Just Another Snake CultÞórir Bogason is an Icelandic man who writes and records under the name Just Another Snake Cult. He has lived on the sunny beaches of California, home of the Beach Boys and other radical dudes, and he attempts to bring the sunshine back to the island nation with his music. Þórir mastered the surf rock guitar technique in the band Monsters From Mars and also employs drums, organs, chimes, and everything he can get his hands on to create harmonious pop walls of sound from his Reykjavík apartment. He assembles crews of musicians in cities around the world to bring the dynamic surf rock pop explosion of Just Another Snake Cult to life.
First up - the name. It always reminds me of Jim Morrisson for some reason. What's the story?
I haven't heard that association before, but I like it. I was told by somebody that they had pretty much written off the band thinking it must be some butt rock band or something. Jim Morrisson is more in line. I've for a long time been into mythological snake symbology, which is found across many cultures. In Norse mythology it is the Jörmungandr, or world snake. They are often depicted in the form of a circle, eating their own tail, which symbolizes the unindividuated nature of primordial unity -- which resonates with me much stronger than our current culture's Christian-derived dualistic mindsets.
I was on a kick of watching '80s fantasy movies at the time that I picked the name. I really like how these films are able to convey a sense of awe and wonder, which is something I'd like to with my own music as well. I was watching Conan the Barbarian, which is not the best of the genre by far, but when I heard the line, "two or three years ago they were just another snake cult..." it was as if the name were decided for me. I appreciate how strange it is, with no ironic intentions.
You are Icelandic but grew up in Cali - how did that happen?
I was born in Iceland, but my parents went to do the residencies for their MDs in the States and they stayed. We actually lived in Ohio until I was 7, and then moved to southern California.
What has your exposure been to Iceland and Icelandic culture throughout your life, since you've been living far away?
I grew up speaking Icelandic with my parents. I also grew up with close relationships with my extended family in Iceland. I think I've visited pretty much every year that I haven't lived here. So I've always had that sort of connection, which I'm very appreciative of my parents for fostering. It's always amazing to me that Americans, despite their/our poor grasp of global geography typically know about this small town in the middle of the Atlantic, and if they know anything about music they know about some of the music from here.
What influence, if any, has the Icelandic music scene had on you musically?
Though I do like many of the bands a whole bunch, the current Icelandic music scene is probably not a significant influence on my music. I think a lot of current music--particularly that coming from Iceland--is more focused on texture and rhythm, whereas I'm more apt to reach back for more melody-oriented influences. So as far as Icelandic music goes, I think more influential on my music would be the likes of Sextett Olafs Gauks, Vilhjálmur Vilhjálmsson, Haukur Mortens. Also, growing up in California I never viewed Icelandic music as its own entity. I would listen to Sigur Rós and Godspeed You Black Emperor together. I'd listen to Apparat Organ Quartet and Add (n) to x together. I would listen to Múm and perhaps CocoRosie together. To me Iceland just had some really solid contributions all over the map.
You merge a lot of music styles. has it been that way from the start or have you added layers of influence as you've progressed?
As a kid I spent hours every day in my room jamming out really derivative grunge rock and nothing else. When I discovered the Dead Kennedys things got punker. When I discovered Dick Dale and Man or Astro-man things got surfier and more melody driven. When I discovered Roy Orbison and the Shangri-Las and things got more musical and dramatic. And then I discovered The Magnetic Fields, Neutral Milk Hotel, Of Montreal, the Shins, and Elliott Smith, and I think that really set the stage for what I play now 10 years later by showing me how to combine older musical ideas into something new. As I come across more and more music that excites me I inevitably draw from more and more. I think it's also a symptom of never having a very clear vision of what I want to do. Especially since Just Another Snake Cult is still such a new project where I'm figuring it all out myself, it hasn't really solidified yet. I'm not so interested in simply emulating other things, so I'm just grabbing at the haze.
How do you describe your music to someone that hasn't heard it?
Not very well. Indie pop, rough around the edges, dark at moments. Stuff I record in my bedroom.
Who are your primary heroes, musically speaking (or otherwise)?
Joe Meek wrote, produced, and engineered pop records. In the late '50s/early '60s he was the first to break free from the labels and, in his home apartment recording studio, produce hit records. He'd have trumpet players in the bathroom, strings on the floor below, and would do all sorts of strange things to create the sounds he envisioned -- flushing toilets, stomping on the floor, shaking boxes of gravel. He also built much of his own recording gear, which contributed to his unique sound. He did all this despite being hopelessly tone-deaf. A couple years ago I watched a bunch of videos of Jacques Brel and was blown away by the power of both his performances and songwriting. I've also been very inspired by Brian Wilson's writing and production. But I am also just very inspired by ordinary people and often people in my life who think outside the modes of commercialism.
What have you put out recordings wise and what are you working on at the mo?
Well, I've had other bands that have releases, but Just Another Snake Cult is just getting started. My friend Erin in Seattle has a cassette tape label called Wizards of the Ghost, and she's put out a couple compilations that I have tracks on and my split EP with the band James Rabbit. The first full-length CD, "The Dionysian Season", was put out last August by Brak records. About a week ago I released a downloadable EP, "Ghosts," which is a collection of rough songs I've been working on over the past few months. Right now I'm working on developing ideas for one of the songs from Ghosts to rerecord it and release it as a 7" single. Hope to record contributions from people around the US while on this tour. I'm always working on music. I have some new experimental production ideas I'm really looking forward to trying.
Do you have a label yet or are you shopping around?
While it'd be nice to reach more ears, I have no delusions of commercial appeal. What I do is decidedly fringe music. The methods and modes of commercial music don't necessarily overlap with the aims and potential of this project. I like working with grassroots labels, especially where it's one person who is passionate about music trying to put out music that they love. So I'm going to keep seeking those out.
You're on tour at the moment - what can you tell us about that?
I'm playing keyboards in a band called iji and we're traveling with a band called James Rabbit, which I used to be a member of. So it's ten friends on the road for five weeks playing in art galleries, cafes, living rooms, and DIY spaces. It's a whole lot of fun. The members of iji were my backing band on a small tour a few months ago, so we're playing a couple Just Another Snake Cult songs at the shows as well and doing full Just Another Snake Cult sets at at least a few of the shows, including at Bröötal Sun Fest in Tucson, AZ. We did one in Seattle last week and it was really amazing -- really good energy.
What other plans are afoot for JASN in the coming months?
At some point in April I'll get back to Iceland. I'll have to find a new place to live and record. The live band will practice more and play more shows.
Just Another Snake Cult @ MySpace
Live @ venue Venue (October 2010)
Source: Iceland Music Export (IMX)