Quiet in the Swell

Interview by Charlene Chan
Photographs courtesy of Sigur Rós and Nick Woodward-Shaw

Some kinds of music are like a jolt of caffeine for your mind. Some are mellower, more comforting, like the feel of a well-worn T-shirt. The music of Sigur Rós, however, is at once neither but also both of the above. Its ebb and flow, rise and fall conjure up mental landscapes that few other musicians can hope to emulate. And it is with this particular quality that the band has managed to summon a level of support and almost-frenzy that has been unrelenting since they got together in 1994.

Many have attempted to decipher just what it is that makes the band’s music have the effect it has on listeners. But between the broad, sweeping chords and strains of Hopelandic—a made up language they created to perform in—it’s no simple task. Perhaps their endless pursuit of new projects and collaborations have warmed them to a wide-reaching audience. Or maybe it’s the mysterious pull of a band that never says much about themselves, or are even photographed very often, that has gotten us hooked.

sigur ros

You recently wrapped up your 2016 tour—what do you miss the most about being on the road and what do you enjoy most about being back home?

We love being at home. I love the Icelandic countryside, and the outdoors and all the fishing and walking, and just being in nature. The Icelandic highlands are the biggest wilderness in Europe, and you don’t have to go far out of Reykjavik to be in the middle of nowhere. Of course we also love being on the road, there’s no feeling like the one you get at the end of a great show.

Route One was a really beautiful 24-hour live TV project you released on YouTube last year. How did that come about?

We were fascinated by the Norwegian idea of ‘slow TV’ and figured there had to be something there for us, given that our songs often also take an age to unfold. We thought about it for a couple of years, but couldn’t work out how you’d soundtrack such a thing, or even if there was a point in soundtracking such a journey. Then we hit upon the idea of marrying an endlessly changing landscape with endlessly changing music, and we’d heard about this new generative music innovation. So we put the two things together and a good idea was born.

Georg and Orri, you also collaborated with the Tate Modern on States of Matter—a personal favourite of mine. Is it a deliberate choice to take on projects that involve visual/cinematic elements, and are not purely about music?

Yes, it’s always stimulating to approach things with a different structure. When you sit down to write music you are presented with a blank page, and there is the risk of falling into habits. This is not the case with putting music to some sort of picture, since there is a pre-existing structure which has to be obeyed and will inevitably take you into areas you would never have considered going otherwise. That’s interesting.

Read more in The U Press N˚14 (Singapore edition).