I called Tungl (The Moon) the best band in Iceland. Hands down. Period. Nothing comes after.
Not because they are dear friends, who know each other since a very long time (in my case, normally, that would have been a total turn down, when it comes to people being involved in musical projects with same folks over and over again) and also very experienced musicians.
I said that, because it´s the most honest project you can get around here.
Being surrounded by mediocre copy-catted indie-folk-rock bands, that you can´t anymore tell the difference between, yet another Björk-imitating female singer and bands, which desperately try and “make it” just because they are from Iceland by milking the Icelandic sound (anything with sad violins in the background along with a flat tuned piano and maybe some acoustic guitar).
Tungl is a trio, where three different characters meet and cook a delicious stew out of something that plays in their souls on daily basis. It´s the stuff they breathe. It´s what tingles in the corners of their personalities. It´s the twinkle in their eyes.
Bjarni M. Sigurðarson is a legendary guitar player from a hardcore band Mínus. He´s been involved also with a significant number of projects in Iceland (bands like Esja , The 59´s and Metallica or The Rolling Stones tributes, collaboration with Thorunn Antonia and laying down guest guitar tracks on other artist´s albums). He´s also working now, along with Frosti Gringo, on a new and very exciting album with a singer from Texas, Moji Abiola. He´s the soul of every band he´s in.
Frosti Gringo is the drummer in several bands: an industrial band called Legend, in Esja and Moji and The White Crows, also a solo artist and a filmmaker. A one man orchestra. A wanderer. The blood of the band.
Birgir Ísleifur Gunnlaugsson is the most mysterious guy in the band. He writes the songs and he sings them. He was a member of The Rolling Stones tribute band (Stóns). He is also a filmmaker. A family guy with a very warm personality. The heart of Tungl.
I was one of the lucky ones to hear their first track, “Miles Ahead”, and I remember the experience like it was a moment ago: just the piano sound told me that I´m up for a trip completely different than what I would expect. And then with every minute my eyes would open wider and a question in my head would get louder: “IS THIS COMING FROM ICELAND?!”
Their sentimental and nostalgic 70´s vibe mixes up with a modern-nomad feeling and soulful warmth of the Sothern-American countryside. That´s what Tungl is about, for me.
I decided to ask them few questions and get an in-depth glance at this wonderful collaboration.
We´ve met at a local whisky bar and had a very funny talk about triangles, Jurrasic Park of Rock´nRoll, throwing up and Biggi´s fathers paintings of penises.
Here it is:
Wiktoria Joanna: Tell me guys, how did you all meet?
Frosti: … oh wow… let me think.. I don´t know: me and Bjarni have known each other for years, since we´ve been teenagers… Biggi… we´ve met him through friends…
Bjarni: …it´s all kind of blurry now, probably 10 years ago or more.
Frosti: This is a small place – you meet people through friends and parties. We have mutual friends and we´ve met Biggi and we wanted to get to know him better and then of course we had this The Rolling Stones tribute band for the kicks and that´s when we got to know each other very well and when we realized we could do a lot of good stuff together. But before that, it´s a funny story: me and Bjarni came from the same musical background, you know, more heavy metal stuff and we knew each other for longer, I think I´m speaking for the both of us right now, when I say we never thought we would make music with Biggi. But when we started doing the stuff together for the TV shows and all that then we got to know him as a person and we all got to be friends and that´s when it kind of clicks… That it could actually work out, especially since we´re coming from different backgrounds and that´s what makes it so cool and fun.
W: So when did the concept of Tungl first appear?
Bjarni: Just after we did the first recording together for a TV show called Andri Á Flandri. We did a soundtrack for that show. Then we did this score for a Vesturport short film and yeah… it´s just so natural for us to work together. There is no ego clashing in this project, because everyone has separate roles, but still bringing a lot more into the whole and the vibe is so much nicer when you are a trio. Because then you can hear clearly the character of each person. This project has been for many years in the making, cause I remember when Biggi was showing me some songs and none of the songs ever made it onto a record, we´re not working on them or anything…
Biggi: Yeah! We had this idea to do this… country music with a psychedelic twist (all laugh). That was the original idea, but I wouldn´t call it that today.
