Fangirl Fridays - Songbirds

It's yet another Friday, and I am this week's fangirl. Let me start by admitting that I had to give some big thought to whom I could fangirl over this time, but one day it just hit me. I was listening to music, and one of my favorite bands was playing...and, like so often before, I was thinking about how much I loved them and how I hoped I'd one day be lucky enough to go to one of their concerts. And in the midst of my fangirling and daydreaming it hit me, I should write about THEM. They're perfect!

Who are they? You might have heard of them, you might have listened to them, and you might love them, just like me. They are my favorite monsters. They are Of Monsters and Men.


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Join me after the jump, if you dare, as I try to expand on my I JUST LOVE 'EM SO MUCH!! gush, and form it into more articulate sentences, and hopefully do justice to this great band.




Of Monsters and Men (OMAM) is a five-piece indie folk/pop band, and they come from ICELAND. Why on earth do I capitalize that, like it's such a big deal? Well, Iceland is a small country, and the fact that OMAM are doing so well internationally and in such a short time is amazing. Oh, and it just so happens that I am from Iceland myself, so that makes my little Icelandic heart so darn proud on their behalf, and especially because I love them and their music so much! They are laid-back, sweet, mild-mannered, charming, and so down-to-earth that it makes me love them even more.

They are the monsters that I'd love to find under my bed or in my closet ;)


Who Are These Magnificent Monsters?


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Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir (Nanna) – lead vocals, acoustic guitar
Ragnar Þórhallsson (Raggi) – lead vocals, acoustic guitar
Brynjar Leifsson – lead guitar, baritone guitar, backing vocals
Kristján Páll Kristjánsson – bass guitar, backing vocals
Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson – drums, percussion, backing vocals

Former member:
Árni Guðjónsson – piano, accordion, organ, backing vocals

Touring members:
Steingrimur Karl Teague – piano, backing vocals
Ragnhildur Gunnarsdóttir – trumpet, keyboards, accordion, backing vocals



"We Used To Be Birds But Now We're Monsters"


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This is how they describe themselves on their Facebook page, and it is one of my favorite quotes. Maybe it's just me, but there's something so poetic and beautiful about it, plus it has a little story behind it. The story of how they became Of Monsters and Men.

It all really started with Nanna. She started solo as an acoustic singer and performed under the name Songbird, but then a time came where she realized that she needed an "extra pair of hands" to be able to do all the things she wanted with her music, to prop up the sound, and bring it into shows, and so she asked her friend Brynjar, who plays guitar, to join her. Later she asked Raggi if he wanted to join too, and they started to write songs together and continued performing under the name Songbird. Before entering a competition called Músíktilraunir (Icelandic Music Experiments), which is a national battle of the bands for young and rising musicians, they decided to become a proper band, and that's when Arnar joined the group as the drummer. They entered the competition under the name Of Monsters and Men. Voilá! From birds to monsters!



A "Fairy Tale" Success

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Their success has been adventurously rapid and almost like a fairy tale. It kinda transpired in just over one year or so. They were a new group of four people when they entered and, much to their surprise, won Músíktilraunir 2010. And the snowball started rolling and growing rapidly from there. Shortly after Músíktilraunir, Kristján and Árni joined the band, but last year Árni decided to quit the band and go to school.

Being the winners of Músíktilraunir 2010, they had earned the right to perform at the 2010 Iceland Airwaves festival in November. That is where the radio station KEXP from Seattle noticed them and recorded them performing a couple of songs in Raggi's living room, without the band really knowing how popular the station was. It's safe to say that the song they recorded that day, Little Talks, became pretty popular on the radio in Seattle, and listeners started wanting to know more about this group of young, talented people. Here you can listen to the KEXP recording:


Besides being busy playing at gigs/shows, the year 2011 was quite eventful for OMAM.

In February, they signed with an independent record label called Record Records for the release of their debut album here in Iceland, which they then started recording in March.

In August, radio station 104.5 in Philadelphia began playing Little Talks, which nudged the band into the U.S. national spotlight and increased their popularity. "Soon the song started popping up on radio stations across the country, and throughout the blogosphere."Indie Rock Cafe



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In September, their debut album My Head Is an Animal was released in Iceland with both the album and the song Little Talks hitting number 1.

In October, OMAM played again at the Iceland Airwaves festival, and KEXP was at the festival broadcasting live.


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Then on top of all that, with their growing popularity in the USA, in October they signed with Universal for the release of their first album My Head Is an Animal outside Iceland. How fantastic is that?!

And on December 20th, an EP called Into the Woods, which contains four songs from their album, was released in the United States.




