photos by yoshika horita(interview translated from icelandic)
you recently attended the premiere of vanilla sky in hollywood. what was that like?orri: it was pretty cool, just like going to the cinema except there were lots of celebrities.
what did you think of the film?georg: it's pretty good. i need to see it again though, i don't remember it all that well.
were you happy with how the music was used in the film?georg: yeah it was all right, i guess. although i didn't think svefn-g-englar was used very well, i don't know what it was doing in there. it was kind of weird. njósnavélin came out well in the final scene though.
around the same time the film was premiered you performed njósnavélin on the american talk show 'craig kilborn' and many were disappointed that the song was cut short, from 8 minutes down to 5 minutes. how did that come about?georg: we were disappointed too, we didn't know they were going to cut it like that. otherwise we might have faded the song out better.
so you're not too interested in performing on an american talk show again?georg: no, its not exactly our biggest wish. we probably wouldn't mind playing on a british programme like jools holland.
what do you like most about being in a band?georg: i don't know..
orri: we always like to do something new. just to create something. it can be really fun to do concerts but sometimes not so fun.
georg: i suppose the best thing about being in a band is to be in a band.
has the situation ever come up that you've wanted to just forget about making music and do something else completely?georg: nope.
if you weren't musicians, what do you think you'd be doing today?orri: we'd probably still be in school, studying something..
what's the biggest difference between sigur rós today and sigur rós 5 years ago?georg: i guess we practice less now and write less songs. we do a lot more of regurgutating the same material these days.
when do you write new material?orri: lately we've had to write a lot of the new material during the tours.
georg: we don't get many oppurtunities to write new material besides during soundchecks and stuff. we don't have as much time to write new stuff nowadays as we used to. it's rather difficult.
how was the last tour?orri: it was really tough, it mostly consisted of sitting in the bus while we drove all over america. it was fun to get to see so much but i would've prefered to travel under different conditions.
georg: yeah it was tough because we had to do so many concerts in such a short amount of time. we did 12 concerts in america in two weeks and the distance between some of the cities was huge. we once had to drive 1400 miles in one and half days, from philadelphia to vancouver, which is ridiculous. i think the most memorable thing from that tour was how boring it was. (laughs)
orri: nothing happened. except we bought wigs in toronto, that was fun. (laughs) that was a pretty good concert too.
georg: yeah, canada is a cool country to play in.
how did you like playing in the united states compared to other countries? what's the atmosphere there like?orri: all right, i guess.
georg: it depends on the cities though. it's such a big country.
you've played in countless countries all over the world the last couple of years. what concerts were you most happy with from the last two tours?orri: i really liked ireland, when we played in belfast and dublin. japan too. that's an unusual country.
georg: i think dublin is the most brilliant place we've played at.
orri: yeah, definitely. the atmosphere there is so great.
georg: all of our concerts there have been good.
orri: cologne and san francisco too, those were pretty good.
lots of people have been emailing us asking when you're going to play in their country, especially australia.orri: there's nothing planned at the moment. we'd like to though.
georg: i don't know when that'll happen. when we get a chance to, i guess.
why didn't you bring the string quartet with you on the last tour?orri: the girls couldn't make it.
georg: it's good for just the four of us to play as a band anyway.
why did you decide to write music to hrafnagaldur óðins [odin's raven magic, an 800 year old icelandic poem]?orri: it's just a cool idea. it was hilmar's [örn hilmarsson] idea.
what will the piece be like?georg: we're going to have a string band and choir in it, we probably won't be playing along like a band. more of a general participation in the piece. we don't really know yet though, we haven't completely finished it, it's evolving gradually.
isn't it difficult writing this piece and recording the album at the same time?georg: yes, practically impossible.
are you working on any other non-sigur rós collaborations, besides hrafnagaldur óðins?georg: we just finished writing the music to a documentary about hlemmur [the main bus station in reykjavík]. that was fun, it's a good and englightening film. i think it's going to be premiered in the berlin film festival.
what do you think of "post rock" bands like godspeed you black emperor and mogwai?georg: i think they're all right.
orri: i'm not really a huge fan. it's fun to go to their concerts though, powerful stuff.
georg: i think those kinds of bands are a bit uneven, a lot of their stuff is really cool but other stuff not so cool. sometimes i think they're kind of...
pretentious?georg: yeah. sometimes they seem to try too hard. but some of it is cool. i can't say i have very many albums by them though.
would you say your music falls under the catergory of "post rock"? some people want to call your music "space rock", what do you think about that?georg: (laughs) people can put forth any explanations of the music they want to. we don't have any. i don't really care what category people want to put us in, it's really pointless. i can't say i think our music is similar to godspeed you black emperor or mogwai but i guess i understand why people want to say that.
your video to 'viðrar vel til loftárása' has grasped much attention, and has now been nominated for best video at the icelandic music awards..georg: really?
yeah, i've just heard. where did the idea for the video come from?georg: it's a really old idea. if i remember correctly, it was ágúst's [the former drummer] idea.
