Close your eyes and you’ll see black. Maybe some sparks, some flecks and non-descript shapes. But when members of múm close their eyes they see two-headed talking goats, whimsical planets made of ice, and prancing forest nymphs. They see their music take shape into wondrous things. múm has long been part of the Icelandic ethereal elite (alongside Björk and Sigur Rós), producing beautiful epic noise that matches the mystique of their native land. It’s the sound a haiku would make if it could talk. And in the past 10 years, múm has toured extensively around the world, spreading the joy and sadness of their five albums, countless EPs, and compilation discs. Now they’re embarking on a European tour off the heels of a North American stint, and luckily, we got to talk to founding member Gunnar Örn Tynes prior to playing a show in San Francisco. Here he talks about his band, his roots, and the music you shouldn’t be surprised he listens to.
Modern Mystery: How different is Sing Along to Songs You Don’t Know from múm’s other albums?
Gunnar Örn Tynes: I think we always been open to doing different things because we don’t want to get stuck in a groove. But then again, we are always creating music. [Sing Along] is a lot more simple maybe. I think it’s such a linear thing for me, I’m really excited about it and the music we’re doing now.
Out of all the albums spanning your career, would you say one of them is quintessentially múm?
I wouldn’t want to say one is more than the other, it’s very hard to pick your favorite children. But I think we have the same approach to music now, [it’s] just [that] we are very different people.
You tend to have two or three-year gaps between albums, is there a reason for that?
Two years is not really a long time when you think about it. We do an album and then we do all the touring, that usually takes almost a year and then we have a little break. It’s a natural cycle.
Are you ever not doing music then?
No, not really. I’m constantly working. I do a lot of production and engineering for other people when I’m not working on my own stuff. I’m usually with somebody else in the studio or I kick back and relax. I’m actually reading a very funny Swedish criminal story. I read a lot of different stuff, whatever people recommend.
What kind of music do you listen to? Anything people might be surprised about?
I hope not. I think it’s very strange when people only like one type of music, when people only like one type of food. I can’t put any limit on what music I like. I listen to classical music, rock and roll, R&B, hip hop, it’s music! I have friends who really like Britney Spears songs, but they can’t acknowledge it because it’s not correct or whatever. I think it’s wrong, suppressing your own feelings.
Are there certain cities you love to play?
We just played in Japan a couple months ago, it’s amazing. It’s a great place to go play and spend some time, very different from anything else. But I just think it’s very nice going around. The interesting thing is meeting the people. People are generally interesting wherever you go.
It’s interesting, you’re fascinated by other cultures, yet Icelandic culture itself is so fascinating, especially because people don’t know very much about it. What was your upbringing like and how did Icelandic culture play a part in your music?
My parents were both working for an airline company. My dad was a captain and my mom was a stewardess, so I was off along with them all around the world on trips. Great fun for me, of course. But in Icelandic culture, [there’s] a lot of music in the traditional culture, a lot of spoken word or rhyme. There’s always been a movement, playing music not to try to make a band that’s going to be next big thing, but it’s always been a very common activity for a lot of people. It’s very collaborative in Iceland.
When did you discover music?
Very early, I was maybe 10. I started messing around with cassette tapes and doing strange music. I never learned how to play any instruments, I’ve always been more like playing with sounds, or doing something unexpected, like an experiment. Soon after I started doing things on the computer, from there I picked up a new instrument every two years.
You call it “playing with sounds,” and that’s true about múm’s music. It’s very playful, but there’s an inherent sadness. Is that dependent on your mood?
It’s hard to break down what feelings there are in a song, because there’s usually a lot of everything. It’s a very emotional thing to do. There are aspects of music that can elevate your moods, whichever way you go. I used to love The Cure, for example, and that music is very much sad and it’s up to you to interpret it.
What do you think you’d be if you weren’t a musician?
[It’s] very hard for me to think about it. I would probably be working with sound in one way or the other. If not I might just be a school teacher. But it wouldn’t be a glamorous business. I couldn’t.
múm has been together for over 10 years now. In what direction are you looking to take the band for the next 10 years?
Ten years is a very long time. Anything could happen. Next album could be a hip hop album, I don’t know! I look forward to seeing where the music takes me.
Check out Live Photos from múm’s CMJ Show After the Jump