when i walked through the doors of sigur rós's studio, the scent of newly cooked vegetable soup greeted me. but jónsi and kjartan, whom i was there to interview, were nowhere to be seen. the main entrance opens up into a large open space and suddenly you realise you are standing at the bottom of an old swimming pool. the pool isn't empty, the band members' instruments fill the pool, waiting for their owners to dive in and play them.
when i look around in the "pool", i see a big window to the left and the entrance into the control room. there's some movement in there. i walk into the room and there stands jónsi over a low wooden table armed with a spray bottle, spraying water on some bonsai trees, his little friends that live there.
"oh hi," he says when he realizes he's no longer the only human being in the room. "it's really tough keeping these guys alive." later he tells me that he has gotten a bonsai expert to tend to the trees while the band is on tour. at the end of the wooden table lies a handbook on how to make these delicate creatures feel the most comfortable indoors.
"can i interest you in some vegetable soup?" asked jónsi and smiled. yes, it's clear now i'm definitely in the house of sigur rós. jónsi led me into the kitchen where kjartan and poetry man steindór andersen were chatting, and as soon as kjartan had finished washing the dishes, the three of us sat down at the kitchen table, and steindór excused himself from the room. an old record player was playing the black sabbath record "we sold our soul to rock'n'roll" while jónsi was laying dishes on the table. i turned on the dictaphone and attempted to utter my questions in between eating one of the best vegetable soups i've tasted in my life. this band is definitely multi-talented.
the band's new facilities are spectacular, like any musician's dream. we begin speaking about technical matters and how all this new equipment is working out for them.
kjartan: "it's going slow but still going."
jónsi: "we had some trouble in the beginning."
kjartan: "this was set up in a short amount of time, so there was some weird trouble with the mix table."
jónsi: "the guys that were hired to hook this stuff up were foreigners and they needed to leave before they finished setting everything up. we needed to help ourselves the last few yards."
the mix table in question is no small piece of equipment and was very difficult to transport. the table was bought in england and after its long journey overseas, it didn't fit through the doors of the studio because of its size.
kjartan: "we made a hole in the roof and a giant crane lifted the table down in two pieces."
when did you come up with this idea of yours to buy your own studio?
kjartan: "it's always been our goal."
jónsi: "instead of paying some studio a large amount of money, we thought it wiser to buy our own studio that we can use in the future. we always spend a lot of time in the studio. we need to take our time and we can't work under time restrictions, so this was a natural progression."
did you buy the house for the studio here in mosfellsbær [a small town, 15-minute drive out of central reykjavík] in order to be in your hometown?
jónsi: "no, just to get away from reykjavík, i think. we could've
gone wherever. here we get a little peace and quiet. we have had our eyes on this
place for a while - have always had a little crush on it. also there is no one here
who drops by because for others, mosellsbær is 'out in the country'."
kjartan: "the journey from reykjavík to mosfellsbær is long but the journey to reykjavík from mosfellsbær is short."
have you thought about leasing the studio while you're not using it?
kjartan: "because we are and often will be travelling outside of iceland in the future, it would be silly to keep this studio empty in the meantime. the plan is to give bands that we like a chance to use the studio while we're away. this will be non-profit."
do you have any worries that you will lose yourselves into perfectionism, now that you have a chance to?
jónsi: "we are kind of already considered as perfectionists. but we made this single [which sigur rós made with steindór andersen] in 3 days, which is very unlike us. we learned to relax and just let things happen by themselves."
the single in question will be sold in a limited supply during the band's tour in europe.
kjartan: "we usually know when to stop but it's often that one keeps going
and going until in the end you wind up in a circle of nonsense. if the feeling is
cool, then it's cool."
jónsi: "many bands write like 50 songs and then select 10 of them on their album. we've never worked like this and there's only one song out of all the songs we've written that we decided not to put on record. we've always worked at some goal and then reached it, we've never made many mixes of the same song or anything like that."
kjartan: "the sound is always important but it's not necessarily the most important. if there's personality in the recording then that's more important. if you like what you hear, then that's it."
jónsi: "it's for example very good working with ken thomas. he's a personality craftsman. no pedantic obsessing over acoustics. we often make fun of that sort of thing when we are recording."
kjartan: "for example when this guy from scotland was working with svala björgvins in sýrland [a premier studio in reykjavík], they moved the mix table two inches in order to improve the acoustics. that's so silly."
do you think icelandic bands think too much about that kind of thing?
kjartan: "i don't think icelandic bands can really afford to be like that. they have to record quickly to use the expensive studio time."
what is the biggest benefit of having your own studio?
jónsi: "we have a great facility, we're at peace. we can leave our equipment connected and come back with them laying the same way they were when we left. it also gives us a chance to execute our future side projects."
when will you begin working on the next album?
jónsi: "we're going to try to start recording it when we get home from the tour, in the middle of may. we have written a bunch of songs but nothing more than that."
and what will the album be like?
kjartan (in an ironic tone): "we're going to make it exactly like our last album because it sold so well."
now my vegetable soup was finished, as well as my list of questions. i thanked the boys for their hospitality, wished them good luck on their tour and headed outside into the cold and started "the long journey" back to reykjavík.
(birgir örn steinarsson, translated from icelandic by björn erlingur flóki björnsson)