Iceland has a fine track record for shaping such rare and touching musical entities as Björk and Sigur Rós. The tiny northern nation’s latest triumph and enchantment is, of course, Of Monsters And Men, who’ve experienced an extraordinary ascent to popularity in the past 18 months.

Currently, the band are touring America, then Europe, followed by a brief drop in at Japan’s Fuji Rock Festival, and finally back to Australia – a mere six months since they graced our shores for the Laneway Festival to show off their 2011 debut My Head Is An Animal

Of Monsters And Men started in late 2009 when leading lady Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir wanted to expand her solo act, Songbird. The acquisition of five additional members turned out to be particularly fruitful. By late 2010 the band were billed for Iceland Airwaves, an annual music festival held in the nugget-sized nation’s capital of Reykjavík.

Just two years later they headlined a stage at the same festival. Later this year they will play the inaugural Boston Calling Festival, and in between will play some of the world’s largest musical events, including Bonnaroo, Glastonbury, Roskilde and Rock Werchter.

Of the quick rise to fame, singer and guitarist Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson is diplomatic. “It’s certainly been fun. A lot of work, and a lot of sweat. Our palms have been sweaty,” he expounds.

“But,” he admits, “it’s also been successful, you know, all of a sudden playing for 20,000 people when you were used to playing for no one a year ago!”

“I think it’s being away from home a lot, and being away from your family and girlfriend. I think that has influenced the new songs”

Raggi first met Nanna about five years ago, because “she’s one of my best friend’s girlfriends.” Joking that the couple’s relationship may then be central to the band’s success and security, Raggi laughs at the prospect. “Well, I just hope nothing bad happens.”

It makes sense that the group’s collective relationships, past and present, are a vital component of their catchy melodies and emotionally charged lyrics. But it also seems possible that Iceland itself is a powerful influence, giving a certain quality to music produced by its artists.

Asked if he thinks that Iceland, a nation isolated in the Northern Atlantic Ocean and home to a mere 320,000 citizens, could itself instil a distinct songwriting or sonic quality in its inhabitants, Raggi says plainly, “It must affect it. Where you come from and your surroundings, they make you who you are.”

While both Björk and Sigur Rós have written songs in English and Icelandic, a linguistic tribute to the motherland is not yet on the cards for Of Monsters And Men.

“I think, with the music we are making, if it was in Icelandic, it might just sound weird to foreigners,” says Raggi. “But if the right song comes along, and we would definitely like to have some Icelandic lyrics in there somewhere. I mean, we’ve written some Icelandic songs back home … But for now, if we continue on this path, I think English is more fitting,” he concluded.

Moving on then from location and heritage, how much have their musical influences played a role in the band’s sound and success? “I’ve always had a hard time answering [this question],” he ponders. “There are so many from every direction, and not just music, but everywhere.”

Raggi does not cite specific bands or sounds as influences, (and sadly, no more heart-stirring Icelandic bands for the rest of the world to wrap their ears around). He instead says the most palpable influence is, “the music scene in general” and, “the enthusiasm of it.”

But as Raggi grapples with the question, he arrives finally at a moment of total clarity, answering with great delicacy and precision. “It’s a feeling; I feel like every song is a feeling in a way,” he says. “Or like every song has its own colour. For me, feelings and colour go together.”

Identifying this as the condition known as synaesthesia, one that affects (or aids) artists such as Billy Joel, Tori Amos and now passed jazz legend Duke Ellington, Raggi recalls a show in Bristol, UK where a punter described seeing the band’s show in a wild array of colours.

“He saw the music as different colours at our show. I kind of envy him in a way,” Raggi recalls, “but it’s also probably a burden…”

Something that has become burdensome for the band, despite all the gloss and shimmer of international stardom, is the extended time Of Monsters And Men have had to spend away from family and friends. It’s the result of what seems like an endless tour schedule, but Raggi says it has also been the strongest influence on the new material.

“Oh we’re very excited. We really like Australia, and Australians! They’re really nice.”

“I think it’s mostly being away from home a lot, and being away from your family and girlfriend. I think that has influenced the new songs. You always write what you’re going through, so that will be one of the main influences I think.”

We move delicately onto the band’s fast approaching Australian tour, which peaks with a Splendour In The Grass appearance and a headline slot at the festival’s smaller, southern counterpart, Spin Off.

“Oh we’re very excited. We really like Australia, and Australians! They’re really nice,” Raggi says enthusiastically.

“We loved Byron Bay, it’s a great place to be and we had a house by the beach so it was a crazy experience for Icelandic people who are not used to beaches and stuff like that,” he continues.

“I actually saw a giant spider; it crawled under my bed,” he adds hastily, recalling their visit in January this year. “So I’m not looking forward to the spiders, but I am looking forward to the weather.”

Of Monsters And Men Splendour 2013 Sideshows

with special guest MAMMALS

Monday 29th July – Enmore Theatre, Sydney – SOLD OUT! 132 849

Tuesday 30th July – Enmore Theatre, Sydney – SOLD OUT! 132 849

Wednesday 31st July – Metro Theatre, Sydney – NEW SHOW ADDED! 132 849

Saturday 3rd August – Palais Theatre, Melbourne – SOLD OUT! 136 100

Sunday 4th August – Palais Theatre, Melbourne – SELLING FAST! 136 100

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