Eighteen years into a career that has had world tours, four albums and three EPs, Swedish indie/electro/soul quartet Little Dragon may be the best example of the digital era’s ability to spread a band wide and deep, while at the same time allowing them to reach significant acclaim without truly having traditional mainstream success. Comprised of female vocalist Yukimi Nagano, Erik Bodin, Fredrik Källgren Wallin and Håkan Wirenstrand, the group is a truly collaborative unit, with Nogano’s unique presence, voice and style likely being providing the point of intrigue for many regarding the act. Born with Japanese/Swedish-American ancestry and having a profoundly soulful voice, she presents a unique hybrid at a unique time in popular music, making her one of pop’s most amazing stars on the rise.
When interviewing Nogano prior to the band’s performance tonight at Northeast DC’s Echostage, there is as much discussion about fun and excitement as there is about creative process and album development. Nabuma Rubberband is the band’s most recent release, and in being released on big-time indie label Loma Vista Recordings afforded the band the time, space and finances to possibly best articulate their full creative vision of their style and inspiration. Gaining a window into the heart and soul of Yukimi Nogano is important, as she’s a once in a generation artist. Enjoy this interview.
I feel like Nabuma Rubberband is a significant album because it allowed the band time to refresh and rejuvenate while recording music, too. Did having the time away from touring aid the ease of your recording process?
It was great. It was something that we had longed for. We had over a year off, back in Gothenburg in our home studio. We’ve been on the road so much, so these were the first moments that we’ve had to have that much time and not have shows. It was kind of a special time. We appreciated the time because we had worked really hard, so it made us feel like we [had] earned it.
Little Dragon’s known for having a very passionate fanbase. Thoughts about your fans, recording material and your expectations regarding how they could feasibly respond?
We didn’t have any expectations [of how our fans would feel]. We put our expectations of the music first. If we really loved [a track], it made the album. We didn’t have [any expectations] in mind for the album. We wanted it to be true to our genuine feelings. Once the record comes out, you realize everyone doesn’t have the same tastes as you do. Some people love it, some people say that ‘the first record is better, the second record is better,’ but you know, we let [the music] live its own life. A lot of people have said they really love this record, but it took them a few listens to really get into it.
Four albums in seven years. What remains the same and what has changed insofar as the band? Certainly there has to have been significant growth along the way.
A lot has changed. But the important things have remained the same. [The band] still respects and admires each other as people, and that’s what [initially] brought us together in the first place. Everyone’s an artist in the band. Everyone produces and everyone has their own character and sound. It’s the reason why we have a wider sound than if it had been just one person [as the dominant creative voice]. We keep [a] democracy. We’re not really a solo package, we’re really collaborative. That part is still the same.
What’s changed? Well, you learn a lot from being out on the road. We didn’t have an overnight hit or anything like that, so we toured and toured, so we grew like that [especially] in the US. We didn’t really have [a huge marketing budget] until the last record with a label in the US. We promoted our music ourselves, through shows and stuff like that. It’s a slower process, which hopefully allows for us to have more longevity.
Recording Nabuma Rubberband with Loma Vista Records, it feels as though this album had a significant financial investment behind it from the label side of things. As artists who haven’t always had that level of investment, how did this impact the album’s development?
Yeah, that’s one thing that we keep learning from as well. Having a budget sometimes fucks things up, and sometimes it’s a really great thing. When you have limited resources, you start really using your imagination and figuring things out. You get super creative and use what you have to make something fantastic sometimes. [Also], sometimes unlimited options doesn’t bring [that creativity] out of you. For this record, we worked with a really cool marketing guy at Loma Vista [Records], and we got to do some really awesome things and work with some cool people. The guy who created our video and homepage where people could actually call and talk to us right before the record, kind of like a promotional thing that was really fun and still personal and silly. [That] really resonated with us. He was kind of a geeky dude who has the ability to create those kind of things and make a lot of weird websites and stuff.
There used to be times where we’d want to collaborate with people who’d say, “if you can’t pay me then we can’t do this,” so you usually would just get your friends in on it, which is fun as well. [However], at the end of the day, you want to be able to pay people for their work!
