2003, they rocked the house
with a show at SXSW and also several packed New York shows
(including a sold out show opening for Brian Jonestown Massacre).
They soon became a favorite among other bands. The 2003
tour will kick off with a headline performance at New York's
Central Park Summerstage festival, as part of a special
Iceland Day event. Singapore Sling also supported The Raveonettes
and the Warlocks on their tour dates on the west coast.
I spoke to their mysterious leader, Henrik, right before
AL: When did you form the band?
Henrik: Probably in 2000. I did ten songs myself on a 4-track
recording studio. I started out making music in my apartment
by myself. I thought that I had to do something with this
because no one was hearing this music except a few friends
and me. I played it to a friend who was a guitarist and
we decided to form a band together and play the songs live.
At the beginning, we didn't have a place to rehearse, so
we would play once a month, and the lineup would change
every month. It took a while for us to be serious about
it. We have had the same lineup for about two years now.
AL: Did you want the songs to be simple?
Henrik: I usually like the instrumentation to be basic.
I just like a few things going on. I don't think of myself
as a guitar player. I like making songs out of a few instruments.
If they are all quite basic, it makes more sense to me.
If you have three guitars and they are all doing too much,
it doesn't make any sense.
AL: Is the use of feedback and noise important?
Henrik: Yes. All the songs don't need feedback. But songs
like "No Soul Man" and "Midnight" the
feedback are very smooth and it helps the song glide. The
feedback in "Overdriver" is like aggressive feedback
and it's one of the most fantastic feedback guitar solos
ever. I used an acoustic guitar with pickups and it made
this crazy noise. My friend heard the song and he thought
I had slain a horse.
AL: What are most of your songs about?
Henrik: There is no special theme. It's not about politics.
There is one love song.
AL: One of the best songs is "Roadkill" but it's
Henrik: I recorded it first with a drum machine and it
sounded a little different. It sounded more like Suicide.
I felt that the guitar riff by itself was enough. I have
written more instrumental songs. During the live show we
play one more instrumental. I really like surf music.
AL: We are in the hotbed of surf music. Dick Dale and The
Ventures are from this area.
Henrik: I went to the beach the other day. It was very
refreshing to see the waves. We spent another day walking
around Hollywood. We went to the Hustler store. They had
all these body parts. They had a mouth and an asshole. Do
people come in and say, "Give me an ass and throw in
a fist as well." Maybe I'll bring back a few asshole
AL: You live in Reykjavik, Iceland. Is there a cool neighborhood
where all the hipsters live?
Henrik: Yes, it's where we all live. We live right smack
in the middle of downtown. The area code is 101. That's
what it's called. It's a small area where all the bars,
clubs and restaurants are. Once four members of the band
live on the same street and the rehearsal space was three
AL: Have you played a lot in Reykjavik, Iceland?
Henrik: We have played less than twenty shows there. We
have played more in America, and never in Europe. Many bands
make the mistake of playing too often in Reykjavik. We hardly
play there anymore. It's such a small area. It's always
the same crowd.
AL: When I look at the cover of the album I am thinking
about On The Road by Jack Kerouac. Are you a fan?
Henrik: I was a big Jack Kerouac fan when I was a teenager.
A big dream I had was to come to America and do that trip,
from Denver to California. Now we have just done that on
this tour. I wish that we could have done it with a different
vehicle and fewer people. It could have been better with
a cooler car than a rented van.
AL: I noticed that you have a lot of girls who follow the
band. The screams are so loud that you can't hear the music.
Henrik: We are like the new Beatles.
AL: What is the song "Summer Garden" about? Many
of us here in LA like the Phil Spector sound.
Henrik: Yeah. It's probably the song on the album that
sounds the most like the 1960s. I was just playing around
on the keyboard. I wrote this melody right there on the
organ. I wrote a lyric about this girl who is not my girlfriend.
AL: Are there any films that you like?
Henrik: No. I haven't been to the films in a long time.
I used to go a lot. I am a big fan of road films.
