Seabear, from left: Halldór (Dóri) Ragnarsson, Örn Ingi Ágústsson, Ingibjörg Birgisdóttir, Guöbjörg Hlín Guömundsdóttir, Sóley Stefánsdóttir, Sindri Már Sigfússon, and Kjartan Bragi Bjarnason.
Photo: Lilja Birgisdóttir
“I''ve always believed that imagination is more important than gear or money,” says Sindri Már Sigfússon of Seabear, an experimental indie folk band from Reykjavik, Iceland. On their newest release, We Built a Fire (Morr Music), Seabear achieved monumental-sounding music using minimal equipment. Along the way, the band itself evolved from Sigfússon''s one-man show to its current seven-person lineup. “I needed people to play with me in concerts,” Sigfússon explains. “I think it''s fun to play in a big band like that; the songs turn out completely different from the ones I make on my own.”
Sigfússon says that some of the songs on We Built a Fire were expanded from a germ of an idea, while others were completely made up from scratch in the studio. He adds, “We''d been playing a few of the songs live for a while, too, so those took shape on tour.”
Sigfússon recorded tracks in his basement studio and claims that his equipment is “amateur at best,” with an assortment of instruments forming the roots of Seabear''s eclectic studio approach. “I''ve been collecting things that make sounds for years now, and I have a pretty big collection—guitars, synths, organs, a pianette, a drum kit, autoharp, banjo, ukelele, and all sorts of percussion,” he says.
To lend an extra richness to the main vocals, Sigfússon borrowed an AEA R84 ribbon mic, although for everyday use he relies on the classics—and a trick or two. “I really like that AEA mic, but I usually use a Shure SM57 or 58, a RODE NT1-A, or some cheap crappy mic. For this album, I recorded some of the vocals through my Peavey Delta Blues [tube] amp, and for some of the group singing, we tried singing all together really far away from the mic. I didn''t use a lot of effects on the vocals, just a little reverb.”
For tracking, Sigfússon used Cockos'' Reaper digital audio sequencer. “I used [Steinberg] Cubase SX for a few years, but recently switched to Reaper, which I like a lot,” he notes. He routed tracks through an M-Audio DMP3 preamp and Focusrite Saffire FireWire audio interface. Drums were recorded ahead of time at Sundlaugin (“The Swimming Pool”) Studio in Mosfellsbær, Iceland. “It really was a swimming pool years ago,” Sigfússon says.
Sigfússon made good use of that studio for the track “Cold Summer,” which features the contradictory notion of a spacious and warm—yet eminently lonely sounding—piano (see Web Clip 1). “We used Sundlaugin''s grand piano, and it''s a tiny bit out of tune,” Sigfússon explains. “It was recorded in a big room, so it''s all natural reverb and room sound. The horns were real and were played in the same room as we recorded the piano. I really like the feeling of that song.” On “Lion Face Boy” (see Web Clip 2), Alex Somers (of the Reykjavik-based duo Jónsi and Alex) chipped in to assist with strings and accordion parts, which were recorded off-site in Somers'' living room.
Sessions for We Built a Fire were scattered over the course of 12 months, with a good time had by all. “It didn''t take long to do the actual recording,” Sigfússon says. “It took longer to get everyone together! But we had a lot of fun. I find things go best in the studio when people are in a good mood.”
Home base: Reykjavik, Iceland
Primary Software:Cockos Reaper
Band Philosophy:A low-pressure atmosphere makes for great lo-fi music.