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sirkus magazine interviews georg, kjartan jónsi and orri
(viðtal)

band photo 2005

the happy marriage of four young men: sigur rós and takk


spring 2005 is a good time in the life of an icelandic sigur rós fan. their new album, takk, comes out september 12th and in october they will hold a concert in their home country. finally.

sigur rós are up to their neck in press interviews. for the first part of today they are icelandic. later in the day the foreign press arrives. interviews is not these musicians' favorite pastime, which is fortunate - it's in our best interest that these men spend as little time away from their instruments as possible.

georg hólm
"sometimes you can discover new facets in music by talking in a superficial way about it but as soon as you try to get any deeper than that, you're in trouble. after all, things that are dissected usually need to be dead first."

12 years.

it's amazing. it feels like 3 years.

and the releationship has always been fruitful?

yes. it comes as a surprise. it's as if we're constantly starting over. when we were making ágætis byrjun that's how it felt. the brackets album was more of an extension. it was a tough period. now we're fresh again and it feels like we're starting anew. we took a vacation before we started this album and when we came together again it felt like we were all about to burst. like we had been storing up creativity which was trapped inside us. it was a very pleasant feeling.

you talk a lot about atmosphere and your feelings. are you more like mediums than musicians?

in a way, yes. we play in response to our surroundings. when we begin playing and writing we exaggerate the atmosphere around us. the songs exaggerate our feelings. we never decide on a fixed goal. we don't sit down and play a riff we wrote at home last night.

are your sessions long?

it's very uneven. no. not really. it depends on the songs and the mood.

you all agree on the direction to take?

yes. we all agree to have no direction. it's just the four of us playing around, not discussing things we are doing.

you've played with many different bands. what do you talk about with other musicians?

when we meet other bands we're usually on tour and then there is little else to talk about besides touring.

you don't talk about how you write music?

only journalists want to talk about that. besides touring i've talked to other musicians about music videos and how they make them. bands have different ways of making videos happen. other than that, i don't usually talk about music.

why don't you like talking about music?

for us, music is the magic that happens in a moment. if you start dissecting it then you might spoil it. sometimes you can discover new facets in music by talking in a superficial way about it but as soon as you try to get any deeper than that, you're in trouble. after all, things that are dissected usually need to be dead first.

each of your tours this year last four to six weeks. isn't it a bit like a fisherman going on a far-too-long voyage?

probably. i've never worked as a fisherman so i can't compare but the atmosphere on the tour bus is what i imagine it's like in a submarine. everyone taking up each others' space and no solitude except in the bunks, which are high up and narrow. we mostly travel at nighttime and we see nothing but black out of the window. i remember how pissed i was when we crossed the rocky mountains in pitch black. we were traveling across this famous mountain range and we couldn't do anything but drink beer, smoke cigarettes and sleep. it's always fun when you play at the concert though. even the bad concerts are fun.

do you have any groupies?

no. i'm not sure why but we don't have any groupies. we do have followers though, especially in europe. during the last tour some people followed us from the first european concert to the last one. hang around outside our bus and wait for us. they're funny people.

 

kjartan sveinsson
"it's like a marriage. you have to nurture the relationship and make comprimises. otherwise it won't last."

the album is called takk [thanks]. why?

takk. it's a word that's followed us through the years. oh, and it also means thank you.

does this word reflect your outlook towards music?

yes. we are thankful. we are content with where we are now and how things have worked out.

and where are you now?

we're in a good place. we feel good. we get to make this music. it's a privilege.

it's safe to say you've done well.

yes. and not just that. we're happy about our lives. but of course, things will go up and down.

is there a concept behind takk?

no. we have never been much for concepts even though it sometimes looks like it. concepts come afterwards. when you look closely at a work it's always easy to find a concept there but we have never approached a project with a predetermined concept in mind. it's not our style, really. sigur rós is not a clever band. there are no deep thoughts behind what we are doing.

four men in a band and no predetermined concept. you must agree with each other a lot?

