In Its Natural Habitat: An Interview with Seabear

Once called "the Icelandic Beck", Sindri Már Sigfússon's other band, Seabear, is finally back with their second album, and Sigfússon talks to PopMatters about "boy" songs, encouraging peers, and political issues he'd rather not get into right now ...
We Built a Fire
Morr Music

Although much press around the Icelandic music scene focuses around the extraordinary success of artists like Björk and Sigur Rós, Sindri Már Sigfússon has been leading a quiet revolution with his sometimes indie, sometimes folksy, and sometimes a bit of country band, Seabear. The “group” originally comprised of just Sigfússon but has since burgeoned to accommodate six additional musicians, all with active musical pursuites of their own (Gudbjörg Hlin Gudmundsdottir, Ingibjörg Birgisdóttir, Halldór Ragnarsson, Örn Ingi Ágústsson, Kjartan Bragi Bjarnason and Sóley Stefánsdóttir). Seabear’s 2007 debut The Ghost that Carried Us Away conveyed Sigfússon’s characteristic natural tone, now channeled into his solo project, Sin Fang Bous.

Yet with the infusion of new blood into Seabear, each multi-talented member provides equal contribution into the group’s second album, 2010’s We Built a Fire. To promote the album, Seabear will be crisscrossing Europe for a couple of months, except in March when they will spend a few weeks moving northeast from SXSW for some (East Coast) US and Canadian shows. The US shows will be their first headlining nights. Support will come from Via Tania and Seabear’s own Sóley introducing her Theater Island EP. In advance of all that, Sigfússon generously took some time to talk to PopMatters about his new album, his forthcoming tour, and the beautiful (and frustrating) aspects of living in Iceland …


With your new album, We Built a Fire, soon to be released, the seven members of Seabear have played together for some time now. When did the additional six members join you in the band and how has that collaborative project/experience been?

I think it was in 2007 when we were playing as a seven-piece for the first time. Then when we started doing the songs together it was really easy. Probably part of that was because we’d played quite a bit together before starting to work on the new album.

When looking at the track-listing for the album, is there a story to book-ending Fire with two “boy” songs [“Lion Face Boy” and “Wolfboy”]?

No, not really. I was thinking about two separate things when I wrote the lyrics for those songs. They were also two of the songs who were written really far apart in the songwriting process. We played “Lion Faceboy” quite a bit before we recorded it but with “Wolfboy” we had some extra time while practicing and were going into the studio the next day so we wrote that. It’s one of my favorite songs of the album.

You’ve found time to maintain a solo project under the moniker, Sin Fang Bous. Do you or any others pursue artistic/creative endeavors, musical or otherwise, outside Seabear?

Yes, we all do something else than Seabear. Örn is in a few bands like Skakkamange, Dóri is an artist, Sóley has her solo work, Kjartan is playing drums with Kimono.

You Icelanders are very creative. It seems your country has a higher ratio of multitalented people per capita than the rest of the world. What is it that causes a country of 300,000 people to have such great productivity?

I don’t know. Maybe it’s because people inspire each other to do things themselves and not wait around for something to happen.

Unlike several of other Icelandic bands I have heard, Seabear seems the odd one out as your songs are entirely in English. What was the decision behind that? Why not sing in Icelandic?

This debate has been around in Iceland for a while. I don’t really think about why. I think the only question should be is it good or not? I think it doesn’t matter if it’s in Icelandic, English or Swedish. If it’s good, it’s good.

Are there any home-grown bands you would recommend? A choice between Ólafur Arnalds or Ólöf Arnalds?

There’s too many. I can’t blurt out a whole list because I’ll forget half. Ólafur and Ólöf are cousins and both are good. If you go to some of the Icelandic band’s MySpace sites you can click your way through most of the scene and see what you like.

Outside of Iceland, are there some bands that have caught your ear or been stuck on repeat lately?

I like the new Yeasayer and the new Beach House. I listened to Fever Ray and the Dirty Projectors a lot last year.

While listening to both your albums, I formed a mental connection. Has anyone ever said your music would fit well into a Wes Anderson film?

Nope. But that would be great!

What is the last great movie you have seen?

It’s been a long time since I saw a movie I really like I think. We just bought Ghostbusters II for the van so I’m hoping that will be the next great movie I see.

I read about a new documentary called Draumalandið [Dreamland] regarding the Alcoa dam projects. Have you seen the film, would you recommend it and what are your thoughts on the issue?

I haven’t seen the movie but I read the book and got really mad like most people who read it. I’m against aluminum smelters and ruining nature for some quick money. Stupid humans.

Hope you don’t mind another serious question. With well over 60% of Iceland’s voting population against the Icesave bank repayment bill and the referendum coming soon, where do you fall on the issue?

Argh, I’m so sick of this stuff. Can I please just say “no comment” to this? If this debate doesn’t end somehow soon in Iceland I’ll go insane!

OK, politics aside, Iceland is known for its beauty. Outside of the prepackaged Golden Circle tour, what is one sublime natural beauty or activity you would recommend?

I’m not sure. Its nice to just drive around in the countryside. Go to Mývatn that’s a really nice place in the summer.

Where would one find a Seabear in its natural habitat?

On stage or in the practice room I guess.

Your first headlining North American tour is coming up, starting with shows at SXSW. Do you have any expectations or anticipations?

We are very excited about going to America and playing. We’ve been meaning to do it for a few years now but it always fell through. I went last year and opened up for Múm and it was great fun.

Well you follow SXSW with a few more East Coast and Canada shows. As you get bigger, I’m curious, what will be your first act as an empowered rock band?

Throw a television out of the hotel room?