por Arnar Eggert Thoroddsen en Morgunblaðið
after having grinded coffee beans for five minutes in the swimming
pool studio, jónsi suddenly exlaims: "hey, do you wanna
hear some songs from the new album?". this question is naturally
met with a nodding head. drummer orri páll leads me into the
studio's control room, which is home to comfortable chairs and a couch.
he offers me a seat, presses play and tells me that this song will probably
be the first single to be released, possibly through download only.
i'm left alone in the room to listen.
the songs i heard didn't exactly fall under the short pop/rock structure
which is rumoured to be the theme of the new album, but it's clear that
there is a transition in style here: the songs are more focused, while
at the same time more "rock and roll" than previous material.
kjartan, the keyboardist, goes on to say later in the interview that
this is precisely what sigur rós is all about: rock and roll.
somehow it is a more popular opinion that the members of sigur rós
are tea drinking new age hippies who write songs about elves and lava.
jónsi exclaims "no, we only drink hardcore coffee around
these parts". but then he adds with a smirk "well, hardcore
coffee topped off with a little soy milk".
since autumn 1999, following the release of ágætis byrjun,
sigur rós has comprised jón þór birgisson
(guitar and vocals), georg hólm (bass), kjartan sveinsson (keyboards),
and orri páll dýrason (drums). orri replaced ágúst
ævar gunnarsson, who went into design studies. ágætis
byrjun is the album that got sigur rós on the international pop/rock
map, and has sold in half a million copies around the world. at the
time of the album's release, the record label was hopeful to sell up
to 2000 copies.
jónsi, kjartan and orri now enter the control room with their
coffee cups, fully equipped for an interview. a light-hearted chat eventually
leads up to talks of the mastering of the new album. at the time of
this interview, it was unclear whether the band would go overseas for
mastering sessions on monday or thursday. kjartan finally manages to
convince jónsi it's monday. kjartan: "we have to make the
sound on the album more solid. we are aiming for a korn and papa roach
kind of thing." the chat instantly transforms into an impassioned
discussion of the latest papa roach album, "getting away with murder",
and its notably crystal-clear sound.
mastering is the final stage of an album's production. bjarni bragason
is the most prominent name in mastering in iceland but overseas the
biggest names are bob ludwig and howie weinberg. as it turns out, sigur
rós once offered bob ludwig to master some of their music but
weren't thrilled with the results. "it was far from bad,"
says jónsi of the experiment, "but the outcome was strange
somehow. it wasn't what we were looking for, anyway."
the recording of the new album took about one and a half years. "that's
it?" says jónsi with a curious expression. "yeah, it
was twenty months," orri confirms. during the recording period,
the band and its members have indulged in numerous side projects. in
fact, they have been swamped in work since the completion of their last
album, 2002's ( ). in addition to the band's extensive spring tour of
2003, sigur rós's soundtrack to the film 'hlemmur' was released,
and the band composed new music to merce cunningham's dance piece 'split
sides'. the english band radiohead joined them in the latter endeavor.
sigur rós released this music from split sides last year on the
ep 'ba ba ti ki di do'. in 2003, the band members also assisted their
friend jimmy lavelle (the album leaf) in recording his latest album
in the swimming pool studio. the same year, sigur rós received
the mtv award for best video, to the first track of ( ). later that
year, the band recorded new music for the scottish short film 'the loch
ness kelpie'. in 2004, jónsi performed solo in reykjavík
under his pseudonym frakkur, while kjartan and orri headed to the ísafjörður
music festival to perform under their pseudonym, 'the lonesome traveller'.
this band performed four sigur rós songs in a laid-back country
music fashion (complete with cowboy hats and boots). in 2004, kjartan
also composed the score to rúnar rúnarsson short film
'síðast bærinn'. sigur rós's most intimate collaborators,
amina, released an ep later in the year, which was recorded in the swimming
in between these side projects, sigur rós have been nominated
for various awards, including the grammys. their songs are appearing
in hollywood films and the revered kronos quartet has arranged the band's
songs. sigur rós's brief international career has been a prominent
one thus far, and interest in the band has never been greater despite
three years having passed since their last album. sigur rós's
latest musical adventure was writing a song for h.c. andersen's 200
year birthday celebration in copenhagen last april. the song was written
for the royal danish ballet's interpretation of the story of the little
"it's really fun taking on these kinds of projects. unfortunately
the time we have to have work on them is often limited." says jónsi.
