For Of Monsters and Men, these are “crazy times” indeed, co-lead vocalist Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdóttir told HuffPost.
The Icelandic group is coming off two albums, multiple tours and a “Game of Thrones” appearance. Their busy schedule since their debut in 2011 led to a desire to carve out time to just ... breathe. After spending some time at home, the members soon found themselves building a studio and writing songs for their third album, “Fever Dream.”
“It’s the first time that we really came together after a very long time to work on new music, so there was this energy in that process of like, ‘OK, we’re back together, let’s do something fun,’” Hilmarsdóttir said.
After recent performances on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” and Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Of Monsters and Men played New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, where the group plowed through music from all three albums, keeping audience members on their feet nearly the entire show.
Prior to the concert, we caught up with Hilmarsdóttir on everything from “Fever Dream” and fame to the band’s “Game of Thrones” cameo.
It’s been four years since your last album release, and as I understand it, you’ve been busy. What have the last few years been like?
After we released “Beneath the Skin,” the second album, we toured the world for about a year, a year and a half, I think it was, and right after that, we took a minute to get back into life in Iceland, build our own studio. In the past we’ve kind of had a hard time writing on the road, so you get back home and you try to get back into the rhythm of everything again. So, pretty much right away when we got back home, we started to write for this album.
Would you say that having your own studio changed the game a little bit for you, and how so?
It changed a lot for us. When you have your own studio, you just have all the time in the world, or that’s how you feel, at least. It’s very easy to go in and play around, and I think you can hear the laugh in some of our songs, like the song called “Under a Dome,” where it was with us for such a long time and it was one of those songs where if you get stuck, you would go back to that song and layer it and play around. When you have your own studio, you can play around a lot more.
So did you feel like there was a moment where you’re like, “OK, we’re done.” I mean, you could play around for years, but at what point were you happy with the end result?
I was actually going crazy at one point because I just wanted to release this album, so there was plenty of time where we were like, “OK, it’s done.” You can get lost a little bit because you have all this time, but we were also very eager, we wanted to finish it. We wanted to get out there and start touring again. So we were trying not to get too lost, you know.
How collaborative is the writing process for you? And it sounds like you also took a different approach to the way you were writing songs.
Definitely. My approach was this time I didn’t rely on the guitar as much. I wanted to explore different things and I wanted to explore writing and recording, and just using different things to get curious … It was a really freeing process for me, honestly. Because you feel like a kid again a bit when you have something in your hands and you’re trying to figure it out, and you’re curious, and it does something to you.
In terms of the sound, how would you describe it, and how is it different from the past two studio records?
The sound, when we first make something, we usually don’t talk a lot about what kind of an album we want to make. But we have a conversation where we wanted to feel open. Our previous album was very looking inward, and it was kind of cold, and it wasn’t that it was trying to hold anyone at a distance, but it was a cold album. I can’t explain it. It’s a very Icelandic winter, you know? This time, we wanted summer, we wanted to have a lot of fun on this album. It was a fun album to make, but it was also a very intense album to make. I think you definitely have those two sides coming together.
And do you feel like, in some ways, whether it was growing or just taking a risk with this record, either sound-wise or lyric-wise, that you guys were trying to push yourself to the next level?
Yes, definitely. That’s the thing that we think is very important for us, to try to push us a little bit. It’s a different album for us, but it’s funny, too. We, the past four years, were growing, and we were very conscious about never relying on our comfort songs. So if we felt comfortable, like, “Oh, yeah this would make sense for a huge brass part.” How can we do it differently? It just makes the process really fun.
You mentioned you wanted to make a fun album, and I think you achieved that. How much of what you’re writing has been influenced by the world around you, and specifically what?
This album is very much influenced from our lives for the past four years. So it’s a very personal album. The lyrics touch on what we are going through, me and Ragnar [Þórhallsson], the other singer and songwriter. So it’s mostly just about coming back home from after a while, and you have your life and you have your life situation like everyone has.
How much of a whirlwind has it been for you? Because you came out of the gate with your debut and it got a lot of accolades and a lot of buzz.
It’s strange. Sometimes, it’s very strange. When we released our first album, we did not know what to expect, and everything was new and fresh and you were fully into it. But for a year and a half we toured, and coming from being a small band in Iceland, many of us actually hadn’t traveled, we’d never been to America, we’d never traveled so much or seen so much, so our eyes were just very wide.
And then you come back from that to Iceland and I have a bit of shock, a lot of shock. It was hard to come back into your life in Iceland, and there’s a certain vision there that you have to get adjusted to. And when we were writing “Beneath the Skin,” I think we were all kind of dealing with that, of going from extreme speed to just quiet, but your mind is still just racing. So it was a big adjustment for us to do that. It can be a strange, strange life.
A strange life that even landed you a small part in one episode of “Game of Thrones.” It’s been a few years since that happened. What was that experience like for you?
That’s the thing, you get to experience these kinds of things. It’s incredible. We were such big fans of the show, so we stayed a few days in Spain and it was really fun, being fans, to see the production and see how much work is put into it and with all the costumes, like, everything is beautifully done. It’s very cool to see behind the scenes and be a small part of it.
Are there any other shows that you’re watching right now? Do you guys binge-watch anything on the road, or do you not even have time to watch TV?
I love TV. I haven’t been watching anything. Well, I always watch “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” That’s like a comfort. I watch it over and over … There’s not a lot of time right now. It’s just crazy times for me.
What about music? What have you been listening to lately that you’re excited about?
Here’s the thing: A lot of the bands and musicians that I love just released albums. I love the new National album, I think it’s such a beautiful album. And Bonnie Raitt, I like the new album a lot. I’ve been obsessively listening to Tyler The Creator’s “Igor.” I really liked that album a lot.
So now that you have three albums, what’s it like creating a set list for the tour?
It is funny when you have three albums and we’re running into the problem right now, which we never really had before, where we have too many songs that we want to play tonight. Which is a good problem. I mean, it’s very cool. You can build the set up in a certain way, and you can take people on more of a journey, I think. It’s been surprising, we’ve just played a few shows, and I’m always just so excited to play the new songs. I can’t wait to play them, but I also, I really miss playing, especially the first album ... I don’t want to go back a lot, but that album now for me, I don’t know. I’m connecting to it again in a certain way, and I just love playing those songs live and seeing the reaction of the people. It just makes me feel really good.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.