Of Monsters and Men, the popular Icelandic folk/pop band, have been touring seemingly forever, or at least since the release of their debut album My Head Is An Animal. The end is in sight though; they are playing a homecoming concert in Garðabær, just outside Reykjavík, on August 31.
I caught up with band members Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Brynjar Leifsson at the V festival in Staffordshire, U.K., which happened to be their last festival of the year. We sat on the grass in the sunshine; a sharp contrast to a cold, stormy Reykjavík where I saw them last at Iceland Airwaves. I was also relieved that they didn’t consider them too famous to take a seat on the grass.
You’ve played over 100 shows this year, as part of your never-ending touring. Are you not sick of it yet?
Brynjar: Maybe not “sick of it,” but ready for a break.
Nanna: We are tired. We are going home after just three more shows.
With all the touring, do you miss Iceland?
What do you miss the most?
Brynjar: Family, water, nature and the silence.
Brynjar: We are always in big cities, where there is lots of noise. Like now. (he gestures, and Paloma Faith is squawking nearby). It’s noisy.
Nanna: At home, it’s so calm. Everywhere is calm. It winds me down. It’s good.
At the V festival.
At this point, we start discussing the strange phenomenon of Icelandic chocolate. I think Brynjar raised it first, with something amounting to lust in his eyes. I mention my recent encounter with a bizarre Icelandic bar with tubes of licorice running through it.
Brynjar: Mmmmmm. Draumur (the name of the chocolate bar).
Nanna: It’s really good. We can’t find it anywhere. That and salty licorice, it’s nowhere to be found. Everyone in our crew is like “urgh, it's disgusting,” but we are like “no, it’s really good.”
Moving away from confectionary, I ask them both about the sharp rise to fame, the acceleration out of their ‘group’ of bands in Iceland and into super-stardom that found them on U.S. chat shows, playing concerts across the globe, and being everyone’s must-see band of 2013.
Nanna: It was very, very unexpected. We made the album, and nothing happened immediately, but at the same time we all had different plans. Starting school, finishing school, we were happy just going in different directions. Then it happened.
Brynjar: Everyone had to quit their jobs and school. We were like “really?,” maybe we are just wasting our lives (they both laugh).
Nanna: It’s very hard for bands outside of the U.S. to get radio play within the U.S. ‘Little Talks’ has paved the way for us in a lot of ways. It’s been weird for us trying to catch up with our own song.
Nanna, you were a singer-songwriter before adding members gradually until you have the band we know and love. Do you miss performing alone?
Nana: No, I mean, maybe at the start, but I always wanted to be in a band. It’s a very lonely process to stand on a stage alone and try to get everyone’s attention. It’s very hard. I have so much respect for solo artists who do that, because it’s a hard job. Also, it’s so nice to be able to share this whole thing with friends.
So you don’t resent them for it?
Nanna: No! I love being in this band.
With a copy of my new book, Iceland, Defrosted.
Later, I catch their set on a nearby stage. A plastic seagull is perched on a speaker stack, and the Icelandic flag hangs from the drum kit. The band enter to the sound of an Icelandic male choir. Their Icelandic roots show through, and continue to do so. Their better known songs are sung back at them by the audience. It feels like a party, and the sea-shanty moments of their songs combine with whole crowd sing-alongs. It feels like this party should be on an Icelandic harbor, bottle of beer in hand.
The last word goes the Brynjar, though. At the end of the interview, we discuss tonight’s headliner, Beyonce. I ask him if he has met her. “No,” he says, ”but I’m meeting Jay-Z for a drink later if you want to come”. He is joking, of course, but I’m not sure for how long.
Edward Hancox - firstname.lastname@example.org