Busy between soundchecking and the upcoming gig in Helsinki, Kjartan Sveinsson finds time for a brief call. These days, he’s really into pottery and renovating his summer house—one might say he lives a rather relaxed life. In fact, after a ten-year hiatus, Kjartan is currently vagabonding around the world and playing sold-out arenas with the band that brought him fame, Sigur Rós.
Back in the business
In February, Sigur Rós announced multi-instrumentalist Kjartan had returned to the band after stepping out in 2012 to focus on personal projects. I wonder if rejoining Sigur Rós was like getting back together with a long-lost partner. According to Kjartan, it was much simpler than that.
“Me and [lead singer] Jónsi decided to work on some music together,” he shares. “In a certain place in the process, we found that it would be best to make a Sigur Rós album out of what we were doing. That’s the reason I came back—we just started writing music.”
While Kjartan agrees that he does have a few personal projects lined up, he says, “There isn’t that much time to do anything else while you’re in this machine, which Sigur Rós is.” Kjartan doesn’t complain about the hectic schedule, though. “We are having fun. I don’t think we would be doing this if we weren’t.”
Being back in the band combines a sense of nostalgia and novelty. “Musically, playing these old songs was like we played them yesterday. So easy to go back,” Kjartan shares, adding that Sigur Rós is a more grown-up endeavour these days. “We are all older now and a bit more mature as well,” he says. “We talk about our feelings and stuff like that if we need to.”
Throughout the year, Sigur Rós dropped hints that a new album was in the making. Initially planned to be finished last spring, the release has been put off until at least early next year. “These tours take up so much energy,” shares Kjartan. “We were imagining we could maybe work on tour, but it doesn’t really work like that.”
What can we expect from the band’s first studio album in a decade? “Our last album ‘Kveikur’ was kind of a rock and roll album,” Kjartan says. “This one is very mellow and slow. We’ve got loads of string arrangements, we’re kind of playing with an orchestra. It’s not very percussive either. It’s kind of slow and moody in a way.”
If you’ve ever listened to a Sigur Rós song, admit that you have thought at least once: “How do they even make this music?” Kjartan guides us through the band’s creative process: “There’s never been anyone bringing in an idea,” he says. “It’s always a jam.” But when it comes to lyrics, things are a little bit more complex.
“Very often we use the method of just listening to the music and then trying to come up with something that either resembles what Jónsi is singing in Hopelandic [the name for his haunting, non-lyrical vocalisations] or trying to depict what the song is about emotionally,” Kjartan shares. “Ultimately, it’s always Jónsi who decides what he is going to sing. Which is fair enough—he has to express it. He always has the final word on lyrics and writes most of the lyrics.”
‘( )’ turns 20
In October, the band’s third studio album ‘( )’, often referred to as ‘Untitled’ or the ‘Bracket Album,’ turned 20. To celebrate the occasion, Sigur Rós announced the album’s reissue remastered by Ted Jenson, which includes some previously unreleased demos, recorded at Jacobs Studio in the UK.
“It was supposed to be the beginning of recording of the ‘Bracket Album,’ but we weren’t that happy with it,” Kjartan recounts. “I really liked those recordings. They’re a bit different from what is on the album.” The physical release of the remastered album is scheduled for November 25.
The band is currently in the middle of the European leg of the tour. “I wouldn’t want to do it for the next 20 years, but it’s nice to go on a tour,” Kjartan laughs. “It’s already grown up and smooth. We’re also used to it as well.” He recalls visiting a farm in New Zealand and going back to Japan and Thailand as his favourites this time. “I really love being in Europe now,” he admits. “It’s nice to be able to go out and find nice coffee, beautiful streets and places.”
Kjartan agrees that touring around the world is tiring. For him, finding ways to enjoy it and having routines is vital. “Try to wake up early, go somewhere. Have a healthy approach to the tour and the people you work with,” he says.
Sigur Rós certainly needs no introduction in Iceland, but is their audience here? I point out to Kjartan that I have encountered Icelandic peers referring to the band as “something our parents would listen to” or even “a musical export.” He laughs: “It’s quite funny actually. We haven’t released any music for such a long time and haven’t been doing anything to promote ourselves. I think it’s perfectly normal that the younger generation views us with a different attitude.”
On November 25, Sigur Rós will end their tour in Reykjavík. “It’s always good to end at home,” Kjartan says. “There’s kind of more pressure. Maybe we’re just imagining it, but we always feel like we need to do an extra good job in Iceland.”
What’s next for Sigur Rós after the world tour and the upcoming album? Kjartan says he and the boys—Jónsi, Goggi and new drummer Óbó—just go with the flow, focusing on one project at a time and making music they like. “We’re not really in it for the career,” he smiles.
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