Sigur Rós's music speaks volumes. Which is just as well,
since the four Icelanders themselves say little. Their reluctance to answer questions
about what they do makes interviewing them like pulling particularly recalcitrant
teeth - not because they are dour, difficult or even diffident, but because they claim
to find it impossible. Off the record, earlier this afternoon in downtown Reykjavik's
cosy Kaffibarrin, they were happy to chat with a stranger like any bunch of amiable
twentysomething musicians, bantering over a pint about penis size and dietary habits.
Two hours later, in a different café and with a tape recorder set in front
of them, they are seized with conversational cramp. "I hate doing interviews,"
whispers whippet-thin lead singer and guitarist Jón
"When I am writing music, it is magical," he explains, after much coaxing as to why he finds the whole interview process so odious. "I don't know why I write songs, I don't know where it comes from and I don't know why we four are really good at doing it. It happens unconsciously, but reporters want to know why I sing like this, why do I use a bow on my guitar... I really don't know. And I can't make something up about it, I can only speak the truth. How can I make someone understand things that I don't understand myself?"
The reticence of Jonsi and Georg Holm (bass), Kjarten Sveinsson (Kjarri - keyboards, guitar) and Orri Pall Dyrason (drums) stands in sharp contrast to the overwhelming emotional expressiveness of their music.
Sigur Rós's two EPs to date - Svefn-G-Englar and Ný Batterí - and forthcoming album Ágætis Byrjun (which roughly translates as New Beginning) are powerfully imaginative, epic adventures that combine the grandeur of classical music with the physical thrill of metal and prog rocks heroism, pulled together by Jonsi's extraordinary, crystalline voice. The Verve's A Storm in Heaven and Spiritualized's Lazer Guided Melodies are obvious touchstones, but kindred spirits include Pink Floyd, Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine and Godspeed You Black Emperor! although Sigur Rós regard the sonic claim they have staked in their six-year history as uniquely their own.
Georg, the most communicative member of Sigur Rós, which translates as "Victory Rose" has been nominated as the bands spokesman for future interviews, but decisions about whom they'll talk to seem wilfully perverse - recently they cancelled an interview with NME at the eleventh hour, but agreed to one with The Shetland Seafood Journal. They admit to being naive, but playing the game doesn't interest them one bit.
"It's different with books, for example," says Georg valiantly attempting to convey the impossibility of defining Sigur Rós's music, "because writers are very good at explaining, but musicians deal with music, so we can't explain, except through our music.
"So, you must listen to the music and then you will find out everything. Our album is like a little book and it should be listened to as a whole."
"People think we are very serious," says Jonsi, "and... you know (he mimes stroking his chin). It was really funny when we went to Denmark; there was a reporter who put his tape recorder on the table and asked us to make a long speech. He said,'Say something really important about music.' He expected us to be philosophers, but we just answered yes and no and he was disappointed, because he said he had had this major life experience when he was listening to the record. That's brilliant, of course, but it was the music."
"We are very serious about our music," Georg adds, "but my favourite actor, Vincent Price, said that to be a really good actor, you have to be able to see the humour inside yourself. He said that you have to be able to make fun of yourself to do something serious.
"Maybe as individuals we aren't that special, but our music is definitely special. Music has to sound real and it has to be sincere. It has to come from you, not from some idea you might have of what sounds cool. Its something you hear inside your head and you want to make the music sound like that because it describes your feelings."
Although Georg has made plans to move to London with his girlfriend and her two-year-old daughter next January, he agrees that Iceland's geography is crucial to Sigur Rós's identity.
"It definitely means something very special to me to be Icelandic," he says. "It's the fact that you are aware you're part of a nation of only 280,000 people and speak a language that only 280,000 people speak. It's very free, there is clean, pure water coming out of the ground everywhere and somehow you feel different, even if you are not doing anything very different. There are just so few people here that it's easy to feel special."
Kjarri, who has been silently flipping through a newspaper until now, finally looks up and joins the conversation. "If it's a question about space, it is my question," he laughs. "In Iceland there's plenty of open space and the sky is very big and you can drive only minutes out of Reykjavik and be surrounded by lava and black deserts - it is very creative. It's rough and violent, and I think the environment definitely influences us in an unconscious way."
"It is all unconscious," adds Jonsi softly, as he makes his excuses and gets ready to leave. "Everything that Sigur Rós does has to flow; it is like good karma - if you do honest things, then everything is as it should be."
Somehow, Sigur Rós have almost explained themselves.