Pétur Þór Benediktsson known as Pétur Ben – talented composer, producer and musician. Musical visionary of our times.
We presented reviews of his albums „Wine for my weakness” and „God’s lonely man„ on the website earlier.
Today we will take you to a musical world of the God’s lonely man by Pétur Ben.
Marcin: Your first album „Wine for my weakness” was released in 2006 and your second album was released in 2012. So we had to wait a long time for the follow-up to your excellent debut album. Are you a perfectionist? How do you explain it?
Pétur Ben: That’s right. I wouldn’t call myself a perfectionist although in a way I guess I try to complete my projects to perfection. I never let go until I’m certain that I can’t do it any better. That doesn’t mean my work is perfect though. It just means I can’t do it any better. And then I kept my hands busy working for and with other people.
Marcin: What have you been doing for the last few years?
Pétur Ben: The year after WFMW I went on tour with Mugison I did some projects in 2007 and 2008 but we were on tour most of the time. Then I did some collaborative projects. I cowrote an album with this local singer-songwriter and produced her album too. That album took longer then I expected and nobody knows about it. I also did some theatre work, I did the score for Bjarnfredarson and I wrote an album with Pétur Ben & Eberg called Numbers Game. The reason I did that album before God’s lonely man was that it was going a lot faster. God’s lonely man took along time to find.
Marcin: In my opinion „God’s Lonely Man” is much darker and heavier than your debut album. How would you describe it compared to your previous record?
Pétur Ben: At some point in 2008 I wrote Pieces Of The Moon or at least parts of it (not the singing bit) and I was completely taken by it. I knew I wanted a new voice to come in. A very lonely voice. Somebody like Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye or Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver. Somebody who is talking to himself almost or writing letters that he’ll never send. I experimented with that voice for some time and I changed the register, almost all of it is sung in a lower key to keep it from feeling emotional. I didn’t want it to have the same kind of expression WMFW has. And I wanted to maintain one tone through out the album. I wanted it to have a sense of unity like a Portishead record where you know the album will have a certain pace and mood through out. WFMW was a collection of songs I had at the time and I recorded them as well as I could. God’s lonely man was a more intentional work. It’s a concept album really.
Marcin: Does your music reflect who you are?
Pétur Ben: Yes of course. Apart from my family nothing matters more to me then my music. I live my music and breath it but the songs are not necessarily biographical. I’m going further and further in that direction actually. I can write as somebody who’s envious or angry or as somebody who has a different sexual orientation or even as somebody who wants to kill someone. While I’m writing these songs and singing them I feel the emotions much as I imagine a novelist or a script writer does. Once I find my subject I find it easier to write too. The difficult part is finding these characters and situations you empathize with.
Marcin: What kind of man is Pétur Ben?
Pétur Ben: Father, husband, composer and a rock and roll star.
Marcin: Could you describe how the process of creating your music looks like? Do you write the melody first or the lyrics?
Pétur Ben: Usually I have a piece of music I have to match lyrically but not always. Sometimes I have lyrics almost complete and sometimes I only have the title. „God’s lonely man” was a title, a chorus with lyrics and a groove in A minor. Then I made a bed for the verses to live in. „I’ll be here” was a lyric first. When I’m creating I’m not cool. I try to just let go of everything and go crazy. There was a very insightful article in Pitchfork lately by Mike Powell about his love-hate relationship with Astral Weeks. He describes the artist at one point as being very narrow minded and childish. There is much truth in that. In a way the artist is a Peter Pan figure. Somebody who refuses to grow up and take part in „real life”.
Marcin: I think your music and lyrics are equally important for you. I’m right?
Pétur Ben: Yes one is nothing without the other. The lyrics have to resonate within me. They don’t have to be „good” just right. I have to believe what I’m singing. Otherwise the music falls dead on the floor.
Marcin: Please tell me what sources you draw upon to inspire you when writing the music?
Pétur Ben: I listen to music all the time. I try to keep my mind open to subjects. They are usually Gregory Crewdson like moments between moments. They can happen in life or in books or in a dream. Then I twist them. Introduce characters I’ve met in real life to situations I’ve come across elsewhere. And I’m always looking for something simple. A simple melody or chord structure or no chord structure and no melody. Part of the difficulty in writing God’s lonely was the idea I had in my head that I couldn’t use beautiful melodies. I had to dream up different medicines to make the art go down.
Marcin: What’s the main concept of ” God’s Lonely Man „? And why did you choose this title?
Pétur Ben: Travis Bickle refers to himself as God’s lonely man in one of his monologues. It comes from an article by Thomas Wolfe where he studies loneliness and talks about the Book of Job. These difficult biblical texts have always stuck with me too. There is so much story there untold. You get the facts but you can dream the emotional content yourself. God’s lonely man can be anybody too…Jesus was God’s lonely man but so was Cain and Judas and Job and Holden Caulfield and me.
Marcin: The last song on your previous album was „Make Way For The Flood” and there is the flood on the cover of your new album. Is it just a coincidence or maybe not?
