Jón “Jónsi” Þór Birgisson is far from what you might call a conventional musician. Having fronted Icelandic post-rock pioneers Sigur Rós for the past sixteen years, Jónsi already has a quite a reputation for musical idiosyncrasies, sometimes writing songs in his own made up language ‘hopelandic’ (a mixture of English and Icelandic) while his singing style has often been compared to whale song.
Following on from the success of their latest album Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust, the band announced earlier this year that they would be taking a hiatus as some members had had children and wanted to spend time with their families. While the rest of the band took time off, it seems Jónsi was having none of this ‘taking a break’ nonsense, with the singer going straight back into the studio to work on his solo album Go.
An extension of the brighter happier sound the band began exploring with Takk… and then Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust, Go sounds like the sort of music you’d expect to hear playing in heaven’s childcare centres, making use of layers upon layers of instrumentation and textures, even using the sound of bees swarming in parts.
Calling me from a hotel room somewhere in Europe as he completes his solo tour of the continent, Jónsi is straight out of bed and hardly fresh. “It’s definitely strange being on your own and carrying everything under your own name,” he tells me of touring without Sigur Rós for the first time, “but it’s going well and I’m having lots of fun.”
“I’ve got a new band and everything,” he explains through a yawn, “it’s the first time I’ve played with new people in sixteen years and it’s just really fun and it feels good to experiment. Just working with new musicians and new people and getting to try out different things is amazing.”
Having enlisted the help of Phillip Glass protégé Nico Mulhy, best known for his work with Antony & The Johnstons, to write the string arrangements as well as bringing in sometime múm drummer and general percussive mentalist Samuli Kosminen, the album is hardly lacking ambition. However, while ambition can be great in the studio, it’s not always a musicians best friend when it comes to having to translate the music into a live language.
“We kind of had to simplify some things,” Jónsi explains groggily. “At the same time though, that’s made things more powerful and broad,” he suggests. For Jónsi just because there is less going on on-stage, doesn’t mean there’s less going on in the heads of his listeners. Never one to make grand statements though, Jónsi is quick to reiterate his own subjective place within the appreciation of his music, capping off his statement by laughing and adding, “I don’t know though, you kind of never know; I’m never sure what’s going to happen.”
This split between the recording and the live show aside though, Jónsi seems to be thoroughly enjoying himself with the new project, even bring some new material into the live shows. “Yeah we’ve been trying new songs,” he explains. “It’s kind of hard to go an play when you only have a certain amount of songs, not like with Sigur Rós where we have lots to choose from.”
Don’t think though that this love of his solo work spells the end for Sigur Rós; Jónsi is very clear that after this tour he is very keen to get back to writing with the band. “It’s probably Sigur Rós next,” he informs me sluggishly as he continues to fight off the agents of sleep before continuing. “After this tour now, I’m going home for some time and meet with the guys and hopefully work on some new songs. I think that’s the plan at least, but I don’t know actually what’s going to happen and how it’s going to go. I think I’ll probably keep touring and meet the guys in between to try and write some new songs and see what happens.”
With the band having said that the new work will see them returning to a more brooding and ambient sound to what they have done on the last few albums, the prospect of a new Sigur Rós album sometime next year is an exciting one. But if dark and epic isn’t so much your thing as bright and happy, don’t despair, as Jónsi is set to bring out his solo show for this year’s Splendour In The Grass festival, stopping on for some sideshows along the way. Don’t miss out. Go.