While last summer’s “Rock Star: Supernova” didn’t quite follow through on its promise to bring music fans a new “supergroup,” viewers of the CBS reality show got something even better — an introduction to a group of immensely talented performers from around the world. Without the show, it’s quite possible that Iceland would have been able to keep one of its most valuable natural resources to itself: Magni.
“Rock Star” viewers would be hard-pressed to forget the electrifying performances put on by the bald man from Iceland. From his passionate vocals to his blistering guitar work, Magni (Asgeirsson, in case you’re wondering) made songs like “The Dolphin’s Cry,” “I Alone,” and “Hush” his own. As he worked his way towards a fourth place finish, Magni’s ability to seamlessly integrate himself into the show’s House Band further demonstrated his high level of musicianship.
Of course, he had an early start — putting together his first band at the ripe old age of eleven. As his career developed, he played with the band SHAPE, before being enlisted by the Reykjavik outfit A Moti Sol to serve as their lead vocalist. Magni remains with A Moti Sol today. The band is extremely popular in Iceland, releasing numerous hit albums and touring regularly throughout the country and other European nations.
Magni also continues to perform with his fellow “Rock Star” finalists. After his run on the show, he celebrated his 28th birthday by organizing two sold-out concerts in Iceland with several “Rock Star” contestants and the House Band. And in early 2007, Magni returned to the U.S. to play with second-place finisher Dilana Robichaux during her opening set on the Supernova stadium tour.
Now, with the release of his self-titled debut album “Magni” —available on iTunes, Napster, SNOCAP, and other digital music sites on October 9th — he’s poised for the next stage of his career as a solo artist. (Iceland has already sent the album and the first single, “If I Promised You the World,” to number one.)
A few days before the digital release, Magni took the time to speak with me via phone from Houston, where he had a show scheduled with Dilana. I’m happy to report that he made this interviewer’s job extremely easy, by proving to be completely charming and refreshingly honest, with a wicked sense of humor to boot.
Check out what Magni has to say about his new album and the pressures of being a solo artist — not to mention his views on stalking Eddie Vedder and on baldness in general.
Interviewed by: Heather Kobrin | October 2007
Looking back on everything that’s happened to you since “Rock Star,” what’s the single best thing that’s resulted from your decision to do the show?
The best thing we all got from the show was the people we met and the friendships — the experience of meeting people from other parts of the world and getting to play with new musicians. I met some of my best friends — of course, my best friend, which is Dilana — and Toby (Rand) and Storm (Large). And that’s kind of what you take away from the whole experience. After the whole tv show thing fades, you still have those people that you were cooped up with for 3 months.
You’ve been very successful in recruiting your fellow “Rock Star” finalists, as well as the House Band, to travel to Iceland to perform. That’s got to be very satisfying to be able to play music with your friends on your home turf.
Yeah. Humans aside, the best thing that came out of the whole “Rock Star” thing for me was the concert we did in Iceland. That was the most fun I’ve had on stage in a long time. It was just an amazing experience to get all those friends over there for two nights of pure musical bliss.
Tell me about your experience participating on the Supernova tour. Any highlights? Things you weren’t crazy about?
That tour was fun. Dilana and I basically hung out the whole time. We were on a bus with Juke Kartel, Toby’s band, and it was my first glimpse into American touring. In Iceland, we have a road crew of two or three guys who do everything, and are just amazing, but the scale of this tour was so big. There were busloads of roadies and sound guys and all that stuff. I’ve never been on a real tour before. I’ve never had catering (laughs). Basically everything was new to me, except being on a tour bus. I’m used to that. But I’m not used to being on a tour bus with five freaking idiots from Australia (laughs). The hygiene level of Australians seems to be very, very poor.
That must have been disturbing.
Very disturbing (laughs). It was brilliant. I had an amazing time. And, some not-so-amazing times. But overall, it was just a great experience seeing all these cities. The only thing I regret is that I didn’t go to Seattle. We were right next to it, but we decided not to take the trip over. Seattle is like my Graceland, since I’m a grunge fan.
