When Sigur Ros first formed nearly 20 years ago in Reykjavik, Iceland the group didn’t play live very often. It also didn’t sell many records (bassist Georg Holm estimates the band’s debut only sold about 300 copies). But by the late ’90s, the group had started to play live more frequently. And with 1999’s Agaetis byrjun, the band started to develop a huge following. A tour with Radiohead certainly helped expand its fanbase.
“I guess when we released our records outside of Iceland, I guess it just sounded different,” says Holm who brings the band to Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica on Sunday. “That was our lucky break. It sounded different from what everyone else was doing. That’s the main reason. I don’t know what it is. I love playing the music and I love writing it but I never fully understood why people like it so much.”
The band’s atmospheric music draws from classical and folk sources to create something truly unique. The new album Kveikur puts an emphasis on percussion and is a bit noisier than previous efforts, something that should translate well live. Its current tour started a year ago and the band is now entering the final stretch; on the final leg of the tour for which the trio will expand into an 11-piece ensemble and it has retooled the visuals to suit the music.
“When we started a year ago, it didn’t look anything like what we have at the moment,” says Holm. “We had a rough start to the tour. Nothing looked like what we wanted to look like. It’s been slowly evolving into something we’re really proud of. It’s at its peak. It’s really great. When we’re coming over now, we want to try to add as much of the new material as we can. We’ll play more from Kveikur than we’ve been playing up until now.”
The new album’s opening track, “Brenninstein,” sounds like some kind of death march with its heavy percussion and crackling noise. Holm says the tune is presented in the order in which it was written.
“It’s funny about that song,” he says. “Before we released it, we were debating the track order and it felt natural that the album should start off on that note. That’s the first song we wrote so it was fitting. That noise you hear in the beginning and that growling bass was the first note as well. That was the beginning of the track and it was accidental, which a lot of our music is. It starts off with one note like that and we just start playing that one note and add drumming on top it. That was it. It was kind of simple but I really love that song.”
Given that many bands don’t make it past 20 weeks, Sigur Ros’s run of 20 years is all the more impressive.
“It’s 20 years but it’s gone by rather quickly,” Holm says. “It doesn’t feel like 20 years. We constantly joke around about it and about being old men. I think in many ways we haven’t changed that much. We’re still doing the music for the same reasons as when we started the band. I think we’re in the same headspace as when we started the band. We don’t try to repeat ourselves. We do try to evolve and make it different. Maybe the biggest change is that we’re getting better at it and getting better at getting straight to the point as how we want the song to be.”