Ágætis byrjunRelease Year: 1999
Formats: Digital, LP, CD
- Ný batterí
- Hjartað hamast (bamm bamm bamm)
- Viðrar vel til loftárása
- Olsen olsen
- Ágætis byrjun
The intro is basically a snippet from the song Ágætis Byrjun played backwards with some additional vocals and effects.
Svefn-g-englar was derived from one of Georg’s brilliant bass riffs. It was written in the basement at Skeifan. Jónsi brought the pickups of his old Ibanez guitar to his mouth, which had a very high resonance. Kjartan had his brother’s old Yamaha SK 20 keyboard (the only keyboard he had at the time). It was run though the next available amplifier, not necessarily the most optimal one, which protruded this strange frequency on the e-note that reminded us of a submarine radar. Hence the working title Kafbátalagið which means ‘submarine song’. The submarine sound was later replaced with our friend Biogen’s Roland JD800 keyboard and it was placed on the second beat and not ON the beat like it was originally. Georg sang the deep backing vocals and Kjartan plated the Hammond organ for the first time in his life. Jónsi wrote or finalised all the lyrics really, but everyone usually contributed something to most of the songs. A method we often used for creating lyrics was that we sat around and tried to express in singular words or sentences how the song made us feel: underwater, a womb-like floating feeling. This is probably also where the cover artwork comes from. A fœtus with wings. The lyrics were typically always done at the last minute as well.
The main string melody at the start of the song we think was written by Georg, and Jónsi picked up on the two chord progression and wrote the melody. The whole song was pitched up by half tone with the varying speed with the tape machine. The strings at the end are palindromic. Not played palindromically, but reversed at the end with a COMPUTER (We had so much fun with our friend the computer). The song was not played live until years later when Amiina toured with Sigur Rós and everyone had to figure out what to play. We had a hard time figuring out what to add to the song. It was basically just strings, vocals and Jónsi’s acoustic guitar. We did not feel we had cracked it completely, so we tried a number of things out. The brass was really fun. We don’t think it was written out, so there were other methods in getting what we wanted out of the players. The scales and rise before the last chorus in the song were drawn out of them by mentioning Jessica Fletcher: “You know – Murder She Wrote, that kind of thing – can you do that?” The rhythmical elements we ended up using was partly synthesised drums, but the fun part was recording the sun of ripping grass and the clenched fist into the earth. Georg got that part. And let’s not forget the compressed piano. There was also a Moog, reversed autoharp and Kjartan’s mother’s long wave radio. The morse code and the soprano singer (which appears once in the song) comes from that radio.
The lyrics were based on Ágúst’s childhood memories, sitting by the stream in the countryside of his hometown, saving the drowning flies. The harmonium organ was recorded in a small chapel in Reykjavík called Friðrikskapella. It was Kjartan’s debut on the album. Friðrikskapella was also the place where we held our Von release concert in 1997. Lots of fun in the studio, loads of reversed tape effects, drones and overdubs. Flugufrelsarinn was the most popular song off the album in Iceland.
Ný Batterí’s working title was Stina after the Swedish singer Stina Nordenstam. Jónsi was very much influenced by her vocal style and one can hear a strong resemblance on the early bootlegs. It was written in Skeifan, the old record store, like Svefn, Viðrar and Flugufrelsarinn. The brass parts were played by Samúel Samúelsson and Snorri Sigurðsson, who also toured with the band until 2008. They came in to Stúdió Sýrland and improvised the part twice and the Snorri overdubbed his flügelhorn part at the end. Ný Batterí was recorded with three separate click tracks to the three main parts of the song. This was because Ágúst found it impossible to keep the same beat as the song took off, which is just as good because it’s much better like that. This was later something we held aloft in a way, letting the tempo vary if it wants to do that. The drumbeat came about because of a very messed up cymbal we had. It was torn and someone had even driven over it. It sounded great – no tone really, just noise. We used that cymbal for the first part and then switched over to ride. We wanted some machinery sounding noise in the song as well so Ágúst suggested that we recorded a printing machine, which we did. Ágúst worked at a printers at the time so that was easy to do. The song was probably based on Georg’s bass riff once again.
For us, this was always the odd one out on the album. We had a very difficult time trying to get this one into shape and still today the band feels it should have been ditched entirely. We struggled a lot and tried different things that were kept or thrown away. Our friend, and Jónsi and Kjartan’s partner in their studio. KK played the harp in the start of the song. We borrowed a Rhodes from Mezzoforte’s Eyþor Gunnarsson and we did this weird funky part which makes our faces red today. Szymon Kuran improvised the whole violin solo, and Kjartan played the flute over that. There are two bass tracks in the song. The electric bass takes over from the double bass, so the double bass does the attack and the electric bass the sustain; an old trick from Ken Thomas. The voice us very closed and compressed, and in retrospect Jónsi was probably struggling with hearing for the first time the true quality of his voice, as we were recording with proper gear for the first time. The song is what it is, and for some people, a very important part of the album. We would have liked something different.
This song was based on an idea we had at the rehearsal space that did not seem to be going anywhere. We did not have a piano at the rehearsal place at the time so Kjartan played the old Yamaha organ. We had kind of given up on the idea. Then Jónsi and Kjartan laid the song out with a white Young Chang piano at Kjartan’s parents’ house. The intro is for some reason super long and the drums and vocals come in after ages. We had our friend Pétur Hallgrímsson to play the lap steel guitar. I think he was the only guy we knew in Iceland who had a lap steel at the time. Two takes, and that was it. The piano was an Estonia grand, recorded in another studio called Hljóðsetning. The title of the song comes from Jónsi hearing someone on the radio talking about the weather in relation to the NATO bombings in formed Yugoslavia. The title means ‘good weather for airstrikes’. The written string arrangement stops toward the end and we asked the string players to improvise or ‘freak out’ on their instrument. This was not an easy thing to do. We mainly got scale and arpeggios but second time round they managed to show a little bit more aggression. At the end of the song you can hear Kjartan (who was conducting in the big room) saying “that was better”.
Olsen was written in Georg’s mother’s summerhouse in Denmark. Kjartan was not officially in the band then and the other three took the ferry over to Denmark in an old Citroën ambulance they purchased together, went to Roskilde Festival, stayed in a tent, got robbed and got the Citroën torn apart at customs coming home. The name of the song had something to do with a street policeman. The vocals were recorded on a small patch of grass outside Stúdió Sýrland with a Coles 4104B commentator’s microphone, which Georg had found unused at the TV station he worked at. Sammi and Snorri played the brass again and we had the Álafoss choir singing at the end. Kjartan’s parents were in the choir. We worked with the Álafoss choir again years later when we recorded Hoppípolla. The song is kind of typical for the band in the late 90s, no lyrics, no fuzz, just a feel-good atmosphere.
At first it was supposed to be the opener on the album, as it as written about the joy and disappointment around the release of Von. This was different from the others as it had more of an acoustic feel to it, no big reverbs and a more intimate approach.
The winged cover figure was usually called Avalon – don’t know why, probably the sound of the word. We might, however, have seen the film Excalibur a few years before we recorded the album. Avalon is just the end of Starálfur slowed down a lot. Nothing more to be said about that song really.