Jónsi on “Shiver”
Another Pair of Ears
Jan 29, 2021
Photography by Barnaby Roper Issue #67 – Phoebe Bridgers and Moses Sumney
All options were exhausted. Jónsi knew he needed help.
Ten years after the release of his first solo release, Go, Jónsi (full name Jón Þór Birgisson) admits he was stuck. The Sigur Rós frontman says some of the songs that comprise his new album, Shiver, go back more than a decade. He knew something was there, a diamond waiting in the mine, but he was unable to unearth it. He was also exhausted from the effort.
Jónsi has remained busy despite being on a bit of a musical break, so it’s not as if all of his creative efforts have been stifled. After moving to Los Angeles two years ago, Jónsi found himself venturing further into other artistic interests, including his long-held fascination with scents. Along with an exhibition at the Tanya Bonakdar Gallery last winter, the 45-year-old artist has pursued myriad artistic endeavors in between albums. Still the portal to new music remained closed to him—at least when limited to his own efforts.
“I’ve been on a break now for a few years and I’ve been focusing on lots of different stuff,” says Jónsi. “I’m doing lots of perfumerie and I also had my first proper art exhibition last year. That gave me lots of time to do another solo album. I had so much stuff and I was trying to do everything by myself, like record everything, write everything, sing everything, and mix everything.
“I was trying to do everything and then found out I couldn’t do it. It was too much for me. Sometimes when you’re with yourself too much, you get too stuck in your head or stuck in a rut, so I tried to bring in a producer. I wanted another pair of ears.”
Enter A.G. Cook, a British songwriter and producer most known for his work with Charli XCX and as head of the PC Music label. The fit wasn’t obvious given Cook’s jarring, chaotic approach at times, yet when mixed with the ethereal beauty of Jónsi’s demos, the songs on Shiver came to life before them both.
“I talked to A. G. because I was a fan of his stuff. Even though it’s a different musical genre, it was a fun fit. I like his schizophrenic pop stuff. He basically took my ideas—some of them were very old, like 10 or 15 years old—and stripped them down and reconstructed them from scratch.”
Cook’s influence can be found all over Shiver, especially on more aggressive tracks such as “Salt Licorice,” which features Robyn. Yet the angular synths and samples coalesce into a captivating swirl of sound, giving this Jónsi release more textures than anything in his catalog.
“It was really healthy for me,” he says of the collaboration. “Sometimes when you’re alone working on this stuff, you can become really attached to some elements and sounds, but he threw everything out of the window.”
Jónsi admits it wasn’t an easy conclusion at which to arrive. The notion that he needed something or someone else ran counter to his instincts to take it all on himself.
“I think I’ve always been a perfectionist, but that’s not healthy,” he says. “I always wanted to have control over everything. I think it’s important as artists to know what you want to do and say. I really want to do everything by myself and prove that I can do it, but I couldn’t do it here. It was really disappointing. But at some point, you realize that you can’t be a total hermit. You need people. I think that’s a good realization when you actually need other people around you to help you.”
[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 67 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, which is out now. This is its debut online.]
Support Under the Radar on Patreon.