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It’s cold. It’s often grey. It’s a time of drama, of songs of fire and ice even. At these times the thoughts of music fans inevitably turn to … Iceland.

As a midwinter excuse this will do for Wind Back Wednesday, now chipping away at the frozen face of the crunching iceberg that is Sigur Ros.

This interview from 2006 finds the Icelandic band on the eve of a return to Australia, but the enigmatic lot were no more forthcoming than their lyrics. Which, it turns out, was just fine with us.


They do droll very well in Iceland. If it wasn't such a bad pun you might suggest the residents of the tiny north Atlantic island are very chilled human beings.

Take for example Kjartan Sveinsson who plays guitar and keyboards in Sigur Ros, a group who could give new meaning to esoteric art rock if it wasn't for the fact that their music is often stupendously beautiful, soaring and dramatic rather than esoteric. No matter what language you speak.

According to some reports Sigur Ros are favourites of both the Paltrow/Martin household - apparently the Icelanders provided the soundtrack for the birth of celebrity sprog Apple – and the drummer of the dumbest rock group in the world, Tommy Lee of Motley Crue.

Throw in the likes of contemporary dance giant Merce Cunningham, who commissioned a score from Sigur Ros for the Split Sides program and nerdy boy rockers Radiohead, who as well as taking Sigur Ros on tour provided the other "side" for Cunningham's Split Sides, and that's some range.

Now Sveinsson, who speaks in precise accented English, has said in the past that he isn't all that keen on explaining the how or why of Sigur Ros. Western journalists have been known to wax lyrical about the keening voice of lead singer Jonsi Birgisson, the way the bowed guitar (played with a cello bow instead of fingers or a plectrum, in a similar way to how Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin once dabbled) makes an otherworldly sound and how the overall effect is like nothing else around. But don't ask Mr Sveinsson.

"No we don't have a clue what we're doing," he says drily, or at the very least without any apparent facetiousness. “And that is kind of annoying for some people if they are used to finding a clever sentence or phrase to lay out what is happening."

Well, yeah.

It's not as if you can discern a lot from album or song titles or lyrics for that matter. The second Sigur Ros album didn't even have song titles or an album name, meaning it was generally referred to as [ ]. What's more, many of the words sung by Jonsi Birgisson were made up - though to be fair, it's doubtful it would have made much difference to your average Australian record buyer if they were in Icelandic.

But whether it was the sense of emptiness and wide spaces at the heart of [ ], the open-eyed wonder of their debut, Agaetis Byrgun or the more direct emotions of their most recent album Takk, we still seemed to understand. Or at least thought we did.

“For us they are all quite emotional [albums],” corrects Sveinsson. “But we were all feeling different between albums. When we did the untitled album we had been so busy for such a long time and working really hard - four boys from Iceland travelling the world and all the stress that follows that. That came through on that album: at times we were very heavy and tired. When we started working on Takk we hadn't played together for such a long time, we'd had a year off, and it was fresh and fun and for us more optimistic and free."

You have to wonder if Sveinsson and friends are amused or bemused by the way the rest of us build up all kinds of misconceptions about them and their country based on the sound of four men being tired or optimistic or just faffing about.

"Yeah, well you know it has been like that for such a long time," he laughs. "It is kind of amusing. I remember when we started we were all about talking about Iceland, really proud but in the end it doesn't really matter to us if our music is from here or somewhere else. It is more important that we are a band.”

Although it's true that it doesn't matter in a sense where you're from, from the outside you strike some folks as, well, odd. But I gather in Iceland - the home of the not always sane Bjork after all - you are not considered strange at all.

“Yeah yeah. Maybe a bit but really we are as normal as other people here”

So you don't get beaten up by the hockey players?

“We only have about 20 hockey players in Iceland so …”

You can beat them up?


Strange world. Seems to work though.


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