Jónsi on Being a Metalhead

May 03, 2010 Issue #32 - Summer 2010 - Wasted on the Youth Photography by Self-Portrait by Jónsi Bookmark and Share


Growing up in Iceland, Jónsi (Jón _ór Birgisson) never dreamed that his love of music would one day lead to a career. "I didn't really think about it," he reflects. "I think growing up kind of isolated on a small island, you get a lot of English and American music and listen to a lot of music and play in a band. You never think that one day you're going to live off the music and play shows and concerts. It never crosses your mind."  

Had the future Sigur Rós bandleader looked into a crystal ball as a preteen and seen what was in store, he might have been confused. His output is vastly different than the metal music he loved. "I thought it would be a bit more rock 'n' roll or something," he says, imagining the scenario.

Immersed in AC/DC, Iron Maiden, and Metallica while stuck in the tiny town of Mosfellsbær (a car ride away from Reykjavík), Jónsi struggled to find an outlet for his loud tastes, which were nurtured by a close cousin. "When I was growing up, there weren't many foreign bands coming to Iceland to play," he says.

With his first metal live experience still years away, the young teenager and his friends took matters into their own hands. 

"Me and my friend played guitar, so we started a school band," explains Jónsi, setting the scene. "There was a guy we knew who played drums, so we set up in one of the classrooms. I never had a drum kit in my life, so we decided to turn our guitars really low because we didn't want to overpower the drum kit. He started playing so loud! We only had one guitar that we played together, so we had to turn it up all the way to 11 so we could hear it."

While not terribly enthusiastic about the racket, Jónsi's parents accepted their son's headbanging aspirations. "I remember them being really patient and supportive in a way," he says. "My father gave me my first electric guitar." However, Jónsi's parents weren't keen on the scene's trappings. "They were not against it, but they were always pressing about school. 'You have to do something in school,"" he recalls. "They came to a live show or two, but they didn't think too much about it."   

So what do they think of his music now? "They think it's great. They're really super happy about it and really proud of me," says Jónsi cheerfully. "I've never really thought too much about my parents being proud of me, but I know they're proud of me. That makes me happy."     

Still turning it up to 11, Jónsi sees his transition in tastefrom the menace of Iron Maiden to ambient and popnot as a wild leap but rather a natural progression. "You're listening to AC/DC and Metallica and stuff like that, and then you go into your parents' collection and start listening to some hippy music like Deep Purple," he says of the slow shift. "And then you start going into the indie grunge scene, and then into some quiet stuff like ambient music. I think you just take the whole scale of music and slowly go through it. You're kind of like a sponge."



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