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Reykjavķk Grapevine

						A lot of the preemptive commentary 
about ?Valtari? has characterized 
the album as a homecoming, a sort 
of ?return to ambience.? As though 
the last album had been a weird 
mutation, and now you?re somehow 
going back...
Jón þór Birgisson: back to basics.
Right. do you think of the record 
that way at all? As a harking back, 
maybe to ?()? or ?ágætis byrjun??
Jónsi: We didn?t really think of it like 
that.
Georg Hólm: That was not the point of 
departure, at least, when we were mak-
ing this record.
Jónsi: It just developed that way. But 
we had had this idea for many years to 
make an ambient record?like purely 
ambient, somehow.
Some of the recordings on ?Val-
tari? go back as far as six or seven 
years...
Georg: Yes. And at the time they 
weren?t necessarily thought of as be-
longing to this record. They were just 
some recordings, some ideas. It wasn?t 
until 2009 that we had our first session, 
specifically intending to make this re-
cord. 
Jónsi: We?ve given up three times since 
then, I think.
Georg: Yeah.
Jónsi: Starting, stopping, putting 
things aside.
What made you decide then to fi-
nally release the record? Or to do 
it now?
Jónsi: We just had enough material. 
And when we listened to it again after 
getting many years of distance from it, 
we realised that we actually had a re-
cord on our hands.
Georg: And that it was maybe better 
than we had thought.
Given that the material was de-
veloped over such a long period 
of time, and that it was maybe not 
originally conceived of as a whole, 
was it a challenge to make the piec-
es fit together?
Georg: I think that was maybe the most 
difficult part of the record, really. Be-
cause it was all so different. So we had 
to somehow mold it all together.
Jónsi: We took a few months, just now, 
to finalise it, and then something just 
came over it.
Georg: Some kind of wholeness.
There?s a quote on the band?s web-
site where you say, Georg, that this 
is the only Sigur Rós record you lis-
ten to at home, at your leisure. Why 
is that?
Georg: This is maybe not the first re-
cord that I?ve listened to at home. I 
said that just in conversation with our 
manager, after we had just finished the 
record. I was telling him that I was re-
ally happy with it, because this was a 
record that we had given up on sev-
eral times. And personally, before we 
came together for that final session, if 
you can call it that, I had in my head 
just sort of written it off. I just thought: 
no, we?re not going to finish this album. 
We?ll just throw it out, in its entirety.
You couldn?t untangle it.
Georg: Right. I wasn?t understanding it. 
But I stand by what I said, that some-
times when I?m driving my car or when 
I?m sitting at home and I?m alone?
which, however, isn?t often?then I like 
putting it on. There?s something about 
it... there are all sorts of images that 
come up in my head. But maybe it?s also 
just that I?m so tired of the other stuff, 
you know, that I wouldn?t necessarily go 
and listen to.
Jónsi: I think there?s something strange 
about listening to your own music.
Georg: It?s so self...
Jónsi: Indulgent.
Georg: Exactly.
Jónsi: ?Oh, damn this is good.?
Georg: Extremely weird.
Jónsi : ?Listen to that solo!?
You hear of a lot of hip-hop artists 
doing that. I think Kanye just sits at 
home listening...
Jónsi: To himself. (Laughs.) Right. It?s 
just that you listen to it so much when 
you?re making it. In the studio a whole 
year goes into listening to the same 
songs over and over again. So you do 
get sick of it in a certain way, it just be-
comes one big mash. But maybe when 
you?re older you do pick up these re-
cords again and listen to them.
Georg: I think it has to do with the 
memories too. And maybe also that 
you?re still thinking critically about the 
songs.
You don?t have any distance from 
them.
Georg: Exactly. But for example I lis-
tened to ?Von? the other day, because 
it was being re-released on vinyl, and I 
just needed to do a test-drive, to check 
the sound quality, nothing else. And 
suddenly I started really enjoying the 
music. It occurred to me that this was 
a damn good record. Just, really good. 
