The last time Sigur Ros was in South-East Asia, it was a different band.
When they played at the 2012 Urbanscapes festival in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, there was still four of them – but keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson left in 2013, leaving lead vocalist and guitarist Jon Thor “Jonsi” Birgisson, bassist Georg Holm and drummer Orri Pall Dyrason as the remaining members of the band.
That didn’t stop the band though. Deciding to go on as a “three-piece band”, the iconic Icelandic band went from strength to strength, releasing seventh album Kveikur that year.
They also managed to cement themselves in pop culture history by making a cameo on The Simpsons (as well as providing original music and a rendition of The Simpsons’ theme for the episode The Saga Of Carl) and even appeared on an episode of S4 of Game Of Thrones (ep: The Lion And The Rose) playing The Rains Of Castamere on screen moments before King Joffery keeled over and died.
“That was a fun thing to do!” recalls Holm during a phone interview from his home in Iceland. “We were on tour at time when we got the e-mail offering us a part on the show.
“Obviously, we’re big fans of the show and we jumped at it! We basically just ended up recording the song on the road, and luckily we had a short break from touring when the filming was done.”
According to Holm, while the departure of Sveinsson did change the dynamics of the band a little, they have found that there are benefits to being a three-piece band.
“It’s defintiely easier to make decision with three members rather than four! But really, the dynamics within the band is really good, we’re having a lot of fun enjoying each other’s company and the current tour.”
Speaking of which, Sigur Ros’ latest tour will take them to Singapore for the Neon Lights festival at Fort Canning Park, where they are scheduled to headline the second day on Nov 27. British band Foals are the headliners for the first day on Nov 26.
Holm says that fans can expect a vastly different show this time around compared to their last one in Singapore back in 2012. “The band itself hasn’t really changed so much, but as a live band, it’s changed quite dramatically.
“When we decided we were going to do another tour last year, we knew we wanted to do everything differently this time,” he said.
“The first idea we got was that there would only be the three of us. We didn’t want a big touring band of 11 or 12, this time it’s just us three on stage. When we write the songs, it’s just the three of us. I guess we realised that was all we needed.”
Anyone who’s familiar with Sigur Ros’ music and past shows would know how drastic an idea this was.
“There are a lot of string arrangements and intricate arrangements on our albums, and it took a lot of work to figure out how to play the songs with just the three of us,” he said.
“I think we really surprised ourselves. We had to rework a lot of stuff and changed the songs so three people can play it. It’s just us now, and we have to be very focused.
“Every note really counts, and we can’t hide behind extra strings and bass. It has to be perfect. But it also makes the show more interesting. Our shows have never been as good as they are at the moment.”
Rather than make things easier, however, Holm says it is a lot more difficult actually to set up their shows now.
“We initially wanted to simplify the thing, but it didn’t work out. It’s actually quite an elaborate and technical show. It doesn’t look like there is a lot going on, but a lot of the lights and video is synced up to the music. Sometimes making things simple can be complicated!” he said with a laugh.
Don’t expect a similar simplistic approach to their next album though. “We like to work a lot on our music and add a lot of elements to it, even if it’s just one person in the studio. We like to change our working method a little bit on every album, so it makes it more interesting,” he explained. “This time we’ve invented a new style of recording, we call it ‘guerilla recording’.
“Instead of having 50 mics, and spending more than two days on a song, we’d record with just one mic and move it around. It’s a quick process and makes things interesting, we never spend more than few minutes on a song!”
According to him, the band is currently working on their next album, but he has no idea when it’s going to be ready. “We have a lot of ideas, but we’ve only finished two songs. Hopefully we can complete it early next year, but even then we still won’t know how long it’ll take to get out,” he said.
Neon Lights 2016 is on Nov 26 and 27 at Fort Canning Park, Singapore. For more information and ticketing details, visit www.neonlights.sg.