Kjartan Sveinsson, keyboardist for the Icelandic band Sigur Ros on their new album
MILES PARKS, HOST:
The music of Icelandic band Sigur Ros is hard to describe. The critics have tried, comparing it to ice floes drifting across the water and a hang glider riding the breeze to the edge of the sea. Fortunately, this is radio, so you can hear it for yourself.
(SOUNDBITE OF SIGUR ROS SONG, "KLETTUR")
PARKS: Whatever you call them. Sigur Ros is one of the most acclaimed post-rock bands out there, selling close to 10 million albums. Its summer tour is already sold out, and it has released its eighth studio album called "Atta." Keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson joins us now from Iceland.
Welcome to WEEKEND EDITION.
KJARTAN SVEINSSON: Thank you so much.
PARKS: So you returned to the band after a number of years apart. How long did you end up being away?
SVEINSSON: Well, officially it was 10 years. But, you know, I had kind of drifted away a bit before that.
PARKS: Tell me a little bit about kind of what you got from that time away, 'cause the new album does feel like it has a texture or a melody that feels definitely different than the band's previous album, which was made without you. I wondered if that was an intentional thing or what you kind of thought about as you guys were crafting this music.
SVEINSSON: No. It wasn't really intentional. It was just, you know, getting together and start writing. And this is what came out. I think we started in the - just before the pandemic. And also, we did some writing during the pandemic. You know, after all that - you know, the pandemic was - you know, well, kind of beautiful music.
PARKS: I feel like I've heard that a lot from artists that I've talked to in the last year or so, that there is this kind of general sense that the world needs beauty right now. Do you feel that?
SVEINSSON: Yeah, definitely. We need to be challenged a bit, also, just in the way we listen, and people need to explore and give themselves time to discover new things.
PARKS: Let's listen to a little bit of the song "Blooberg."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLOOBERG")
SIGUR ROS: (Singing in non-English language).
PARKS: And so as I mentioned earlier, Sigur Ros' music invokes a lot of imagery, often nature, water or things that are sometimes talked about. I wondered if that is something - as you guys were setting out to write this album, were there any images or visuals that you were thinking about trying to evoke?
SVEINSSON: No. No. We never have any pre-conceptual, you know, things like that going on. We're all kind of simple guys, really, and we've never been very conceptual about anything really, you know? Our conceptual ideas were often - come about afterwards, you know, after the creative bit has been done, and then you can start thinking about it. But Sigur Ros has been about free flow and - I mean, we're not clever enough to kind of be, you know, planning things, you know, what we create.
(SOUNDBITE OF SIGUR ROS SONG, "BLOOBERG")
PARKS: One thing that's really interesting to me, as somebody, you know, who's played in a few bands, I think when I listen to rock music especially, usually I can pick out the melody or the rhythm that a song started with. And you can be like, oh, I bet you it started there, and they kind of built it around that. I have a lot of trouble doing that with your guys's music, which I think is a compliment, that it sounds so full and whole and connected, the final product does. How do these songs start at the very beginning?
SVEINSSON: Usually, they start with some sort of a riff, some sort of a chord progression, whether it's the - you know, my piano, or sometimes it's the bass and sometimes Jonsi's guitar.
PARKS: Right. And Jonsi is the lead vocalist for the band.
SVEINSSON: But it's very rarely that a melody kind of is the start of a song.
PARKS: I want to talk a little bit about Jonsi's use of vocals on your all's music, and to do that, I want to play a little bit of the last song on the album, "8."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "8")
SIGUR ROS: (Singing in non-English language).
PARKS: So I know Jonsi sings in this mix of Icelandic and Hopelandic, which is a made-up language. What are we listening to there in that song?
SVEINSSON: There - we're just listening to our own gibberish in that part. Yeah.
PARKS: How does he do that? How does he evoke so much emotional feeling from the listener without singing words that make logical sense?
SVEINSSON: Yeah. I mean, words are overrated, aren't they?
PARKS: Don't tell that to a radio professional.
SVEINSSON: No. I mean, it's the same with, you know, just like old classical music as well. I mean, there are, you know, loads of beautiful symphonies and string, you name it. There are so many beautiful things. Yeah. And he's just - yeah. I mean, it is quite amazing, you know? He's really good at it. But not that he thinks about it. It all kind of just comes to him.
PARKS: Do you ever find after you've finished a song that there is a sort of narrative or story in there somewhere?
SVEINSSON: Yeah. When we've written a song and we decide we want to make some lyrics, we actually - sometimes we just hear things that he is saying, you know? Then that maybe becomes an inspiration for a lyric. And that's really nice when that happens, I think. Usually, I would say, they just have their independent life, you know, without any words. Yeah. Sometimes it evokes a feeling. I mean, we have, like - I remember, you know, especially on our 2005 album, "Takk...," there was a song, you know, the last song. And we were just talking about - yeah - you know, what that song was about. And everyone had a kind of a similar feel, you know. I don't know. It's - you know, this song is like sitting in a field somewhere, chewing straw and being kind of content with life, you know, kind of. So sometimes we write lyrics with that method.
PARKS: Keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson of the band Sigur Ros.
Thank you so much for joining us on WEEKEND EDITION.
SVEINSSON: Well, thank you. Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.