Monster debut of the hottest new thing out of iceland
Chris Wasser meets the band who have made a volcanic debut
Ragnar THOrhallsson had never been in a band before. But his new friend Nanna wanted him on board. The latter had a solo thing going on. Songbird, she called it. But there was room for expansion. And a shy art school student who suffered from stage fright seemed the perfect candidate for a singing partner.
Fast forward a couple of years and it appears as though Icelandic six-piece Of Monsters And Men are doing very well for themselves. Debut album My Head Is An Animal peaked at number six on the US Billboard 200 back in April, becoming the highest-charting album by an Icelandic music act in US chart history. And now, it's our turn to see what the fuss is about.
After all, Rolling Stone magazine reckons we've just been introduced to the new Arcade Fire. Yep, it seems Ragnar made a smart move. A very, very smart move. "Yeah," smiles the 25-year-old singer/ guitarist (who prefers to be called Raggi). "It was definitely a very good decision to try it."
Of course, the ball really started to roll when the group blew away their competition at an annual battle of the bands shindig back home. Actually, Musiktilraunir (Music Experiments) is a pretty big deal in Iceland. "It kind of just gives you the kick in the right direction," explains Raggi.
After that, it took just one US radio station to play a live version of what would become their biggest single to date. The buzz had started -- Of Monsters And Men were on their way up. So, it helps that the group's enigmatic and often entrancing blend of indie folk and pop is actually worth the hype. Raggi and Nanna sing in English, too. Which makes it easier for the rest of us to join in.
"It was a pretty natural thing," says Raggi. "English is a real, like, flowing language. It flows well, and it sings well and it's easy to relate to. It's kind of like a universal language, I think. Singing in English has definitely helped us reach America and, of course, the world."
There's a lot going on in this album. Tales of talking trees and men who wrestle bears are to be expected.
Raggi and his friends like to create musical stories as though they were videos, or even movies. But rest assured -- they can be just as noisy and fun as the next band.
Hit single Little Talks features one of the catchiest melodies of the year. And it's all thanks to a few trumpets.
Again, the aforementioned Arcade Fire comparisons are difficult to ignore, but as far as Raggi is concerned, it's a damned fine compliment.
"Arcade Fire is one of the best bands in the world," he offers.
"We haven't thought so much about it, it's just like, if I'm eating something and you want to try it and I say 'yeah, try it, it's just like this'', you know, you're always comparing something to something else. It's just a way to communicate, I think".
As Raggi explains, there is no unnecessary fuss when he and the rest of the gang take a trip back home. "You're just treated normally," he says. How is that working out for Nanna in a band with five boys? "I think it's fine," says Raggi. "We're good friends."
My Head Is An Animal is released in Ireland on Friday, August 17