Pétur Ben: You mean because it was shot underwater?
Marcin: Yes, exactly.
Pétur Ben: I never thought of that. I always thought Make way for the flood was the most forward thinking song of that album. And musically it did point in the direction I was heading but it has no guitars no noise just piano, upright bass and drums.
Marcin: The artwork of your album is awesome. It sounds like that was also quite a process. I know this project won for the best album artwork at the Icelandic graphic design awards. Who is responsible for the concept and photographs? What’s the story behind that?
Pétur Ben: The album artwork is the brainchild of Jónas Val and Dóri Andrésson. I came to them with the album and they thoroughly listened to it. This underwater concept came from them and yes I had to spend time underwater to make it happen. Marino Thorlacius shot the photos. Never met him before. We shot it at a swimmingpool in Mosfellsbær which is funny cause the music was recorded in a swimmingpool in Mosfellsbær.
Marcin: How and why did you decide to fund the album by crowd-sourcing on karolinafund? Could you tell something more about it?
Pétur Ben: Ingi Rafn approched me when the album was in it’s final stages of mixing and it seemed like a good choice since I was going to release it myself and I had no money at all.
Marcin: Tell me about recorded of material of this album. Where was the album recorded and how does the process of recording the album like?
Pétur Ben: I usually record demos. Then I did some recordings in the Swimming Pool with Biggi and the band. But songs where not ready so I threw most of it away and recorded it again in my garage studio. And then I did a second session just drums in the swimming pool. Amiina, Davíð Þórs organ and the choir where also recorded in that studio. Davíðs píanó and Katies harp and Diddi’s percussion where recorded on location
Marcin: You recorded the album with a little help from your friends. Introduce them briefly and tell how you know them.
Pétur Ben: I know everyone. I love people. Most of them came in for one session. Sigtryggur, Óttar, Tobbi, Kippi Kaninus and Amiina, Katie Buckley and Biggi Poolboy are my biggest collaborators on this record. I want to do something with everyone. But this record sort of told me what it needed.
Marcin: Was it difficult to invite them to cooperate with your album?
Pétur Ben: No
Marcin: What or who had the biggest influence on you to become a musician in general?
Pétur Ben: No one can be blamed for that. I remember having a strong musical experience with Ebony and Ivory when I was seven but I can’t say Paul McCartney or Stevie Wonder are my strongest influences. Something inside me always pointed in that direction and I had no idea what to do with it for the longest time. I just tried to get my hands on instruments and then recording gear and then I tried to learn too. But I’ve had great teachers and friends a collaborators whom I owe most of what I am.
Marcin: What is your favorite song from „God’s lonely Man”? Explain your choice.
Pétur Ben: aaahh niggah please…I can’t.
Marcin: What can we expect from you in the future? Do you have any music plans? How many years will we have to wait for your next album?
Pétur Ben: Hopefully not that long?!? I’ve already started working on my next album and I hope I will have it finished next year. Actually God’s lonely man is coming out worldwide in 2014 so I don’t know…..I have a title for it though and the title song too and some songs.
Marcin: I think you are really open minded, what kind of music do you listen to in private? What artists would you recommended?
Pétur Ben: All kinds. The masters Cohen, Dylan and Neil Young, Nick Cave, PJ Harvey and Tom Waits. I listened very much to a band called Women. Their album public strain is the bomb. I love Warpaint and Savages. I love Radiohead and Portishead Third is unbelievably good. Krautrock and psychadelic and garage yes and classical and contemporary music Bach, Beethoven, Debussy, Stravinsky, Ligeti, Lutoslawski, Takemitsu, Arvo Part, Scelsi. I love the S.L.Á.T.U.R crew. Iggy Pop and Lou Reed and the Doors and Joy Division, Scott Walker and Lee Hazlewood, The Beatles and the Stones, Fela Kuti, Miles Davis, John Coltrain.
Bill Callahan and Bonnie Prince Billy, Animal Collective, Aphex Twin. I’m listening to some hip hop now Wu Tang Clan and Ghostface Killah’s new record with that Adrian Younge is heavy stuff and Earl Sweatshirts new debut album is great too.
Marcin: How would you describe the Icelandic music scene?
Pétur Ben: It’s tight. It’s cool. We are all friends. The rappers and Dj’s and metalheads and indie cutes and the experimental scene. It’s all the same people. Ingi Garðar from S.L.Á.T.U.R. is Sin Fangs keyboard player and and plays trombone with Kippi Kaninus.
Marcin: What Icelandic bands or artists do you recommend?
Pétur Ben: Kippi Kaninus is coming out with a fantastic album. Snorri Helgason and Mr. Silla, Mugison, Úsland, Grísalappalísa, Oyama, The Heavy Experience, Daníel Bjarnason, Hugi Guðmundsson, Sin Fang, Singapore Sling and Dead Skeletons, Lay Low and Benny Crespos Gang I’m probably forgetting someone shhhh