There are so many questions about Sigur Rós, but drummer Orri Pall Dyrason doesn't have many answers.
It sounds as if you're having a long day.
“Long day?” he offers in chopped English. “Sorry?”
You sound busy.
“Ah,” he registers. “No.”
Our 15-minute conversation continues this way indefinitely. Dyrason's overwhelming Icelandic accent, however, reveals something about his chilly motherland. He speaks of Iceland like a long-lost lover.
“There is so much space [in Iceland],” he says. “It's a pretty big country compared to how few people live there because most of it is uninhabitable.”
Populated by just over 250,000 people, Iceland is about the size of the state of Virginia-which has a population of about 7 million. The men of Sigur Rós-frontman Jon “Jonsi” Por Birgisson, bassist Gerog Holm, keyboardist Kjartan “Kjarri” Sveinsson and Dyrason-make their home in the country's capital of Reykjavik, (pronounced Rake-ya-vick).
“Right now we are in... uh... I forgot the name of the city. I know we're in Wisconsin, and it is cold, similar to Iceland,” Dyrason offers. “Sometimes I don't remember where we are.”
The 20-something drummer has reason to be confused. He has traveled to more locales in the last two years than most people traverse in their entire lives.
“It is a long plane [ride] home but we only have two more weeks here and then I will go back to see my daughter,” he says.
Sigur Rós (Icelandic for “Victory Rose”) originally took their name from Birgisson's newborn sister in 1994, and by 1997 the band put out their debut, Von, to much ado in Iceland. The band's second album, Agaetis Byrjun (“A Good Beginning”) was released in 1999 in Iceland and by August 2000, FatCat Records caught the buzz and released it worldwide.
In the waning months of 1999, Sigur Rós had not played one gig outside of Iceland. Less than a year later, Radiohead's Thom Yorke was citing them as a “major influence.”
“We are not rock stars,” Dyrason mutters. “We're shy-individually and as a whole. It's alright though, we just close our eyes on stage.”
By 2001, Sigur Rós was the Next Big Thing in the U.S.-and especially Hollywood. Many dates on the band's first U.S. tour sold out in a matter of hours as audiences made it a priority to see Birgisson play his guitar with his trademark bow. Tinseltown's biggest and brightest were sinking their teeth into the band's luminous musical experience completely by word of mouth. Dyrason says he's never heard one of their songs on the radio.
“Lars Ulrich sent us a letter once. You know? The drummer in Metallica?” Dyrason offers. “We have it up on our ‘wall of shame' in our studio. We have Tom Cruise. A picture with him and Kjarri. We have Courtney Love and Jonsi. That is our favorite.”
During the first half of this year, the band was quick to scuttle away from the limelight and back to their homeland to begin the first stages of their next album. In order to produce the “desired environment” that best complemented the band's songs, Sigur Rós built a studio within the ruins of an old swimming pool.
“[The pool] was for the sound and the area, the atmosphere,” Dyrason chuckles. “The area is really good, it's an old factory area 15 minutes outside of Reykjavík. It's got horses and ducks and a pond. Good atmosphere.”
Atmosphere is a key component to Sigur Rós. Their 10-minute operettas flow into one another and rarely stop for a breath. For the band's newest release, enigmatically titled ( ), the band ditched the orchestra, production and string arrangements for eight unnamed, rough-hewn tracks. It came encased with a bare white book instead of liner notes.
“This album is not as produced as the previous ones,” Dyrason says. “It doesn't have the big string arrangements or choirs. It took a long time [to record] because we wanted to do it as live as we could. It took forever to get the right feeling of the songs because we had been playing for two or three years, some of them, in concert. But it worked out really well and we were really happy.”
Sigur Rós comes from the school of voice as instrument, eliciting the most pretentious aspects of shoegaze and post-rock simplicity with Birgisson's whale-like moans. Lyrics are present in the band's tunes, but they are nonsensical. Birgisson sings in a made-up language that he calls Hopelandic-a melodic mess of Icelandic, English and gibberish that's used more as instrumental accompaniment than lyrical statements.
“We just get together and start playing and [long songs] just happen. I don't know why. It just takes us a long time to say what we want to say. It's not like we just make songs just to make long songs. People think that, but it's not like that,” Dyrason says before an unusually long pause.
“Um, I have to go. Thank you for talking and we will see you in San Diego.”
And with that. He is gone.