Riceboy Sleeps is an art collaboration between Jónsi Birgisson and Alex Somers comprised of still images, music, video, and storytelling. Releasing a picture book in Iceland in 2006(1000 hand numbered editions), they held their first exhibition at Gallery Turpentine in Reykjavik.
In 2007, a second unnumbered edition of the book was released as well as two singles, All the big trees and Daniel in the Sea. Further exhibitions outside Iceland followed in the US and Australia. They currently have an exhibition at the Agency Gallery in London(10 April-17 May, 2008).
Jónsi Birgisson is also a member and lead singer for Sigur Rós and Alex Somers who has worked on artwork for Sigur Rós is a member of the band Parachutes. As Jónsi and Alex were setting up their exhibition in London as the interview was conducted, each was interviewed separately though the answers are presented here in a compiled format.
Sioux: How did the Moss Stories and Riceboy Sleeps project develop and what were your motivations?
Alex: The project began four years ago and there was never any motivation, we didn't realise that we were starting a real project. It was just the two of us making music and making artwork for fun really.
Jonsi: It just started with me and Alex and we wanted to do something together. Alex is just in the same headspace.
Sioux: Did that start from the videos you've done?
Alex: Actually, we started making music a long time ago and we made lots of songs and we were recording and stuff and then at some point since we both did videos on our own, we decided it would be fun to make videos for some of our songs and that's how it began and then Jonsi and I moved in together so we began drawing and painting a lot together.
Sioux: What would you say are the key differences in your musical work with Riceboy Sleeps as opposed to your creations with Sigur Ros and Parachutes?
Alex: It's quite similar. We use the same instruments, same microphones. I think the process is quite similar except Parachutes is Scott and I, and Riceboy is Jonsi and I. I think working with Jonsi, everything is much more brave and spontaneous and I think with Parachutes we're not as brave as Jonsi, he's so brave in trying and going for things. And sometimes I forget that if I'm not working with him . They're quite similar.
Jonsi: Yeah, just different. Me and Alex work differently. Riceboy is more like playing with sounds.
Sioux: And would you say the Riceboy Sleeps project will have an impact on your future work in Sigur Ros and Parachutes? If so why and in what way?
Alex: I don't know. We have plenty of time to do both and we've had offers to do Riceboy and Parachutes projects together. I don't know if that will happen or not. And I don't think either will effect the other in a negative way, only a positive way, more creation and more making and having fun.
Jonsi: I don't know. It could do.
Sioux: Does the aged and worn aesthetic signify anything in particular to you and your work? And what was the motivation in using old, rustic frames in your gallery work?
Alex: It's more of a feeling and atmosphere we're trying to create than a specific message. We're never really aware of trying to tell people something, we're more interested in having people feel something so it's just a really good feeling and something we've both been really attracted to before we even met eachother. It's comfortable, it feels like things have soul. Before we met, we were both collecting old photographs and old books and didn't really know why, we just both really like them. Then when we started making artwork, it just got incorporated into our work.
Jonsi: We do the pictures first and we found these frames just lying and it would kind of suit so well with the other stuff we were doing.
"...when I met Jonsi, I was really, really poor and I was just living off of rice mostly..."
Alex: When it started out, it was the name of one of our songs called Riceboy Sleeps. It was just because when I met Jonsi, I was really, really poor and I was just living off of rice mostly and I was sleeping too much so Jonsi was writing a song while I was asleep one day and he named it Riceboy Sleeps. For some reason ever since then we just called whatever we were working on at the time, Riceboy Sleeps. We never decided for that to be officially be our name, it just happened.
Riceboy Sleeps - Daniel in the sea
Sioux: And Daníell(in the sea)?
Alex: Oh, he is just a fictitious character based like, we make stories also. He's just a character. He's just a really beautiful character and sometimes he's blind in our stories and sometimes he's not blind. Maybe because all the stories haven't quite finished so we're not really sure what is happening.
Sioux: Would you tell us about the creation of the accompanying videos and how they relate to the book itself?
