Exclusive: Interview With GusGus Vocalist Daníel Ágúst

As anyone who’s followed GusGus knows, surprises await with every release. But the Icelandic collective has even more surprising surprises with its latest album, 24/7. First, there’s the Jesus-on-velvet cover art; then there’s a cameo by pop-savant Jimi Tenor. And there’s the track list, just six songs long.

24/7 is the group’s first album on Cologne’s micro-house juggernaut Kompakt, so it’s filled with darker, abstract electronic tracks instead of club hits. The video for the first single, the share-friendly “Add This Song,” takes place in a morgue and includes a fetish-friendly corpse-licking scene. Despite these quirks, singer Daníel Ágúst says that this time around, the intent was to take a break from the circus vibe the group spent the last decade cultivating. “We allow the band to go through changes and develop musically,” he explains. “When I came back, it was because I felt I had something to share.”

Since forming as an experimental multimedia collective in 1995, GusGus’s lineup has undergone numerous changes, acting as an incubator for many solo careers, including that of Emilíana Torrini. The band’s sound is equally permeable and resilient, calling on Detroit techno, Chicago house, New York disco and Scandinavian indie rock. On stage and behind the decks, the shows are late-night vaudevillian raves. But for Ágúst , who returned to the band after starting his own solo career, knowing when to leave a party is just as important as knowing when to get it started — and when to get it started, again.

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Earplug: It’s nice to have you back, but I’m also wondering what happened to Earth, the only female in the last incarnation of GusGus?

Daníel Ágúst: Well, it’s similar to how I felt. You’re in a band, you have maybe a different a vision, and it’s hard to go in the direction you want to with everyone. I think she’s just listening to her heart. She did a good run with GusGus, there was no bad breakup of any sort.

EP: Speaking of contributions, how did Jimi Tenor end up on “Take Me Baby”?

DA: We’ve known Jimi a long time. We met at some festivals back in 1997. We’ve had a lot of vodka and champagne together. I’ve admired him as a musician, and loved him as a friend. He basically did the vocals at his house and… it’s an old Jimi Tenor track actually, like “Call of the Wild,” which Earth sang – that was his track also. I tried to sing it, I had a go at it — but his approach was more in step with the variety we wanted to create on the album.

EP: The last couple of albums — Forever, Attention — were more traditional dance pop. This album’s much more DJ-like, a flowing collection of tracks. Was this an influence of being on Kompakt?

DA: We ended up on Kompakt because they liked the music we did. We don’t tailor our music to anyone else. The album was up for grabs, basically, and they were one of the options. We decided to go with them because of their integrity; the label’s trust-worthy.

EP: What were some of the other labels you were considering?

DA: Um… maybe that’s not a good thing to say. The others were all good labels, of similar size, also German-based.

EP: Fair enough.You’ve got some long tracks on here, the sound is really expansive.

DA: We let things build up; we were in no hurry on this album. We gave each song time to grow – whether that meant six minutes or 15 minutes. We wanted to step away from the party that GusGus had turned into. We wanted to get back to our dubby roots, like Polydistortion.

We went into this desolate fjord in western Iceland. The studio was built in an old fish oil factory. It was very surreal, the surrounding. We couldn’t focus on anything but the music; there was no distractions. The album was very much inspired by the environment, which was very cold, alone. We needed a break. You don’t want to be too much or too long at a party.

EP: I hope the party’s not entirely over. The economic situation probably doesn’t help much, does it? Has it gotten more difficult to live as a musician?

DA: My handicap is that I’m really bad at promoting myself. If my solo album suffered it was more because of that. But I’m not giving up. I’m still working on another one for next year. And we’ve got a ton of remixes coming up for this album. The economic situation was caused by greed and foolishness by everyone. It’s kind of hard for some people here at the moment, but the party scene is very much alive. It may take a while to recover, but I’m optimistic.