yes, we do, and if we don't we always manage to find a way to work it out. we've played together for so long and know each other inside out.

time is often a band's enemy.

yes. time can be an enemy.

time can separate people.

yes. no one is exactly the same. it's like a marriage. you have to nurture the relationship and make comprimises. otherwise it won't last. this is especially valid for bands who form at a young age. you're always learning new things about behavioural patterns and about the different characters you meet. the difference is that in a marriage there are only two people who have to settle their differences.

how long have you been playing together?

almost twelve years. wow.

was takk a long process?

we've been working on this record for twenty months, which is a normal period of time. for sigur rós at least.

anti-climax?

you never know what will happen. this is our baby. it's exciting. very exciting.

does reception matter to you?

it's always great to get positive feedback. that could never be our sole premise though.

you've been incredibly well received so far.

we're not complaining.

your music has been appearing in the craziest of places.

yes. we've had some of our music in movies.

do you have any principles regarding use of your music in movies?

we want to see the scenes before we agree to the music being used in them. this has turned out to be very difficult for hollywood. very few people there want to send out clips from unreleased movies in case they leak out. but if people send us the movie, we will look into it.

you guys are difficult.

yes. we often say no. it's a good thing.

do people ever give up on you?

sure. the demand for music use isn't as high as it was after ágætis byrjun came out. we got all sorts of movie, tv and advertising requests. some of these offers don't go very far. offers like the life aquatic will reach us but not buffy the vampire slayer, for example.

buffy wanted to use your music?

yes, a long time ago.

and you turned them down?

it wasn't hard.

you have worked with very different personalities, for example merce cunningham and hilmar örn. have you decided what kind of musicians you want to be?

no. as soon as we know what kind of musicians we are, it's over. it won't be exciting anymore. we're always experimenting. making music is about trying and discovering. if we ever decide that we write "this kind of song" then the whole thing becomes sterilized. we've enjoyed the projects we've worked on. they all call for a different approach. the process is faster and we record and dub more. we've gained a lot of experience from the collaborations and side projects.

merce cunningham is a living legend. how was it seeing your music to his choreography?

his idea is that music and dance don't necessarily have to coincide. his composer was john cage, who wrote music built on arbitratiness. in the old days music and dance needed to fit together but these guys had a different opinion. we were just asked to write 20 minutes of music and that's it. it was fun seeing the people dance but the music had no direct affect on how they moved onstage.

after all your success, have any of you developed superiority complexes?

i don't think so. we're lucky to live in iceland because you couldn't get away with something like that. there's always space in reykjavk. i have friends here and i'm not a remarkable person. none of us are. we have no celebrity culture to speak of in reykjavk. no one ever reaches the status of being really important. bjrk walks around in the city and everyone leaves her alone except the tourists.

how would you describe the music scene in iceland?

well, there's lots of music everywhere and it's really fun. when we're abroad we get asked a lot about music in iceland. they really want to associate our music with nature and want to know if this is how it is with all icelandic bands. bari jóhannsson [of bang gang] said in the movie 'screaming masterpiece' that in iceland no one gives a shit and that's why people just do what they want to do. no one in iceland will start a band to "make it".

what inspires your music?

inspiration is everywhere and nowhere. i can't point in any direction. inspiration comes from your environment, the people you surround yourself with, movies, books, soap operas, mom and dad, nature. whatever. i've never been in a situation where i've felt i'm inspired by it. i have never gotten a great idea standing on a mountain. i've been up on a mountain and enjoyed how it made me feel. this might of course influence me as a person but that doesn't mean it inspires me to make a piece of music.

do you want your music to make people feel a certain way?

no. definitely not. it's important that people are open and experience what they want to experience. you can often get into a personal relationship with music that reflects some emotions from a period of someone's life. these are private feelings. we don't want to spoonfeed people ideas and emotions.

it's sometimes said that the most likely people to get into your music are ones suffering from depression. have you noticed this at all?

no, not really. i hope our music does them some good though. i actually know someone suffering from depression but he thinks our music is whiny crap.