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In March 2012, they embarked on their first tour, starting in America, and on April 3rd they released their debut album in the U.S. Their album has sold about 1.7 million copies, and in 2013 it reached number 6 on the US Billboard 200 chart, which is the highest ranking an Icelandic band/artist has ever achieved on that list!

Fellow Icelander Björk [Guðmundsdóttir], whom many of you probably have heard of, reached number 9 on the list in 2007 with her album Volta.




Their Wickedly Wonderful Songs


Once, when asked why they thought America loved them so much, Raggi answered that the timing was right, because of bands like Mumford & Sons that America loves right now, too.

But, of course, that can't be the only reason. OMAM's songs are joyful, they are filled with fantasy and imagination, beautiful sounds, lyrics that tell stories and include "sing-along" parts that kinda stick with you. Or that's how I feel, anyway.

Here's a lovely review of OMAM's album by Jackie Dosmanos from ABS-CBNnews.com, which it might give you some ideas about them and their music:

Despite the intellectually challenging band name and album title (e.g. shades of Steinbeck crossed with Jungian psychology), this debut from a bunch of Icelandic music makers worms its magic through a series of punchy folk-pop numbers and soul-fueled rock and rollers. The general vibe is a crazy quilt of ‘60s and ‘70s influences, with more than a few debts to the break-out hits of Mumford and Sons. Click for more:(+/-)


What set the 12 songs apart are the exceptional voices of co-lead singers Mr. Raggi Þórhallsson and Ms. Nanna Bryndís-Hilmarsdóttir. Raggi specializes in the more pensive ballads while Ms. Nanna’s soaring soprano will steal your heart away. When their voices tangle, the call-and-response parts simmer like sinewy battle rhymes.

The supporting cast of in-studio musicians, who include a trumpet player and an organ player, rolls out a standard musical fare. The first two tracks hitch their stars to the Mumford bandwagon of slow-medium-slow folk-rock. “Little Talks” pairs the twin peaks of Motown soul and Katrina and the Waves, while “Your Bones” matches up The Arcade Fire with Crowded House. “Sloom”, on the other hand, is a straightforward campfire song.

It’s the vocalists really that lend the musical patchwork its own distinction. The music may be rocking or brooding in acoustic mode, but it’s Raggi and Nanna who give it flesh and blood.

We Icelanders love to read, and in fact Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country in the world. So it doesn't come as a big surprise that OMAM often get inspiration from random stories they read. Although they sometimes don't want to say too much about their lyrics, because they want people to interpret the songs in their own way and derive their own personal enjoyment from them, they've explained where some of their inspiration comes from.

Like, for instance, their song Six Weeks. It was inspired by a true tale of the American frontiersman and fur trapper, Hugh Glass, who was left for dead after being mauled by a grizzly bear, but it turned out he wasn't dead.




They also get inspiration from things other than books, of course, like for their song Little Talks. In an interview with interviewmagazine.com, Nanna said this about the song:
It's about a couple and the husband passed away and it's from the conversation between the two of them. We don't know if she's going crazy or if someone's actually there. We've kind of been inspired by people that lived in my house. This old couple that lived there for 30 years. The woman passed away, so it was kind of different.

And even though the lyrics can be dark and not always uplifting, OMAM want their songs to be fun and easy to sing along to, which in my opinion they succeed very well in doing.


Home Sweet Home


After 18 months of touring they have now come back to Iceland, and they'll be having a well deserved break and will soon start working on a new album.

Rehearsing before the concert started
Oh, and remember when I said how much I hoped to one day be able to go to one of their concerts?? Well, I DID! And it was absolutely
FANTABULOUS!! My kids and hubby went, too, and loved it.

OMAM held their homecoming concert, their final one in their tour, here at home on August 31st in Garðabær, and it's been said that over 20,000 people came to watch. It was outdoors and free. The atmosphere was amazing, people dancing and singing, and even though it rained a bit on us, I don't think anyone noticed — I sure didn't. The bands that warmed up the crowd were Mugison, Moses Hightower, and Hide Your Kids, who were all GREAT by the way. And then OMAM started to play, and they were
AWESOMESAUCE! This is a concert I won't ever forget...and being in the front of the audience, close to the stage, made it seem even better and more real somehow.

Since the concert, their album has been played here at my place everyday. I kid you not. And sometimes there's one song playing in my older daughter's room, another in the living room from yours truly, and then my younger daughter walks around with her iPod listening to yet another one. I don't know what it is, but it's like after going to their concert, their songs become even more alive. It's like you bring all the fun from the concerts back home and can relive it over and over again when listening to the songs. This probably sounds silly, but it's the best way I can describe it.


