NPR logo Anatomy of an Interview Gone Wrong

Anatomy of an Interview Gone Wrong

Awhile back, Luke sat down with the brilliant Icelandic band Sigur Ros, and things didn't go very well. We posted it as "possibly the worst interview in the history of electronic media," and got flooded with colorful comments. Although everyone seemed to agree that the interview was painful to watch, some commenters blamed Luke's questions and some blamed the band.

In an effort to dig a little deeper into exactly what went wrong, we called longtime music journalist and author of "But Enough About Me," Jancee Dunn to walk us through the wreckage.

Watch the original Sigur Ros interview here, and read the protests from angry Icelanders.



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Perhaps you should have corrected Sigur Ros on their grammar as MTV's Kurt Loder did with Jewel. That probably would've made the interview better...

Sent by Steve Petersen | 12:09 PM | 10-17-2007

I don't think the debacle was really the hosts' fault, but one HAS to concede that Luke Burbank's attention-whore personality doesn't really help, either in interviews like this or the show in general. (Gravitas isn't always a good thing, but it works well for NPR. BPP's efforts to alter that grave manner are laudable in ways, but on the whole it doesn't really work. Trying alone doesn't guarantee success.)

Sent by Lance Bernard | 12:22 PM | 10-17-2007

I fail to see how a putative lack of "gravitas" automatically equates to "attention-whore personality." For that matter, your follow-up sentence suggests that you yourself are a bit unclear as to what the word "gravitas" really means.

Sent by Stewart | 12:39 PM | 10-17-2007

well i woulds stress to much about this interview.. i have seen couple interviews with them... and well they all suck... love the music tho

Sent by Gandy | 1:39 PM | 10-17-2007

I'm glad Luke and Jancee broke the interview down into its components. I really like the tid bit about asking yourself a question before you ask it. There is this pre-conceived notion that yes and no questions are the only useless questions out there. There are an array of other questions that can result in similar responses.

When I first saw this video, I assumed it would be just a gag reel about a bad interview, but this commentary I think will be a useful resource for Luke or any other interviewer stuck in a similar situation. I'm going to forward this video to my fellow journalism students.

Thanks for posting this commentary.

Sent by Sean Powers | 7:22 PM | 10-17-2007

wtf dudes? a disection of an obviously crap interview? seriously - get over yourselves....

i think its the expectations of the interviewer (and the "media expert" journo) that are the problem here. sr are not a band that are overly interested in "selling themselves" or fitting in with standard preconceptions of how a band is expected to market themselves.

it seems completely beyond the comprehension of some americans that their inbred value systems are not shared by everyone else on the planet.

"the menu is not the meal" sigur ros's music speaks for itself, and they really dont need to explain it any further.

and expecting them to explain it by asking pointless & obvious questions - with an blatant lack of empathy for what the band is about - coupled with terrible interview technique pretty much got the response it deserved.


Sent by mouse | 7:58 PM | 10-17-2007


Do think asking musicians -- particularly those who don't play classical, jazz, or the like -- about how their parents and families talk about what they do to others is a good question to ask?

Sent by Steve Petersen | 9:18 PM | 10-17-2007

Luke, you didn't do anything wrong. Their body language is unequivocally hostile towards the interview in general and probably had nothing to do with the interviewer. I love(d) this band but I had never seen them in an interview. Their collective smugness during the interview was palpable and repulsive to me. You took way too much responsibility for what went wrong.

Sent by Alex Bana | 3:01 AM | 10-18-2007

"sr are not a band that are overly interested in "selling themselves" or fitting in with standard preconceptions of how a band is expected to market themselves."

Then...why did their publicist call up the BPP and ask if they would interview Sigur Ros? Not one of the band supporters who has been hauling out this "Hey, maaaaaaan, they're ARTISTS!" load has yet come up with a satisfactory answer to that question. If they're too bada** to do interviews, WHY IS THEIR PUBLICIST SETTING UP INTERVIEWS?

Sent by Stewart | 9:35 AM | 10-18-2007

The questions were all closed questions. The band simply answered the questions that were asked - yes, no, sort of.

