Yes, it was already in syndication by the time I saw an episode, but I still really wanted to be on Rock & Roll Jeopardy! I so wish to somehow, someway, go back in time and sabotage the first season of Survivor, forcing host Jeff Probst to stick it out hosting the Jeopardy spin-off just long enough to give me a shot. I even have conspired on how I would thumb that little bastard buzzer before Probst finished the answer to give myself an advantage.
Now, if I heard the word, “Iceland” in an answer during my hypothetical appearance, I would have certainly thumbed that wand like the dickens, feeling confident that “Who is Bjork?” and “Who are The Sugarcubes?” could have been the only answers.
Well, it's been more than seven years since Rock & Roll Jeopardy! went off the air, and Iceland has since produced a handful of compelling musical exports (Sigur Rós, múm, Emilíana Torrini).
None, however, seems to be quite as compelling an export as Mugison. Born Örn Elías Guomundsson (there's a sexy rock-star name), the singer-songwriter was re-named in a karaoke bar while visiting his father in Malaysia. His dad, a semi-professional karaoke singer, had shortened his own name from Muggur to Muggi to help the Malaysians with pronunciation. When introducing his son, Muggur opted for tradition—hence, Mugison.
“My dad is a really big influence,” Mugison says. “When I was a child, he was always playing albums. He'd put headphones on me, put some vinyl on and come back in 15 minutes to turn it over. The record player was like a babysitter to me. I regard it as a relative.”
Mugison started making his own music in 2002 and had recorded his debut album, Lonely Mountain, by 2003. His sophomore effort, Mugimama is This Monkey Music, garnered him “Best Record” and “Best Song” honors (for the track “Murr Murr”) at the 2004 Icelandic Music Awards. His latest release, Mugiboogie, also won the album category in 2007 and was released stateside earlier this year to critical acclaim.
Mugiboogie is a distinct departure from Mugison's previous albums, which drew comparisons with Beck and found him performing live shows alone with a guitar and a laptop (his San Diego show at The Casbah is the eighth of nine shows on his first U.S. tour). He switched things up by adding a full band and drawing from new influences, including swamp blues and death metal.
“Mugiboogie has been a three-year journey,” he explains. “When I started, I decided that I wanted to make a rock 'n' roll album and wanted it to have a ‘Best Of' sound. I love ‘Best Of' albums because they're really schizophrenic. I wanted every song to sound like a Mugison classic, but from completely different periods. I was pleased with it at the end. There was an objective, and I think that we got it.”
Apparently, so do others.
Everyone from Ben Harper and Rolling Stone senior editor David Fricke to Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme has publicly praised the Nordic troubadour—the latter so much that Mugison was recently asked to join QOTSA on the Canadian leg of their tour.
The artwork for Mugiboogie might be as compelling as the music and certainly speaks volumes of Mugison's eccentricity, with macabre pictures of himself bloodied and transforming into various musical instruments. The image on his website and MySpace page is one of him in authentic Icelandic fishing garb.
“I relate a lot to the old fishermen because they're independent, eccentric and won't work for the big companies,” he says. “And I love the fishing suits. They're all handmade. I knew I had to wear it. It looks sexy.”
Apparently, the eclectic nature of Mugiboogie suits him just fine, as he has plans to release a new album “where you can dance the whole way through.” He'll follow that with an album of traditional Icelandic music while also playing in the band Yxna with his father.
“It's an Icelandic word for when the cows get extremely horny and can't control themselves,” he says, explaining the band's name. “They'll go up to a rock or a fence or whatever they can.”
He embraces his homeland and has no qualms about being lumped in with his musical countrymen and women.“Bjork is one of my big heroes,” he gushes, “and Sigur Rós is fantastic. If people put us in the same sentence, then that's great. I love it.”
With Rock & Roll Jeopardy! seemingly gone forever, it's unlikely that anyone will ever hear some Alex Trebek stand-in say, “This multifaceted Icelandic musician also plays in a group named after bovine horniness.”
But if that glorious day ever comes, the way things are going for Mugison, I probably won't be the only one with my thumb going wild on the buzzer.
Mugison plays an early show, at 7 p.m., on Friday, Oct. 3, at The Casbah. 619.232.HELL. www.mugison.com.