since ágætis byrjun came out two years ago, the boys in sigur rós have been doing better than the most optimistic rockers have dreamed of. the album is still on the top 10 list in iceland and now one country after another is gradually succumbing to their genius. the band came home last week from a six week long tour, having played at eighteen concerts all around europe and six in north america. jónsi is still like he usually is; shy, doesn't say much and hasn't let all the noise go to his head.
"i haven't been able to sleep after i came home," he says, yawns and pours a cup of tea. "i fall asleep at midnight, wake up at around 3 and start cooking. at 8 o'clock i fall asleep again til 5. we decided to take some time off after the tour. it was tough, the longest we've done."
what stuff were you playing?
"both old and new material. we had anima, the string quartet, with us so we could do some songs from ágætis byrjun. and then steindór came and was with us at half of the concerts, which was totally brilliant. some concerts were awful but some were good. i broke a guitar at one concert. i was always breaking violin bows but the tour manager told me not to because they were so expensive. so i just broke a guitar instead. it wasn't a good guitar anyway."
and the morale is good?
"yeah just like it's always been. we never argue. but it's good to have lots of people with us on tour. when you're annoyed with someone for some reason you can just turn to the next person."
an icelandic band hasn't gotten so much attention since the sugarcubes "made it" last century. it seems that celebrities that want to look cool go to sigur rós concerts now. moby and david bowie for example attended their concert in new york. jónsi finds this really funny.
"scully from the x-files showed up at the concert in san francisco," he says and laughs. "she came backstage too and chatted with us. we took pictures of us with her."
where was mulder?
"i don't know. but ingvar e. sigurðsson [icelandic actor from e.g. englar alheimsins] came backstage in toronto. he looked exhausted to me, i guess it's tiring acting in a film. after the concert in san francisco we got a letter from lars ulrich (the drummer of metallica). he said "thank you, thank you, thank you! we're so inspired. we're in the middle of making some kind of a record.." - this letter sounded pretty sad. the other two in metallica were also at the concert. it was cool for me because i used to listen a lot to metallica when i was a kid."
hasn't the top been reached now that lars ulrich has sent you fan mail?
"yeah i think so. it's all downhill from here."
hasn't the british pop media started bashing you guys now?
"yeah especially nme and some other similar papers. one time we didn't feel like doing an interview with them and since then they've been negative. the british press is the worst i've encountered. they're really bad."
"the journalists there are so cocky and arrogant. i've never seen anything like it. bands are either brought up to the sky or torn down."
but you get a hallelujah choir from everyone else - descriptions like "the music is like god weeping golden tears in heaven" are common - don't you think this sometimes goes over the line?
"yeah we get a chill when we see things like that. especially when the record label puts quotes like that on our ads."
what about the things that the fans have written on the internet?
"it can be interesting. i think many things are very positive, for example when our music seems to have helped some people. it gives it all significance, as corny as it may sound. for example, someone lost their parents in a car accident and it had helped him recover from the grief to listen to us. another said he cancelled joining the army after he heard our music. it's fun hearing things like this but otherwise i think it's best to think as little about what influence we have on people."
what about the future? jónsi would like to get a new album out soon.
"although the songs from ágætis byrjun are new to the americans, they're two years old for icelanders and even olden for us," he says. "we therefore tend to get tired of the material, especially if we play it night after night like with this last tour. we are even getting a little tired of the "new" songs. we need to record them soon."
jónsi agrees with me that some of the stuff on ágætis byrjun is sweet, a little too sweet, even.
"we went over the line sometimes," he admits. "we loaded too much on some songs. the studio we built in mosfellsbær is set up so that we can record live in it. we made it like that because we want go about simpler ways to make the next album."
it's no secret that many young icelandic bands look at sigur rós as an idol. the band owns the record label krúnk and i ask jónsi if there is anything good enough for them to release.
"i have to admit i haven't heard many of these bands but it would be really cool to get sent demos. i think skurken [a local electronic act] is absolutely brilliant. i saw him in concert and it was the coolest electronic music i've heard in a long time."
what's the plan for you guys now, will icelanders get to see you in concert soon?
"yes, kiddi in hljómalind [local indie music store] is planning a gig in the beginning of june. our schedule is really hectic but we've reserved time to play at some concerts which the label wanted us to do. in june we're going to barcelona to play at the sonar festival and in july we're going to a jazz festival in montreal. in september we're going to japan, america and maybe australia. the japanese are great. the first time we wrote autographs was in japan last year. actually i think they all thought we were coldplay."
sigur rós and icelandic landscapes seems to be an unbreakable duo in articles about the band in foreign press. jónsi admits they hardly go to the country unless to get pictures taken of themselves. so is there any real connection between sigur rós and nature?
"yes, like we always say in these interviews, it's a subconscious thing, like with all icelanders. when you've travelled the world, you see more and more how much space we have. we've just come from new york, which is full of skyscrapers and endless straight roads. then you come back here and everything is so small. of course this has some effect on you."
sigur rós have never been on their knees and let "the forces of the market" fiddle with them. if songs by the band were in every other advertisment, the sheer magic of the music would quickly dissolve. jónsi said it was a "huge mistake" to have let a certain airline company [icelandair] use a part of their song [starálfur] in one of their ads, and he doesn't regret having declined the offer to perform on the david letterman show.
"we were supposed to play for 3 minutes and we just don't have songs that short. it would have been silly to show up and to play just an intro or something. maybe we should've sent out the string quartet and let them improvise something. but regarding the ads it's been difficult to decline some of them. we've been offered ridiculous amounts of money - there was some british bank that offered us 2 million for a 15 second clip but we said no. sometimes we regret it and think of all the equipment we could've bought for the studio. but still when it comes down to it, it's best to avoid all whoredom."
speaking of which, what were you doing eurovision night?
"i was at a barbecue with mom and dad, really nice. i've never watched this competition so carefully before and i thought it was absolutely brilliant."
sigur rós at eurovision 2003?
"yeah, definitely! sigur rós and páll óskar [icelandic pop icon] would be best. i think he was the best we've sent out."
(fókus, translated from icelandic by björn erlingur flóki björnsson)