Count the number of open-ended questions compared to the closed. The interviewer needs to hone his interviewing skills.

Sent by gabby | 9:56 AM | 10-18-2007

You can only start a discussion if both sides are willing. Stating the band members' names and checking if they were pronounced correctly imo is a sign of respect and genuine interest.
The first question was not a bad question at all. Maybe all 10 inhabitants of Iceland know the history of the band, that's not to say the rest of the world does too. The purpose of an interview is to provide answer to listeners, including people who may have just discovered the band. I mean I like Sigur Ros' music, but I didn't know the answer to the first question and a proper answer to it would interest me.
I thought it was a valid question and it already went bad with that one.
Sure some pretty bad questions were asked later on, but that was only because the band gave the interviewer nothing to build on.
If you don't care about marketing and sales, and if you don't like to do the interview then don't go to the frecking interview.
SG were being total tossers here.

Sent by J | 11:25 AM | 10-18-2007

I agree with Gabby. All the questions were "yes" or "no" answers for the most part. What about engaging questions? Ones that cross language barriers, and even interest levels. Of course a bunch of shy, yet incredibly talented singer-songwriters will take the easy way out by answering "Yes", or "No". This isn't Ozzy Osbourne here. He'd be like, "Yeeeeeeeaaaa man, and then I ate the f**king rat's head off!". Sigur Ros on the other hand, would just humbly chuckle, smile, and say "Yes". Engage them Luke, that's on you!

Sent by Brian Ries | 6:09 PM | 10-18-2007

I thought this commentary/interview thing was interesting. My impression of the band is that they are either really shy, or that they took some bad acid before they got to the studio.
Props to the interviewer for being so candid about his perceived failure; he will surely recover from this interview, and I look forward to the thing with David Lee Roth!!!
Also, I look forward to hearing some Sigur Ros music for myself.

Sent by Chad | 7:19 PM | 10-18-2007

I love this. People forget how much work goes into producing an interview, both technically and the dynamic of how how interviewer teases out info from the interviewee.

Sent by Derek Scruggs | 8:33 PM | 10-18-2007

It's clear that SR weren't playing along as nicely as they might have been, and it doesn't look especially good on them, but the thing that was never addressed about the interview in this commentary is its pervasively patronizing tone.

Starting off by asking if you pronounced their names right is not respectful, it's alienating. Especially in a tone of voice that suggests you've just traversed a minefield of the tongue. Just do your best and get over it.

It's admirable that the host does accept some measure of culpability for ill-considered questions, but by the time he puts the score at "Sigur Ros 1, Luke whatsisname 0" he's already pitched a solid batch of non-starters.

It would ultimately never have reached the level of a true debacle if it hadn't been so churlishly posted on the website with its snidely faux gee-whiz lead-in as though everyone should look at what lousy schmucks the band was. That was a classic example of a poor workman blaming his tools.

How are you going to blame the batter for not swinging if there's not one strike thrown in the whole game?

I mean yeah, they could have done your job for you. As you so cannily point out, the interview was arranged to mutual benefit. They could have sweated and worried that no-one was going to realize how nice they are and just started their own tangents to carry the conversation away from those lead balloon questions.

But they shouldn't have been put in the position of having to.

Sent by Jesse Dangerously | 6:30 AM | 10-19-2007

At least you're big enough to face what must have been an incredibly uncomfortable and disappointing experience head-on. That's certainly the best way to learn and improve your craft.
It seems to me that many people may be responding to your personality in a negative way. Sarcastic wit is certainly not common at NPR, and I'm glad to see a little irreverence. So, keep it up. You'll find a niche.
And, by the way - I totally would have voted for your suggested option in that online poll.

Sent by Eric | 10:49 AM | 10-19-2007

I found this video to be hilarious. It is a train wreck of an interview and it's partly the band and partly the interviewer. Jancee's comment did help pinpoint where he went wrong and what he could have done differently. This would actually be good for someone to watch before doing their first band interview.