was it your intention to surprise people with the climax to the video?georg: no, not at all. it's just an idea that sounded well so we did it.
orri: it was an interesting coincidence that the guys who directed the video [stefán and siggi of gusgus] once came up to jónsi with almost the exact same idea for a video, except the footballers were adults.
georg: it was supposed to be england - germany but the idea was the same. so it seemed like a perfect oppurtunity to just go for it. we kind of did it in our own version but the guys modified it and added lots of stuff. they're really talented guys.
okay, now let's talk about the new album. we've got loads of questions.georg: okay, shoot.
how's the recording going?georg: slowly.
orri: it's taken a long time to just begin, to get in the right gear.
you had planned to start recording a long time ago, hadn't you?georg: yes. we've had to delay it so many times because of tours and things like that. but we've finally begun working on it. it's just too bad we've played these songs so many times, it can be difficult listening to them sometimes.
do you think that since you've grown tired of the songs that it'll affect the way you record them?orri: that's definitely a possibilty.
georg: we've changed them quite a bit already, we've added strings to some of the songs for example. we'll probably record those with strings. all the songs could change a lot in the end, that's just how the work process takes place. i remember at least one song that's changed drastically since we first wrote it.
do you mean 'fyrsta'?georg: no. we've never actually finished writing that song, even though we've been playing it for over a year now. it began as just the foundation of an idea, which as now evolved and changed quite a bit but it's always been a "work in progress".
you've added strings to the song and changed the vocals, what do you think will be the final form?georg: we don't really know yet, it's a work process that hasn't been completed yet. 'fyrsta' is kind of a hit-or-miss song, it's very easy to get it wrong. if we do it right it's great but most of the time we get it wrong, it becomes boring and too long and doesn't get in the right mood. but as i say, we're still working on that song. it's probably close to being finished, the strings will most likely be there but i think the vocals will change quite a bit again.
what's the story behind the working titles of the new songs, for example njósnavélin [the spy machine], fyrsta [first], samskipti [communication], etc?georg: those are just the working titles of the songs, no one was supposed to hear those except us.
people sometimes steal the setlists off the stage and scan it in and send it to us. that's how we found out. we've got spies all around the world, you know.georg: (laughs) i think the titles of the new songs should surprise people. these working titles are created when we've just written a song which we want to continue practicing later, so we just find something quickly to call it. for example, we named one song 'vaka' after orri's daughter because he had to go pick her up when we were writing the song so we just called the song 'vaka'. just something to remember the song by.
orri: 'samskipti' used to be 'samskeyti' [attachment] until someone accidentally misspelled it on a setlist. it was supposed to be called 'samskeyti' because it came directly after 'fyrsta'.
georg: but we'll never tell you the story behind 'njósnavélin'. that's a big secret. [they both laugh knowingly]
you've written many hours of new material since you released ágūtis byrjun, how do you decide which songs you're going to put on the new album?georg: i think all the songs we want to put on the new album fit perfectly together.
orri: yeah, it's strange.
georg: when we started writing down all the songs that would be on the album and roughly calculated the time it was exactly 74 minutes.
so you've decided which songs you're going to have on the album?georg: yes.
can you name them?georg: (laughs) you'll just have to wait and see. i can at least promise you that the pop song will be on there.
that'll be the last song on the album, right?orri: well, not necessarily.
georg: it might as well be the first song on the album. although that would maybe be an unusual beginning of an album. but sure, this is something we need to start thinking about soon, the track order.
the media has been paying much attention to you lately, especially in the united states, and ágūtis byrjun has appeared on countless top 10 lists. does this affect the making of the new album? are you more self-conscious now?georg: not at all. we don't care about the media's expectations, we're just going to do this album like we want it to be. we know it's going to be a good album. aren't follow-up albums always criticised anyway?
what's do you think is going to be the biggest difference between ágūtis byrjun and the next album?georg: well, the album is always changing. i think the only thing we can say at this point is that the new album is going to be more mature.
will ken thomas be producing again?georg: yes, although he's more an engineer than a producer. he's a genius on the mixer.
so you're more involved in the computer process than him?orri: yes, he's not that clever on the computer.
will there be a lot of computer editing on the album?orri: no.
georg: at least not the type you're going to hear. there was relatively little computer editing on ágūtis byrjun too, anyway.
really? i thought i heard lots of work on the album.georg: yeah, there was a lot of work involved in making ágūtis byrjun but that was more just detail work to make the sound better. i think there was only one syntheseiser generated sound on the whole album, the ping in svefn-g-englar.
has it been decided in what language jónsi will sing on the new album?georg: i think he'll end up just singing in hopelandic, that is without lyrics.
is it a priority to think about the vocals, what language it'll be in, etc?orri: no, i think that's the last priority, actually.
georg: what's most important for us is to finish the foundation of the songs and work on that before we start thinking about the vocals.
do you have a title for the album yet?georg: no.
okay, last question about the album. have you any idea when it'll be released?orri: we're going to try to finish it in may. we don't know when the record companies would release it after that.
