Bang Gang (Barði Jóhannsson) released The Wolves Are Whispering exactly one month ago today, so I spoke with the hugely talented musician about his much-anticipated follow-up to Ghosts from the Past, which was seven years in the making. He told me about the process of making a record over such an expansive period of time, as well as about his goals to put on a minimalist four-piece release show in his home base of Iceland this September. Read up on all of that below, and be sure to 1. download The Wolves Are Whispering, and 2. follow Bang Gang on Facebook and Twitter to stay tuned to all the lastest news. HERE WE GO:
So congratulations on the record release! I know it’s been seven years since you put out the last one, but how long exactly was the process to create this collection of songs? Was it off and on over that amount of time, or did you sit down for a set span and work uninterrupted?
I was in the process for seven years; I’d just work on it for two days, maybe, and then take a six month break, then work on it for one day and take a four month break [laughs] and so on.
And were the breaks taken mainly to work on your other projects? Or do you find it helpful to walk away from the music every so often and come back with a fresh perspective?
Basically each time I had scheduled dates to work on my album, something else came up that was urgent. So I always pushed the deadline, and then finally after six years I had a lot of songs; I was thinking that I couldn’t push it anymore, and I scheduled time to work on it and said no to everything else, no matter how exciting it was.
Well that must have been tough, but obviously it worked out tremendously well for you, because it sounds fantastic. Now, you ended up with nine songs on the final track list, but you said you’d written quite a few; did you have to cut songs from that finished lineup to make them work well together as a whole?
Yeah, I wrote more songs, but in the end I think the reason I kept pushing the deadline was because I had so many songs, and it was so hard to choose which ones to finish. So I sat down early last year and listened through them, and I decided, “Either I work on this song today, or I’m not going to work on it at all.” So then I had maybe ten or eleven songs, and then I finished nine of those.
And when you began writing them in the first place, did you have any specific ideas about the theme or how you wanted it to come across sonically?
Basically the theme came about by itself; it generally seems like if I decide to do something at the beginning, I’ll probably end up doing the opposite.
Right. And tell me about some of the vocal collaborations on this record and how those came to be; I know you’ve worked with some of the collaborators before, but was it tough to get everyone’s schedules to align with your already busy one?
No, it was pretty easy; for instance, Bloodgroup are in Iceland, and we were able to work on that track over the course of a year. (I also think working on an album for a long period lends a lot of detail to the songs; if you listen to the record, then you’ll always hear little things that you didn’t notice before.) It was also easy with Jofridur [Akadottir] from Samaris, because she’s also in Iceland, and then I was co-producing and recording the Helen Marnie solo album, so she was in Iceland for that, and with Keren Ann, we can work separately now, because we’ve worked together for so many years.
That’s super convenient!
Yeah, it worked super well.
Now, tell me a little bit about the video for “Out of Horizon”, because it’s super cool; was this your concept? It seems like it goes along with the album cover in terms of visual aesthetics.
Yeah, that video was such a nice surprise; we were going to shoot a video for that song with an Icelandic director that I really like, but when I saw the first images, I saw that the video didn’t fit the song at all. So we tried other songs on it, and it worked super well on the song “Sabazios O”. So I did a video competition for “Out of Horizon”, and there was this guy in Colombia whose submission did exactly what I wanted to have on the song; we had some secret mind connection, obviously, because I’d never met him before. It was really cool.
That’s amazing! And it turned out very nicely, so congratulations. And it’s not for a while now, but do you typically do anything surrounding Iceland Airwaves?
No, but I’m going to be doing my own release concert at the beginning of September. (If I have a concert by myself in Iceland, I don’t need a festival to fill a quite decent venue, so I prefer to do it on my own.) I also have the rule that I only play Iceland once or twice a year, or even sometimes every two or three years, so my only concert this year is probably going to be just that one in September.
And so when you do prepare to have a show, what is the process like to adapt those song arrangements for the stage? Because you use lots of different instruments on the actual record, so does that complicate matters when you’re performing live?
No, I think it won’t be too hard. When I do songs I don’t think too much about how I’m going to perform them live; it isn’t me to just do a record with six instruments or something really limited, and I need a lot of details. For the live show I have always traveled with quite a big band with me, but this time around I’m going to try to reduce that number to four or five. But (for example) I’ve played twice with the Symphony Orchestra in Iceland, and in those situations I had an eighty-piece band to work with. I prefer that, but I’m going to try with four this time. [Laughs]
Well that seems like quite the challenge, but I’m sure it’ll be amazing. Now, what else have you got going on this summer?
I’m finishing projects that I’ve always wanted to do but have abandoned. I’m also working on a classical album under my own name, and then we have a Starwalker (which is the project I’m in with JB [Dunckel]) album coming out as well.