- Wed, 2011-07-27 12:21
Close friends since high school, Swedish four piece Little Dragon have been making music together for some time. A blend of leftfield electronic noodlings, rich synth lines and charismatic pop-fuelled melody sung by dynamic front woman Yukimi, the release of their third album Ritual Union at the end of July 2011 has cemented their position as forward thinking purveyors of Swedish pop at its very best.
With praise for their energetic live show arriving in abundance, it was not long before their musical contempories took notice. With Yukimi co-writing two tracks on the 2010 Gorillaz album Plastic Beach, the band were invited by Damon Albarn to support them live. Add to this an appearance on the new DJ Shadow album and recent collaboration interest from US heavyweight Big Boi, it appears the musical passion created and shared between Little Dragon at college will take them a lot further into the future.
I Like Music sat down with Yukimi, Erik, Frederik and Rashik to chat about Ritual Union, working with Damon Albarn, DJ Shadow and Big Boi, plus their fearless approcah to writers block.
"I Like Music because… it’s escape.” Yukimi, Little Dragon
"I Like Music because… it rocks.” Rashik, Little Dragon
"I Like Music because… it has soul and imagination.” Fredrik, Little Dragon
"I Like Music because…it’s all in our heads.” Erik, Little Dragon
ILM: Ritual Union has just been released. How are you feeling about the record?
Yukimi: I’m feeling happy! I mean, you always get a bit nervous before release, before that you’re so in the middle of it all that you don’t have that distance from it...but it’s been finished for a while now. We’ve had time to rest and not listen to the songs for a while and then go back to them, and there haven’t been any feelings of regret, we haven’t changed our minds about anything luckily...!
ILM: There have been some great reviews of the album. Do you pay much attention to reviews, to press?
Fredrik: I think you soak up the positive and don’t mind about the negative...
Yukimi: Yeah. I think we’re better at that now. For me, I used to take the negative press extremely personally. But the good things, they’re a great source of motivation, I mean, who wouldn’t want to pay attention to them?
ILM: Ritual Union is your third album. Were there any particular starting points with the album? Did you have an idea of how you wanted it to sound?
Rashik: I don’t think there has ever been anything like that with us.
Yukimi: There’s never really been any deciding what it’s going to be like. It’s always been about going into the studio and trying things.
Erik: Just try things and then really crank it loud in the studio to ourselves.
Yukimi: Yeah, for some of the songs.
Erik: No, all of the songs for me! Some of the songs I guess kind of started as Machine Dream songs. Since we have a studio and we’re always there, we have a little library of songs that fit together. Some fit together better than others, so it’s pretty easy making an album, collecting the songs. We’re like, yeah these songs fit together!
Yukimi: I wouldn’t say it’s the easiest thing ever...
Erik: I think it’s so easy!
ILM: How do individual tracks tend to come together?
Fredrik: When we’re home we try to be in the studio everyday from nine to five. Erik has a family, so we try to be more day time, we try to keep it up everyday. We have a computer each so we start to do some sketches, some sounds, mainly beats. Then we play it to the others and ask them to join in. Sometimes it’s more Yukimi and we will just help improve it, add sounds...
ILM: At what stage did you come up with the title Ritual Union?
Yukimi: I think it was towards the end. We’d decided on the songs and we thought that it kind of had a positive message. I guess kind of ambiguous too. The connection with the wedding photos on the cover means it’s quite direct but I think we see it with a wider meaning. Hopefully people will see it like that too. It can mean anything related to ritual and the importance that holds for human beings, especially with our connection to music, you know, us as a band playing live. I don’t know! There are many hippy-ish ways of looking at it!
ILM: Is it true that the name Little Dragon came from Yukimi’s tendency to feel frustrated in the studio? Where do those frustrations come from?
Yukimi: I guess there’s a little bit of truth in the origin of the name! You know, we are all individual characters, we spend a lot of time together and I think we’ve found ways to cope with each other. I think we’re aware of the hurdles as part of the process. Now I don’t feel scared if I don’t come up with anything for a while or if I think the songs aren’t that great. I know that it’s going to come and I would never give up because of it.
ILM: Do you often find it tough to begin the writing process?
Yukimi: When you’re on the road a lot and away from home, it can take a little while to get your mind back into the rhythm of being home and writing again. Those hurdles have always been there. Even though you might not write anything that you think is amazing for a whole week, I don’t think that’s ever held us back.
Erik: We always learn by doing. Maybe that’s what I meant when I said it feels easy to make music. All those parts are pretty small frustrations in comparison to the joy you get when you hear music you made that you really like yourself. I’m kind of proud!
ILM: What were some of the highlights whilst putting Ritual Union together?
Erik: Maybe one part was when our manager was so pleased for us that he walked into our office and said, ‘this is it, whatever you say this is it.’
Yukimi: In the sense that he was so pleased with the tracks we had made he was happy with the finished album. We weren’t going to let anyone tell us how to order it or what to include. We’ve learned from our mistakes in the past, you know? We are the creative voice. It’s our music.
Erik: It’s a nice feeling to feel confident about your music you know? Like you really like it yourself and I think you’ve got to have that to be able to say this is it.
ILM: You said the majority of your music is made with laptops etc. How do you approach translating that into a live show?
Fredrik: That’s where the frustration comes in. It’s a really boring process of getting all the sounds into our sampler machines so we can control them live and play them. Because everything is built upon many synthesisers and other stuff, we need a month or so to get the sounds. Once that’s done we’re just aiming to be as free as possible when we’re live, to really go for the whole psychedelic feeling of…
Rashik: …being able to drift out.
