In the following phone interview vocalist/guitarist Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir talks about the band’s debut album My Head is an Animal, her love of storytelling and the Icelandic music scene.
This year must be pretty crazy for you guys. How has the reception to this new record been?
Oh, yeah, it’s been really great. We’re doing a two-week tour now. We started off with Sasquatch, where there were so many people watching. It was crazy, looking over the stage and seeing people coming down the hill, and the gorge was beautiful. Then we toured around and did some of our own shows. We did some festivals yesterday and the day before that. It’s been really nice.
Has there been any particular highlight of the year for you so far?
We’ve had a lot of really great shows this year. One of the most awesome ones was in Philadelphia the day when we released our album. It was kind of like the release concert for us in the United States. It was a really fun night for us.
You’ve been in the States a lot now and probably will be a lot more in the future. Has anything surprised you about the U.S. that you didn’t expect and is really different from Iceland?
The reaction surprised us a lot because everyone is so nice. There’s a lot of cheese here on food, which is surprising because it’s everywhere [laughs]. We really like it here.
There’s only a few bands who have made it from Iceland and you are now one of the few. Do you have any idea how you were able to do that and why your music has been able to connect with so many people?
There actually is a lot of music from Iceland. I don’t think people actually know that. There a lot of musicians in Iceland and a lot of really good music. I think it’s just really hard for bands to go out there and be able to go overseas and travel with all their gear and go play shows. At first it’s very hard because many people aren’t showing up and you spend a lot of money. It’s really hard. For us, we have some really wonderful people around us and a really good team. We’ve also been a little bit lucky. I don’t know what it is that makes us any different from other bands. We’re at the right place at the right time, I guess.
Is your musical style typical of the Iceland music scene?
It’s not typical, no. A lot of Icelandic people at first when they heard of us were like, “Oh, this is an American band.” They didn’t know we were Icelandic. We’re not very Icelandic, but I don’t really know what would be typical Icelandic. A lot of bands from Iceland now after a lot of time try to create something new. It’s hard to stand out from all the other bands in Iceland because at the end of the day you don’t want to sound like anyone else. It’s a small country, it’s a small market, so you definitely don’t want to sound like anyone else.
Now as far as the lyrics go, how do you usually come up with those?
What we do is usually me and Raggi will sit down together. We’ll brainstorm and come up with stories, either something that we make up on our own or something we read about and find interesting and fascinating. We sit down together, brainstorm for a long time and talk about it. We write a story beyond a story. We write a big scene and then we try to make it really specific so the story isn’t obvious. That’s usually what we try to do.
Is storytelling pretty big in Iceland?
Yeah, I think storytelling is a big part of Icelandic culture. Also for me as a kid it was a way that we connected. It’s easy for us to sit and talk about stories and come up with that kind of stuff instead of writing about love. It’s hard to write from one person’s perspective when you’re two people doing it together. We just like stories.
There’s also a lot of animals and nature in your writing. What about that aspect do you like to write about?
Animals are a big part of storytelling. It’s quite fun because animals can become more. They talk and deal with stuff and can become humanlike. We’re all animals, so there’s kind of a connection there. Also in children’s tales, there’s a lot of talking animals and stuff like that. It’s an interesting thing to put yourself into that kind of childlike state of mind again.
Does that come pretty naturally for you?
Yeah, we’re all I guess children in big bodies [laughs]. We’re grown up now but we’re still the same kids.
As far as vocally you and Raggi complement each other so well. Was that something you had to work on or was that there from the start?
A lot of the stuff we’ve done we haven’t thought about it very much, to be honest. We just do something that we think is fun. When we started singing together it started because it was fun. It was fun sharing vocals with someone else. It gives you a lot more possibilities and something more to work with. It was just something we wanted to try and it happened to work out.
I’m sure you’re not used to playing this many shows that you’ve been doing lately. Is that having an effect on your voice and is it hard to keep it fresh?
In a way, yeah. Raggi’s voice went one day totally and he had to go on vocal rest and stuff. It was the first time we went to a vocal coach, who told us how to use our voices the right way. It’s very hard to be singing every single night, putting everything you got and not warming up correctly. We’re more aware of that now.
Did you take music lessons when you were kids or is this something you just picked up as you went along?
It’s both. Árni, our piano player, he’s classically trained and is a composer. I went to guitar school for a few years and the same with our other guitarist, but for some of us they just picked stuff up on their own.
You guys are still really, really young. Do you feel like you’re only scratching the surface of what you can do?
Yeah, definitely. This is our first record and I’m excited to go back in the studio to experiment more. I like it when bands on their second album try to make their songs a bit different and try to do something more and challenge themselves. I’m very excited for us to do that.
What were you doing before the band took off? Did you have regular jobs and stuff?
Some of us were in school. I was in art school. Raggi was as well and was also studying graphic design. Kristján was a plumber and Brynjar was doing airport security. We were all doing something. I started school again after a long break and then it just kind of took off. It was a moment of, “Yes, of course I’ll be in a band.”
Do you think coming from an art background helps you on the music side?
Yeah, definitely. We like to be very involved in our own art, the album art and stuff like that. We try to make it ourselves. I think it’s definitely important because it’s something that challenges your mind.
Do you know what you’ll be doing the rest of the year yet?
We’re going home for a month now to have a little break because we’ve been touring since the beginning of the year. After that we go to Europe, then Australia and America again. We’ll be doing some festivals this summer and some fun stuff.
Have you been getting as good a response in these other countries and you have been in America?
In Europe, we’ve only just kind of begun. We’re just putting our foot in there and beginning to do something there. America kind of went crazy really fast. We’re two steps behind in the other countries, but hopefully getting there.
A couple months ago you made your U.S. television debut on Hoppus on Music. What was that experience like and what did you think of Mark?
I’m a big fan. I used to be a really big fan. It was a lot of fun. It was one of those moments were I was thinking about myself as a 14-year-old kid. I was like, “Oh, I wish 14-year-old Nanna could see me now because she would just die.”