Growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, composer Alex Somers ate a lot of junk. His diet, for the first 18 years of his life, mostly consisted of things from packets. But then he went to college.
He did what any teenager does when they move out of home – he started experimenting. He became woke to whole foods. By the time Somers was 19, he was a vegetarian and before he'd hit 20, he was a card-carrying vegan. It was a real eye-opener for him. "Even though it seems narrow from the outside because you start taking things away from your diet, for me, it was just the opposite because I'd eaten such few foods," he says. "It opened worlds for experimentation and it was super fun."
Somers was at Berklee College of Music in Boston when he met his partner Jonsi, lead singer of ambient synth/art-rock band Sigur Ros. "We had a really strong spark and a connection, and we knew we wanted to try to merge our lives a little bit, but it took some time." They decided to move to Jonsi's native Iceland, where Somers started at Iceland Academy of the Arts.
"I had a bit of a culture shock. It's very different. Everything there is beautiful. The music community and the nature and the water, the fresh spring water for drinking and the hot, geothermal water for bathing. It was a really cool experience."
It also changed the way he made music. Living in Reykjavik, he found his sound started to change, thanks in no small part to the Icelandic attitude of Quietly Getting It Done. "When I was in the US … [my friends and I] were just like delicate flowers doing lo-fi or ambient music and we'd encourage each other, almost to a fault. Then I moved to Iceland and no one really talks about their work. People support each other, but no one ever over-compliments. It takes a bit to crack through to someone, to really have a strong connection."
A consummate artist, Somers co-produced four albums for Sigur Ros, as well as designing several of their album covers. He and Jonsi also collaborated separately, producing three albums under Jonsi & Alex, including Riceboy Sleeps, which marks its 10th anniversary this year. They will perform the album live at the Sydney Opera House as part of the Vivid festival.
When it comes to Icelandic cuisine, up until recently, much of it was survivalist
It was while living in Iceland that he also decided to try going completely raw food vegan, a decision driven by instinct but helped along by reading Reykjavik-based nutritionist and raw food advocate Solla Eiriksdottir. "It was really gradual for me. And then I just got to the point where I was eating at least 70 per cent raw foods. I just haven't learned anything yet that doesn't seem to be helping our society to eat more plants and less animals."
It wasn't easy learning how to prepare food this way at first. "I started buying things like the blender and then dehydrator and the mandolin slicer and all these nerdy things that a lot of people that get into this stuff have. And now, I never think about it, because I just have a huge salad bowl and throw random stuff in there. It's fun, but I was more experimental back then. I think you have to want it. If you want it and you're passionate about it, it's easy."
As a gentle gag to help promote an album they were working on, he and Jonsi made a series of raw food cooking videos for YouTube. "We loved doing it. We're really into food – it was really fun and it was a big goof." The video for their raw strawberry pie has had 63,000 views to date.
He says until recently, Icelandic cuisine was largely survivalist. Jonsi's grandmother, for instance, grew up in a mud hut making her own shoes out of fish skin. "The whole culture is very young and grew really quickly. That's not how they live any more obviously, Iceland is very upper middle class and stable. But once a year to honour that tradition they eat all this really extreme food – animal blood, stomach lining, head and neck and ears."
Not too long ago, Jonsi and Somers traded Iceland for Los Angeles, where Somers spends his days scoring and writing film soundtracks, including Captain Fantastic, We Bought a Zoo, How to Train Your Dragon and several episodes of everyone's favourite dystopian horror series, Black Mirror. Currently, he's scoring a film called the 12 O'Clock Boys, about a Baltimore dirt bike gang who ride around terrorising the city.
"I think at some point, I realised I felt a little isolated in Iceland," says Somers. "I was just like, 'Whoa. I'm actually living on a tiny island right next to the Arctic Circle.' Out here [LA], I feel really opened up, like anything is possible. I feel like I'm changing a lot."
Living in LA has been a significant shift for the pair.
"Los Angeles is so cool. The food culture is really beautiful. There's so much crazy, awesome vegetarian and vegan, raw, plant, experimental stuff. I feel really healthy here.
"I also feel like, similar to my work with scoring film, I'm just starting. There's still a lot more here for me to explore. A lot more friends to make. I think music really binds us together. You don't need to be clever. There's nothing intellectual about it. You connect to it or you don't. What a great thing to be able to make music. I'm very lucky."
The world premiere of Jonsi & Alex Somers: Riceboy Sleeps with the Sydney International Orchestra and Choir will be performed at the Sydney Opera House on June 11.
The last book you read? Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami
The last time you really messed something up? A few weeks ago, I had a really special friend in from out of town, and I left her alone, neglected her as a friend and we had a long talk afterwards. Be mindful of your friends. It's not to be taken for granted.
What would I find if I looked in your fridge? Greens.
Do you garden? No
Favourite raw food? Raw cacao. It's endlessly giving.
The food you miss most since becoming vegan? I swear, I think I just ate crap before I went vegan. I'm a bad example because I just grew up eating like peanut butter and jelly and potato chips. And then I went vegan and my world opened. My discovering food went hand-in-hand with being vegetarian and vegan, so that's my experience.
Have you ever met Bjork? Yeah. And she's brilliant. She's a sweetie. A really, really cool person. I don't know her very well, but I love her.