Sigur Rós Interview Outtakes

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The September issue of Electronic Musician profiles Sigur Rós’ Kveikur sessions. Here, engineer Birgir Jón Birgisson and Bassist Georg "Goggi" Hólm share additional recording details.

How did the songs unfold in the studio?
Hólm: Our initial process is after we’ve written a basic skeleton, we always record bass and drums on tape. Bass and drums to tape sounds special. Then we record everything else digitally. We’ve never been afraid of using computer for everything for everything else. And we’ve done a lot on editing on the computer. We also transfer to digital, and it keeps the warmth. We usually use Logic, and Soundscape in the past.

Birgisson: These songs were pretty much formed. They tried different drum patterns, but compared to Takk, the songs were a lot further into the production stage already. There was a lot of overdubbing: layered vocals, massive layering of vocals. We probably did some overdubs on guitars and drum patterns.

Hólm: Most of the sounds that we recorded with a mic and Mbox on the road were pretty good. And for the first time, we felt we’d recorded a record that sounds good before we even mix it. We’ve had records where we sat in the mastering suite for days trying to figure out a song: “How can we make that sounds good?” But this time everything sounded good from the beginning…We were more daring with everything, even the takes that we did.

Tell me about some of the key gear you used on the record.
Birgisson: The Yamaha VSS30 sampler has a very grainy texture and sounds lo-fi. They also had the new version of it. It’s a really small sampler. They have used the VSS for years on the older records. Jónsi is really clever; he finds the beauty in something other people might find ugly. And when you put it in context, it makes perfect sense.

The intro to “Brennstein” is all distorted sounds created on the VSS30 sample. Just one note and Jonsi hitting the sampler—a great sample. Most of the samples come in later when he has some idea of the song. He might manipulate stuff that has already been recorded and it sounds completely different than its original form.

We also used an Otari MTR 90 tape machine. Tape sounds different, and it’s a different approach. The procedures are quite different, until you get a take you don’t keep all the takes. And then you choose later. The procedure is quite different. Takk was the first record we did on this tape machine.

How have things changed since Kjartan “Kjarri” Sveinsson left?
Birgisson: I didn’t feel there was a big change with the departure of the band’s keyboardist. The session was pretty similar to before. A slightly different attitude, they wanted to do something as a three-piece. I have to be were careful not to step on any toes, ’cause the keyboardist is my partner in the studio! We’re all good friends.

Hólm: We talked about being only three of us and how that worked. We only knew we would find out. We found out that it was pretty easy. In some ways we felt really free, like we could reinvent and do whatever we wanted and it didn’t matter what came out of it.