Before she formed her Arcade Fire-quirky sextet Of Monsters and Men (its ebullient debut “My Head Is an Animal” comes out next month), Icelandic folk-rocker Nanna Hilmarsdottir was a kindergarten teacher, which perfectly complemented her songwriting. “Being around kids had a real impact on me, so I was learning from them, as well,” she says. “They take everything in, everything’s interesting and intriguing to them, and it’s a really cool thing to watch.” That paved the way for whimsical OMAM tracks such as “Dirty Paws” (a she-beast stops a forest war), “From Finner” (a clan of globe-trotters travels by whale) and “Six Weeks” (a bear-mauled American pioneer crawls for six weeks to safety).
Were you personally affected by the recent Icelandic financial crisis? Well, I’ve always been scared of loans — if I don’t have the money for it, I’m not going to get a loan to buy it. So I didn’t really get affected because I didn’t owe anyone anything, and I don’t own a house. But I think the whole crisis made people more down to earth, because a lot of people who had three cars and huge houses were simply spending more than they were making. So it’s certainly put things in perspective.
Of Monsters and Men began because you needed a backup band for a local battle of the bands, Musiktilraunir, right? I was working and playing music on my own at pubs and small venues, but I always had this dream in the back of my head to start a band. And I had been recording some stuff at home and adding layers and layers of music, and I couldn’t really perform that alone with my guitar. Then when I met (co-vocalist) Raggi (Þórhallsson), he was the guy who also had a guitar and was singing at parties, so I felt like we could make a good match, musically. So it became more of a collaboration.
Were you stunned when you won the contest? Yeah. And the prize was playing at the Iceland Airwaves Festival, along with some recording sessions, so winning that competition was huge for us. I’m pretty sure that we wouldn’t be doing any of this if it weren’t for that competition.
Where do your surreal songs come from? Often from me and Raggi sitting around together, just making up stories. Because we’re very intrigued by stories, either that we read about or that we just tell each other, letting our imaginations run wild. Like Icelandic sagas and eddas, it’s all around us — it’s almost impossible for us not to get inspired by all these fables that we hear.
Of Monsters and Men
Where: The Independent, 628 Divisadero St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. today
Tickets: $15; sold out
Contact: (415) 771-1421, www.ticketfly.com