“It is a great feeling when something you pour your heart into gets noticed and people seem to really like it,” Jón Björn Árnason, one-half of Iceland’s Ourlives, says. Along with Leifur Kristinsson, his friend and bandmate of almost a decade, the duo’s music has already made the rounds on U.S. TV shows like ABC’s The Fosters and NBC’s About a Boy—but they’re only just getting started.
The band’s U.S. debut full-length album, Den Of Lions, is out October 14, and Árnason says that he and Kristinsson are “excited, focused, and ready” for the States to hear what they’ve created. Citing a variety of influences from the experimental instrumentals of Isis to the pop sensibilities of Rihanna, Ourlives’ sound is compellingly melodic, with powerful guitars and percussion that lend to big, atmospheric sounds filled with feeling.
Starting off the 12-song album is Den Of Lions‘ lead single “Blissful Ignorance,” which we’re happy to premiere here. We also chatted with Árnason about Ourlives’ origins, making it in America, and living on an isolated island.
MELANIE GARDINER: In the band bio on your website, you guys say that each song on Den Of Lions “has its own story.” What story does “Blissful Ignorance” tell?
JÓN BJÖRN ÁRNASON: It’s about taking responsibility for your actions, and also your non-actions. In this song I am preaching a little, which is something I try not to do that much, but at the time of writing the lyrics, I was pretty fed up with my fellow countrymen being an easy sell and not asking the right questions. It is very easy to live in “blissful ignorance” and never have to confront your own actions, so the song is about taking responsibility for what you are voting for again and again.
GARDINER: How would you describe the song’s sound?
ÁRNASON: We had made a demo of the song that didn’t sound very good, and for a while, we were seriously thinking of cutting it from the record. When we finally decided to record it, we went into the studio with no predefined notion as to what the song should sound like. We just went in with a blank slate and recorded the song in tandem with another song from the album over a single weekend. It all happened really fast, and I think that is part of why it works so well and sounds the way it does. It stands a bit out sound-wise, but in a nice way that adds depth to the overall feel of the album.
GARDINER: What was the creative process behind “Blissful Ignorance”?
ÁRNASON: The idea of the intro guitar loop came about, like many other ideas, when we were demoing a different song. When we were tired and were about to call it a night this guitar loop was born, played twice as fast as the final recording—but it had a nice ring to it which we really liked. We didn’t do anything with it until we got a bass line working around it, and straight away the chorus was born. We tried out a few different demo variations and then also tried it out with the whole band. All in all, it was a rather long time from the start of the idea until we finally recorded it, but we are very happy with the song and are very proud of it.
GARDINER: Besides the politically charged first single, what other ideas does Den Of Lions explore?
ÁRNASON: Conceptually, we tried not to have any boundaries on our musical writing, as each song honestly went its own way. There are a few stories there that we wanted to write about, and a few thoughts we wanted to write about also. Having said that, isolation and paranoia are themes that seem to go throughout most of the record.
GARDINER: Who are some of your biggest influences?
ÁRNASON: There are so many bands that have been an influence for us over the years. Radiohead, Sigur Rós, Brand New, Isis, Rihanna, Dikta, Leaves, and Bang Gang are just a few.
GARDINER: Some songs off of the album were featured on U.S. television earlier this year. What’s it like knowing Americans first heard you through their TVs?
ÁRNASON: Our hopes and dreams are about our music reaching as many people as possible. We have grown as musicians as a result of our songs being played on TV, because it gave us a chance to hear our music in another way. We normally just listen to our music in the studio, but when we hear it on TV, we approach it from another angle. It helps give clarity to the next songwriting process, as we are just starting in our musical careers.
GARDINER: But you guys first started working together nine years ago. How did you first meet and form Ourlives?
ÁRNASON: We met through a band tryout. I went as a bassist and met Leifur and we’ve been working together in music since then. We’ve grown together both as best friends and as musical partners. We are very different but we have the same ambition and work amazingly effortlessly together. We’ve been lucky to play with a lot of great musicians over the years in Ourlives and a few years ago, we started playing with Garðar and Hálfdán—and we’ve all gelled really well together.
GARDINER: Icelandic bands have made a major impact in the U.S. in recent years, like Sigur Rós and Of Monsters and Men to name a couple. What it is about your country’s music scene that’s resonating so well here in the U.S.?
ÁRNASON: Even though Icelandic bands have a unique vibe to them, I honestly think that good music just finds its way to people. Sigur Rós and Of Monsters and Men are great bands, and they were always going to resonate well. The unique vibe may be a result of the fact that we are really influenced by North American TV and cinema—even more so than our fellow Nordic countries. Fuse that together with our isolation as an island in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean and our beautiful nature, mountains, and volcanoes and you get something unique and special.
OURLIVES’ U.S. DEBUT ALBUM DEN OF LIONS WILL BE OUT OCTOBER 14. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, PLEASE VISIT ITS FACEBOOK PAGE.