georg: the goal is to finish it completely in may but that might not stick. for some reason our goals always get delayed two years or something. who knows, the new album might not come out until 2006. it might come out late next summer, though.
can we expect some concerts soon?orri: no, there's nothing planned at the moment.
georg: except the hrafnagaldur óðins concert in april, which of course isn't a sigur rós concert.
orri: we're playing at a restaurant next to our studio twice in february but those aren't really concerts either, we're just going to play the songs with steindór andersen and eat good food and get drunk.
so you wouldn't recommend foreigners coming to iceland just to see this concert?georg: no, not at all. not unless they want to come just for the sour icelandic food.
how do you like recording in your new studio in mosfellsbūr?orri: it's great.
georg: a dream come true.
do you sleep in mosfellsbūr when you're working?orri: no, we just drive to and from reykjavík every time. it's good to get away from reykjavík and have some peace and quiet sometimes.
georg: it's not especially comfortable being in the studio all the time, waking up in the mornings and going to work and then going to sleep in the studio at night.
orri: it's been done though.
the mood on your albums and your concerts differ quite a bit, have you thought about releasing a live album?orri: no we've never really thought about that.
georg: the plan is of course first and foremost to finish off the new album. you never know though, we might do that later.
you announced a while ago that there was a sigur rós dvd in the making, what happened to that idea?georg: we decided to shelf that idea for a bit. there were some problems that came up. dvd isn't such a strong medium anyway, i don't think too many would be interested in it.
what kind of material will you put on this dvd?georg: both our videos ['svefn-g-englar' and 'viðrar vel til loftárása'] and maybe some making of stuff too. maybe some concerts too, the trouble is finding a good recording.
the recording from the montreux jazz festival was fantastic, have you seen that?orri: no but i remember how incredibly annoying the cameramen were.
is it true that you're going to change sigur-ros.com?georg: yes, we're going to get two brits to help us change it completely. there isn't much flow of information on our website at the moment because there isn't really anyone working on it. valli [webmaster of sigur-ros.com] has another full-time job and doesn't really have time to do updates. we're going to have a link to your website [sigur-ros.co.uk] for people who want information, although we might have basic information on the new site. i can't say exactly how the site will be but i can tell you it's going to be minimal and graphic, the kind of site that's fun to browse.
what are your favourite colours?georg: i'm a boy so my favorite colour is blue. i also really like indigo, that's a fun colour.
orri: i'd say my favourite colour is green.
are sigur rós religious?orri: no, i don't think so.
georg: at least not me.
orri: no, we're not very religious.
many people think your music is spiritual and associate it with god or something divine.georg: music can be spiritual in so many other ways than religious. it's difficult to find words for that kind of thing.
orri: it's the kind of thing you talk about when you're drunk.
what's in your cd player these days?orri: i bought two icelandic records the other day, sigríður níelsdóttir and some guy who calls himself exos, techno stuff. it's pretty cool.
georg: i don't listen much to music these days. i was exploring the basement in the studio the other day and found some of my old records. i listened to this stina nordenstam record in which she only did covers, that's a fun record. i think that was the last record i listened to.
how do you like the new björk album?georg: i haven't listened to it much. what i heard from it was fantastic. i haven't really studied it yet.
how do you like the new radiohead stuff, kid a and amnesiac?orri: i thought kid a was a great album.
georg: i like their new stuff. i used to listen to kid a and amnesiac a lot but somehow i just stopped listening to them. maybe they don't last very well, despite being great records.
are you good cooks? do you have any favourite dishes?orri: yeah, i always cook at home.
georg: i'm not a good cook at all, unfortunately. i just make people cook for me instead. i have lots of favourite dishes, all different depending on the circumstances. when you're hungover, for example, chili con carne is the best.
do you read a lot? do you have any favourite authors?georg: yes. i go through these phases where i read a lot, i'm reading a lot now for example. i think my favourite author has always been paul auster. i especially like mr vertigo. i've also been reading those little fact books like "the book of totally useless information" and "strange but true". it's always fun to learn pointless trivia.
you recorded a demo about two years ago, didn't you?orri: yes, we recorded three songs, just to try recording them.
georg: we wanted to try recording in a studio in england, and reflect on the songs a little bit. we were going to start recording the album a long time ago anyway, that was kind of meant to be the beginning of the album. it wasn't meant to be something to release though, it was just for us. the outcome wasn't all that fantastic though.
orri: some of it was cool.
georg: it was all right.
very few know about the "hidden" bits on ágūtis byrjun, for example if avalon is sped up 400% you get starálfur, if the intro is reversed you get ágūtis byrjun, starálfur comes out the same when reversed, etc..georg: those aren't really secrets, it's just the way it was meant to be. there isn't really a purpose telling people about it. it's the kind of artistic freedom you have, we just did it like we wanted to.
okay, i think the interview is over now. is there anything you want to add?orri: that was a really fun interview.
yeah possibly the best interview ever, wouldn't you say?orri: actually, yeah.