Sometimes you see people on the street and you just know that they are interesting. They might be a bit outré, sound or dress in that special sort of way but rarely do you get the chance to do a full on interview with that person. This is just what happened to us this weekend when we got the chance to meet musician Berndsen in his studio in Reykjavík.
To begin with I’d like to ask for your full name, social security number and shoe size?
Davíð Berndsen, 241285-5555 (it’s obviously not his correct one but he did give it to me, they´re so trusting these artistic types), 44 in European sizes. Fantastic, this is just another Nigerian scam I’m running, pretending to be doing an interview and now I’ve got your basic information. And then you’ll just run off to the bank… I´ll get you! Tell me, has the spirit of spring got to you yet? Yeah, sort of the last two days have been good. Despite the rain? Well, I’m mostly in the studio anyhow so the weather doesn’t really affect me that much.
So it´s eat, work and sleep in the studio?
That’s what I try at least. Well I won’t say that I sleep here, that would be a bit too much. You wouldn’t be the first you know. True, but I’m just working on a lot of ideas, my own stuff as well as well as doing work for/and with other musicians.
So your schedule is dictated by these co-operations?
Quite a bit. For example now I’m working with Þórunn Antonia as well as working on the Berndsen project. My day is spent not only making music but writing emails and such to the point where it borders on being office work. Boring as hell (he says chuckling).
I suppose you’ve become half decent at logistics by now?
In a nutshell, yes, but we´ve just got ourselves German reps. who are going to be working on that for us. Conquests on the horizon then? Berlin at least, the reps. are German and so we have exciting things coming up in the autumn and I’ve just started to working on those things. Have you played outside of the country? No. Never, so I’m really excited by the prospect of going abroad as most of our success has been based around the videos which have been very popular.
“I´m not the blood´n gore guy, that´s not my style at all”
Your first video Supertime was a big shock-effect piece. Was that the idea from the get go?
It was a very successful way of getting attention, but at first when the guys who made the video brought the idea to me I was dead set against it. I’m not the blood ‘n gore guy, that´s not my style at all. I had already made the happy vibe computer game video, Lover In The Dark, but they were able to convince me on that lunacy. But the funny thing is, when it was published, it became a viral success. Therefore I was able to quickly release other video I was working on, which is the polar opposite.
All your videos have a pro look about them, how does one go about funding such things?
It´s mostly luck, I mean Supertime did cost around 140.000. kr. (roughly 750 Pounds, 1200 Dollars) and thats including food for around 20 people. The main cost was the fake blood and the renting of equipment. Everyone worked on it pro bono. People think I’m some sort of a millionaire but for instance the Swedish video, lover in the dark, was basically free. There is a back story to that which is, I used to run an Art Gallery in Skólavörðustígur and through that I met two Swedish Photographers who were putting up an exhibition there, and they collaborated with me on the video.
What Gallery was this?
Gallerý Tutto Bene. They were in a need of lodging so I let them sleep at my place and one time they said we should do a video together. I was more than ready for that adventure, but thinking there would be slim to none chances anything would come out of it. But six months later they called me up and asked me to fly over. I told them I didn’t have any money for a video but that didn’t seem to dissuade them at all, “get some money for a ticket and we’ll figure something out” was their reply. So I’ve been really lucky.
Have you had a positive feedback from these videos and have you been interviewed by foreign magazines/journalists?
I´ve done loads of interviews and been invited to a few film festivals as well, for instance we went to Los Angeles last year because of Supertime. It´s quite amazing how fast and far things have gone, with half a million views.
In your experience, would you say knowing the right people and networking has paid dividends?
Yes absolutely, getting to know people and taking risks has played a big part for me. I’ve always just jumped on every chances and thought, fuck it! I´ll just do it instead of sitting back, which doesn’t get you anywhere.
Has it always been positive?
I’ve had random people come up to me telling me that they think my video is terrible but the song nice and vice versa, but that’s great as I like getting varying opinions. There seems to be no middle ground, either people like it or not. So far we have four videos and people are appreciating what I’m doing, which gives me a creative license to just do wired stuff. Now I just want to go out and buy a sleazy old camcorder that works on VHS.
Why do you chose to write lyrics in English in stead of using your native language, Icelandic?
I just find it incredibly hard to write in Icelandic. I know a lot of people agree, but my next single will be in Icelandic so we’ll see how that will turn out, exciting stuff. So you think lyric wise, English is better suited for musical writing? I think so, but then again I tend to pay more attention to the beat of a song rather than the lyrics themselves.
Is a good studio environment important to you?
