Interview | Of Monsters and Men

Photo by: Shane Timm
Photo by: Shane Timm
Photo by: Shane Timm
Photo by: Shane Timm

Answered by Raggi (Ragnar Þórhallsson)

MCBN: 30 March shall mark Of Monsters and Men’s debut performance in South Africa. Has performing in South Africa been something you’ve always wanted to do or was it just an out of a blue decision when Seed Experiences initially contacted you?

It’s been high on our list for some time now so when the opportunity presented itself we were quick to jump on it.

MCBN: What can fans expect when you perform considering the fact that many people would know your debut album much better than they would know Beneath the Skin? Is there going to be a bigger focus on your earlier music or is it going to be a mixed bag of old and new music?

We’re on tour promoting our new album so we’re of course going to play a lot of it. But since we’ve never played in South Africa before we’re definitely going to mix it up with some of the older songs. 

MCBN: Iceland, like South Africa, is renowned for its natural beauty. South Africa’s is often described as much more colourful and vibrant kind of beauty while Iceland’s beauty is of a much starker and desolate nature. Is this something that plays a big role in influencing the atmosphere surrounding your music?

I think it does. But it’s not that you intentionally go and seek inspiration from the nature. It’s more that it has just become such a big part of who you are as a person that it automatically shows in the way you behave and in the things you create. 

MCBN: We don’t have very many true folk artists in South Africa due to the fact that our folklore allows for the creation of traditional African music as opposed to the kind of folk music that was built around European folklore. Do you think that a lot of your success, especially in Europe, can be attributed to the continent having such a rich heritage of folklore?

I’m not sure. I’m not even sure if our music falls under “folk” or what “folk music” actually means. But I do think that our music has a certain vulnerability and realness that people seem to connect to. 

MCBN: Your music draws quite heavily on the themes present in Nordic folklore in the sense that you spend a lot of your time attributing monstrous qualities to men and vice versa – something that Norse mythology was quite fond of doing as it was often the humans that were the monsters. What kind of literature and art were you bought up that allowed for such themes to play an important role in your music?

I think we were just encouraged as kids to use our imagination a lot. We’d never thought about Norse mythology and our music as something that’s connected. Other people have pointed it out and it might make some sense but it is definitely not where we draw our inspiration from.  

MCBN: It is interesting to see how music drawing from a specific strain of folklore can present a universal message to a wide variety of culture groups. Did you ever expect to have your music strike a chord with so many people?

No, we definitely didn’t but it’s very cool. 

MCBN: You initially released your debut album in 2011 to little fanfare in Iceland. It was only when your album was released by Universal worldwide that you shot to success. Has being on a label made your life a lot easier than it used to be?

It’s just different. We were just people in school and working in normal jobs when all of this happened. So I would say our life is probably more complicated now but it’s also a lot more fun. 

MCBN: You rose to success at time when folk-rock was at the forefront of the media spotlight since Mumford and Sons brought about the folk revival in 2010 – a revival that began to receive a lot of criticism once more and more bands jumped onto the bandwagon. Did this play a role in the change of sound with regard to your new album?

Everything gets criticized no matter what. The only thing you can do is make music you love to perform and that’s what we do. 

MCBN: Mumford and Sons also dropped away from the traditional folk rock sound with the release of Wilder Mind last year except they received a lot more criticism for it whereas you received a lot of praise for adopting a similar stadium rock sound. Why do you think this was the case?

I think our development from our first album to our second album was very natural one. We didn’t change our sound as much as we developed it. We always had a lot of electric guitar and a lot of heavy drumming where as Mumford and Sons went from almost an entirely acoustic sound to an electric. I still think they did a great job. 

MCBN: A lot of the emotion in My Head Is an Animal was wrapped up in delicate prose and complicated poetic musings. Beneath the Skin takes a much more direct route and delivers the emotion in very blunt and open statements. Why is this the case? Is it because you chose to focus human experiences and qualities rather than attributing human qualities to monsters?

We just wanted write something very honest and raw, something from us. 

MCBN: The influence of fantasy literature and folklore is the only consistency in Of Monsters and Men’s music. Is this something that shall always remain the case and would you ever consider creating a Tolkien tribute album?

I am not sure if I agree with that statement. And no 🙂 

MCBN: Finally, have people ever accidently confused you with the American metal band Of Mice and Men?  I ask this because I recently worked in a music store and someone did that exact thing – which led to a lot of confusion for my poor colleague that was assisting the customer? 

All the time … I wish we would have known about them before naming our band. But it’s OK. It’s probably more annoying for them 🙂 

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