As the photographer drove me out of Reykjavík, complaining about Mosfellsbær as a suburb that takes too long on the bus, I could help noticing that, boring as the town may be, most people in the world would be impressed with its beauty – set under mountains and against a bay. Sundlaug, Sigur Rós’ studio, is a striking building: an old concrete swimming pool, yes, but an old concrete swimming pool with a river running underneath it, a duck pond on one side, and a terraced hill that has been used as a natural amphitheatre on another.
Everybody can play anything
When we finally opened the door to the studio, after standing outside and just listening for a full song, the band was slightly thrown off. Yes, we were expected. Jónsi, singer and multi-instrumentalist (everybody in the band can play anything), gave us an embarrassed tour of the studio. The band went to put on their shoes and head out to a bakery. In an ideal world, we would have interviewed at the bakery. There were no seats, and nobody was really interested in clearing out. Nobody was interested in the critically acclaimed band at all. The only thing that drew attention was me ordering in English.
So we returned to the studio and ducked into a modest nook. I sat on a stool, took out my notebook and everything got boring.
Then, when they were done with the interview, everyone in the band started smiling and stretching. Their work was done. I stayed on and got out of the way, and the band ran down to the bottom of the old pool and started playing vibraphone and organ.
There were almost no effects. And Jónsi sang without a mic. His voice was still haunting. It still carried perfectly. Jónsi played the groundwork, or the centering chords, on organ, and on top of that the other band members weaved melodic hooks. The closest comparison might be some of the instrumentation in Belle and Sebastion’s new album – it was crystal clear, complex, and hypermelodic. As the song continued, the band, laughing and smiling, ran to different instruments. By the end of song one, there was a solid drum beat and driving bassline, and the song genuinely felt complete.
Powerhouse English tea time dream rock
During the second song, I made the depressing realization that everybody in Sigur Rós can play the vibraphone well. Again, everybody was running around from instrument to instrument, building this time to a denouement in which a toy piano kicked out its slight notes over music that I can only describe as powerhouse English tea time dream rock.
The band was happy. I was happy. The photographer was happy. I said, “That was great. Really great.”
Watching them perform their new songs was a highpoint in my life as a music fan, seriously, and the band is made up of very nice people, but interviewing them sucked. Trust me. Fifteen seconds into the interview, Jónsi and Ragnar walked out of the room. Fifteen minutes later, Orri and Goggi and I decided to just give up.
And that’s part of the point of Sigur Rós, by the way. For a band that produced an untitled album with Hopelandic lyrics and ten-minute songs, a pat interview might be unsettling. Here’s an excerpt of what I got out of the interview:
Bart: Can you describe the music on the new album?
Goggi: It’s changed.
Bart: And how has it changed?
Goggi: Our music evolves naturally.
Bart: Well, were you influenced by any music for this album? Any CDs make a big impression?
Goggi: Hip hop.
Goggi: No…Nothing we know is influencing our music.
Orri, who up to this point has been extremely quiet: We’re never on the same page.
Okay, it goes on like that. Which is not to say they were mean-spirited. They were just quiet.
Björn Erlingur Flóki Björnsson runs Sigur Rós’ official website, www.sigur-ros.co.uk. He laughed uncontrollably when I told him I’d had a bad interview.
“Everybody does. Who’d you get?”
I told him Goggi and Orri, the bassist and drummer.
“That’s the worst pair. They’re so unbelievably quiet.”
So what the hell, I said. These are nice guys, they make great music, why intentionally give me a bad interview?
It was nothing personal: “I got a bad interview, too. I got those two… Sigur Rós will do anything to avoid business. To them interviews are business.”
“Everybody knows they’re not big on interviews,” he went on to say. “The worst thing is the way foreign magazines go on and on about how quiet the guys are. They overhype the reserved qualities. They love making Icelandic things more unique than they are. ‘Oh they’re so Icelandic!’”
No, their lack of interest in interviews is not typically Icelandic.
Look, Sigur Rós just isn’t a band you interview. Let’s leave it at that. If you want a good interview with Sigur Rós, well, ask yourself why.
Sigur Ros’ new album should be completed early next year. When it comes out, hopefully people will relax and enjoy it instead of interrupting with questions… or even compliments.