 

jón ór birgisson
"people tend to overinterpret and find meaning in something which isn't remarkable to begin with. it's funny."

do you always get the same feeling when releasing an album?

no.

what's different about this one?

it's been a long process. we've been doing it for two years and toured in between. i'm terribly excited now that it's being released. it will be fun to see how people react to it.

so people's reponses to your music matter to you?

yes. sure.

this is your fourth album if hlemmur and the merce cunningham project are excluded.

yes.

how do you like doing side projects?

it's a lot of fun. we go further in our side projects. we do more experiments because everything is allowed.

is there anything notable about how takk evolved?

takk is probably richer than the other albums. we're always learning. when we made von we had to learn how to use the recording equipment because we wanted a certain sound and mood to come forth in the recordings. we also learned a lot from ken thomas while recording ágætis byrjun. he taught us that music is about a feeling and a mood rather than frequency and other bullshit. the brackets album was to a certain extent the most difficult. we had been playing the songs for so long and were tired of them when we went into the studio. it's hard to be creative when you're tired. we learned from this and have now gained a lot of important information which i think will benefit us in the future.

have you been trying to reproduce the sound at your concerts?

no, not really. the last album was more like that. we wanted a certain live, raw feel about it. we tried that and it didn't seem to have worked. the mood on takk is more "anything goes". we had nothing to lose. we wanted to produce a feeling without trying.

you wanted it to be honest.

yes, i think so.

do you think that's a common aim for bands to have?

i hope so. i don't know. there's so much mass-manufactured crap these days. so probably not.

pop culture is getting a bad name. people are saying politics and art have been contaminated by pop culture.

pop culture is like fast food. you feed on garbage and in the end you settle for it. maybe that's how things are destined to be.

sigur rós have been playing together for twelve years.

yes.

how old were you when you formed?

eighteen and nineteen.

twelve years is a long time. you've been in sigur rós for one third of your lifetime.

i know. it's crazy.

i don't expect you regret any of the time you've spent in the band.

no. but it is definitely a very long time.

and you can now do as you please.

yes, we've been able to do that from the start. people often ask me what it's like being signed to a big label and i tell them it's exactly like being signed to a small label. we just get more space. we've been playing for twelve years and have proven ourselves as artists and don't need any supervision anymore. no one is monitoring us. we do everything ourselves: arrange, record, mix, master. we even make the videos ourselves. the label knows they don't have to worry about us so they just don't bother. they help us instead.

it's not very common for successful artists to be completely self-sufficient.

no. we are feeling the pressure now though. in addition to all the music we're doing the album cover ourselves and handling the first video through internet correspondence. we handled the prep work and now it's being processed. we've never let go of creative control and let others do things for us. i guess it would be healthy for us to just trust other people. somtimes the work we put into the band is more of a lifestyle. it's so much fun to be the four of us in a band, playing at concerts and stuff, but there are so many practical things that make it difficult. a lot of energy goes into these practical things. it's laboursome but in the end it pays off to have a grasp the bigger picture.

that also means you're responsible for mistakes.

totally.

you're not the easiest band in the world for journalists to deal with.

we have a reputation for being difficult with journalists. photographers are afraid of us. it's hard for us to pose in traditional band photo shoots. "look cool and put your chin up", etc. we try to avoid uncomfortable things like this. it's funny how everyone wants to see who is making the music, what kind of personalities they are and if they are good-looking. we're tried to underplay this part of the game. it's proven difficult for us to scrutinize what we're working on. there is magic to music which i don't want to know about. people ask "how do you do this?" and "what is the meaning behind this music?". there is no "meaning" behind what we do. sigur rós is four guys who love what they do. it's as simple as that.

the meaning behind the last album couldn't have been more open to interpretation. no lyrics.