AL: Have you read any books recently?
Henrik: I have been reading a few books actually. One called
Black Vinyl, White Powder. It's about rock music. This English
guy who used to manage the Yardbirds wrote it. It's very
interesting. I also read this book about Steve McQueen.
AL: Is it very easy to buy Fender amps and guitars in Reykjavik?
Henrik: It's not hard to get. We don't have Fender amps.
We usually buy them in America and bring them back over.
To buy anything in Iceland it is twice as expensive. Prior
to the first shows in New York, we spent a few days looking
for instruments. So we all got new gear.
AL: I heard that you played with an American drummer for
the first show.
Henrik: It was Bob Bert. He was in Sonic Youth and Pussy
Galore. After the show in SXSW, we had four shows in the
New York area. We had to play a radio show and I was going
to just use a drum machine. We called up a van company to
take us back to Manhattan. We loaded the gear in the van.
After about ten minutes on the road someone in the band
mentioned Sonic Youth. The driver said "I was in that
band during the 1980s." I saw his eyes in the rearview
mirror and I recognized him from pictures of Pussy Galore.
It was Bob Bert. We ended up giving him a CD and our record
company arranged it that he would join us for the radio
show gig. We played about four songs. It's funny. I wouldn't
know who any drummers are. I don't know any of their names.
I know Nick Knox of The Cramps. I know about the Pussy Galore
AL: Are there any bands that you like?
Henrik: I like Velvet Underground and Suicide and The Stooges
and The Cramps. There's this band Dead Meadow who are like
psychedelic and stoner rock. It's fun to play with bands
you never heard of. There are probably many bands who are
big here whom no one has heard of in Europe. It's fun to
AL: Do you have any hobbies?
Henrik: A little Kung Fu and Yoga. I work at a bar. I write
articles for an Icelandic magazine. I do a lot of interviews
with bands. If I like a band I will write something about
AL: Did you go to a University?
Henrik: Some of us did. I went to one for a year and I
found it quite boring. Our bass player, Toggi, spent some
time studying film in New York. We do have some education.
AL: What is the best part about making music?
Henrik: When all the girls throw their underwear at us.
AL: What's the most difficult part of doing music?
Henrik: It has to do with loading in the equipment from
the van. I hate that. Sometimes we have some female fans
doing the work for us, but they are unreliable.
AL: When I listen to your music I think of using drugs?
Henrik: The drugs are more available and cheaper over here.
So that was a big factor in us coming over for this tour.
Iceland is more of a drinking culture. It's not a drug culture.
Alcohol is expensive, but drugs are more expensive, so people
stick with alcohol. People try to drink themselves into
a stupor with hard alcohol. You have everything here in
America. We realize that people in America smoke a lot of
pot. Two years ago I saw Lee Scratch Perry in New York.
The reggae music starts and everyone besides us there started
to light up a joint.
AL: What is your set like?
Henrik: There are two songs on the record that we don't
play live. They are just songs that I recorded by myself
on an eight-track recorder. They are mostly myself playing
keyboards and vocals. Nobody in the band knows how to play
keyboards very well. We do four new songs and eight songs
from the album.
AL: What about "Dirty Water?" How did you decide
to do that song?
Henrik: I was just playing this riff. Our version is different
from the original version. I started singing this melody
and lyrics over this new riff and thought that this is going
to sound cool because it's so different. It sounds like
a totally different song. I only like cover songs that sound
totally different from the original.
AL: Do you record everything live?
Henrik: None are done completely live. We record the drums,
guitar and bass as a foundation. Then we add layers. Some
songs have a drum machine.
AL: Are you going to tour again in the fall or record a
Henrik: When I get back to Iceland in August, I am going
to finish this album I am doing with Toggi, our bass player.
We have a side project, which is totally different. It's
slower and sleazy music. We are going to release a full
album. After that I am going to start working on the next
Singapore Sling album. I have some demos and some new songs
on a Dictaphone. I will probably write some new material.
I will probably record that in November and December. We
will probably do that in New York.