Alex: Actually, they don't really relate to the book though everything shares a similar aesthetic. The do go with the book. It's a similar texture and feeling though conceptually they're not matched.
Riceboy Sleeps - All the big trees
Sioux: All the big trees is an unusual title considering Iceland is without trees. What do trees mean to you?
Alex: We both love trees. They're so beautiful. The title was actually made in the States, on the east coast in Maryland. Jonsi made a present for my mother and on the back he wrote 'thank you for all the big trees' and I think somehow stuck with us and we just used it for a song. Forests, I find them beautiful and full of life, amazing sounds, wind blowing through the trees, good smell...
Jonsi: I just like them when I went to visit Alex's mother who lives in Maryland, there were so many trees in their backyard, so big, so nice and cosy, comfortable.
Sioux: Is there a particular significance in the boy and girl that feature in the Riceboy Sleeps book? (Jonsi) Is that you and your sister, Sigurrós?
Jonsi: Me and my sister? (laughs) No, definitely not. Just fictional characters.
Sioux: Would you characterise your work as Icelandic? And what influence would you say Iceland, Reykjavik and its artists have had on your work?
Alex: I don't know. Probably not. Just the support and encouragement that I've known in Iceland. People don't judge you when you're making artwork and music and people support you and it's a small community. In other cities, I found it's maybe more judgemental instead of just supporting you and I find that a very encouraging environment to live and work in.
Jonsi: No, I think, yeah maybe, but you do whatever you are, your characteristics.
Sioux: What are your thoughts on the categorization of arts between “high brow”, “low brow”, “fine art”, and “outsider art”? Do you feel these labels serve any purpose?
Alex: No, not really. I don't even know where we would fit in. I've never really thought about it. It's like people need to box things up, but no, I don't think it's important.
Jonsi: They probably serve a purpose for those in the artworld, but of course it doesn't matter.
Sioux: What is your favourite technology and why?
Alex: Favourite technology? That's tricky. When we make our stuff we really like to make it as organic as possible though we use computers for layering and scanning things like that. And for scanning in our drawings and reshaping them and playing with the format. We like to use the computer and scanner. I don't know. Favourite technology? It sounds so bad if I say a computer. We don't really like graphic design so we don't want our stuff to look graphic design-y or anything like that.
Jonsi: Maybe the, I don't know. Maybe computers. Maybe the most important one. There's so much freedom, you can use it whatever way you want.
Sioux: Would you choose a colour (it doesn’t have to be a favourite) and explain the ideas and feelings it generates for you?
Alex: The only thing I can think of is that in the last year, I've got really into the colour light blue. I don't really know why. I just like it when I see it, something like a light blue boat that's washed out faded. It's just really beautiful, like a worn or washed out feeling. I see it on boats a lot in the harbour.
Jonsi: Light blue. Did Alex say light blue?
Sioux: Yes, he did.
Jonsi: (laughs) Yeah, we both really like light blue. It has to be perfect light blue, worn out light blue, old chipping paint... It's so soft or something. I think we actually like all colours if they're desaturated or worn out.
Sioux: Also, would you select an image that you feel is powerful (it can be a painting, a photograph—and does not need to be art, it could be a package design or an object) and explain why it has an impact on you?
Alex: Hmm. The last couple of years it would be anything in nature. I'm just super into nature; trees, plants, fruits.vegetables. I just like to be as close to that as possible.
Jonsi: Indirectly, there's a lot of people, my friends, my family, my sister is doing a lot of cool stuff with the full moon and meteors.
Sioux: And if we end with a political message, a piece of advice to artists, and a recommendation?
Alex: Be honest. Just make what you want to make. I don't feel I'm in a position to make any recommendations. That's the only thing that's important is to be true to yourself.
Jonsi: Just to be as honest in what you do and to create as much as you can, it gives you so much purpose if you create a lot of stuff and you're honest in that creation. It gives you so much and makes life worth living.
Sioux: Thank you.
Riceboy Sleeps MySpace
Riceboy Sleeps Wiki
The Agency Gallery