October 18, 2007 by Colin
A really meta-meta-meta moment: Luke Burbank, one of the hosts of NPR’s Bryant Park, really felt that an interview with Sigur Ros, the gifted but notoriously distant band from Iceland, went badly. Very badly.
That’s because it did. It was painful. Why would Burbank have booked the band? Because a public relations hack called him up and suggested it. That’s right – this train wreck was recommended to him.
Maybe Burbank just didn’t prep well enough. I’m a suburban dad from Canada, and I knew Sigur Ros were a hard interview. Just take a look at this excerpt from an interview in the Guardian – from 2005:
“…On their astounding new album, Takk … , titles are back and most of the lyrics are in Icelandic. This spirit of glasnost also animates their interviews, which were once a barren tundra of single-word answers. In 2001, one journalist came away with just three usable quotes, one of which was “Yeah, yeah”. They’ll still admit that, given the choice, they would never talk to the press. “It would be nice, yes, if that was possible,” says guitarist and keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson. “That’s something I used to talk about, but I’m getting older and,” he laughs, “weaker. I used to be really sceptical about these things and not really trust anybody.”
Or maybe the flack had recently seen them give good interviews. The evidence seems overwhelmingly negative. They are not an “up with people” band.
It’s clear that the original interview did not make good radio. Jancee, the journalist, is blunt in her assessment of the interview and offers some brief insight into the process of interviewing musicians (like the suggestion, late in the video, that a sock puppet could interview David Lee Roth). Still, some of her commentary is amusing:
“I really do zero in on the drummer. Look at his yearning expression, it’s saying “ask me a question. I’ll answer it. I’m friendly. Over here!” … And really, the other band mates, they really will be puzzled, then they’ll be upset and then they’ll kind of jump in, usually, after a while.”
Jake McKee pointed to this NPR piece and held it up as an example of “turning that frown upside down.” When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Take the critical energy being directed at you, and turn it into a learning experience.
I agree that this is an interesting way to respond to criticism and defuse the situation. He was even-handed in his assessment of his own performance, as well as that of the band. Unfortunately, I found the technique just a little too coy: running a display-in-display critique of his own interview, with the help of a colour commentator.
All that was missing was the Madden Telestrator.
****Added feature: one commenter on the NPR blog suggested Tom Sndyer’s 1980 interview with Johnny Rotten as far worse. I don’t know if I can agree: at least Rotten was engaged and animated.
[tags] NPR, Bryant Park, Sigur Ros, interview techniques [/tags]