Jónsi Birgisson - Sigur Ros
"Tonight, I sing for the animals"
by Fiona Galbraith
Sigur Rós are Jón Þór (Jónsi) Birgisson (vocals, guitars), Kjartan (Kjarri) Sveinsson (keyboards), Orri Páll Dýrason (drums) and Georg (Goggi) Holm (bass). The Icelandic band formed in 1994 and have released five albums to date. Their most recent, með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust (which roughly translates to With a buzz in our ears we play endlessly) entered the UK album charts at number five this year.
Sigur Rós’ records are timeless and beautiful works of art. An artistic mix of classical instruments, chiming glockenspiels, heavy reverb, and wondrous, buoyant vocals bring life to their epic and vast soundscapes. There is a simplicity to the raw and true beauty of Sigur Rós that can be life-changing.
As huge fans of the band, Viva!’s Kate Montgomery and I were very excited to be invited backstage at Bristol’s Colston Hall to speak to front-man Jónsi before the concert! He was friendly and excited and seemed interested in learning more about Viva! and the work we do for animals.
I asked Jónsi about his own vegetarian journey: “I have been vegetarian for over ten years. It was something that happened gradually, I just started eating less and less meat, I think my body was telling me to. I didn’t go vegetarian because of the animals, but the longer I have avoided meat, the more disgusted I am by what happens to them. When I look at meat, I see the animal it came from.”
After years of being a Sigur Rós fan, Kate had many ideas of where to take the conversation and knew that Jónsi enjoys to cook. He told us: “I am quite a good cook, I have to say. I love to cook. When I’m on tour there is no routine, but when I am home I cook every day. My boyfriend, Alex [Somers] is a raw vegan. At home, we took our cooker and threw it out of the apartment! So now we have to eat raw all the time. As a raw foodist everything you put into your body is good for you. Alex always has energy because of his healthy diet, he never gets tired during the day.”
Traditional Icelandic meals include a lot of fish, meat and dairy products so we wondered whether vegetarianism was common in Iceland. Jónsi told us: “No. There are two or three health food shops in Reykjavik. It is not like in Britain where the supermarkets sell a lot of vegetarian and vegan foods. But I think it’s easy to be vegetarian anywhere. You can buy fruit and vegetables everywhere.
“If we go to a restaurant for a meal, people always ask what meat they serve, and they do not understand why I choose a salad. But salad is so beautiful.”
Kate asked Jónsi whether he’s ever turned any of his fans vegetarian: “I’ve never thought about that actually. That would be cool! Alex and I made a raw recipe book last year and gave it to our friends and family for Christmas. We took pictures of all the dishes and wrote out the recipes next to them,” he recalled.
We asked Jónsi whether he would find it difficult to date a meat-eater. He laughed: “I think it would be quite hard. I just love animals and I do not want to kill them, cook them or eat them so it’d be hard for me to watch anyone do that.”
How would his music be received in one hundred years, Kate asked? “Hopefully people will still like it. We try to make it sound timeless by avoiding trends that might date the music. Like ‘80s music, I love it, but it sounds very dated now,” Jónsi replied.
Jónsi looked through the goodie bag of free merchandise that Viva! gave him and found a pile of campaign materials. Leafing through them, he stopped and picked out a copy of the So Cute leaflet: “This is very good,” he concluded. He read the leaflet and looked upset for a second before announcing: “Tonight, I sing for the animals.”
As we wished him luck for the concert and gathered our things, Kate thanked Jónsi for the interview, his parting words were: “Thank you for all you do for the animals.”
The long-awaited concert had sold out months before, and the Colston Hall was heaving by the time the show came around. Attending a Sigur Rós performance is unlike any other gig; it feels more like a really special experience. This overwhelming emotion isn’t accidental, a lot of planning goes into making the concerts special; the music sounds unbelievable, the projected images make the music come to life, and the confetti falling into the audience is reminiscent of snowflakes landing softly on the ground. If you haven’t seen Sigur Rós live, I strongly recommend that you do!