Georg Holm of Sigur Rós: Music, then lyrics
When Sigur Rós first formed in Iceland nearly 20 years ago, the band wasn’t even a sensation in its own hometown. Georg Holm admits that the group only sold about 300 copies of its debut. But as word got out about the band (a 1999 tour with Radiohead certainly helped), its fan base started to grow and now the group is known throughout the world. Its atmospheric music draws from classical and folk sources to create something truly unique. The new album Kveikur puts an emphasis on percussion and is a bit noisier than previous efforts, something that should translate well live. Its current tour started a year ago and the band is now entering the final stretch. Holm called us from his Iceland home just as he was about to embark on the final leg of the tour for which the trio will expand into an 11-piece ensemble.
Talk about how the band has evolved in the nearly 20 years the group has been together.
It’s been 20 years, but it’s gone by rather quickly. It doesn’t feel like 20 years. We constantly joke around about it and about being old men. I think in many ways we haven’t changed that much. We’re still doing the music for the same reasons as when we started the band. I think we’re in the same headspace as when we started the band.
But how has the music changed?
I guess it has. I think we always try to change as much as we can. We don’t try to repeat ourselves. We do try to evolve and make it different. Maybe the biggest change is that we’re getting better at it and getting better at getting straight to the point as how we want the song to be. It has evolved in that way.
The music written first, right?
I think it always has been that. I think we’re lazy when it comes to the lyrics and it’s the part we dread. We do feel like they should be important and they should be good. The music is more important. It comes more naturally to us to write music rather than the lyrics. We’re close to being finished with an album when we start doing the lyrics. That’s the last thing.
I think maybe you’re more interested in the sound of the voice than the words.
Yes, in some ways I think that is true.
What made you want to use the bowed guitar in the first place?
That came early on. It was like an accident that it happened. It just sounded good. If you think two albums back to Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, we left it off that record completely. I don’t think it was a conscious decision. It just happened. The instrument sounds great. It’s a great thing to have. Sometimes, we’re writing a song but it seems to be missing something. Then, we go, ‘Oh yeah. Let’s put a bowed guitar on it.’ And that seals it.
Your music started to really catch on in the late ’90s. Why do you think it connected so strongly?
I guess when we released our records outside of Iceland, I guess it just sounded different. That was our lucky break. It sounded different from what everyone else was doing. That’s the main reason. I don’t know what it is. I love playing the music and I love writing it but I never fully understood why.
Were you popular from the beginning in Iceland?
At the time when we started, we didn’t play live much. We just worked in our rehearsal space. But in 1996 or ‘97, we started playing more live shows just with friends. I guess there was a scene going on in Reykjavík. People know the band’s name. I can’t really say if we were popular but people knew of us. When we released our first record, I believe we sold 300 copies. When our second record came out, that’s when we started selling.
You’ve been touring for a year now. Talk a bit about the current show and what material you’ve been playing. What are the visuals like?
When we started a year ago, it didn’t look anything like what we have at the moment. We had a rough start to the tour. Nothing looked like what we wanted to look like. It’s been slowly evolving into something we’re really proud of. It’s at its peak. It’s really great. When we’re coming over now, we want to try to add as much of the new material as we can. We’ll play more from Kveikur than we’ve been playing up until now.
The new album’s opening track, “Brenninstein,” sounds like some kind of death march with its heavy percussion and crackling noise. What inspired that tune?
It’s funny about that song. Before we released it, we were debating the track order and it felt natural that the album should start off on that note. That’s the first song we wrote so it was fitting. That noise you hear in the beginning and that growling bass was the first note as well. That was the beginning of the track and it was accidental, which a lot of our music is. It starts off with one note like that and we just start playing that one note and add drumming on top it. That was it. It was kind of simple but I really love that song.
Upcoming 2013 Tour Dates
Rochester Hills, MI @ Laneway Festival
Cleveland, OH@ Jacobs Pavilion
Cincinnati, OH @ PNC Pavilion at Riverbend Music
Indianapolis, IN @ Farm Bureau Insurance Lawn at White
Pittsburgh, PA @ Stage AE
Philadelphia, PA @ Mann Center for Performing Arts
Raleigh, NC @ Red Hat Amphitheater
Charlottesville, VA @ John Paul Jones Arena
Norfolk, VA @ Old Dominion Constant Center
North Charleston, SC @ North Charleston Coliseum
Whites Creek, TN @ The Woods at Fontanel
Asheville, NC @ ExploreAsheville.com Arena
Chicago, IL @ Chicago Auditorium Theatre
St. Louis, MO @ Fabulous Fox Theater
New Orleans, LA @ Champions Square
Birmingham, AL @ Magic City Theatre
Atlanta, GA @ Chastain Park Amphitheatre
Tampa, FL @ USF Sun Dome
Orlando, FL @ UCF Arena
Miami, FL @ Bayfront Park Amphitheatre