Frosti: It´s exciting, because the songs come from Biggi and they go into The Machine and then the three of us, we play them together and we come up with something that sounds completely different than the original. I hope he´s embracing it. I am. Because me and Bjarni are also putting ourselves into his hands.
Bjarni: I mean, if you want to have a good band you have to have a tight unit with everyone in it wanting to be the best of themselves.
W: So you are allowing each other to pour yourself out and mix it all into a whole?
Bjarni: Yeah, and so far we didn´t have any difference in the opinions, that would have jeopardized everything, because we´re basically up for anything.
W: Are you easy going with each other?
Bjarni: Yeah, sometimes too easy! (laughs) That´s why it takes such a long time, nobody is pressuring anything and…
Frosti: It´s such an interesting process also, because when we were young in a band, most you could do is to go to rehearse and press “record” on a cassette player and maybe listen to it and it would always sound shitty. But today´s technology allows you to do whatever the fuck you want, sometimes the songs are just shape-shifting for 3 months: Biggi sends us something and everyone adds something and change it and then we´re like: what a f…. You know, it´s interesting process, very trippy. So finally when you hear a song it´s The Thing.
W: So basically you guys are making music with soul…
Bjarni: At least we try to.
Frosti: Blood, sweat, tears, soul…
W: Yeah! That´s the way it supposed to be! And tell me something about the first song you´ve released, “Miles Ahead”. It was 7-8 minutes long record. How did you feel about releasing a song which is THAT long, not really radio friendly?
Biggi: You know, it was about the same time, when we released another song called “The Wild Ones” and the idea was just to show people that there is more to us and what we could do, so we weren´t really stressed about, if we would get any airplay or not. I think it´s a great song.
W: You guys also engaged people for the back vocals. Who came up with this idea?
Frosti: Axl Rose… (everyone laugs) I don´t know. It´s kind of like when you´re listening to your stuff and then someone listens to it and says: hey, wouldn´t it be cool to add something like that? And then you find out that you know some people who could do that and you add that and the song changes.
W: I think it´s brilliant because most bands don´t do it anymore. It´s a fading out thing. Because people can loop and overdub their own vocals and nobody is inviting others into the project. So I think it´s very interesting that you did.
Biggi: Yeah, we wanted to add a different color into it. But we didn´t want to do it, because it was done like that in the old days, but because it just came naturally as in: of course! Of course we need this!
Bjarni: And as I said, as a trio we all contribute with what is our strongest asset, but when someone comes in with an idea of adding something, weather it´s a backup singer or a trombone, nobody is going to dismiss it. It´s always just: yes! (laughs). The main problem with the band is that everybody always says yes to everything. So we keep on doing the thing and there is no pressure and no friction between us, which is kind of a weird thing for being in a band.
Frosti: The journey is the destination, bro!
Bjarni: This is the first for me, and probably for them also, because when you don´t have the friction, you get a different kind of vibe, cause there is no dictator in the band that would set the direction. And the guy who supposed to be the dictator says: no, let´s just take our time and do this like that…
Frosti: We are not very goal – oriented band.
W: Which is good also!
Frosti: Yeah, because today, you know, the music we love is the 70´s and the 60´s all that, but we also want to put our own stuff into it, something modern. Back in the day you cold record an album and go on tour, and we would be perfect doing that, but today it doesn´t work like that anymore. So we´re working the best with what we have.
Bjarni: It´s like a Jurasic Park of rock´n´roll…
Frosti: You know, 30 years down the line, and let´s say, we don´t release an album, but the space in between, we would be doing something: creating, interacting, playing.. That would be it, you know. We were born to make music.
Bjarni: We are quite old in the music business in Iceland and we know we won´t be making any money from releasing albums, so we don´t have the factor that would jeopardize anything that we´re doing . Because we don´t give a shit about what other bands are doing. So it´s a purifying thing that can also back fire and slow things down, because you don´t have the pressure to finish what you´ve already started.
W: But you´ve released already 4 songs. That´s an EP.
