The first show Icelandic folk rockers Of Monsters and Men played during their breakout run at SXSW this March was at an Austin, Tex. bike shop packed with singing fans. And though there was perhaps a little more space to maneuver at Mophonics Studio in NYC, the group did not tone down the exuberance one bit as they ran through renditions of “Little Talks,” “King & Lionheart,” and “Mountain Sound” for their Billboard.com Tastemakers session.
Of Monsters and Men’s origins date back to when Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir — who’d been performing solo as Songbird — teamed up with Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson, Brynjar Leifsson, Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson to form the four-piece that would win Iceland’s annual Music Experiments competition. Following their victory, Árni Guðjónsson Kristján Páll Kristjánsson joined the band. The sextet’s debut, “My Head Is an Animal,” hit No. 6 on the Billboard 200 last month — not entirely unsurprising with an album featuring a total earworm of a single like “Little Talks” to hook listeners.
“We started recording more than a year ago now,” Nanna tells Billboard.com of the album the band recorded mostly by themselves and entirely before they had a record deal. “We went into the studio for three days first and recorded the foundation, just stayed in a big room and played in a circle to create a live kind of feeling.”
Soon after, the group was joined by engineer Aron Arnarsson, who Arnar says, “had a huge impact on developing the sound with us.”
Released initially in Iceland last September, the North American version of “My Head Is an Animal,” includes two new tracks –“Mountain Sound” and “Slow and Steady” — that the group recorded with producer Jacquire King (Tom Waits, Modest Mouse).
“We went up to a farm and spent a week there with like almost a storm outside,” says Nanna, recalling the writing process for the additional cuts. “We kinda locked ourselves away to write something new.”
With the success of “Animal,” the group has found themselves trekking across the States, playing to ever-growing crowds that continue to sing out each lyric.
Throughout their Stateside travels, Of Monsters and Men have also enjoyed some of America’s finer offerings… like the indoor roller coaster at the Mall of America — “I died a little inside and on the outside,” says Raggi, “I totally blacked out!”— and eating Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland: “They were like a million calories,” says Brynjar, the rest of the group laughing, “I gained like six pounds by eating one!”
This summer they’ll continue the musical journey, hitting the festival circuit, making appearances at both Lollapalooza and the famed Newport Folk Festival. And while the band has been playing these tracks for quite sometime now, their fans seemingly infinite enthusiasm helped keep things fresh.
“People’s reactions have been so good that you don’t really think about that you’re playing it over and over,” says Raggi. “You think about each experience and how the crowd reacts, and they’ve been reacting well so it’s always fun.”