media » feature articles
the irish times

the world, it now seems loves sigur ros. but the world is in for a surprise: just when it looked likely that the icelandic band would capitalise on their sonic presence in cameron crowe's vanilla sky (which featured the not exactly cult movie star tom cruise), they have retreated once again into the filigree confines of their music.

"i wasn't too happy with our presence in the movie," states georg holm, the band's bass player, hours before sigur ros mesmerised dublin audiences some weeks back. "i didn't like the movie, either. i thought the track itself and how it was utilised worked really well, but the other songs on the soundtrack were a bit weird. i think it was cameron crowe doing his 10 favourite tracks and putting them into a film.

"that said, it raised our profile in america, i don't regret that, but there are two sides to the story. i wouldn't do it again, i don't think. we'd synchronise music to film, but it would have to be a movie i was particularly interested in."

if the band had the choice of a movie director to work with, says georg, it would be with someone such as wim wenders or jean-pierre jeunet. "european, not american," he stresses. "there are a lot of good film directors and most are not from america." oh, well, bang goes the pension plan. with a name derived from the younger sister of vocalist jonsi thor birgisson (loosely translated into english it means victory rose - "at first i thought it was really cheesy, but i'm quite used to it now -there's no way we can change it!"), sigur ros don't make it easy for themselves and their potential for crossover success.

if vanilla sky did anything for the band other than raise their profile in america (and it certainly helped that they won the us version of the mercury, the shortlist prize for artistic achievement in music, last year), it ensured that the four members grounded themselves in reykjavik, hiding their heads with their silly red pixie hats.

"our success has been pretty much word of mouth, which is really good; and we haven't been pushing big commercial promotions. sure, we've done it a bit, through interviews- but living in iceland, which is a really small country, has helped us keep our feet on the ground. i don't think we are in the pop star frame just yet."

and probably never will be, thankfully. yet it still doesn't help their case, particularly in the us, that their new album is bereft of all manner of helpful and communicative notation: effectively un-named, it is represented solely by a pair of brackets: ( ) . its eight tracks are untitled, the cd sleeve is mostly featureless, and all the usual album credits - producer, associates, thanks to god and hair stylist - are located on the band's website (

what lite fm djs are going to do about all this lack of detail is debateable, but it does lead one to believe that the pixie-hat-wearing four from iceland are ever so slightly bonkers. true?

"i haven't noticed that yet," replies georg, pondering the topic seriously and not at all taken aback by the inference- the music industry in iceland is very young, he explains, so when a band is formed the members aren't necessarily trying to slot into any given pigeonhole. "there's no easy way in iceland. from the beginning you have to work really hard -get your records out and spend your money doing that; it helps us a lot, being more independent."

the "slightly bonkers" angle is, says georg with a mischievous grin on his face, explainable with bjork. "she's a very floaty person, but she knows what she wants. she just needs the right people to work with her and understand her. it's a bit like that with us, as well. we don't care about certain things that other people do and we're not afraid of doing something completely new. we often come up with ideas that our record company and our management think are crazy [untitled album and album tracks, by any chance?], and maybe then people think we're a bit mad, but in the end it all turns out really well."

he's right, of course (just think how better off we'd all be if we didn't know the title of any track from westlife's greatest hits album), but the band's wilfully oblique strategics are often prone to misinterpretation. what isn't misunderstood is the music. while they labour under the so-called identifying labels of "post-rock" and "art-rock", sigur ros have actually made some of the most simplistic, most gorgeous music of the past five years. through assiduous and fastidious mucking about in the studio - where they build layer upon layer of strings, ambient natural sounds, electronics, horns, flutes, bowed guitars, tones, feedback, piano, regular guitars and birgisson's keening, swooping voice singing in a mixture of icelandic and his own made-up "hopelandish" -sigur ros make music that is as much majestic as it is elegiac.

they have been accused of being one of the most pretentious bands of recent times, and there would be currency in this if it weren't for the fact that what they do comes so completely naturally.

"our music is a lot like that," maintains georg. "we get together and someone starts playing. then we slowly get into it and we have a song. nothing is really thought of beforehand; it's not at all contrived. melodically, some of the music is lullaby-like, and there are similarities with traditional irish lullabies but once again it isn't intentional." i point out co georg that whenever i play the music of sigur ros it conjures up a dreamlike state that's so strong it's difficult to break its spell. "people get lost in it, it takes over - that is true," he avers. "it's all to do with the reverb! when i'm on stage, sometimes i concentrate too much on what i'm doing, but if i can do that and also lose myself in the music then that's the best feeling.

"your mind has to be open when you're making music. your ears have to be open, too, to take in sounds that are diverting - even the squeaks of the buses driving by. everything is interesting. i listen to contemporary classical music; electronic music, i put on iron maiden in the morning and leonard cohen in the evening. i listen to everything in-between. people such as britney and j-lo? modern pop music is interesting to listen to, but i couldn't handle it all the time.

"you're just playing and not thinking," he drifts off, as if he's listening to sigur ros in his head, "yet you do everything perfectly. you're flying. that happens sometimes; you become wrapped up totally in your own world. i used to be a kindergarten teacher for a few years and i would occasionally play some of our music to the children. they think it's dreamy music, too. 'an adventure'. that's what they described it as. i agree."

(the irish times)



« feature articles