Sounded better than I remembered.
Is it different when you perform the 
songs live? Harder to get sick of 
them that way, because it?s an ex-
perience that?s different each time?
Jónsi: That just depends on how much 
you drink.
(Laughter.)
No, but sometimes it can be tedious 
and sometimes it feels like a job but 
usually it?s incredibly fun. To play in new 
places for new people. People give you 
a certain energy. It?s just fun playing for 
an audience if everything is as it should 
be: if there?s good sound on the stage 
and we are in good spirits. Then it?s in-
credibly fun.
Georg: It does depends a lot on mood. 
If there is the right kind of atmosphere 
on stage it can be fun to play any song, 
really. But then there can be...
Jónsi: There can be days when every-
thing is bad.
Georg: A bad concert or just a bad 
song in the middle of a concert.
Jónsi: If the sound is bad then it?s just 
absolute hell.
What else are you listening to, for 
enjoyment?
Jónsi: I?ve been listening a lot to the 
radio show, Morgunstund með KK, [on 
Icelandic National Broadcasting Ser-
vice (RÚV), an NPR equivalent]. I don?t 
wake up that early but I listen to it on-
line, almost everyday. Listen to it and 
read the papers. That?s really nice.
They play vinyl on Fridays.
Jónsi: Exactly. It?s great. Also my boy-
friend has been working with Julianna 
Barwick, so that?s been playing at home 
a lot. There?s no getting by it. But it?s 
quite nice, of course.
Georg: I?m trying but I can?t think of 
anything.
Jónsi: You just listen to Sigur Rós.
(Laughter.)
Georg: There is one song I have been 
listening to a lot: ?The Book of Love.? It?s 
actually a cover song by Peter Gabriel, I 
found out. I didn?t know it was a cover, 
I just thought it was Peter Gabriel. But 
I discovered it by accident, went out 
for a run the other day and it came on 
shuffle and since then I?ve been com-
pletely hooked. Incredible song. That?s 
what I?ve been listening to these days.
Jónsi: One song.
(Laughter.)
Georg: Yes, just one song. I?m sort of 
bad with music. I somehow just end up 
listening to the old classics. Like Led 
Zeppelin or something.
Jónsi: My boyfriend Alex has also been 
working with Sin Fang, so I?ve been lis-
tening a lot to him, to his new album.
Georg: That?s a nice way to discover 
something new.
THE BOYS ARE BACK IN TOWN
?Valtari??Sigur Rós? much-anticipated 
sixth-release?is risky.
 Not that the band hasn?t, in its 
18-years-active, established itself as 
a creative juggernaut of sorts, and 
cultivated an insatiable fan base. But 
?Valtari? is risky in the way all matters 
of the heart are risky. Because it is 
uncalculated. Because it is driven by?
devoted to?an abstract sentiment. 
Because it is blind to anything but the 
stars.
 ?Valtari? is also the record that 
nearly wasn?t. during over three years 
in labour, the group abandoned the 
project at least three times before giving 
it its final audition, the push that led to 
the definitive scheduling of the album?s 
release on May 28.
 For when it comes to releasing 
music, Sigur Rós offers us only that 
which comes organically to the band?
regardless of, but not despite (as ?Með 
suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust? 
proved) the material?s marketability. It 
is in this way that ?Valtari? emerges as a 
testament to the band?s fierce creative 
independence, not only in content but 
also in process. Because apparently 
even the world?s most successful artists 
struggle with knots in their imaginations, 
and to this creative loyalty, ?Valtari? is 
likewise a tribute.
 In the attic of Iðnó, I sat down with 
Jón þór Birgisson (?Jónsi?) and Georg 
Hólm (?Goggi?) to discuss how the band 
navigated the creative riddle of their 
impending release.
Words by Valgerður Þóroddsdóttir
Photography by Lilja Birgisdóttir

					
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