Ghostigital, the band, is a continuation of “Ghostigital,” the solo album by former Sugarcubes member Einar Örn. A collaboration between Einar and musician Curver, Ghostigital creates unusual free-formed music that makes extensive use of cut-up techniques. Combining live instruments and electronics, the Ghostigital sound has a somewhat improvisational feel. It never feels over-produced, even though editing and manipulation is used extensively in building the tracks. And it provides the perfect outlet for Einar’s unique, often spoken vocals. The band recently did a short American tour, with two dates on the West Coast followed by two on the East. The following is an interview conducted with Einar and Curver before the final show, in Hoboken, NJ.
How did Ghostigital go from being the name of the first Einar Örn solo album to being the name of the band?
EINAR: “Simply because when we first started doing this, it was to be me, Einar, doing a record. Me doing a record with Curver, who I had asked to work with. There was never sort of a band feeling to it. We were just concentrating on doing a record. Then we were joking about how it was me doing digital, the record was Einar goes digital. Our little slight pun. After the record, we did play live and then there was something there for both of us. It turned out to be not right and fair that it would be called Einar because it is just as much Curver as it is me. So instead of finding something else to call it [we used Ghostigital as the band name]. It’s like a collapsing ladder, you put the ladder down and then you extend by making it fall again. So we don’t know what the next record is going to be. Maybe there will be four of us!”
How did the two of you come to start working together?
EINAR: “Well it started many years ago when I started a record company and put out records, and Curver started buying those records. ”
CURVER: “Then I started making records for the record label.”
EINAR: “I knew of Curver, and Curver knew of me. But the breaking point was really that…”
CURVER: “I’ll take it from there! The main starting of Ghostigital doing music together is that I was producing a band called Minus who got Einar to sing on a song. We were doing some cut ups with the vocals and Einar said: ‘Yeah, I want totally cut up techno-ish vocals.’ And then he was working on a soundtrack with Damon Albarn, for “101 Reykjavik” and asked me and Minus to do a remix. And it grew from there.”
How did the recent US tour go?
EINAR:” These concerts have been very good for us. We’ve enjoyed them thoroughly. We’re not tired of doing it. The traveling has also treated us kindly. So we’re just really fit and flammable.”
Why was it only four dates?
EINAR: “This time around, we are just introducing ourselves and we haven’t penned in what we will do next. It was just like an experiment for us to take our sound here. We’ve played in Europe but wanted to check it out, and put it to the test, how our music would go down here [in America.] So it’s better to do a few dates and say: ‘Yeah we want to do more’ or ‘This is so bad we don’t want to come back!’ Hopefully we’ll do something further in the fall.”
How did those shows compare to performances you’ve done elsewhere? Did you scale things back because you were only coming to the US to do shows?
CURVER: “We actually expanded it a little bit, because we’re playing some of the old songs as well. So it’s not a lot different. The live lineup is totally free because it’s more or less improvised. We have two guitar players, or three guitar players, sometimes we have a turntableist. Sometimes Einar’s son plays trumpet, sometimes not. Everyone plays through headphones and it all goes through the mixer and it’s all kind of improvised within a framework.”
EINAR: “The process is very much organic.”
When you are writing and working in the studio, what is the creative process like?
CURVER: “Well we work a lot on it. Maybe Einar does a bass loop, and I cut it up and do something else with it. Or I do a beat and Einar says: ‘Yeah, but let’s slow it down.’ We call it like the meat grinder – the process. It’s all cut up, cut after cut. When we have some kind of a ground, then Einar sings over it. It’s improvised, with a lot of takes, and then I cut that together and try to make a story out of it. Then the live players improvise over it, and we cut up that. So that’s what keeps it alive. Even in the mixing stage, we’re still reworking it.”
So how do you know when a song is done?
CURVER: “A song is never done because then we play it live and it’s totally different. A song is a song, but the format, what happens on this album is not the final version.”
EINAR: “But still, it is the final version for the format. We’re happy with what the songs sound like on the album.”
Are there any particular songs that radically changed from their album form through performing them live?
EINAR: “There’s a song that we don’t do live at the moment, “Strange as it Night Seen”. The first song that we did for the album.”
You’re featured on the new Gorillaz single – how did that come about?
EINAR: “Well we have this energy policy in Iceland, which is basically drowning the highland, the high plateau of Iceland. It’s the biggest preserver of unspoiled nature in Europe. Now they are building powerplants, building dams, which will drown a big portion of this land, flood it. So we had this concert in the beginning of January, with Ghostigital and Bjork and Sigur Rõs, Damon Albarn, Damian Rice. And the idea was the protest against this. Being friends with Damon, we decided to do a song together to make it a bit special. That was called ‘Aluminum’ and then we changed the title to ‘Stop The Dams,” which is different to what we played live, it’s a bit slower. And so he was putting out the new Gorillaz single and said: ‘We should put it out on the b-side,’ which we did. All the proceeds go to providing information about this type of activity occurring in Iceland.”
What are your thoughts on the internet and online music distribution?
EINAR: “Well I think this is a question for Curver, because he spent a lot of time in designing the album cover. So if people are just going to buy our album online, then we don’t have to spend so much time on covers!”
CURVER: “We couldn’t decide, so there’s actually 3 different covers. There’s the American release, the British, and the Iceland.”
EINAR: “The internet has, since day one, been very important to us. We’ve had our weblog, and we premiere our videos online. We put out remixes done by friends of ours. And we use the internet when making the record in order to make the work process go faster.”
CURVER: “Einar is a total computer guy in Iceland. He had one of the first servers in Iceland. When I was really young, he started the first internet cafe in Iceland [in March 1995]. I only use the internet because of Einar’s influence!”
EINAR: “For us, it is important to be able to share with people over distances.”
CURVER: We’re really into checking things out, and also getting feedback. We got something from New Zealand, which is actually on the totally opposite side of the world from Iceland. They’re like: ‘Yeah, we’re playing your 7 inch record.’ I wonder if it turns backwards then, plays backwards? [Laughs]”
EINAR: “The thing is possibly with the sound quality, it’s better to have bigger files to listen to. But to consume the music by downloading and buying it online is just wonderful. Still, it’s good to expand on things a little bit with a good album cover.”
CURVER: “The only thing that bothers me is that we made it as an album, it has a beginning and a middle point, and it’s really structured. It’s not totally a conceptual album, but you’re supposed to listen to it in order. So that’s the only old school thinking I have about it. People can buy individual songs, and the singles format is getting stronger again. It used to be like that, like in ’62 with the Beatles. After the conceptual albums came out people started thinking: ‘No, it’s not good if you make a single.’ But that’s crap, you know. I think in the future we’re just going to see more interesting things all around.”
Are either of you working on other projects?
EINAR: “No, this is the main thing right now.”
CURVER: “And it has scope, we can do pop, we can do noise, we can do long improvised songs, get remixes. It houses everything.”