Sent by The Pop View | 3:55 PM | 10-19-2007

I loved this video. Thanks for making it a learning experience instead of just laughing at the band.

I think you were mostly dealing with shyness (whether innate or language-barrier-related) here. The band member that did most of the talking seemed to be elected "by default" even though he was very shy - Look at his shoulders shifting back and forth as he talks.

There were two more outgoing people there: the lead singer, who obviously hated you for no reason, and the drummer, who seems like a nice guy who could have said some interesting things, but didn't think it was his place to talk. It would have been better to focus on those two. Even if the singer wanted to rant about how horrible the interview was, it would have been more interesting than what you got.

All in all the band should take most of the blame. Even a band that hated journalists and hated your questions should have realized that they were sitting at a mic that was broadcasting to hundreds of their fans - they could have ignored you and said what they wanted to say for their public. They didn't even try.

Sent by Michael Moncur | 10:18 PM | 10-19-2007

Yes they tried answering, they just like to answer short & simple, well maybe a bit too short & simple this time. The interviewer is taking the way the interview went too seriously. The band just weren??t in a much of a mood obviously at that time, that combined w. shyness doesn??t do wonders for an interview. They??re not trying to be arrogant although it might seem like that to americans who really like to talk a lot.

Sent by karl | 2:47 PM | 10-20-2007

Luke, Jancee's first comment points out the MAJOR PROBLEM with your interview - any time you do an interview with more than two people, you have to direct the question to somebody. Or else nobody knows who's suppposed to answer.

Sent by Sylvia | 4:19 PM | 10-20-2007

Hi, saying to them "i speak a little swedish" says you are an ignorant, asking those silly questions seems to confirm this. Seriously, read some interviews or even fun web sites before you start interveiwing people from Europe. Telling them that their music does not sound like the music from the mainstream??? that is why they are so special! if you go like this than have interviews with Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. good luck!
martin, from Poland (that's in Europe too, but we don't speak hungarian)

Sent by marcin | 6:20 AM | 10-21-2007


I have interviewed one member of Sigur Ros and it was like pulling teeth. My heart went out to you as I watched the interview, but Jancee offered some suggestions that I wish I knew whenever I interview anybody. Better luck next time!

Sent by Jason Keil | 3:11 PM | 10-21-2007

Based on the two other interviews with Sigur Ros I've seen, the fault is mostly with the impersonal and disinterested line of questioning. The other interviews I've seen were open, talkative and informative. For example, this one on BBC last night:

And this is the band chatting with the New Yorker editor a few weeks ago: (skip about 2/3 through)

Sent by Sam | 4:48 PM | 10-22-2007

I think the reason this interview didn't work out because most of the questions were blatantly "American"-style questions, as in; a general question that you could answer a lot to - mostly to start conversation.

And that didn't work with those guys.

Sent by Wolf | 2:35 AM | 10-25-2007

I work for a public radio station in Germany and interviewed Sigur R??s on exactly this promotional tour a few days ago when they were in Berlin, Germany.

The interview was for radio, it was with Georg and Orri, lasted 40 minutes, and it worked fine. So this talk of "never inviting them to your radio station" is arrogant drivel.

The NPR interview is flawed because the interviewer is too concentrated on his own interests. There is a cultural divide here, as well, and it has nothing to do with language. American music interviewers tend to make the mistake that artists always reflect on their work and use interviews to market themselves, but marketing skills (giving good interviews) aren??t always part of art. Also, this interviewer expects the band to entertain us, but this is quite obviously his job, not the bands?? job - their job is to make music.

If the NPR text tells us the film is so great, why isn??t the band asked about any of it? What kind of journalism is this?

The directors cut is problematic, because they, too, are too busy trying to entertain us.

I asked the band about their acceptance in America and this was, unsurprisingly, the only point during my interview where they fell silent.

