Formed early in 2001 the band has an interesting story to tell. It all began when Arnar Guðjónsson and Hallur Már Hallsson rented a house in downtown Reykjavík. Arnar had been in a popular band but had songs in stock which didn’t fit their style. This happened when computer recording was in it’s early days, the house was transformed into a studio and demos for songs piled up. Through series of coincindences the demos ended up at the offices of record labels in London and Los Angeles which immediately showed interest. Old friends Arnar Ólafsson (guitar, vocals), Andri Ásgrímsson (keys) and Bjarni Grímsson (drums) began playing the songs with Arnar and Hallur and soon the band was formed. After some pondering the group settled on Leaves as an apt name, referring to Five Leaves Left, the first album of English legend Nick Drake.
Leaves practiced mercilessly and played their first gig at a converted art gallery at the Airwaves festival in october 2001. For the summer everyone in the band sensed that something special was happening and the interest from abroad did nothing to dampen that feeling. The bands show garnered instant praise from Iceland’s music press which indicated what was to follow. A critic from The New York Times was impressed with the bands performance and Hallur appeared in an interview in the newspaper having only played one gig…..ever! A recording contract followed with London based B-Unique records. The contract stated thatDreamworks had first option for signing the band in the U.S.. Leaves had the industry buzzing and declined deals from big record companies in order to sign to a indipendent label. In the fall of 2001 the band went on a short tour with The Bluetones before travelling to L.A. playing a showcase at theViper Room for agents from Dreamworks who instantly spotted the bands charm and signed Leaves.
Early in 2002 the band began recording their first album in Reykjavík.An Oxford based production team called the awayTEAM (Badly Drawn Boy, Athlete) was brought in to handle recordings. In the spring the band played all over the U.K. with bands such as Doves, The Coral, Electric Soft Parade, Athlete to promote the album which was mixed by Steve Osborne (Doves, Suede, Happy Mondays, KT Tunstall, Elbow, Starsailor) at the legendary Air Studios. At the homefront the song Breathegained popularity and gigs with The Strokes and Travis helped lift their profile further.
Breathe was released in August 2002. Critics loved the album wich got raving reviews in magazines and newspapers such as Q-magazine (the magazine selected Breathe as one of the 50 best albums of 2002), Uncutand The Fly. The band did the festival route and played tirelessly. In spite of critical acclaim and good response the band did not get the airplay needed to break through in the U.K.
Breathe was released in 2003 in the U.S., the band had recorded an extra song for the U.S. version which was recorded in L.A. late in 2002 and produced by Ron Aniello. The song was a big hit in Iceland after featuring in a creditcard commercial. Leaves then toured the U.S. supporting Welsh rockers Stereophonics to promote the album. The Rolling Stone wrote thatBreathe was one of the best unnoticed albums of the year. The title song played in the background during an epic lovescene in teenage drama The O.C., still there was no sign of commercial success.
Now it was time to move on to the next album. Bjarni had left the band being replaced by beat virtuoso Nói Steinn Einarsson and Andri permanently joined the band. The pair had been in a post-rock band Náttfariwhich garnered some praise at the turn of the century when Reykjavik’s music scene was probably as exciting as it has ever been. Leaves had developed their sound considerably, arrangements were now complex and layered while instrumentation had also come a long way. Still songs likeWhatever and The Spell showed the bands ability to write accessible tunes. The Angela Test was recorded in the bands studio in Reykjavik in the summer of 2004. Ian Davenport who had also worked on Breatheengineered while Marius de Vries (Björk, Madonna, Rufus Wainwright, U2, PJ Harvey, Elbow) produced. When recordings were finished in the fall the album was mixed by Rich Costey (Muse, The Mars Volta, Foo Fighters, Supergrass and Interpol). The band had now signed to London based Island Records.
In the summer of 2005 the band supported Supergrass and Thirteen Senses on tours also playing some festivals and doing a headline tour in the fall. In Iceland the band played a fantastic sold out show at NASA as well as supporting pop giants Duran Duran. The album got warm reviews in magazines and newspapers although the hype surrounding Breathe was absent. Strangely the album recieved little attention in Iceland, it was distributed by Universal worldwide. That meant it came to Iceland through the same channels as other foreign acts, still The Spell remains one of the bands biggest hits. The Angela Test (2005) is by many considered Iceland’s most underrated album to date.
Few Icelandic bands have a similar story to tell as Leaves do, the band has had some considerable success though it has not reached the heights suggested earlier on. Still the band is now 12 years old, an age few bands reach in Iceland and has developed consistantly. Listening to We Are Shadows (2009) this becomes obvious, the care and thought put in each song speak volumes. The quality of the songwriting along with majestic arrangements and interesting recordings make We Are Shadows worthy of being called the bands best album to date.
With bass player Hallur leaving the band in 2009 two new members joined the band, bass player Elli (Jeff Who!) and keyboard player Kjartan (Kjarr, Ampop). They are now putting the final touch on their new album in their studio in Iceland.