Tim Dunk/Artist Courtesy
Icelandic band Sigur Roth’s first new album in a decade begins with a sound that fans of the band will instantly recognize—Jonsi’s voice—but that familiar sound is soon joined by something new.an album called Eighthis voice is surrounded by string sounds.
Eight Translated from Icelandic, Eight. This is the band’s eighth studio album. Their first work appeared 26 years ago. When I spoke with Jonsi last week, I learned that the band has been slowly reforming over the years. Three bandmates, vocalist and cello bow guitarist Jon Saul Birgisson (Yongsi), multi-instrumentalist Kartan Sveinsson (Kijari), and bassist Georg Holm (Godge), have worked together to create this wonderful album. first reunited in Yongsi’s basement and eventually produced the album. They headed to Abbey Road Studios where they teamed up with the London Contemporary Orchestra and conductor Robert Ames.
It’s amazing to think that three musicians who’ve been playing this music since their teens or early 20s have found their way back together again. Sigur Roth has released previous studio albums. lights up, in 2013, after which the members split to work on separate projects. (Sveinsson left the group in 2012.)
A new Sigur Roth album always thrills me. They make music that I admire, but not many artists make. These are sonic adventures, not love songs or song streams about someone’s feelings and observations. This music creates a world that I can all dive into and interpret in a way that feels personal and undirected. That’s what I think music does better than any other medium, and this three dear friends of her from Iceland have found a way to be expressive and welcoming.
So why is this group reunited after so many years?
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Listen to Bob Boylen and Sigur Roth’s Jonsi Conversation
Bob Boylen: So what inspired you all to get back together and start making music? [together] again?
Youngsi: It was kind of like an accident, I think.Caltan State [the] A keyboard player who hadn’t been in a band for ten years came to visit me in Los Angeles, liked it, and did some sort of recording jam session in my basement. We put a cello bow and effects on my guitar and he rented a Yamaha CP70 like electronic piano. [with] I started playing basically, with strings and a harp.
how did that feel?
good. Playing with old friends is kind of wonderful because it feels so natural. I just played and felt like nothing had changed after all these years and something came out and I started writing songs and melodies and that was the beginning of a new album, I think.
[Did] three of you [including bassist Georg “Goggi” Hólm] See you soon?
It was a little later. Cartan came here and we wrote some ideas, but he came back and hit again. Two years later he is back again. We have put out some ideas. Then came the goggles. He joined in and made it more like an album.
[The first song we heard from ÁTTA was just released this week.] Does it literally translate to “blood rock”?
Brosberg in Icelandic. It means “creeping time”. This is a small herb that grows in the highlands of Iceland and is quite pink in color and very fragrant. So it’s great to see this intensely pink, vibrant herb in stark contrast to the stark, colorless Icelandic nature.
The song is sung in Icelandic, can you tell us a little bit about what you’re singing about?
It feels like someone is dying, dying, or bowing. But for me, it’s also like coming back to Iceland on a perfect, beautiful summer day, where the sun is shining and you’re lying in the moss and just taking a deep breath.
I’m thinking of three old friends who have been playing music together since they were probably teenagers. What is different about what you can extract from each other when you get together and when you do it alone?
So we’ve been in a band for 28 years now? This is kind of crazy. But yeah, I think we have a wonderful ability not to communicate with each other, not to speak. We don’t make plans or talk about it much. I think it’s always great when something comes from somewhere above and you just grab it and it becomes a song.
So this sound on this record is clearly a lot of people. We have a 32-piece orchestra.
We went to Abbey Road in London and recorded with Rob Ames, conductor of the London Contemporary Orchestra. Kjarri was in charge of arranging strings etc. Yeah, he’s great at that. It’s always fun to go to Abbey Road to record. This is an iconic place. I went to Studio 2 where the Beatles did all their activities. So it’s fun for people from Iceland to go there. It’s like, “Oh, cool.”
So when you go to Abbey Road and do this, are you playing with the orchestra there, or are you bringing recordings from the basement?
Well, for this album we pre-recorded our parts and then brought them into the studio and they basically played it. But actually, maybe 10 or 15 years ago, we had a full orchestra of about 90 people in Studio 1, and we did a live recording there. It’s stressful. You can’t screw up. But yeah, this one had a lot of songs to finish.
I’m a photographer, but during the pandemic, I was particularly addicted to macro photography, that is, taking super close-up shots of flowers and insects. And lately I’ve been into taking pictures of birds.Such [last night] As I listened to the record, the TV displayed a screensaver of my photo. I listened to this and thought it was so beautiful and it fits so well.
And today I live in the Washington area [and] Fires are raging in northern Canada, creating an incredible, terrifying fog outside. And when I was looking out the window and listening to the record, it suddenly felt like it was apocalyptic. I love how this music takes on different forms depending on the listening situation. What do listeners expect to get out of it?
I mean, it’s so weird and funny that three guys from Iceland sing in Icelandic and people actually listen to it and come to our shows and go home like you’re doing. I think it’s nonsense to listen to it. And I think the most notable thing is that because people don’t understand the lyrics, they interpret the lyrics in their own way. Alternatively, everyone creates their own meanings and interpretations in their own minds. I think that’s amazing in a way. You’re not the kind of person that’s spoon-fed with specific lyrics or love lyrics or whatever.
I think that’s why I’ve loved your music for so long. I had no idea what you were saying on purpose. Sometimes I didn’t even say anything. What do you look for in music when you listen to it for your own enjoyment?
Well, nothing. That’s what I’m actually looking for.
What do you mean by nothing?
It may sound strange, but when you work with music every day, you’re recording this and that. I don’t like listening to music in the background. Once you start humming the melody, it’s kind of distracting. I love listening to old jazz, Billie Holiday, etc. Older recordings have a fireplace or something like that in the background. It’s more of an atmosphere than music. I think that due to the influence of the new coronavirus infection, I have started to hear environmental sounds such as forest sounds, birds, and waves. that’s just something good.
Of course, I also listen to some music. I listen to the morning news and sometimes I do. [sighs] I don’t know, radio. Well, not much music. My boyfriend listens to music and different pops, so I think I have to listen to that too. And some of it is good.
I know how you feel.
I actually do this forced listening on Spotify. In fact, I force myself to listen to new music to see, “OK, what’s in there, is there anything exciting?” I think that’s also a healthy thing.
And is there anything in particular that left an impression on you? Rhythmic or more ambient? What do you find appealing?
none. there is nothing there. No, I think it’s both. I love Juliana Berwick and Mary Lattimore. They’re two of my favorite hers just because they’re harnessing something magical.
And I think it’s the same for you. It’s a rare gift to be able to do that. You three have done for the three of you what you haven’t done for her in over a decade. Did it feel like goodbye?
I mean, it’s an interesting question. But i like it.
I say that because I had a final feel when the lap was over.
It’s interesting because when we were making this album, we had this, so I don’t know, maybe it’s just the world we’re living in now, but scrolling through social media and whatever, this doom and hell. Darkness is spreading. It has an apocalyptic vibe. The world will end, nature will perish, climate disasters will follow one after another. Yes, wildfires in Canada, lots of wildfires in Los Angeles, war in Ukraine, and everything else. We were doing it when the war started and all these disasters happened.And I remember, yeah, there’s definitely something… it’s not darkbut I don’t know, something heavy but full of hope [at the] simultaneous.
It’s a little bit of both, partly due to the mindset of the listener.
Also, I think when you’ve been in a band for a long time, you always ask yourself, “Is this the last album? Is this the last goodbye? Is this the last tour?” I think it’s