Right, I know you’re a big Pearl Jam fan.
Yeah. I could probably find out where Eddie Vedder lives, he still lives there. I wanted to go and just knock on his door, but it would have been kind of stalkerish in a way. Dilana and I tried to go out and see the sights and the cities while the other guys were just getting hammered. I was trying to get a little cultural experience out of it as well. But after a while, you basically just woke up and asked where the hell you were and went back to sleep (laughs). I visited one city that I didn’t even see — which was Fargo, I think. I woke up inside the dome where we were playing, and then fell asleep inside the dome again. The bus was literally inside the building, I didn’t even see a window. So, after a while you kind of stop caring where the hell you are.
Being on the road with people like Tommy Lee and Dave Navarro, you must have gotten a quick lesson on the crazy nature of celebrity in this country.
Yeah, it was like a crash course in being a rock star for us normal people on the tour (laughs), watching Navarro and Tommy and those boys. Entering a Tommy Lee after-party is kind of like…in the undying words of The Police, walking on the moon. It’s like, “What the hell is going on in here?” It’s kind of weird how he can take a backstage room and transform it into a techno club or something. I don’t know how the hell he does that.
Let’s talk about the album. This record represents a lot of firsts for you. Your first solo album, your first full-length album entirely in English, and your first international release beyond Iceland. That’s got to be really exciting, but is it scary at all?
Well, the release itself wasn’t that scary…the scariest part was playing a concert which was solely my material, with my band, and my lyrics, and everybody was looking at me, and basically the band is just session players. I’m used to being in a band where you’re part of a unit, but being a solo artist for me was scary as hell. Being onstage and thinking, “Ok, if somebody doesn’t like this song, he doesn’t like my song.” It’s been doing pretty well in Iceland though… so I was pretty happy with that. The iTunes thing is actually way more scary. It’s released digitally on October 9th on iTunes and Napster and all those sites. I have no idea if people are going to remember me over here. I know I have a certain fan base, but still, I don’t really know how that’s going to go.
I understand that you wrote the songs for the album on an acoustic guitar, and you’ve described it as a “laid back and personal cd.”
It was supposed to be acoustic for the whole album. We went to Denmark to a beautiful studio in the countryside where the acoustics were just amazing. Me and a couple of friends of mine — the producer, who is also the drummer; and our guitar player, who I’ve known forever —just brought our acoustic guitars and we were going to record the whole album live. Then we got back to Iceland to finish it up and put all the organs and pianos in, and we kind of got carried away with the electric guitars. So some of the songs, well, they lost the acoustic feel, let’s put it that way. It ended up being kind of schizophrenic. It has a little grunge in it and a little edge, but most of the songs are very laid back.
Tell me about your favorite tracks on the album.
“If I Promised You the World” is the first single. The song itself I wrote in Norway about four years ago, and I wrote almost all the lyrics in the last year. It’s actually my personal favorite when it comes to singing because — I know it sounds silly — but it’s the easiest song to sing, because I’m literally just talking my way through it and trying to sing with my heart and not my voice. I managed to do it in, I think, one take which I always like doing — it gives it a nice feel when it’s not done in parts. And I just love the production of it. I love what my producer did with the whole album actually, just the sound of everything. I can say that because I didn’t do it. It’s not like I’m gloating (laughs)… Something about playing that song live when everybody sings along, it’s just so humbling and nice.
There’s another very personal song called “See You Tonight” which is actually the demo of the song. It just came out so well that we decided not to touch it at all. You can even hear my voice cracking, and there’s one bum note on the guitar. It’s just one take. And “Addicted,” which is the second single — it’s a very dirty blues song, a very nasty little song. It’s about sex, and it’s very nice (laughs). When we were lining up the songs, you know, which one is number one and all that stuff, that song was number six, because in Icelandic, “six” is “sex,” so that was the only song that we knew where it was supposed to be.