Go figure.


aditya sharma

Sent by Aditya Sharma | 4:47 AM | 10-25-2007

Ummm... it's not the band's job to entertain us in an interview? That's funny, I kind of thought it was a group effort between interviewer and interviewee, with the point being to get more people interested in the band's work. Look, it's not an "American" concept that the reason a band talks to the media is to get people who don't know their work to check it out! I've had my interest sparked by band interviews on NPR dozens of times... but if I didn't already know who Sigur Ros was, this interview sure wouldn't have gotten me to do anything other than change the station at the first opportunity. If you're not interested in promoting your music, don't do interviews--it'll make you seem all cool and mysterious to your fans. But if you are, then cut the interviewer some slack and do some talking, even if the questions are lame.

(And Luke's questions WERE pretty lame and badly worded, I'm not arguing that. However, if Marcin's going to be harsh about him saying "I took Swedish in college," then I get to give a hard time to all the Europeans who've ever assumed all Americans are from either New York, Los Angeles, or Texas! :) )

Sent by Lion | 3:19 PM | 10-27-2007

I loved this -- especially the commentary afterward. I'm a big fan of Jancee Dunn's book so it was fun to see her in person. These guys and their closed-off personas to me scream "engineers." I'd love to know if they studied engineering in university. I'll bet at least two did.

Sent by Kate Zimmerman | 2:14 PM | 11-1-2007

The interviewer totally screwed this up. that Swedish comment is like telling a German that you studied French, there is just no connection at all. ok he tried to pronounce their names, but being Icelandic myself I can tell you that he was far off! I understand that though, Icelandic names are hard to pronounce, I think he should just have focused on their first names, but common, the singers name is J??n (Jon - you even have that in English) not Jan! I??m just mentioning this because he did himself, I don??t think they were offended by it, we Icelanders are used to having people mis-pronounce our crazy names haha.
The point is that his questions were totally spudid and he answered most of them himself before he gave them the chance to do so.
And the interviewer keeps on showing his ignorance in this clip as well. Ofcaurse they did not start as a Bj??rk cover band. They don??t sound like Bj??rk at all! I know he didn??t mean it literally, but common, Bj??rk is not the only musician in Iceland, or the world for that matter, and it??s not like Icelanders just listen to Icelandic music! Comparing Sigur R??s to bands like Godspeed you black emperor or even Mogwai would have made much more sence!
I must point out that I am not a very big fan of Sigur R??s, sometimes their awkwardness even bugs me a bit, but in this case it was not their fault, although they might have handled the stupid questions a bit better.

Sent by Gu??mundur | 12:43 AM | 11-5-2007

this is dumb. the questions are dumb. "how do you create a song??" you work for NPR, not Comedy Central. music journalism, look into it.

Sent by zack | 12:27 AM | 11-9-2007

The interview seemed to really be a composite of bad things, such as bad atmosphere, hostile subjects, bad questions, and asking them poorly. Because I am a huge Sigur Ros fan, I know that most of the questions Luke asked were ones that had been asked literally hundreds of times. He might have started by just stating a few of those facts, like yes they sing jibberish, yes they just sit down and write music in their swimming pool studio, and no they don't care about making millions of dollars, and then skipped to some real questions-if he had any. Google would have told him most of the answers in about five minutes. The interview really could have been about their film, how great the music is, and what they think the film was about, but instead it was focused on how bad the interview questions were.

Sent by keith | 3:17 PM | 11-16-2007

OK, why don't any of you guys get it? Luke probably could have done better, but that interview was completely owned by the band from start to finish. They said exactly what they wanted to say. What they didn't say spoke volumes about their music.

It might help to listen to the interview with some of their music in the background. I suggest Hoppipolla. That might give you more perspective.

Sent by Dave | 12:15 AM | 12-3-2007

could it simply be a difference in cultural style, with no mal intent on either side ? ultimately, the responsibility is on the interviewer to find the right stimulus? i understand that this may be a real challenge in this case bc their image seems to thrive on being dense and cryptic. just don't judge them too quickly....

