Of Monsters and Men: Hooked on a Feeling
The world first fell in love with Of Monsters and Men in 2011 when the band launched their debut studio album My Head Is An Animal. Their smash hit “Little Talks” skyrocketed the group to superstardom. In the years since, Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir (vocals/ guitar), Ragnar Þórhallsson (vocals/ guitar), Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson (drums/ percussion), Brynjar Leifsson (guitar), and Kristján Páll Kristjánsson (bass) have been selling out arenas, building their own Icelandic studio, and following a wonderfully weird sound experimentation trajectory. On July 26, Of Monsters and Men released Fever Dream, their third studio album with Republic Records.
The album, co-produced by the band and Rich Costey, debuted at #2 on the Billboard Albums chart. Fever Dream invites listeners on a bold and energetic pop journey where the band explores themes of power and self-expression. Of Monsters and Men seamlessly blend dynamic lyrics with rousing, upbeat sonics to deliver a fresh album totally unlike the band’s first two studio releases.
Ragnar Þórhallsson (Raggi) took a break from “feverish” tour rehearsals to chat with me about the energy, creative writing, and recording process behind the album.
Congratulations on Fever Dream. It is really incredible and not at all what I was expecting. Talk to me about the band’s decision to feature “Alligator,” quite possibly the biggest stylistic departure from what fans have come to know and love about Of Monsters and Men, as the first single.
It was mainly based on a feeling. When we started coming together to make this album it was a song we always connected with. It was a uniting song for us after a break from each other. It just felt right. It had energy. “Alligator” holds a special place for us. It kind of spearheaded the album a bit.
Is there pressure to incorporate elements of what your fans loved about your first album into new material or does the band view each album as a completely unique body of work?
For us it is about feeling excited. When you create something you want to feel like you are doing something that feels exciting to you. That’s going to translate into the experience for the audience. We are aware of what people like about us. That’s also stuff we like about us. We want to add on that and grow with that. We went about Fever Dream differently and that offered us opportunities to introduce new instrumentation, but we still tried to keep it close to what we think we are. That comes through in our songwriting and the way we use our vocals.
You guys gave yourselves over to a totally different process while writing and recording Fever Dream. Was it difficult adjusting to a new creative method or did you find it liberating?
I think individually it was very liberating. We felt very free to write in our own corners. For a while during this album I didn’t live in the same country. I lived in Denmark. It felt natural to write and record and send it over and have Nanna work on the song. We sent songs back and forth. We weren’t in the same room as much for this album in the beginning. It felt very liberating to be at home in your own studio and writing, but then we needed some time when we came together as a band to figure out how that workflow fit into all of us being in the same room working on it. We were recording while writing. It took some adjustment time and we all had to go through ups and downs to figure out how we wanted to do it. We were used to just jamming out in a room. It took time but as soon as we all got the hang of it, I think it served us very well. It’s something we will take with us into the future.
Can you take me through the flow of the album?
A lot of the first songs on the album were also the first songs for us. “Ahay” following “Alligator” is just a totally different vibe, but “Ahay” was very important for the album as well. It shaped a lot of the song-flow for us. We went with a really primitive feeling. We did exactly what felt right for us. We felt “Alligator” and “Ahay” should be at the beginning because they were there in the beginning for us. We listened to the songs a lot. We are all fairly vocal in the band and say what we want. The album looks the way it does because everyone agreed on it. It was all just going by feeling.
Fever Dream starts and ends with powerhouse songs. The album is a complete experience. Sometimes albums start with three or four great songs and then just die. Fever Dream keeps the momentum going.
I think Spotify is dictating a lot of how albums are sent out because they want the singles to be the first songs to come out. Number one, two, and three are the singles and [then the] album tracks. That’s kind of how they want it to be, but I think it’s very important to start off strong and keep it going. If you have songs you think might be singles, try to divide them over the whole album.
You guys were awesome on Jimmy Kimmel Live! How did the experience of playing to a smaller audience compare to that of performing to a massive crowd?
We loved it. That was the first time we performed the songs we had been working on for two years. We did The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and then we did Jimmy Kimmel Live! It was exciting for us to be back out there. We love intimate crowds. I think we approach it similarly. Even though there are only 500 or 1,000 people, I want everyone to dance and clap and sing along. It’s nice to see those faces look at you and you look at them and they are not far away. They are close.
The Fever Dream tour is kicking off in just a few days. How are you preparing to perform this album live?
We are rehearsing like maniacs at the moment. We switch instruments a lot more. I am playing more synths and more keyboards and stuff like that. We have a piano player with us. Nanna is playing a lot more synths and more electric guitar. Our guitarist is switching up as well. We are just trying to do as much as possible. You can’t always recreate music exactly the way it is on the album because you spend months and months piling on the songs. There are a lot more instruments to some than we can actually perform live, but we tried to arrange it in way that feels true to the album. We aren’t trying to chase anything. We want the live show to be special as well. I am super excited.
Which songs are you most excited to play live for fans?
There are so many. Of course, I am very excited to play the new songs. I am excited to play “Under a Dome” and “Stuck In Gravity” because I am using some effects on my voice, which I have never tried before. Again, if something is new to me, I am excited about it. I am also excited to play “Róróró.” It’s a song that Nanna sings. We tend to go really big. Songs are always going bigger and bigger and [then] explode. “Róróró” is quite mellow and just kind of floats on by.
Last question. If you could be in the audience or performing on stage at any musical performance in history, which would it be—and would you be watching or participating?
Oh my God.
I know. It’s a big one.
Wow. I would love to say something that happened before I was born, or something. I would like to perform with The Beatles when they played on the roof [of Abbey Road Studios]. I think experiencing that kind of crowd would be cool.