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- Posted on May 14th 2012 4:30PM by Marwa Hamad
Sneak Attack Media
It's hard not to get all mystical about Iceland.
After all, it's the land of unpronounceable volcanoes like Eyjafjallajökull, and magical pixie musicians like Bjork and Sigur Ros. It's also home to fast-rising Icelandic folk-pop outfit Of Monsters and Men, a six-piece who are more than comfortable embracing the arcane. To hear them tell it, Iceland is basically like being north of the Wall in Game of Thrones.
Vocalist-guitarist Ragnar "Raggi" Pórhallsson and drummer Arnar Hilmarsson say they can't deny that the supernatural exists -- and neither can their parents. Their fathers' tales of ghosts and trolls back home provide inspiration behind the phantasmal storytelling on the band's My Head is an Animal album.
"I've had no experience with it, but my dad has, and [Arnar's] dad has," Pórhallsson tells Spinner. "He told me one story when his grandpa had died, I think it was around Christmas time. He was just a little boy, my dad, maybe 11 or 12 or something. He went into the living room, and he saw his grandpa just sitting in the chair, and then he turned back and he was gone.
"Maybe my dad is just crazy. But even if his mind is just playing tricks on him, I think that's cool as well."
Hilmarsson concedes that Pórhallsson's father is likely crazy, but it becomes quickly apparent that his old man is a bit of a believer himself.
"Actually, in his dad's garage, there's a troll," says Pórhallsson. "His dad says he feels it."
"There is a troll," Hilmarsson confirms. "But you shouldn't be afraid of it. It's a good troll."
Trolls, ghosts, and otherworldly creatures not only inspirated many of the band's lyrics, but had something to do with the "monsters" in the group's name, as well.
"We are talking about monsters that exist that we should be afraid of. We have a few monsters in Iceland," Hilmarsson says. "I'm not afraid of them. I could probably beat them every day."
With song titles like "Dirty Paws," "King and Lionheart" and "Numb Bears," the band seems very much in touch with their elemental Icelandic roots. Pórhallsson explains that he and vocalist-lyricist Nanna Hilmarsdottir are fascinated with the idea of storytelling and masking their own personal experiences in fantastic fables of lions, tigers and "screaming owls" rather than boring and simple prose.
"I like animals, and I think they're more fun than human beings," says Pórhallsson. "They're just very fun to write about. There's something simple about it. When we write the lyrics, we're often thinking about the human being as an animal. The raw animal instinct of a human being. It's like, how bad can people be?"
The group's vastly imaginative vision, however wide-reaching it may be, is only a couple of years old. Of Monsters and Men got their start in 2010 when four out of six members participated in Músíktilraunir, an Icelandic battle of the bands, and won. Despite it being a small competition that involved the group performing in front of just about a hundred people, Hilmarsson says it provided a solid launching point for them to build up momentum to today.
"The competition is great. It got us a spot in Iceland's Airwaves Festival, which got us on [Seattle-based radio station] KEXP, which got us our YouTube living room video, which got us millions of hits, which led us here, probably," he says.
Pórhallsson agrees with a smirk. "It's all a part of the plan. It's all a part of some special plan. Some elves' plan..."
"There are trolls doing various things [for our band]," adds Hilmarsson. "They meet in the mountains and make plans about us."