exactly. it was a big bite for the journalists to swallow, who were used to getting everything spoonfed. they had no titles and no lyrics so they had to actually listen to the music and decide what it was about themselves. that was too hard for them. they ended up the lack of lyrics and not the music. it's too bad.

and now you return to lyrics.

it was fun writing lyrics this time. it's always been quite a challenge for us to express ourselves through words. somehow music flows more easily. when it comes to words we freeze up. we listened to the songs together and let the music trigger words in us. i think we learned something from this experience. the lyrics are very simple and nave. moments and small adventures. nothing too deep.

there is a tendency to interpret moments and adventures as something profound.

people tend to overinterpret and find meaning in something which isn't remarkable to begin with. it's funny.

so you're going to hold a concert in iceland soon?

yes, in the beginning of october. it will be great. it's always the same problem though. we don't have a music hall. sports arenas are being built left and right in iceland but there is no sign of a music hall anywhere. we have to settle for playing in some fucking sports arena. it's a shame it has to be that way.

will the wait be shorter for the album following takk?

maybe. i hope so. we should retire soon.

what would you do?

it would be nice to move into the countryside. buy a cottage and grow my own vegetables. that would be so great.

that's not happening before christmas.

no. not next year either.

 

orri páll drason
"next summer we're going to tour iceland. we want to do five or six concerts all around the country like we did in 1999. it was so great. in vopnafjörður we played for 25 people."

this is the second album you've made with sigur rós. how did you get involved with this band?

i was in a band which shared rehearsal space with sigur rós at the same time ágst decided to quit the band. that's when they approached me. i didn't know much about them back then.

do you regret joining the band?

very much. no, not at all. these six and a half years have been really fun.

the feel of the new album is happy.

yes. i think you can hear through the music what kind of mood we were in. we were a bit dazed by the brackets album. life was weird, so many things were changing and we had no roots. touring a lot. now we are secure about ourselves, having gotten used to the whole thing. we are happy.

do the band members spend much time together?

we do spend a lot of time together but we make sure we take a break once in a while. but when we're together we spend the whole day together. especially when we're touring, obviously. we sleep in the same bus for six weeks, go to sleep together and wake up together. it's a good thing we're close friends.

there must be a lot of pressure while touring.

yes. georg and i have families here at home so we do get homesick. it's so awesome to do concerts though. all the waiting and the travelling wears you out but it's worth it as soon as the concert starts.

it's been a while since your last concert in iceland.

yes. too long. next summer we're going to tour iceland. we want to do five or six concerts all around the country like we did in 1999. it was so great. in vopnafjörður we played for 25 people.

i suspect more people would come now.

yes. maybe. it depends on whether there is a ball the same night. i'd rather go to the ball.

are icelandic audiences different than foreign audiences?

usually audiences abroad are more unrestrained, especially in southern europe. i guess audiences in iceland are more timid at our concerts. people are afraid to make asses of themselves, which is a very icelandic phenomenon. it's not necessarily worse, although it does feel great to get enthusiastic feedback.

do you worry about making an ass of yourself at concerts in iceland?

yes. very. mom and dad are there.

it does seem that you have fit perfectly into the band.

yes. it's gone very well, better than i expected.

don't drummers have the least job security of all band members?

i think so. drummers are also most likely to be drunks and drug addicts.

i also read somewhere that the highest suicide rate of classical musicians was among piccolo players. are there any trademark rock drummer afflictions?

i've heard that heart problems were most common among drummers. i guess i'm among the lucky ones.

you've started singing in icelandic again.

yes.

why?

we felt like writing lyrics. the reason there were no lyrics on the last album was that we had written these songs years back with jónsi singing gibberish vocals to them the entire time. they were fully formed and it would have been strange to suddenly insert lyrics into these finished products. this time we went into the studio with only two old songs and both of them are lyricless. the new songs all have lyrics. it's fun to write lyrics. we all get together and chat a lot.

- sigtryggur magnason, sirkus magazine (translated from icelandic by björn erlingur flóki björnsson)

 

 

 

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