Sent by pow4u | 1:29 PM | 12-4-2007

"You pretended not to know how famous I am"

Sent by bran | 10:34 PM | 12-7-2007

"You pretended like you didn't know how famous I was"
"author of uhhhh...Enough About Me"

Sent by brandan | 11:00 PM | 12-7-2007

I like how Jancee's name was closer to the pronunciation of Jonsi than "Yaaahn"

Sent by Mikaya | 7:02 AM | 12-22-2007

has the interviewer familiarized himself with the band's catalog? read other interviews with them? some of the questions were pretty lame.... but i'll grant that they are a tough group for interviews.

Sent by monkman | 6:21 AM | 12-25-2007

monkman's right; i don't recall any mention of hvarf/heim, the critiques of it, the reception of 'heima', touring with amiina, their politcal activism, playing in countries like canada and the states...


Sent by bean | 7:37 PM | 2-12-2008

The questions were really standard and general. Why not ask about the film, wasn't that the whole reason they were there? Or about a specific song off the recent album?

Ask about some stupid thing like what they like about New York or what they've been doing for fun while staying there.

You could also just keep going until you have 10 minutes that you could edit down to 3.

Sent by The Fool | 8:41 AM | 2-26-2008

I've had some pretty disasterous interviews with bands myself, so this really is relatable and insightful. Jancee Dunn needs to start making "How to Interview a Surly Band" tutorials. I would buy those!

My emergency question was always "What movie soundtrack do you wish your band could rescore?"

Please have Jancee come back for more commentary! We need her!

Sent by Bonnie Burton | 4:19 PM | 3-3-2008

hahaha, ??etta er hryllilegt!!

horrible hearing the guy TRYING to pronounce their names.. swedish and icelandic? are you retarded? gee..
icelandic is a language you can compare to the language of the Faroe Islands- and NO OTHER country.

The guys in Sigur R??s are obviously very shy and they need more leading and.. hmm.. INTELLIGENT questions?

and don't even try to speak like Icelanders speak english, you can't even say their names! ohh my.. this is hilarious!

Sent by ??slensk p??a | 7:28 PM | 3-3-2008

The interviewer and this commentator are terrible. They are so into themselves, just by the fact they had to do this commentary cut of the interview, to make themselves feel better. I have seen great Sigur Ros interviews, but it usually comes from genuine people. "Team Make Sigur Ros Money??????????????" You must have not listened to their music. I am really glad they made it difficult. NPR is going down the tubes hiring people like this to head up music interviews. This chick is so lame, she talks about psychology and teams and making money. Seems like NPR and Sigur Ros should be far beyond that.

Sent by Paul | 5:03 PM | 5-27-2008

God the interviewer is so lame...what an idiot haha

Sent by Nick | 6:20 PM | 5-27-2008

yeah. You suck! Sigur R??s rules!!! That's all

Sent by krzych | 6:51 PM | 6-25-2008

Probably shouldnt ask a bunch of closed ended questions. (Those that are answered with either 'yes' or 'no') Getting into that rut will cause the whole interview to bog down like this one did.

Sent by JW | 7:35 AM | 7-11-2008

i guess we forgot that Sigur Ros were there for talking about the FILM and not explaining what hopelandic was for the billionth time. i think that maybe more research should have been done ahead of time.. also it was a mistake to tell them you know swedish.. ive been studying icelandic for only a short while now, but i know that it is nothing close to the other scandinavian languages except maybe faroese. and iceland is a very proud nation. they dont want to be compared to sweden!!
also, AKKKK you pronounced all the names wrong! its not "Yawn!!" it sounds as if you are implying something rude! more like "yone.."
i think that to truly understand the "psychology" of whats going on here, one would have to take a trip to iceland and experience the personality there. icelanders i noticed (in general of course, not all) can seem a little if not very, untalkative. they dont feel the need to bla bla all the time. i think their music says enough for them anyway :)
if you check out other interviews with them, you get a very different picture. so it must have been their mood that day?
when you watch the original video, is it me or do they seem to not understand what "phenomenon" means?? the second time its said, Georg is all "fenomina" or something and the rest find that amusing.. i guess we missed something there.. :)
i overall found the original video funny.

beta j

Sent by beta j | 2:38 AM | 7-27-2008