I usually come in around noon and leave at dinnertime but sometimes I’m here at night as well. I love getting out of the house where you often just end up watching TV, which isn’t too healthy for the musical mind. I didn’t have any internet here for the first few months so there was no Facebook, no nothing, just making music. Now I have it and that’s fine, its good for emails and stuff.
“So what´s the deal with the synths man?”
You’re a collector of all sorts of instruments. Is that a passion of yours?
For the longest time I played guitar but then I met Hermigervill (Sveinbjörn Thorarensen) and he sort of pushed me into the world of electronic music, through old keyboards and synthesizers. 80′s music has always been my favourite. My dad used to listen to it all the time. So one day I went home to his place and there were all these synths all over the place and I asked him ‘so whats the deal with the synths man?’ But when I tried them it was like all these sounds coming back to me from when I was young, from the good old days. At that time I felt it was the right thing for me and I have been collecting them ever since. Any problems with mixing analog and digital together? No it doesn’t get better than that. I just love the sound they make, even the buzzing sound of the machine itself.
Excuse my ignorance, but do you record the sound and then feed it into the computer?
No I’m plugged into the computer, I mostly use the computer to control the synths, and we use Midi. I program on the computer and send the notes onto the synthesizer and then back using Sonar mostly. I’m not just making pop. If I’m working on the outlines of a new tune and it’s turning into techno then that’s what it will be.
- We move from the lounge and into the studio where Berndsen starts to play a bit of what he’s working on, one song being a new collaboration with Þórunn Antonia. It sounds fantastic, even in the rough cut, so look out for when it’s Michael J Foxing its way into your social feeds.
Is there more of your music out there under pseudonyms then?
Yes I’ve got a couple of alter egos out there that no one really knows about. Nothing you’re willing to share with us? Haha, sure! One of them is called Frank O Wonder and that’s more electronic. Have you been involved with the Weirdcore group? No, but it’s a lively scene and I know few of the guys that are involved in it.
You have a day job at RUV (National Broadcast Station), are you one of many musicians that work there and if so, is it as lively and fun place to work at as is rumored?
It’s a fantastic place to work at! I’ve worked there for three years full time and only last autumn I cut back to 50% to focus a bit on what I’m doing here. It’s just amazing how many people you get to know through that place. It’s such an open workplace, great many Icelandic musicians go through there.
It’s great for making connections but some people think it’s a crooked workplace and that you get ahead because you work there but from what I’ve experienced, it’s almost the opposite. I remember bringing a CD to Óli Palli (Head of music at RUV) and feeling like an idiot, saying; ‘So… I do music as well… ehm would you…?’ A bit strange all in all.
People also insist on trying to give me material to promote and I’m forced to tell them that I have no direct channels nor any preference, and besides, you just need to do this yourself.
Would you say that by having a lot of people around you, helps you being focused?
Well you can’t really just chill. You go into the kitchen to get some coffee and talk to people for maybe five minutes, and they start telling you what they’re working on and you think to yourself ‘Christ, I got to get cracking on with my composition!’Have you started to collaborate with anyone here? Only my colleague Raggi who plays sax in the band.
Your album was released a year ago, have you started work on a follow up?
Yes I’m always doing new stuff. I’m mainly working on exporting Lover In The Dark, you won’t necessarily gain anything by throwing yourself into making a new album all the time, as there are still a lot of people that haven’t heard this one. I’ve got material for a second album, it just needs polishing. So we’ll wait and see, on the other hand we have a new single coming out very soon.
“and I don’t know… just try to make it in Japan”
I imagine it quite the process getting into new markets, similar to when films go through the festival circuit, and only possibly then getting picked up by the distribution companies.
It’s emails, meetings and a lot of work, but the best thing about the guys in Germany is that I got a chance to meet them, as I think its really important to meet people face to face, to show them what you’re all about.
So this autumn we’re going abroad to play but its probably just going to be me and Sveinbjörn (who produced the album) to start off with. The band consists of seven people and that’s just going to be ridiculously expensive, so mostly it will be synths and computers to begin with. The live band has got sax, guitar, bass and drums.
It would be great to be able to make a living from playing music but so far, it’s mostly pocket change. But surely it must add up? True, and beside what have I got to do with money? Its about having fun, and sometimes one forgets that while doing the boring corporate stuff, emails etc.
As a final note, what will Berndsen do in near future?
I’ve been asked to contribute to a song that MC Gauti “the representative of the porn generation” is working on, so I might be doing that and then there is our next single, as I told you will be in Icelandic. Then there is some techno music that I might be doing with Helgi Björns (local pop legend) – he’s really into that. We’re doing something for the Icelandic TV show ‘Steindinn Okkar’ and I don’t know… just try to make it in Japan.
Interview: Guðni Rúnar
Photographs: Nanna Dís