Biggi: The Beta Band, their first album was a collection of EP´s, called “The Three EP´s”. So we have one down and two to go! (all laugh)
W: Totally! Not many people do that, but I think it´s refreshing!
Bjarni: Yeah, when you´re first album is “The Best Of”, nothing can go wrong (laughs)
Frosti: Also, I must say, we´ve been playing music all our lives, when we get to this age, like late 30´s…
Bjarni: Late 30´s?! Wha?
Frosti: Well, I´m 35!
Bjarni: You´re still in your early 30´s!
Frosti: Ok, mid 30´s, whatever! When you get to this age, life gets in the way. Sitting at this table, everybody wants to just play music, but life gets in the way, you know. So, I think we´re doing a bang out there. Bjarni and Biggi, they both have kids, and life…
Bjarni: I have to admit, we could have been a bit faster. We´re actually having a band meeting. We will be a bit faster!
Biggi: Speed things up.
Bjarni: Yeah from the 45 to the 33!
W: Yeah, I´m looking forward more concerts.
Frosti: This is what it takes, man! They´re interviewing me for Poland, man!
W: I love river interviews. People just say what their hearts tell them to. But who is writing the lyrics?
W: What is your biggest influence in writing music? What´s the process behind it?
Biggi: It´s a difficult process for me. I always write lyrics in the first person, but I try to take things from my surrounding. Reflecting characters.
W: So you´re putting yourself in a role.
Biggi: Yeah, just like “Miles Ahead” is a song about the guy, a troubled guy, who had lost his wife and he still sees her …
Bjarni: He actually does good lyrics, that´s why we work with him. He doesn´t kind of notice, that he has this universality in his lyrics. I mean I can relate to them even though his life is totally different from mine. And there´s magic in that.
That´s why he should chill on the reverb, so we can hear, what he sings.
Frosti: It´s funny sometimes, being at home. When you had a couple of beers and you´re listening to some songs and the lyrics hit you. It´s like when you´re listening to some other bands. Because when you´re in a band you get bored of the lyrics. And with his lyrics is like… You haven´t really heard them, or if you did, you didn´t really grasp them and then you get these little tears in the eyes and like: “Aagh.. I´m gonna call him! Fuck, it´s 5 in the morning, but I´m gonna call him anyway!” That´s a very good motivator. Fuckin ´ey ….
Bjarni: He speaks to me, and I speak to him.. It´s vice versa. That´s the good thing of being a trio. We can always hire outside people to come and do some things for us, but..
Frosti: We like the cover of the “Dark Side Of The Moon”
Bjarni: The triangle.
Frosti: The cover is us!
Biggi: It takes three to tango.
Bjarni: It takes three to triangle. (all laugh)
W: Have you been writing the lyrics for a long time, Biggi?
Biggi: I used to want to be a writer. When I was 5 years old I wanted to be a writer. But then I became a filmmaker. And I always loved music. I never wanted to be anything else, like.. a lawyer, like my dad (laughs)
Bjarni: And my father is a lawyer as well. And I always thought: he is a lawyer and I totally don´t want this life.
Biggi: I never wanted to be in a job that would give me a lot of money.
Bjarni: Yeah, the absence of money makes art.
W: We say in Poland that hungry artist is the most fertile one.
Bjarni: Hungry people make beautiful, desperate things. They get things done.
Biggi: I think now that my dad wanted to be an artist, though. He does great drawings. Maybe one day he will step out of the lawyer suit and start painting. He does these weird paintings. I have been drawing a lot and I was getting inspiration from him, because it was wacky…
Bjarni: He always drew penises and stuff. (all laugh)
Frosti: Penises with eyes.
Biggi: With little eyes and little hands…
W: Frosti, you are also a filmmaker. What was first, film or music?
W: So what got you into film?
Frosti: I don´t know. I think it would be this documentary called “Lalli Johns”, the Icelandic documentary about this Icelandic bum. I´ve never seen a documentary, this “fly on the wall” film like that before. I was always into movies, you know, when you came back from school and you had that 4 hours, where you could go and rent a movie or do something before your parents got home and rent a movie that was banned until you would be 16 years old, but you kind of new a guy at the store, but fuck yeah… Music… Always… It´s strange
W: Have you always been a drummer?
