Luke Burbank’s descent into the final level of interview hell.

Posted by Maximum Fun on 12th October 2007

Sigur Ros: “Suck it, Burbank.”

NPR’s new “hip, edgy” morning show launched recently, and they pledged to do things differently. You have to worry about any media endeavor that’s created by demographic demands, but I met some of the folks behind it when I was in New York recently, and they seemed sharp, interesting and (relatively, for public radio) cool. Particularly sharp and interesting in my book is co-host Luke Burbank, who’s vivacious and funny and pleasant on air, and probably actually likes rock music produced after 1974. They were probably counting on the lattermost quality when they booked Sigur Ros on the show.

Sigur Ros, for those who don’t know, are an Icelandic band who have achieved worldwide success recording beautiful, ethereal orchestral rock with lyrics in a made-up language. It becomes quickly clear in this interview that they did not achieve worldwide success by being nice to interviewers.

Perhaps Luke wasn’t terrified as each question he asked was met by a five-second silence and a one-sentence answer. If he was, he hid it well. I know that I would have been flipping the fuck out. At one point, Luke asks the band (paraphrasing from memory), “So, what’s your process to create the songs.” A bandmember replies, “We get together and create the songs.”

As the interview decends into madness, Luke makes a few mistakes — yes or no questions, that kind of thing. But I can say from experience that given the pressure to come up with a new approach every ten seconds to try to crack a completely standoffish, uncommunicative subject — and an arts one to whom you don’t want to be combatative — he did an amazing job. I know that when you do this kind of interview, it makes you want to crawl into a hole and die. As an interviewer, you rely upon the good will of your subject. If they don’t care about your audience, there’s little you can do. That’s what happened here.

I was surprised by some of the blog responses on the NPR site, and some of the comments on MetaFilter, where I first saw the story. Is my empathy for interviewers getting in the way of having a clear view of this situation? What do you think? Is this band justified in striking back at the media for being inane? Is it insulting to ask a band who sings in a made up language why they sing in a made up language?

My kudos to Bryant Park for posting the video of the interview, at the very minimum. I’m interested to hear what you think.