“We were really rebelling against our old selves” – hmv.com talks to Of Monsters And Men
When Of Monsters And Men released their debut album My Head Is An Animal back in February 2011 it was expected to shift a few copies in their homeland of Iceland and not much else. However, over the next two years, it would go on to be picked up by major label Island Records, sell over a million copies and produce ‘Little Talks’, a single that ruled radio and sold over four million copies.
Now, after some time away to decompress from a long and demanding world tour, the band are back with new album Beneath The Skin. Produced by Rich Costey (best known for his work with Muse and Mastodon), it’s a darker and more intricate record, but a fascinating one too.
We spoke to singer and guitarist Ragnar "Raggi" Þórhallsson to find out all about how their new album came together…
How long did it take you to put the record together?
“It took most of 2014 and the later part of 2013 to write it and then we went into the studio at the end of 2014, we had about four months in the studio, so it took a little while."
You recorded in Los Angeles and Iceland, where did you get most of the album done?
“We started in Iceland and we did most of it there, most of the groundwork, originally we were just going to spend a month in LA, just to finish things up, but we ended up doing all the vocals there, so it wound up being about two months."
You did the album with Rich Costey, was he someone you wanted? Or was he suggested to you?
“He was great, he came to Iceland and then went back to Los Angeles with us. We didn’t know a lot of producers, so we started looking and the team around us came up with a few names, we just clicked with him and we thought he’d work well with us.”
Did it feel like there was more pressure on you this time?
“There probably was, but we didn’t think about that too much. We had a lot more time, on our first album we had no money so we had no time in the studio, we had to do everything in short bursts. This time we could settle in to the studio and really work.”
Was it strange working with this as a full-time job now?
“It was kind of weird. It was very different, knowing there’s pressure for an album does change things. You have to work differently.”
Are you the kind of band who will write lots of songs and whittle it down? Or just focus on a select few that you’re happy with?
“We don’t write a lot. We went in with 16 songs and we recorded 13, we don’t like to spread ourselves too thin.”
Are you getting better at spotting when a song isn’t working?
“I think so. There are a lot of us, so if three or four of us don’t like an idea then it goes away quite quickly, we don’t spend a lot of time arguing about stuff like that.”
How did you want make the album different from My Head Is An Animal? Were there things you wanted to move away from?
“In the beginning we were really rebelling against our old selves. We were swapping instruments and writing these dark, moody pieces and that was really the basis for the album, but we quickly figured out that wasn’t working. We went back to our old instruments and we re-focused. We all seem to arrive at songs with different ideas of how a song should be and then somehow it comes out and we’re all happy.”
What kind of album is this lyrically?
“We wanted to write about things that weren’t easy, we write lyrics together and it’s hard to get too personal when you do that. I do think it’s a more personal record, but we had a lot of time to reflect so that comes through.”
It must be tempting to just write about hotels and tour buses…
“We did our best to stay away from that, but it definitely came up. But we write about what we know and that’s about all we need for a long time.”
You’re a five piece band and you use a lot of instruments, how do you know when a song has too much going on?
“We tend to add and add and add, so that’s how Rich earned his money, he’d help to keep it all in check, he’d ask to work on different aspects and not just add more and more layers.”
Where did the title come from?
“It’s a lyric on the album. We wanted a title that meant something for all of us, we went through the lyrics together as a band and tried to find a feeling that everyone felt happy with.”
A lot of your success last time came off the back of ‘Little Talks’, was there any pressure to write another hit like that? Do you think you can plan something like that?
“I don’t think you can. You can try and you’ll just end up with an over-produced lame pop song, you’re making something for someone else. We didn’t do that with ‘Little Talks’, we just wrote it for ourselves and home in Iceland, we still don’t really know why it got so huge.”
Are you bored of that song? Or does it just feel like just another song in the live set?
“It’s just another song in the set, we know people like it and that’s great, but I go on auto pilot when I play it these days.”
How much touring do you think you’ll do?
“I think we’ll tour as long as people want to come and see us. We’re going to start writing more on tour and try and make the gaps shorter. But we’re excited to get out there, the new songs are sounding good, they blend in really well.”
Of Monsters And Men’s new Beneath The Skin is out on Monday (June 8th) in hmv stores across the UK.