The videos for album tracks “Klapp Klapp” and “Pretty Girls” are two of the more visually arresting clips of the year. Nabil Elderkin was the director of both. Foremost, what was it like to work with a legend like him, and how much input did you have insofar as to the his creative direction for the videos?
We were very involved [in all aspects] of the [album]. It was really intense. We’re all big fans of Nabil’s work [as he] makes beautiful, beautiful videos. He’s a fantastic director and has a really creative mind. We let him interpret, and I loosely gave him a sense of a few themes and styles. He came back with the whole zombie idea, which we all thought was super fun. “Pretty Girls” is pretty simple and easy to interpret. We definitely gave him the free hand to put those videos together.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UM–TtkGNa4
There’s word that you were listening to Janet Jackson while thematically developing this album. What exactly is it about her material that you find particularly inspiring about her voice?
The song I was listening to was “Someday is Tonight,” (from 1989-released album Rhythm Nation 1814) one of my favorite Janet Jackson tracks. I think somehow [Janet] is underrated! She’s one of the biggest stars, but she’s obviously in the shadow of Michael [Jackson], who’s obviously and undeniably fantastic. I’d never really properly listened to the song – you know, music you’ve heard but never truly listened to it. I did that recently and had one of those moments where [the song] was very cinematic.
In the winter in Sweden, that’s what I do. It’s really boring and cold, so you just live in your headphones. The music becomes my soundtrack to life. What I really love about [Janet’s] voice is that it’s minimal. It’s simple and sensual, sexy and airy, and I think that’s an awesome way to sing.
It’s intriguing that you mentioned something so Sweden-specific, as I definitely wanted to ask you about the effects of having a globalized and engaged fanbase now on your music. I feel like this would undoubtedly play into the creative process somewhat.
Whether you have fans in one place or spread out, it’s easy to feel pressure from a certain amount of love and success. Sometimes it can be an [overhanging] cloud, thinking “this has to be super super good!” Before [major success], I was writing purely for my soul, because this is what I was meant to do. Then suddenly people are like, “it has to be really good.” Beforehand, [I wasn’t] thinking about how good it was going to be, [I] was just expressing myself. The music being “good” was the result of putting in tons of work, and the stuff before that sucking. For the last record, the time [the band] had was good. It’s difficult. Being on tour and being in the studio are like two different worlds. Sometimes those two worlds get a little too separated. [We had] two years on tour and we didn’t have any [time off], and all of a sudden we were supposed to write the next record, and [because of the touring] you don’t know where to start, which causes that cloud of pressure [, too]. Like anything, it’s [ultimately] about not being afraid, killing the ego, making a bunch of mistakes and finding your way back to where you creatively started.
Electronic/club sounds have been inextricably linked to Little Dragon’s rise. What are your thoughts about remixing and possibly making more music that’s more influenced by the dance floor?
From our first record, we had people remixing the songs without any files [to properly do so], just taking the song and manipulating it. We’re definitely interested in electronic music, electronic sounds and the club scene. Sonically, that’s where [music] is the most innovative, [with] sounds you haven’t necessarily heard before. A guitar is one sound with a bunch of pedals and is a little bit more predictable, but [the electronic scene] is infinite. [Electronic music] is something that we gravitate toward a little bit more in our production.
So, to end on a lighthearted note, what was your favorite night out on tour in the past twelve months, and what made it so entertaining?
It was a night in Tokyo, the first time we had been to Japan in seven years or so. It was super humid and hot, and we had the most amazing meal ever. I really love Japan, and the whole crew and the whole bad had a really awesome time. We used my half-assed [and] terrible Japanese to order food, and we were starving because we were trying to find a place to feed all of us. The places in Tokyo are miniature and small, and some of the coolest places are holes in the wall with not enough seats, and some places were just full. [Also,] some of the best restaurants are hidden, so you have to find them. We were walking around all over and we found this place which I had been to before by accident. I’m totally a foodie, and Japan is one of the best places for that. We ordered everything, and it was so good!