Amazing, just amazing!

I can see me and my daughters, woot, woot!! (Source)


Supersonic Rock Stars


I can only imagine that their lives must have been so surreal while touring all over the world. The places they've been, the people they've met, and the experiences they've had. It all sounds like a dream, but a dream that came true probably on a much grander scale than they imagined.
  • They have played on 5 continents, in 27 countries, and over 230 concerts in 18 months.
  • They have performed at many big music festivals all over the world, like Lollapalooza in Chicago and Brazil, the Glastonbury festival, SXSW 2012, Coachella, Optimus Alive!, and T in Park in Scotland, to name a few.
  • They have appeared on American talk shows, like Jay Leno (twice in 2012) and Jimmy Fallon, and last March they appeared on Saturday Night Live, where they performed Little Talks and Mountain Sound.

Below is a video of OMAM performing Mountain Sound in Reykjavík in July 2012, where you can just see for yourself how charming, endearing, and playful they are.



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OMAM was also a winner of the 2013 European Border Breakers Awards (EBBA). Every year the EBBA recognise the success of ten emerging artists or groups who reached audiences outside their own countries with their first internationally released album in the past year. Here's what EBBA had to say about the band:
Arcade Fire, Mumford & Sons, and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros are names that come up when comparisons are made with Of Monsters and Men. Nowadays a trumpet player is coming along when they are on tour giving the band, together with the accordion and the glockenspiel, a distinctive sound. That seems to be part of the deal with bands from Iceland, that distinctive sound. Of Monsters and Men is no exception to this, more the affirmation that Iceland keeps providing us with magnificent bands.


A Few Fun Facts


  • Originally, they didn't plan on having the song King and Lionheart on their album, but they still recorded to see what would happen, and liked it so much that they decided to include it. Which I'm so happy with, since that is one of my favorite songs of theirs!
  • Daniel Craig once told OMAM that he's a fan and listens to their songs in his car. How cool is that!
  • When deciding on a name for the band, Raggi came up with the name Of Monsters and Men, which everyone thought sounded right for them and is a big big part of how they write.
  • If Brynjar could time travel, he’d go back to 1912 and be on the Titanic for a day, to see if he could find Rose.
  • Nanna is a big fan of Bon Iver.
  • If Arnar could choose clothes of any character from any movie, he'd probably choose clothes from the movie Beetlejuice.
  • One of Kristján's favorite bands is Radiohead.
  • Their song Dirty Paws was featured in the iPhone 5 introduction video last year. It was also featured in a trailer for the new Ben Stiller film, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty.





Little Closing Talks


I realized, when I sat down to start writing this post, that I might actually be in way over my head. In my head, it was so easy to fangirl over OMAM...but writing it down, not so much. But I hope I've managed to show you at least a little bit of why I admire and love them so much.

They are a group of people who all have a great presence, are down-to-earth in the midst of all this attention and success, and have a healthy attitude towards this new life they are living, the "rock star" life. They continue to be the same awesome selves they were when they were "mere" songbirds, and they're fun and charming.

And these characteristics seem to come through in their songs, and I can't help but be touched by them, sing along or hum with them, and dance or wiggle with them, wherever I am. They are contagious. They blend story-telling lyrics, craftily put-together sounds, and beautiful vocals that transform into musical masterpieces for my ears and mind.

So if you love indie folk/pop/rock music, but haven't heard their songs, I totally recommend that you check out Of Monsters and Men. And I also have to say that I don't often come across an album where I like every song, but My Head Is an Animal is one of those albums. Honestly, I love every. single. song!

We all have our different tastes in music, thank goodness, and I couldn't help but think as I was writing this post that luckily I love their type of music, because if I didn't, I would be missing out on this sparkling gem of a group.


Comments

  1. I'm so glad you decided to tell us about this band. I've heard the name and never got around to looking them up. But I love what you've said about them here, and my husband and I both like these songs. (He said he has liked Little Talks for a while! He had no idea the band was from Iceland.) We're ordering their CD! Glad you got to see them. Hope they play lots more local concerts that you can attend!! Maybe next time get a closer photo of you in the audience. ;-)

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Kathi and yay so glad you and your husband like what you've heard! And awww that is so awesome that you guys are buying their CD!!

      LOL yes I'll try to get a better close up of me in the audience next time if I get so lucky to go to another concert with them :D

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  2. Thanks for writing this! I remember when Little Talks came out, and the DJs saying the band hadn't even released a record yet and thinking "How curious! This must be some band if they have this huge song and don't even have a record out." ;)

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