Frosti: No, I started to play the guitar just for fun, but I always knew how to drum. I´ve never played drums before, but I was better than the drummer, so they fired him and I started in this Nirvana-esk grunge band, with Aggi from Lights On THe Highway, it was called Gaur.. It was always music. I think it was my brothers, they were always listening to music. I don´t know. You choose your paths so early. And then you gotta kind of face it. Because you don´t fit in the mold. It´s like artists.. They are sensitive people for special occasions, they are not put here for real life.
W: I think so too. What about you, Bjarni, when did you start playing?
Bjarni: Very early. I come from a small town, just like Frosti, suburbian town, and there was nothing to do. And also my cousins and older guys liked metal so that´s where I gravitated to. I was 5 or 6 years younger and still listening to Metallica and Death and that´s what fucked me up for life (laughs)
Frosti: Your path was chosen, son…
Bjarni: I mean, when I was 10 I made like a list: two things I want to do in life – play with Metallica and do a record in L.A. and then I did that and I´m still searching for new goals.
W: And when did you pick up the guitar?
Bjarni: When I was 10 or 11. I wanted to be a drummer but the guitar looked cooler. Just a simple, normal story of a guy, who picks up a guitar. I just never quit. That´s why I´m here. Doing an interview for Poland.
Frosti: But that´s like what I said early with doing an album. Theoretically if we won´t record an album in 20 years: if you´re always looking for an end-goal, you might miss out on everything that happens in between.
Bjarni: I always keep myself busy, always trying to do stuff. There is no mechanism in me that wants to be famous and successful.
W: You really want to do what you really love.
Bjarni: Yeah, it´s kind of like… when you want to throw up, you can´t stop it. You just have to let it out. You can´t help it.
W: What would you say is the main message in Tungl? What would you like to express with it?
Frosti: We don´t have a message. Yet.
Bjarni: Just make good fucking music.
Frosti: I´ve got a message, which maybe not their message, but as a unit I´m not sure what is our message.
W: Ok, but you, what would you like to put forward by playing in Tungl?
Frosti: For me personally, when I play with them I feel better as a person. I´m making great music with guys that make sense. It makes me feel better when I go to sleep at night. Basically. It´s like what I´m supposed to be doing. I wish I could do it all day, everyday, but you know. For me it´s like when people go to the gym everyday. It´s same. When you do it with a passion it just fills you up with life.
Bjarni: For me it just feels natural to do this. I don´t have to do it, but I do. And I´m always asking myself why. And I just love it. That´s why. It´s a big question to answer, why you want to do things you feel urge to do. It´s like herpes, it never goes away.
Biggi: It´s great to be in a band, where it doesn´t take a lot, it doesn´t take a long time to feel that this is the best band in the world. Just the feeling.
Bjarni: But you have to have that feeling. You have to believe, that you are the best at the moment, and the second guessing comes later on. But if you get that moment, it is amazing.
Biggi: There wouldn´t be a point of doing it if the feeling would not be there.
Frosti: That would be our message for the people, especially today. Sometimes you lose track of what´s important. People are so… they have theirs mind set on everything that´s just bad vibes: paying their taxes, gathering money blah blah blah and there´s stuff like this project, that´s important, but it´s left on a side. We could shift our focus … Because we live in a society, that lives on echoes of rules that were made hundreds of years ago and it doesn´t have to be that way.
Bjarni: And you don´t want to trade it for…. Umm.. I´ve lost the plot… Took Sígmundur Davið on it (all laugh). What I´m saying is that for artists today – you have to be as good in social media as with the music. But I chose music and I don´t give a shit about other things. But that´s not an option, if you want to make music your work. That´s why you have to update your statuses and be active on snapchat and what not… But fuck off… I chose music. Some people choose heroin, I just have music.
W: What would you like to say to your Polish fans, because you will get many.
Bjarni: Invite us over!
Frosti: Yeah, invite us over and we will show you good time!
W: Thanks for the talk guys, see you in concert, as soon as it´s possible!
Interviewed by : Wiktoria Joanna Ginter
Photos: Ómar Sverrison