sigur r&s, four icelanders whose unique and divine sound makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end.
always a band who have let their music speak for itself, now they’ve come out of the shadows of anonymity by releasing heima (home), an astonishing and beautiful film.
it documents a special two-week tour around iceland which, as well as showing the rugged beauty of their homeland, also captures the four musicians away from the stage.
accompanied by hvarf-heim (disappeared-home), a double album with one disc featuring five songs previously unrecorded or from their rare debut (hvarf), and the other, six songs recorded acoustically (heim).
it’s a project sigur r&s — singer jónsi birgisson, georg hólm on bass guitar and glockenspiel, kjartan sveinsson on keyboards and orri páll dýrason on drums — have been thinking about for a few years
sftw meets them the day after their astonishing bbc electric proms performance at cecil sharp house in camden. their first-ever acoustic show was followed by a screening of the film, which sold out in just seven minutes.
now, opposite me is jónsi, the man whose captivating falsetto gives the band their haunting, ethereal presence — think planet earth’s theme tune hoppípolla from their last album takk.
raising a glass of champagne, the affable jónsi immediately shatters any preconceptions. sigur r&s are a band’s band. name-checked by the likes of radiohead and coldplay, (chris martin’s daughter apple famously came into the world to the sound of them), their image is often portrayed as four very solemn men.
jónsi smiles and in his lilting accent says: “people have a certain image of us, that we’re very serious. “well, we’re not like that. it’s just the way our music is. it is intense but we as people aren’t like that. there’s been times when we meet people and they over- analyse us and expect us to say something really wise. but it’s a good place to be with our music, i guess. people seem to really respect us. we’ve been together for 14 years and it shows the strength of us — four people, friends who give each other space. we understand each other so well now.”
sigur r&s are the second greatest musical export from iceland. like bjork, the band make music incomparable to anyone else. jónsi says: “bjork is like an aunt to us. she opens up new terrorities. sometimes we meet at a bar and drink champagne and party like crazy.
“i think because iceland is such a small country, growing up you were always isolated. i grew up with heavy metal and then i got into my parents’ hippy record collection, then grunge and trance.
“there were never any plans to make music as a career — we were far too isolated for that. you did it because you loved music and got all your energy from it. it simply made life worth living.” the idea for heima was something that the band had held on to for years but the result, says jónsi, was frightening.
he says: “watching ourselves on the big screen was terrifying. when it came to editing the movie it was horrible to have to listen to your voice over and over again. although, the amusing parts — all of us making fun of each other — made up for it. we wanted to document our live show and the relationship our music had with strings. but we never had the chance until summer in iceland, when we travelled around our country for two weeks with the string quartet, the amiina girls. it worked out perfectly, we are really proud of what we have achieved with it.” hvarf-heim came about after their record company asked them to consider making a live album.
jónsi says: “we decided to do something more exciting not only for fans but for us as well and that was this album, one side with acoustic songs, the other with b-sides and old songs.”
radiohead are often credited with “discovering” sigur rós. so what does jónsi think of their recent lead in allowing new album in rainbows to be released as a download at any price the buyer wishes to pay?
jónsi says: “i think it’s cool what radiohead did. it’s a good idea that makes so much sense. bands get so little money from every cd they sell anyway. doing it like this, if they only get a few pounds, they might actually get more than before. but it’s hard for young bands starting off. radiohead have a name. they can do whatever they want. people are waiting for their album and they like their music so would happily make a donation.”
then as our time is up, jónsi shakes my hand, before rushing of to heathrow and a flight to melbourne for another premiere and an acoustic show. and today, getting to know this enigmatic band and the main man behind their music, now will allow an even greater appreciation of their beautiful sound