Jónsi

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Sigur Ros’s frontman Jónsi breaks out on his own with debut solo effort Go

:: Jónsi ::
:: Paramount Theatre :: April 21 ::


By Brian F. Johnson

Following their release of með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust (With A Buzz In Our Ears, We Play Endlessly) in 2008, Sigur Rós’s career exploded far beyond the imagination of anyone familiar with the Icelandic art rock group.

They headlined impressive shows worldwide, closed the Red Rocks 2008 summer concert season and, not surprisingly, their music was picked up, en masse, by Discovery channel producers — a classic soundtrack to compliment gorgeous images of nature.

Then, just as quickly as the band blew up, they went silent again, announcing an indefinite hiatus. The reverb-drenched sound which features — as Paste Magazine so artfully put it — “a polysexual angel singing and moaning as he dragged his bow mournfully across the guitar,” had gone quiet.

But for that “angel” Jón “Jónsi” Thor Birgisson, the quiet time was actually a much-needed break that allowed him to finally put together an album of solo work, which he had been collecting for more than a decade.

“We have been super busy in the last ten years, so there has never been a time like now for me to do my own stuff,” Jónsi said from his home in Reykjavik, Iceland, shortly before setting out on tour in support of Go. “I’ve been collecting songs for a long time and now that we’re taking a band break, it seems like the best time. Every person in the band has babies now — like, everybody. So it’s the perfect time.”

The songs he has been collecting, which were released last month on XL Recordings, are exhilarating, joyful and fearless — with Jónsi dropping his nonsense “language” known as “Hopelandic” in exchange for actual lyrics. While the tones he sings with most Sigur Rós songs are simply lyrical notes that sound like another language, the singer explained that, in fact, it’s just a bunch of B.S. “It’s just so natural to sing bullshit,” he laughed. “That’s how you start. You write a song on guitar or piano and then you do a vocal melody with your voice. The natural thing to do is to put what flows best from your mouth. I think it’s all song,” he said.

But finally having discernable lyrics, when before, listeners put their own interpretation on the songs, was a bit unnerving for Jónsi. “It’s a bit nerve racking,” he said.”I sing mostly with gibberish, but this album is the first in which I try to do all English lyrics.”

In addition to that departure, Go threw other surprises at the singer/songwriter as the album evolved. Initially, he had intended a low-key acoustic album, until “somewhere along the line it just sort of exploded,” Jónsi related.

Jónsi isn’t restricted with his duties in Sigur Rós, when it comes to songwriting. He and his bandmates have a clean pallette which they can color any way they’d like, but Jónsi explained the band’s approach to songwriting is very different than his solo efforts. “We write everything together in this big democratic commune machine where we compose together. On this album it’s just my songs, so I could do anything I wanted,” Jónsi said.

Never one to rely on just music to convey his message, Jónsi has also gone out of his way for the production on the upcoming tour, teaming up with 59 Productions to design a live stage experience that compliments the music.

Leo Warner, the creative director of 59 Productions, explained in a tour video trailer that the set they put together is “a cross between a film, an art installation, a theater performance and a live gig. There is a certain cinematic quality to his music and we wanted to create an epic set to accompany that. What we were asked to do is to create a visual track to accompany the existing music. It’s almost the reverse of a soundtracking exercise,” Warner said.

With Jónsi out on the road for this tour, and his bandmates at home cuddling new babies, the indefinite hiatus status of Sigur Rós seems unending, but Jónsi said that those holding out hope for a re-emergence by the band won’t have to wait too long.

“We are definitely going to meet between my tour and write some songs and play,” Jónsi said. “We have been meeting a little bit and writing new songs and hopefully we can record more soon. I definitely want to keep the band together. We have been together for 16 years — that’s incredible.”

:: Jónsi ::

:: Paramount Theatre :: April 21 ::

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