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Of Monsters And Men
What started as a potential solo project for Icelandic singer-songwriter Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir has morphed into a world-touring multi-legged beast.
Of Monsters And Men released their debut album My Head Is An Animal last month and are currently halfway through a globe-trotting world tour, which saw them start in the UK before heading to Australia and the US. They will be looping back for their debut Brighton show on Tuesday.
As co-singer and guitarist Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson waits to board a flight from Santa Ana to San Francisco, he is still reeling from the response the band is getting in the US, where their debut album broke the Billboard top ten, reaching number six in its first week of release.
“It totally had us by surprise,” he says. “It is happening very fast and has kind of spilled out of control, in a good way.
“When we do our own shows, we play to anywhere between 500 and 2,500 people, depending on the place and how well people know us. At festivals such as [Chicago’s] Lollapalooza there are anywhere between 10,000 and 15,000 people.”
The reason for this excitement is the band’s orchestral pop, which draws from the same well as the multi-instrumental Arcade Fire and crescendo-happy fellow countrymen Sigur Rós, but with a much more upbeat acoustic outlook.
Their lyrical world is filled with images drawn from Icelandic folk tales, featuring furry creatures with dirty paws and medieval kings. When it comes together, as on the shanty-like summer hit Little Talks, it lodges itself into the cerebral cortex and refuses to let go.
“Nanna and I write the lyrics together,” says Raggi. “We like to make up stories, it’s how we gel together. Icelandic folk tales have inspired us in their own ways – although not directly or on purpose. We grew up hearing those stories. “The songs come out of personal things but we can mask them or hide them in a story. It’s a good way to write lyrics.”
Raggi was the third person to join forces with Nanna as the project was coming together.
“It was when I joined that we decided to turn it into more than a solo project,” he says. “Nanna had five songs she was playing but she needed some backing vocals and stuff, so I tried out and it worked. We started writing seriously together and things developed in this direction. We turned into something totally different.”
As the songs grew, so did the band.
“The songs we were writing asked for more and more instruments, so we just said, ‘OK, let’s bring in some more.’ It just kind of happened, everything grew.”
The band is currently six-strong in its permanent line-up, also featuring guitarist Brynjar Leifsson, drummer Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson, piano/ accordion player Árni Guðjónsson, and bassist Kristján Páll Kristjánsson. On tour they are joined by trumpet player Ragnhildur Gunnarsdóttir, who also doubles up on organ, piano and percussion.
“Having such a big band is a positive thing on tour,” says Raggi. “You can switch between people you hang with each day, although we always stick together. There’s a lot of people so you can have a lot of conversations, we definitely keep it interesting. If there are six different minds thinking about something they are thinking different things, which helps you to balance.”
The only difficulty at the moment is writing on the road.
“You don’t get as many chances to sit down and be alone,” admits Raggi. “Ideas come when you’re alone, so it is hard to find time. We have some ideas, though, and many of them are very good.
“At the moment we are just trying to play as many shows to follow-up the album this year and probably the beginning of next year. When it goes a little quiet we will be able to write a few songs and go back to the studio. We’re definitely eager to write new music.”
- Of Monsters And Men play Concorde 2, Madeira Drive, Brighton, on Tuesday, August 21. Starts 7.30pm, £12. Call 01273 673311