Fredrik: Yeah exactly.
Rashik: Even if I have the foundation of the song we can always go where we want.
ILM: Out of all of the shows you’ve played, which have been some of the most memorable?
Erik: I think yesterday was really good, yeah Amsterdam. There’s always something, with any show you know? If you want to dwell on the negative there’s always something. But there’s also the feeling of being relaxed whatever happens. I mean a mistake can often be a nice mistake.
Yukimi: Yeah. I mean we’ve done so many good shows that in my head they all just get mixed up. I’ll always think of the first show we did in LA at the Roxie. That was kind of a turning point I think. It was surreal because we were in LA and we were like ‘why is there a sold out show here?’ It hadn’t happened to us before and it didn’t make any sense! That was kind of a big moment for all of us. I don’t know if it was a big show for us musically but it’s definitely one that sticks out. Anyway, we always have slightly different feelings about the shows afterwards...
ILM: Not only have you supported Gorillaz, Yukimi co-wrote Empire Ants and To Binge on the Plastic Beach album. What has it been like working with Damon Albarn?
Yukimi: He is a super creative person and definitely a restless soul in the sense that he just has to be busy, has to create, has to be creative. I think what I personally took from the process was the experience of all the people he brought together. It was just such an interesting combination and we wouldn’t have spent three months together if it hadn’t been for Damon’s vision. I just think it’s amazing that someone can have a vision to do something like that, you know, I want to have this group here, these two legendary artists here, this hip-hop artist here, this legendary hip-hop act here and then to actually have the power to make that a possibility. I mean for us to be part of that...it’s kind of like a memory for life.
ILM: I suppose it does have a lot to do with his ability to make it all happen. Not to undermine his creative vision, but to actually be able to realise those dreams...
Yukimi: Yeah. I mean, who wouldn’t you know? Imagine if we could!
Fredrik: It’s kind of a generosity because I mean it’s not easy to make that happen.
Yukimi: Right. I have admiration for that courage.
ILM: On the subject of collaborations, I understand you recently hooked up with DJ Shadow and have a track on his next album?
Erik: I think Yukimi gave a CD to his manager a long time ago...
Yukimi: I actually gave it to him. I met him at a festival and I was like oh my god DJ Shadow! That’s so cool! I gave him our first album and he was like, oh thanks. He lost it, then after Machine Dreams came out we got an email from him saying that he’d bought the record, loved it so much and somehow the name rang a bell. Then he looked it up online and was like ‘oh, it’s her! Oh, I met them and blah blah blah…’
Fredrik: So we met him in San Francisco at this sushi place. He was so down to earth! We chatted about how we’d been in a band for a while and sort of the shared lifestyle of being a musician driving around in sweaty t shirts in vans...
Yukimi: I think it’s something that’s healthy to go through as an artist. You sort of shape yourself the more time you put into it. Then when the appreciation and love starts coming you feel like you earned it. It’s not like over a day everything changed and suddenly everything flipped and we were known everywhere, now I’m just starting to think like ‘ok, it’s starting to pay off...’
Erik: That sushi meeting was quite a long time ago too. Since then we’ve kept contact and then he sent us one of his tracks, he wanted us to do something with it...
ILM: I also read Big Boi was a fan of your music and had been in touch about a possible collaboration? You have some high profile fans!
Yukimi: Haha! We haven’t done anything with him yet, we’ve had some ideas
ILM: So it’s not set in stone?
Yukimi: No, we’ll see what happens. We met him in Texas for the first time, we’ve only met him once and just said hi. I mean, we’re huge fans of his, we’re really inspired by him so it would be a big deal for us for that to happen. But I just want to add that we’re not necessarily seeking out collaborations, it’s just kind of happened that way!
Fredrik: Except for the Gorillaz thing it’s just been sending files back and forth, it hasn’t been like we’ve been in the same room.
ILM: Yeah. I don’t think it comes across as if you’re constantly collaborating or jumping upon musical bandwagons, sacrificing your own sound or anything. A lot of talented musicians just seem to appreciate your music, it all seems quite natural...
Erik: Yeah, thanks. I think we’ve always had a lot of control.
Yukimi: Yeah. We don’t want to be ‘the collaboration band’. Haha! You know, if it feels really right... like Big Boi for example. He’s someone we admire, we really love his recent album. I mean, it makes total sense! So it would be a great thing to do something with him but in the same way, it definitely feels like that could be the last collaboration we ever do. Who knows. We’re not seeking it out at all, things just happen!
ILM: What have you been listening to recently?
Yukimi: I’ve been listening to that song Imagination by Just An Illusion. I like that track. You’ve been listening to some new stuff Fred?
Fredrik: Yeah I’ve been listening to some techno stuff, but I don’t know any names...
ILM: How about artists you always find yourself coming back to?
Erik: Prince I’d say
Yukimi: I’d say Kate Bush. I love her integrity and that power she has
Rashik: Brian Eno.
Yukimi: James Brown.
ILM: Finally, what are your future plans? Can we expect a fourth album?
Yukimi: We’re always going to write music. We’re never going to stop writing songs or stop trying to stay creative, I think that’s something we all have in common. It’s in us, it’s something we have to do to survive. Even if we weren’t here, even if we didn’t have EMI, even if we didn’t have anything we’d still be in our houses writing music and making songs. So that’s what we’re going to keep doing...