With seven years since his last solo record, Barði Jóhannsson has breathed new life into his Bang Gang record. Accumulating songs over this period whilst working on other projects and soundtracks, he dedicated time to bringing these songs together as a body of work. The Wolves Are Whispering was written, produced and mixed by Barði in his Iceland. It features collaborations with Ladytron's Helen Marnie, Keren Ann, Bloodgroup and Jofridur Akadottir from Samaris.

He describes the album as being more direct lyrically and emotionally compared to his previous records. Sonically, the album is warm and full-sounding with songs that twinkle in a mix of electronic and acoustic instrumentation. Andrew Darley spoke to him about his love of collaboration, his new project Starwalker with Air's Jean-Benoît Dunckel and his move in becoming more direct in what he means.

It's been seven years since the last Bang Gang record. Were these new songs written over that whole period or in a concentrated amount of time?

They were recorded over the seven years. Actually one song, 'We Will Never Get Along', was recorded for the last album. I had been doing a few days every year and I always ended up working on something else. So after six years, I planned that it had to happen because I had all these songs ready to be an album.

What were you writing about in these songs?

Since it's over a long period, it's a glimpse of my life in the seven years. There's only one song about a specific thing whereas the others are about a general feeling and reoccurring moments.

Even the oldest song, 'We Will Never Get Along', must still feel relevant to you today to include it?

It was a song that I wanted to put on Ghosts From The Past. It was the last song I wrote for that album but I never felt it was right. I didn't want to release it when I still thought there were improvements to be made. I finally got it right this time. I didn't feel the lyrics were right initially, as well as the production. When I wrote Ghosts From The Past, this was the song that was intended to be the most direct. I have become more and more direct in my lyrics - even though they are not about specific things but how people feel sometimes. On my earlier albums, everything was in the clouds that needed a decoding device to understand what I was trying to say.

Can it be uncomfortable writing lyrics that are very direct?

It always felt like that but with age I've practiced being more open.

The album's title suggests a calmness - but also a danger, that we're not meant to be listening. What was the idea behind it?

I had three or four titles that described the album but I think this one was the most coherent with the content. The album is not aggressive but sometimes it feels a little uncomfortable because the lyrics are really direct. Also, there is so much going on in the background if you listen to it with good headphones.

So there's four collaborations on the album: Helen Marnie, Keren Ann, Bloodgroup and Jofridur Akadottir from Samaris. Working with other artists must be something that comes easy to you?

Fortunately, 98% of the time that I collaborate everything just feels right. We share common interests. If one doesn't like something we don't use it. Collaboration brings out aspects of yourself that you wouldn't naturally bring. It's like when you meet new people, sometimes they can bring out things in you that you have been hiding. I work a lot by myself so it's great to collaborate with people that you respect and share a mutual love towards music. It's fun to make music with people you feel are really talented.

Did you write those songs with those singers in mind?

I wrote the songs with singers, basically not thinking about whether it would end up on the record or not. They are all co-written with the singers. The common thing between all these songs is that we worked on them in my studio in Iceland. It's very dark and the inspiration from that place brings it all together. It's self-produced and it's the first time that I mixed it myself as well.

Was that a challenge?

It was because it's so easy for me to mix other people's music but when you've been playing everything, it's really hard to choose what you want when you have 130 tracks for one song. An outside mixer might find it easier to edit but when you've spent a whole day recording something it can be frustrating to exclude it. But I'm very happy with the results - it's the first time the album sounds exactly how I heard it in my head. It sounds fat and warm.

Can I ask about your work with Helen Marnie since you co-produced her first solo album Crystal World. Was 'Silent Bite' on your album written around that period too?

Yes and I produced the last song 'Gold' by myself. We made 'Silent Bite' two days after we finished working on her album. Daniel Hunt from Ladytron was the main producer for her record.

The 405 premiered 'My Special One' last month. How did you figure out what you wanted for the visuals since the song is so literal?

This is the only song on the record which is about a specific thing. It's written to my daughter and the video was directed by my friend Taki Bibelas. For the video, we wanted to have normal people and kids because most of the songs on the record are quite dark. We have a video for the song 'Sabazios O' which I feel is really dark so I didn't feel this needed one too.

And there's the rabbit as well!

That was really important to me. There has to be some humour in it.

Is it a link to the characters on the album cover?

Yes, exactly. There's a sign in the beginning too that says "Haus". This has been a common joke between me and my friends for the past 18 years. We think it's funny because in German "haus" means house, but in Iceland it means head. So when you see a "coffee haus" in Germany, it means "coffee head" in Iceland.

It's an in-house joke! So the artwork for the album, did you design it?

The cover art was made by Ulrike Theusner, she's an amazing artist and painter. It's all linked because the first time I met her, I was making a short film with Taki who shot the 'My Special One' video about fifteen years ago. She was one of the actresses in the video and she was a model then. A few years later, she showed me some of the art she was doing and it was amazing. Since then, she's been having exhibitions all over the world. I asked her if she had some drawings that I could possibly use for artwork, she sent me a few and when I saw this one, I knew I had to have it as the cover. The vinyl looks amazing because I didn't include Bang Gang or the name of the album on it so it remains as the beautiful image.

In the seven since previous, you've worked on a lot of soundtracks too. Do you approach writing music for soundtracks and pop differently?

When I do soundtracks, I'm basically serving a film; the film is number one and the music is number two. I'm writing to a visual created by someone else. Of course I bring myself into it but when I make my own songs, it's all my own imagery. I really enjoy both. I don't think it's good for someone to be in control all the time so I like to be slave sometimes, especially after being in control for so long.

It's nice to have a boss sometimes.

I think I have to. I don't think I could only work in one way. It's nice to have the mix. I think I would go nuts if I only had myself to deal with for many years.

What are your plans for Starwalker this year?

We actually have an album ready and it sounds really, really cool. That's my cute ambient side and I think I bring out something different in Jean-Benoît Dunckel as well. The Wolves Are Whispering sounds like a winter album and the Starwalker record sounds like summer. I've reversed the seasons in how I'm releasing them.

Once an album is complete, are you interested in how people interpret it?

I don't care if people don't like it because that's normal. There's a lot of music I don't like and it's nothing personal. I can like a lot of people even though I don't like their music. There's so much music out now so I don't have to please everyone. I really like when I get comments that one of my songs has helped them in some way. When I'm feeling sad and write a sad song, it adds a minus and minus and makes me happy.

Reading what has been written about your work before, it's often described as "dark" or with similar wording. From what you've just said, do you yourself see your music as being dark?

I would say that my music is more melancholic but there is always some hope in it. I've been called "The Dark Prince of Iceland" and I think it's kind of funny. If people see my music as dark, then that's fine by me. It's very dark in my studio when I write my songs. If I wore sunglasses in my studio I wouldn't see a thing.

You'll have to bring in strobe lights the next time.

Or a flashlight on my head like how ravers do!

Since your last Bang Gang record, do you feel you have become more skilled as an artist?

I think I'm more skilled in mixing now. As I said, it's really hard to mix your own stuff so this album brought my levels up. I was really hard on myself. I always think I can do something more interesting and I think I'm evolving. I hope I'm better.

You said that being more direct lyrically has been a big thing for you on this record.

I think that's something I've progressed on - maybe this will be my direct album and the next one will be back in the clouds. With the way people communicate today with Facebook and text messages, we are afraid to be direct with each other. It's important to be honest so people know where they stand with you and not worry about the consequences.

What do you think the wolves are whispering about?

All the lyrics of this record!


The Wolves Are Whispering is out now on Bang Ehf.