Guitarist Brynjar Leifsson Goes ‘Beneath the Skin’ About Of Monsters and Men’s Second Album
After forming in 2010, Icelandic folk-pop outfit Of Monsters and Men became an international success just a year later on the strength of their hit single, "Little Talks," from their debut, My Head Is an Animal. The album kept the five-piece on the road for much of the next two years, including performances at performances at Lollapalooza and Coachella. That made their follow-up – Beneath the Skin (released in June) — one of the most anticipated albums of 2015. It's all a little unexpected to guitarist Brynjar Leifsson (above left), who we caught up with before the band played a recent show at the Masonic Temple in Detroit. In this interview, he opens up about Of Monsters and Men's rise to fame and how it impacted their second album.
Was there a goal while recording Beneath the Skin to differentiate it from My Head Is An Animal?
We kind of had the same idea recoding-wise: just go into the studio and do it live. That has been the foundation of the records. We all go to the studio and play together, then we add tracks to it. A huge difference is, with our first album, we laid the foundation in one weekend. We had been working in a studio that was booked by another artist, so we were always working there in the nighttime We were using the money we had to pay for it. Now we have a label with us and can spend more time in the studio and have more attention to detail. I don't know if it's good or bad, but we all love the results.
It's nice to have a budget.
It's also nice that you don't have to work another job and do this as a hobby like people often think. It's really nice to just be focused on that. I think that was the biggest difference. We were all just focused on this one thing instead of having another job and coming to the studio just when we had off days.
Did the success of My Head Is An Animal make recording the second album more stressful?
I don't know. We try not to think about all the pressure because people always say the second album is supposed to make or break you. We kind of ignored that and we were always in our own world. We were just focused on what we were doing and we just recorded the songs. We listened to our own gut feeling.
What was going through your head the first time you played the new songs live?
I thought, "Holy s---, I hope I'm playing the right things." There are so many tracks that you can not put together and when you go live, you have to find the middle ground where everything works.
There are many elements involved with Of Monsters and Men including the horn section. How do you determine when there are just enough layers in your songs?
I think you sometimes have to go down a road to realize you didn't have to go so far. One of the songs on the album we didn't finish until hours before we left for Iceland again. We were finishing the album in Los Angeles and there were some decisions like, "Yeah, maybe we should cut this out." Sometimes you have to stack it up and then tear it down and then you have a good song.
Why did you decide to record Beneath the Skin in both Iceland and Los Angeles?
We were going to do it all in Iceland and just mix it in L.A. Our producer said we should just go to L.A. and do the last overdubs. It was a really fun experience and a lot of good came out of it. We were really happy with that decision.
You guys release very creative music videos. Even your lyric videos are have a story to them. Are these ideas all from the band are do you consult with content creators?
It's both. We had this meeting where we were talking about doing lyric videos and we said we didn't want to have them [be] boring with just lyrics appearing on random images. We wanted to make them fun where people would actually enjoy them and not think of them as lyric videos.
Do you ever get used to fans telling you how much your songs have impacted their lives?
No, I don't think you ever get used to that. We are all just from small towns over in Iceland. We never thought we would be out in the world and people would be telling us how something we did changed their lives because we have never met those people before. I think it's a beautiful thing and it's a good feeling when someone tells you that.