And then there are two of my favorite cover songs, “Creep” and “The Dolphin’s Cry.” I don’t actually like “The Dolphin’s Cry” anymore, because I had to sing that song about a million times after the show. But I do love the recording because that’s the only song that’s live. It’s a bonus track which was actually recorded in Reykjavik at that “Rock Star” show when everybody came over on my birthday last year. You can hear 7,000 people singing it with me, which is very nice. And “Creep” is just probably my favorite song in the whole world… We recorded that one at 4:00 in the morning in Denmark, and that’s just one take as well. So, those are my favorites, and then the album has two old songs I wrote from 1997 from SHAPE, my old band. Those of course have a little spot in my heart, because they’re the two first songs that I ever wrote. Actually I just really love my album! I know that sounds egotistical, but still (laughs).
You know, I thought it was going to be pretty easy to make an album, but then you just kind of pour your heart and soul into it, and not just the lyrics — everything was very well-planned and thought out and argued over. It’s a lot harder than people think to make a solo album. It’s a lot easier to do it with a band, actually. You can critique the drummer when you’re making an album with your band. You can tell him to do something, but chances are, he’ll just tell you to go fuck yourself and play it the way he wants to. But when you’re making a solo album, even the drummer asks, “What do you want me to do?” and you’re like, “I don’t know, you’re the drummer, come up with something, damnit.” So there’s a lot more pressure on you.
What’s your songwriting process like? Do you write the music or the lyrics first?
I always write the music first, actually…Sometimes I write the melody along with it, but I always write the melody before I write the lyrics. Then I have to figure out how to fill up the melody with the lyrics… and try to decide what I want to say with the song… Most of the lyrics, I write them, and then I realize what they’re about…well, some of them. A few of the songs, I knew what the hell I was talking about, but sometimes I just start writing and then I realize what I’m talking about. It’s like subliminal or something.
Are you considering playing some shows in the States to support the album?
Yeah, everything is basically open right now. I kind of feel I have to, I mean, releasing an album over here. My band really wants to come over here and play.
I think one of the things your fans like about you is the fact that you’re so clearly a fan yourself – of artists like Pearl Jam, U2, and The Police. Even as an accomplished musician, do you still draw inspiration today from the artists you looked up to when you were growing up?
Of course, of course. I basically listen to music all day long when I’m at home or in my car — my iPod is toasted, just melting. I draw inspiration from everybody. There are even a couple of lines on my album that are ripped off, I’m not telling you which (laughs). Actually, they’re not ripped off, they’re my way of paying tribute to my favorite bands. There was a line in one of the songs that was supposed to be “staring at a pale blue sky,” but I realized that “staring at a blood red sky” would be better, because of those boys, you know, stuff like that. So there are little hidden quotes that are my way of paying tribute to my favorite artists.
If you had to limit your cd collection to just five albums, what would they be?
“OK Computer” by Radiohead. “Ten” by Pearl Jam. “King for a Day…Fool for a Lifetime” by Faith No More. “Superunknown” by Soundgarden. And “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” by Red Hot Chili Peppers, which was my first album. Those five albums are literally perfect.
I generally like to ask one “unprofessional” question in my interviews, is that cool?
Ok. Do you think you’ll ever grow your hair back, or are you committed to the bald community?
It’s not a question of wanting to grow my hair back… it’s not coming back (laughs).
Have you tried? Not that I’m saying you should.
(Laughs) No, it’s gone. It’s not coming back. I really want it back. I’ll tell you, I hate being bald. I’m basically just jealous of Dilana, I want her hair.
Maybe she could donate some to you.
Oh, she could donate some. She has way too much.
Ok. Any parting messages or closing words for your fans?
Please, please, please buy my album on October 2nd (laughs). If you don’t like it, I’ll refund you. Of course, that quote is in no way legally binding whatsoever.
Magni Fansite – Magni-ficent.com