Icelandic daydreamers Of Monsters and Men are the folk story-tellers of our time.
The band is jumping quickly on the top of the charts worldwide, after selling more copies than Bjork ‘s debut album with their first album, “My head is an animal”.
Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and her bandmates (co-singer/guitarist Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson, guitarist Brynjar Leifsson, drummer Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson, piano/accordion player Árni Guðjónsson, and bassist Kristján Páll Kristjánsson) are well on their way to becoming citizens of the world.
The six pack only got together in 2010 and their album, released in Iceland in 2011, hit #1 there soon after, to then drop worldwide in early 2012 after they got signed to Universal.
Coming from small towns from the outskirts of Reykjavik, they are now touring America, where they are absolutely killing it, they have performed at Lollapalooza and Coachella, and their single ‘Little Talks’ has been used for the Apple iPhone 5’s commercial on it’s release last year.
Here’s a little chat we had we them while they were getting ready to perform in Las Vegas:
Your debut album was a real “boarder breaker” – as recently certified also by winning the EBBA Awards amongst the record selling worldwide -, why you think that your stories, being written in a remote land such as Iceland, could reach so many different people having different cultures and living so far away from your country?
We’ve been asked that question many times and yet we can’t give a really straight answer to it. Raggi and Nanna write all the lyrics and they are surely influenced by Icelandic myths but the songs really are just out of their heads.
We heard you guys just played at Coachella, how was being there and which bands did you go and see yourself?
It was very nice! We saw Grizzly Bears, Tame Impala, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Vampire Weekend, it was a very fun time!
You spent most of the time touring with “My head is an animal” and this will definitely affect your further production: how do you feel about the next record? Do you think you will wait until this new worldwide tour will end or are you going to start producing something?
We’re always trying to do something, we have some ideas but nothing near to a song yet, it’s just ideas. We are waiting to go home now and do our thing, on tour we really don’t have much time to be creative.
Are you scared that after such a successful debut album you might not have time or inspiration to relax, free your mind and compose new songs leading to a new project coming from the request of the people or the label instead of your real feeling of making a new album?
We think we are going to ignore all that and just follow our gut for the new record. We’ve been on tour now for 2 months and we miss Iceland a lot, it’s such a quiet relaxing place, the best place on earth we say!
How does it feel for you guys, coming from a land with 300 thousands people, to play every night in different places with so many different people coming to your shows? Is there the chance to build new relationships, friendships in your tour or is it just playing? Do you still have fun after having played so much without a break?
Sometimes we have a very short amount of time in each place. We get in, set up, play and get out basically, so those times you don’t really get to explore and make friends.
We came to your icelandic shows, both at Iceland Airwaves and at Faktory: how do you feel coming back home? What do you miss the most of your country while traveling?
We miss our families of course and even just being there and simple things like going down to the grocery store. It’s easy living. When you’re on tour everything is so crazy and there are so many people, everything is so hectic.
Did you think that your popularity would grow this fast when you started playing?
Not really. We didn’t think anything at all when we started the band, we were just some friends with ideas and songs.
Kristján: I have always been a musician, I’ve always been in bands, started playing the guitar many years ago, before starting playing the bass. Me and Arnar had also played in bands together.
We were people who just liked to play instruments and wanted to do something. We had few songs and thought they had potential so we decided to make something out of it and put them on a record. We had no money so we made a really cheap album, we had normal jobs at that time.
Kristján: When we got the record deal it all changed, we quit our regular jobs, I was a plumber working for my father, and I said to myself “I just have to do this”, so I quit my job, but that was easy cause he supports me. But some of the other guys where deep in school, Raggi was very close to graduating in fine arts…
The icelandic music scene is continuously growing, what is the secret to succeed and to stand out from the increasing number of bands nowadays? Do you think your success is something that could have happened to any other band in Reykjavik or is there any key element that made it all different in your case?
To be frank, we’ve been around the world and seen a lot of other music already and we’ve been playing at festivals and seen lots of bands, some whom we’d never heard of before…and we always think “there’s so much good music in Iceland”, it could so easily be anywhere, we could have been anywhere. We were just doing the right thing at the right time, what we had was just a good mixture, we were all pretty different musically when we came together, with different directions. It’s a good mixture of people who bring lots of elements to the music and that might have helped.
Kristján: I come from heavier rock background, Arnar mas more in like indie rock, and Raggi was folk and acustic, Nanna as well but a little different and Brynjar was in a in whole other sound, experimental.
After we got our record deal and people started showing us some attention, some attention began to focus on Iceland as well and we saw a lot of bands and other musicians in Iceland getting the chance, it’s good and we hope there are going to be more.
We founded our magazine in Reykjavik, you’ve founded your band: what do you think about your hometown, what is your favorite place in town, where would you like to live if it wasn’t for Reykjavik?
Kristján: Easy, I always miss this little pizza place that makes the best pizza in Iceland, Italian pizza is good but I really think Icelandic pizza from my hometown is the best! I feel very sorry that that venue is being torn down, NASA, it was probably my favorite venue in Reykjavik it’s a very old building and with so much history, my father was in bands and played in the same venue in the 60’s, and then we did, and it’s so bad it’s going to be gone. We don’t need any more hotels!
What does it mean to you, how can it make your relationships in the band be so solid to live 24/7 together, growing together livin’ a dream like this? Are you all guys focused on the success of the band or, as some rumors said, someone is thinking about settling and building a family?
It’s good that we are similar but still different, we are a good mixture of people and we try not to annoy each other, we are like a family by now, like brothers and sisters. You can get mad at your family but still love them at the end of the day. With that mindset up it all works. We are all pretty focused on going on, no plans about settling down for now, we want to make millions of albums.
What’s the meaning of “Little talks” and who wrote it?
It’s about want you want it to be about. Nanna and Raggi wrote it but the meaning will remain a secret, it is what you feel it’s about and that’s all that matters.