AMBY got a chance to sit down with Nanna from the Icelandic band Of Monsters and Men recently at Toronto Urban Roots Festival just before they closed out Friday night to a massive crowd. Fans had been waiting for their set since noon and Of Monsters and Men put on an unforgettable show. They had the whole crowd singing with one of their famous hits Little Talks along with their newest singles Crystals and Empire from their sophomore album Beneath The Skin. Nana and I chat about ghost stories, first concerts, the man in the lyric video for Crystal, love of comic books, and much more.
AMBY: Congrats on Beneath the Skin, it’s a really great follow up album to My Head is an Animal. Was there any pressure going into recording your second album?
Nanna: I think there was a lot of stress that no body wanted to acknowledge, we were all just like non no no, there’s no stress but we never felt like there was any pressure from our team. It was a little bit like fans, we would be doing social media stuff that was not album related they would be like “stop having fun, start working!” [laughs]. In a way there was something in the back of our heads but I think we just focusing on not letting that mess with us too much.
AMBY: You have mentioned that this is more of a personal album focused inwards rather than outwards. What has led to this album to be more personal compared to My Head is An Animal?
Nanna: Well, I think for me I really wanted to start tapping more into that. I’ve always been very interested in those kinds of lyrics and before the band that was the kind of lyrics I would write. I think it took us (me and Raggi) a while to figure out how to write together, to tell a story together. I think for this one we were just like lets not try to figure it out, lets just be very honest and say what we want to say. It was also a really good chance for us to go to that place and just be very open.
AMBY: You wrote most of the album in Iceland I believe, how was it writing and recording this time around compared to your first album?
Nanna: The differences were that now in a way, we had certain roles in the band but we actually really fought against them when we stated in the beginning. We were like “no no no” but three of us write music and Raggi and I write lyrics. Sometimes some one will write an entire song by them self and sometimes it’s a group effort. This time it felt like we were actually making an album, where the last time it was like we will see what happens.
AMBY: Since you guys have traveled so much over the past few years, what are some essentials that you need while on the road?
Nanna: Well like the boring basic stuff, like clothes and all that. You need clothes [laughs] I’ve heard. I always like to bring some thing to read, I try to bring a new book mostly comic books on the road but you run through them so quickly, they stack up and its really heavy in your backpack.
AMBY: What are your favorite comic books right now?
Nanna: I just finished one that’s called The Lock and Key and it’s so good, its crazy and now I’m reading Sandman.
AMBY: I should get more into reading comics.
Nanna: Yea, it’s really fun! Especially if you are like me, I start reading and then I will just start thinking about something else so this way I can get through quick enough before wandering off.
AMBY: What are your favorite countries or festivals that you have played in the past few years?
Nanna: I really love Japan; it’s just so weird in such a wonderful way. I enjoy how different and lively it is. Its beautiful too like once you go outside of Tokyo (which is also great) to these gorgeous landscapes. South America is also amazing.
AMBY: How are the fans like in South America compared to North America?
Nanna: They are really good in both places. In South America, the emotions are so raw and just out there. Its beautiful, I love it.
AMBY: You have been to Toronto quite a bit, what are you’re favorite places or things to do around the city?
Nanna: Yesterday we walked along Queen Street, it was great. I had dinner at this place called Pai, a Thai restaurant, I enjoyed that and we always have sushi at this one place, which is really good.
AMBY: You guys last preformed in Toronto in July at Massey Hall, How was that concert for you and how was the reaction to the new stuff from the Toronto audience?
Nanna: That was our first show of the tour, it was great. The reaction was so good, we were really nervous about playing it for the first time and we played a lot of the new songs. Everyone was listening and being very receptive. We were like “Yes we’re back!”
AMBY: I love your lyric videos you did for this new album Beneath the Skin. I have to ask, who is the older man in the Crystals video?
Nanna: He is a very famous Icelandic actor. We all kind of grew up with him, he’s a really great guy. That’s the cool thing about doing these lyric videos now because we get to get people we admire, there’s a lot of actors, musicians or other artists we can work with now.
AMBY: What was the inspiration behind doing the lyric videos in this way?
Nanna: It was funny because we had this different idea earlier for the lyric video. We were gonna do this thing that didn’t feel in the end like it would really be that cool and then we were like what can we do? I don’t know how it happened, we were all just sitting around with our manager and she was just like “how about people just singing?” and we all said Yes, like Sinead O’connor! Its just raw and I think the really cool part about is that now having all these songs that are more raw and emotional and getting different people to sing them. I feel like that they are always either they come up with something that is exactly what was going through my mind when we wrote it or sometimes you get a completely different idea of the song from them.
AMBY: If you could curate your own festival, who would be your headliners? (Dead or alive)
Nanna: Shit! Um… well I saw Portishead a few years ago and they blew my mind, they were so fucking good. They would definitely be on the bill. Janice Joplin. There’s a lot of things coming to my mind now. I also watched the Amy Winehouse documentary so I would get her in there too.
AMBY: How was the documentary?
Nanna: I really like it because the story is just so crazy; you see how the whole music industry can (if you’re not with the right people) just fuck you up. I would love to get her. Top three right there.
AMBY: Those are great top three! What was your first concert you ever went to?
Nanna: I remember going to Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age when they had a show together in Iceland. That was the first really big one that I saw and then there were a lot of Icelandic bands, sneaking into clubs very young trying to see the band.
AMBY: How does the title of your album Beneath the Skin represent your overall theme and message of the album?
Nanna: We were kind of just sitting around trying to come up with something. We had another working title for a very long time “Thousand Eyes, also the name of one of the songs on the album. We went through the lyrics and wrote the ones we felt could represent the whole album. It’s kind of stupid talking about it now because it’s just very boring. We all talked about it and we voted [laughs]. At the end we felt like Beneath the Skin represented the album perfectly.
AMBY: When you are not creating music, what do you enjoy doing?
Nanna: Reading comic books, watching movies [laughs].
AMBY: What was the last movie you saw?
Nanna: The last movie I remember seeing was It Follows. It was a bit more of a horror movie than I though t was going to be.
AMBY: Last question, so stories/folktales from when you were growing up have influenced your music and imagery, can you tell us one that you still remember?
Nanna: I have a few stories that I always get really inspired by and they are ghost stories. There are ones that are like lullabies that have a really creepy twist to them. There’s like a mother who couldn’t have her child so she just left it out and the baby comes back. The mother is going to this dance and needs something to wear; the baby goes “I can lend you this shawl that you wrapped me in when you left me.” It’s fucking creepy.
AMBY: Who would tell you these stories?
Nanna: These stories were kind of just around in Iceland but my grandfather told me all these creepy stories when I was a kid and I couldn’t get enough. I would always want more and be hooked on them. It was really cute, he wrote me ghost stories too so yea he’s to blame [laughs].
AMBY: Thank you Nanna!
Nanna: No problem, it was fun!
Thank you Of Monsters and Men, for giving us your answers!
Interview by Mashal Khan | @mmmmashy