Of Monsters and Men: More Man Than Monster

Text + Interview Kevin Ho

The moment you’re thrown headfirst into their adventure-themed melodies, cloud-shattering trumpets, and collective “Heys”, you’ll undoubtedly realise that this is indeed a band of monstrous proportions. But their overpowering identity is anything but a monstrosity. In fact this is a band that is more man than monster. Beneath the mountainous layers of sound is a touching unit of best friends, passionate commitment, and cheeky humility. With enchanting anthems like ‘Little Talks’ and ‘King and Lionheart’, we asked Of Monsters And Men about the impetus behind such grand sounds, the plans for the band’s glowing future, and why he wishes he could be a tiger. Here’s our cosy conversation with male vocalist Raggi during their Laneway stay in Singapore.

Since winning the Battle of the Bands competition back home in Iceland, the band sure has come a long way, touring all over the world. What’s been the most exciting moment for the band on the road?
That’d probably be Lollapalooza in Chicago. I had this moment where I looked at the crowd and went, “What the hell am I doing? This is crazy.” The crowd was going mental and it was just one of those moments where I felt very proud.

And what about the most awkward experience you’ve encountered?   
Well, there was once our former pianist and accordion player fell off his chair while standing on it. That was probably awkward for him. I’ve yet to be awkward. I’ll probably do it on this tour.

We hope he wasn’t badly hurt!  Why did your accordion player leave the band?
Arni was one of the founding members. However touring wasn’t really his thing, it didn’t really suit his lifestyle. He’s a really great musician and one of my best friends. But he wanted to go back to school and study more. He chose that over touring.

That’s a real shame. We wish him all the best. Is the rest of the band in the same situation with school?
I was actually studying Fine Arts and I had two semesters left and I walked out on that. And everyone else who was in school just quit, basically. I think the five of us that are left, we’re all focused on this and school will happen if this adventure ever stops. School will just have to wait for now.

We have loads of respect for that. My Head is an Animal is a masterpiece of an album and every song is an anthem. What inspired the band to make such songs of immense scope?
We actually started out acoustic. In the beginning that was the idea, we didn’t even have drums. But then we started writing songs with bigger arrangements. And the thing is in Iceland, you play in bars and there are lots of people who are chatting while you’re playing and we eventually wanted to overpower those people. We were sick of that and we wanted to be louder than the crowd. When we started recording the album the sound just developed into a very big sound, but not really on purpose. It’s hard to say how it happened. It just grew!

Favourite song to perform live and why?
I guess my favourite songs are those where I get to sing loud. For me my favourite would be ‘Six Weeks’ and maybe ‘Yellow Light’.

How are decisions made with a band of so many members? That can’t be easy. There must be a million of administrative and logistical difficulties.
It’s probably harder when you have less people. But usually we just talk about it as a group; we haven’t had any real problems with decision-making because we all listen to each other. If someone has a particularly strong idea we’ll just follow that.

Sounds like a happy family! There is this general impression of an ‘Icelandic sound’; this mystical and fantasy vibe. People here associate this sound with bands like yourself, and Sigur Rós, and Björk. Do you think there is indeed a uniquely Icelandic sound?
I do think there’s a certain sound to Icelandic bands. It’s hard to put your finger on it. But I feel there is something there that’s different. There is some kind of ambience in our sound. The atmosphere of Iceland definitely affects the way we write our songs to say the least.

So what’s next for the band? Can we expect the sound to get even bigger?
Yeah we’re touring till the end of August, no breaks really. After that I think we’ll start the processing and arranging for our next album. Hopefully we can get it out by Christmas! We’re also open to incorporating even more instruments into our sound.

If you could transform into an animal, what would it be?
Can it be extinct? This is hard… maybe a tiger? I don’t really know why I just thought of it. I’m in Denmark now and there’s this tiger in the zoo here and it looks really cool.

In case you’ve been living under a rock and missed the hipster anthem of last year, ‘Little Talks’, album My Head is an Animal has been out for a while now. More on the band at www.ofmonstersandmen.is.