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Singapore Sling – Getting Us Buzzed On Their Sonic Cocktail

Henrik Björnsson – lead vocals and songwriter
Helgi Petursson – guitar/keyboards
Einar Kristjansson – guitar
Toggi Guðmundsson – bass
Bjarni Johannsson – drums
Siggi Shaker – maracas/tambourine

Art has had so many beginning in the solitude seclusion of a quite bedroom. So began the sonic, psychedelic makings of Singapore Sling by the band’s founder, vocalist and songwriter, Henrik Björnsson in his Icelandic flat.

“I had been recording music on a four track for years and really believed in those recordings,” Henrik says. The next step was to assemble musicians through friends and acquaintances to take his music out of the bedroom.

That was not an easy task.

“The line up changed a lot for the first year. People were going abroad, and one of the guys…he wore this T-shirt that I didn’t like to one of the gigs, so he got fired. It said, ‘I love Thailand.” Henrik explains dryly, then laughs.

“Basically, I just wanted people to play this music that I had written, to make it possible to play it live. I didn’t know where to start. I was just stuck in my little flat and I knew that if I started a band, some people would hear it. They did and here we are,” he says with a sigh of satisfaction.

A transfer of knowledge can sometimes be a difficult process, but his team of musicians all felt confident in his songwriting skills and knew from the onset what their roles were. When everything did culminate on stage for the first time, it was surreal to Henrik.

“It felt weird the first time. I was really stressed and I had to drink about 10 beers to go on stage. It went alright and I got over the stress, he recalls. “I also find that when we’re playing here for a completely new crowd, it’s really fun because everyone is hearing us for the first time. It’s a nice change from playing in Iceland where we have a certain fan base. But it’s a pretty small scene, so playing to new people is fun.”

When one thinks about artists from Iceland, Bjork, Sigor Ros, and Gus Gus quickly come to mind. Beyond those well-known acts, Iceland launched their own smaller version of a CMJ style music conference in 1999 to expose Iceland’s homegrown talent to the entertainment world.

Called Iceland Airwaves after it was first held in a Reykjavík’s airplane hanger, it was at this conference in 2001 where Singapore Sling got that first break into the U.S. market, garnering the attention of an A&R Rep who was with TVT Records at the time. That rep went on to another U.S. label, Stinky Records, which picked up and distributed their first album in the states, The Curse of Singapore Sling, in the spring of 2003.

Still wanting to stay in control and keep costs down, Henrik played both songwriter and producer to complete their album, converting a rehearsal space into a recording studio with a 16-track.

“Some of the songs were recorded with a live foundation of bass, drums, and guitars. Then two of the songs were just recorded in my flat on an 8-track machine. I thought they sounded the way they should sound, so I saw no reason in re-recording them,” he comments.

Henrik also relied on Pro Tools for some finessing, then found it hard not to get carried away with the myriad of possibilities during the mixing process. But he’s quick to point out that, “Too much technology is not always a good idea. For some music it works, and for others it doesn’t. For me, I like to use the best of both worlds.”

Having six people in a band gives Singapore Sling the depth of organic textures to make Henrik’s songs come alive on stage, from the simple, hazy days of “Summer Garden”, to “Overdriver”, a leather studded slide of surf guitar lick distortions and sultry vocals.

The two songs he recorded in his flat are the only ones that didn’t make it to their live set list, including “Heart of Chrome”, with Pixies liquidity poured over late 60’s pop, along with “Chantisissity”, where his vocoder like vocals blend with his sister’s harmonies.

The response to Singapore Sling has been more than positive, both in the press and by those who’ve seen them live at SXSW or at few east coast gigs at the beginning of this year. In almost every press review you see one Jesus and Mary Chain reference after another, due mainly to Henrik’s provocative vocal style and the layered, slow drive persona. Although this is flattering and sure to peak one’s interest, I expected he was a bit tired of hearing it.

Another reviewer even went on to compare them to a mix of Metallica and Radiohead, which was kind of perplexing.” We were laughing at that one forever. It’s funny, but he seemed to like it. I found it funny ‘cause I hate both those bands.”

“A lot of people just haven’t listened to that much music. They know Jesus and Mary Chain, so they just compare us to them,” he comments, going on to say that as a songwriter your influences are bound to show up in your music no matter what you’re doing. “That’s what it’s about – using different elements and making them into your own.”

Elements of Singapore stretch beyond ‘80s modern rock, hailing back to different eras before their time, including Surf Rock. “It’s perfect music to me. I also love old rockabilly…like the Cramps. We have influences all the way back to the ‘50s,” Henrik says, emphasizing that they avoid getting stuck into doing any type of revival, no matter what decade. He also feels, “like a lot of bands don’t listen to anything that’s older than five years. That’s probably the reason a lot of bands sound the same.”

This past March, fate brought for Henrik face to face with one of THE musicians on his admiration list. The band needed to hire a van to haul their gear for a gig at Maxwell’s in New Jersey, “We were driving for about 10 minutes and someone happened to mention Sonic Youth,” he explains. It was then that the driver of the van chimed in, stating he had been the drummer for that band.

That driver was Bob Bert, drummer for Pussy Galore and Sonic Youth. “I saw his eyes in the rear view mirror and recognized him. He’s got this part-time job driving a van for bands. So we gave him a CD and apparently he liked it,” he says.

Bob liked Singapore enough to agree to play the first few gigs of their first U.S. nationwide tour until their own drummer could make it over. “You know, I’m not really into drummers when I listen to a song. But with that guy and the Pussy Galore songs, he’s one of my favorite drummers…one of maybe three,” Henrik says, laughing at his luck.

This tour began this past June with a New York’s Summerstage and will bring them to Denver’s Larimer Lounge on Tuesday, July 15 with Maraco 5-0 and Tintin.

If more luck comes their way along and their buzz continues to grow, Henrik hopes he can live the dream of every other musician out there – to dump his bar tending and journalist gigs for a full-time music career. “There’s a lot of people that are really enthusiastic about our music, so it’s a boost for us. Still, if everyone hated us, we’ll still keep on doing it.”

For more information on Singapore Sling and to hear or download two tracks from The Curse of Singapore Sling, “Listen” and “Overdriver”, go to


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