In 2010, Icelandic post-rock act Sigur Rós announced what sometimes amounts to a coded death knell: the dreaded "hiatus." But there's a happy ending: Sigur Rós has emerged from its two-year break re-energized and once again eager to release new music and tour. Not everything is the same: Longtime keyboardist-instrumentalist Kjartan Sveinsson has departed, after more than 10 years with the band. And frontman Jónsi Birgisson released a highly acclaimed solo record.
But according to bassist Georg Hólm, with whom The Pitch recently spent some time on the phone, the members of Sigur Rós are more amped about this summer's impending release than anything since their breakthrough album, 1999's Ágaetis Byrjun. Sigur Rós performs at Starlight Theatre April 4.
The Pitch: The band is nearing its 20th anniversary. Rather than start by asking you what has changed about the band, what do you think has remained the same?
Hólm: With every album that we make, we change the process in some way. Every album that we've made has been different — it just happened. I think the music that we make — put it this way: We wouldn't put out anything that we're not 100-percent happy with. That is something that has never changed. We don't just release a record to release a record. We do it because we feel that there is something really excellent or something that we really love.
Between Valtari and the new album that might come out this summer, what has changed the most?
I guess the main difference between those two, for me, is that Valtari was something that was bits and pieces that we sort of accumulated over the years. It's not a record where we sat down, wrote music and released the record. One song, or a part of a song, was written and recorded in 2005, and another bit in 2012. It's a very strange record — one reason we've always found it difficult to talk about this record is, we don't understand it. But the new one will be released in a few months' time, I guess, and you could call it more traditionally written. The three of us sat down and played our instruments and computers. We just started adding on to that, and songs took form, basically. And rather quickly, also. It didn't take long for the songs to get there. It took longer to produce them and record them and mix them.
I haven't heard much of the new material other than the preview in your tour video. Sigur Rós has never really shied from being loud, but what I heard sounded a bit harder and maybe even more electronic. Is that the case?
Absolutely. It's definitely sort of rougher and rawer. It's — I don't know, I always find it really difficult to talk about music. I always struggle to find the words to describe what I think about the music. Perhaps because I have a different view or I hear it with different words. For me, it is more gritty and in-your-face than what we've done before.
That has to be an exciting change, embarking on a new sound.
We've been talking about it since we finished recording this record. We're almost finished mixing it. We've been talking that we haven't really been this excited for many years, really. I personally, and these may be big words, but I haven't been this excited for a record since Ágaetis Byrjun, you know, the blue one with the fetus on it.
In reading press about your band, I've noticed that people take your music very, very seriously. For good reason — it's beautiful — but it seems to be more the case for you guys than for a lot of other acts and musicians. Do you think that sometimes people take it too seriously?
Absolutely, yes. Personally, I think music is a very powerful thing. It can really matter to someone. To say that you don't take what you do seriously would be wrong, really, because we do. But we're not very serious people. We're just guys, and we like joking around. We also like joking around about our music. But at the same time, we get letters from people that decided, you know, to not kill themselves or something because they heard a song. Serious stuff. And you think, whoa. And we have to take that seriously. But we do treat our music with respect, even though we make fun of it and we're not serious people. How people sometimes react to music can be a serious thing.
Your music lends itself very well to atmosphere, which I think is part of what makes it so appealing to filmmakers and what made it so good for your documentary, Heima. How do you collaborate with visual artists? Do you just make contact with people you're interested in?
That's always been one of our weak points, actually. Well, not weak points, but it's always been a difficult thing for us, I'd rather say. Making Heima and our music videos, we always have a strong opinion on what it should look like. Usually, the idea has to come from us. We're very much involved with the whole process. I guess that makes it difficult, when you have a band actually saying, "I don't like this," to the directors, and it becomes a bit of an argument. It's always been a very long process for us to create anything visual for us because we have such strong opinions. But at the same time, letting go with the project that we did last year, the [Valtari] Mystery Film Experiment — I think that was kind of a nice thing for us because we just completely let go. We just got to see it the day before it was released.
Were you surprised by the output for that?
I think it's amazing. I mean, I would say 99 percent of those films would be something that we wouldn't have created. If we had created the visuals, we would have done something different. It's just nice to let go. I think all of them were good, in their own way.
It was interesting how different they were. The film for "Ekki Múkk," the one that had the fox in it — that one is so strangely affecting and odd and beautiful, even though I have no idea what is happening.
That one was done by Nick, a good friend of ours.
On the topic of visual elements, the last time I was able to see Sigur Rós was about seven years ago in Kansas City. We were so blown away by the lighting and the stage design on that tour, like how the opaque screen was in front of the band, and the lighting was behind the screen. Are you bringing any new visual elements this time around?
We have completely redesigned everything that we're doing at the moment. It's a bit more of a — it might sound bad, but it's a little more of a show now. It's more impressive than ever before. We wanted it that way. We wanted to do something bigger than we've ever done before.
So the smallest that your band has been memberwise, but the biggest visuals?
We're still 13 people onstage, so it's pretty good.
How long has it been since you did a proper tour?
When we started last summer, I think it had been almost exactly four years since we had played live. It was awhile, but we started last summer. It's definitely a completely different show than we had last year in the States. It's not the same — same musicians, but not the same show.