" but personally, i thought the h.c. andersen celebration turned
out horribly. it had a strange las vegas feeling to it. tina turner
and olivia newton-john dancing around didn't seem fitting."
hawaii, here we come
the band was faced with no real obstacles in the process of recording
the new album. "hmm, no," says kjartan contemplatively. "this
album somehow came together faster and better than ( )." the new
album is likely to contain ten songs, two of which have been played
at concerts before. next on the itinerary is the most extensive tour
the band has embarked on. the first concert takes place on july 8th
and the band will be more or less on the road until october. summer
festivals will follow in the summer of 2006. destinations for the 2005
tour will include europe, japan, australia, north america, even hawaii.
"that's right, we are going to the 'pride of the pacific', as
it's called," says orri with a smile. "the venue is a very
cool old theatre built in 1920." kjartan says they will use the
opportunity to take a brief break in hawaii. "it's amazing to be
able to go to places like these. we're going to go scubadiving and stuff."
the tour is greatly anticipated by the guys. jónsi points out
that they haven't held a proper sigur rós concert for ages. "this
is going to be great, i can't wait to get back into touring. long breaks
like these keep you fresh. it's a very refreshing feeling to find yourself
really looking forward to playing live again."
further details on the upcoming tour can be found on www.sigur-ros.co.uk,
the band's official news page, as well as a source of various information
on the band. the website was founded in 2000 and is run by björn
erlingur flóki björnsson, paul mcallister and chris wray.
the site was originally a fan site but was so successful that the band
decided to collaborate with them. "these guys really know what
they're doing," says jónsi. "they know more about what's
happening with sigur rós than we do!". orri says that they
keep in good contact with the webmasters, meeting up with them regularly
and inviting them to concerts overseas. "we plan on opening our
own website though, before the album is released," says jónsi.
"but the news site is incredible. it's good for us because we're
not net-gurus ourselves." kjartan adds: "i'm not sure we belong
to this generation. we do know how to send emails though. but when you
go online you don't really know where to go." (laughs)
i got nothing
the band is now supported by a substantial group of music industry
staff - managers, agents, lawyers, etc. "we're obviously a huge
band, you know," kjartan jokes. "we are going to be as big
as U2!". jokes aside, the band agrees that the staff needed to
keep the band going has grown over the years. "that's the good
thing about living in iceland," says jónsi. "all business
stuff goes on overseas so we are able to isolate ourselves from it here.
it helps you keep your feet on the ground."
sigur rós's record deal is a unique one - basically, they can
do what they want. "it's great to not have people telling you you
have to do photoshoots, interviews and stuff," says jónsi.
"although, interviews can sometimes be interesting. we went on
a two-week interview marathon when we released ( ). we did about 12
interview a day so we got to know different kinds of journalists. some
were idiots, others were very intelligent and had interesting insights.
it's actually pretty fun to talk to journalists like that. we came out
of the marathon feeling very focused, after having chatted constantly
for two weeks."
kjartan and orri encountered an unfortunate journalist in switzerland.
orri: "he had all these preconceived notions about us and the album
and then he got offended when he found out they were wrong. he was fishing
for some profound idea behind the album when there wasn't one there."
kjartan assumes the journalist's voice: "i got nothing!" i
got nothing!". kjartan recollects how annoyed he was with the band.
"the poor guy. he has dressed up and everything."
kjartan says they are pumped up for the impending madness on the release
of the new album. "we've matured in this respect, at least speaking
for myself. when we started getting into the music 'biz' we were incredibly
nervous about the whole thing. we were just these kids from reykjavík.
we were kind of afraid of journalists, which i think was reflected in
our first interviews. we've grown more comfortable in these situations.
still, the whole thing is kind of silly."
jónsi says that interviews have served as practical training
in talking about what they do. "we never do that ordinarily. we're
not particularly analytical people, so it's strange to talk to journalists
who examine everything you do and ask for concrete answers to vague
questions. it's difficult for us to give them that." he says the
best interviews are the ones that turn into general coffee house banter.
"apparently there were 160 interviews for ( ) altogether,"
says orri. "if you made a connection with the interviewer you tended
to be more giving. the dull interviewers just got the default robotic
sigur rós's music seems to have touched the hearts of people
of endless nationalities. just glancing at the comments made in the
amazon online stores is staggering. people seem to be in shock that
music as beautiful as this exists. the boys giggle when i say this.
"yeah, apparently our music is actually 'golden tears falling from
heaven' or something," says kjartan. "it's definitely fantastic
that people appreciate what we're doing." jónsi: "there's
a chapter in tommy lee's new book where he describes himself lying on
the floor in foetus position listening to sigur rós. his friend
comes up to him and turns off the music." (everyone laughs.) "in
this book he talks about us, led zeppelin, and megadeth, " says
kjartan. "not bad!". orri adds that tommy lee has requested
to do an interview with them when they come to the states.
the conversation now turns to another big name in music - thom yorke.
sigur rós played with radiohead on their autumn 2000 tour, and
later joined them in making the music to 'split sides' in 2004. "we
never got to know thom or the other guys very well," says jónsi.
"we did around ten concerts with them and it was like two bands
in separate corners doing their own thing. there was very little interaction,
although we did chat quite a bit with colin. he is an absolute top guy."
kjartan remembers the immense crew that followed radiohead. with walkie-talkie
security guys everywhere, it's no wonder the interaction was so little.
"during tours like these you first and foremost interact with your
crew. it's not a given that two groups travelling together will mingle."
earlier that year, the band had toured with the canadian band 'godspeed
you black emperor!'. jónsi says touring with bands as different
as these two was a valuable experience. "it was a learning experience
for us to see how these things are done. godspeed did everything themselves
and they were really serious about everything. radiohead on the other
hand were surrounded by this huge staff, which surprised me a little."
georg walks into the room - it's time to go into the kitchen and get
some more coffee. kjartan continues: "we're very grateful to radiohead
for giving us the chance to tour with them. it introduced a lot of people
to our music. we were playing for 12000 people a night."
suddenly i decide to make a bold move and ask plainly whether there
is any ideology behind the new album. kjartan does the talking: "hmm.
it was just a natural progression from the last album. the last album
was so heavy, so it felt better to rock this one out. damn, that was
a really lame sentence." (laughs)
sigur rós are now signed with geffen in america and EMI in britain
and the rest of the world. they originally signed with MCA, which has
since merged with geffen. they were signed with fatcat records for a
few years but the contract was dissolved due to dissatisfaction with
fatcat's distributor, pias.
the first clear sign of international interest in sigur rós
was at the fríkirkjan concert at the iceland airwaves festival
in 2000. the church was packed with foreign journalists and record label
agents. this set off a series of offers from big labels. "there
were fifteen labels in all," says georg. "we replied with
our terms and three labels called back." from what i'm told, the
goal of the big labels was to seize a band which would garner universal
respect amongst the music community, rather than reach colossal sales
figures. this is what geffen did a while back when they signed the underground
rock band sonic youth, which led to nirvana signing with geffen later
kjartan and his robe
the interview now turns to lighter territories. it's two days since
the iron maiden concert in iceland, which all the members of sigur rós
attended. sigur rós are surprisingly knowledgeable about iron
maiden, though georg least so, owning only one of their albums. kjartan
is the biggest fan of the group - him and myself gush over some of the
ingenious songs from their 1988 album 'seventh son of a seventh son'.
the iron maiden discussion expands into kjartan's recollection of the
time he ran onstage at the end of iron maiden's set at the roskilde
festival 2003, just minutes before sigur rós were to go onstage
themselves. kjartan was wearing a massive iron maiden t-shirt at the
time, which fitted him like a robe. "the timing was awful,"
sighs kjartan. "i just barely managed to finish iron maiden before
we went onstage."
the interview is regularly put on hold in order to step outside for
cigarette breaks. in the parking lot outside the studio, the members
of sigur rós form a circle and kick a football between each other,
trying to keep the ball off the ground. to be honest, their skills at
this game took me quite by surprise - it's clear they do this all the
time. their joint effort in keeping the ball aloft is full of passion.
grunts, shouts, heels, knees, chests and foreheads come into play.
watching this display on the parking lot, i realised the similarities
between this simple game and the art they create together. on this lot
crystallised the gentle and laid-back spirit which characterises this
band which has become iceland's biggest music export, excluding björk
only. like björk, it has been the integrity and sincerity put into
the music which has made their success possible. the four men in sigur
rós share one thing above all - using passion as a starting point
to achieve great things, both in and outside their work.