STORIES

Little Dragon Wants to Take You Higher

By David Jenison on May 17, 2017

Little Dragon joins the ranks of high school bands that actually made it. The Swedish electro-pop group—featuring vocalist Yukimi Nagano, drummer Erik Bodin, bassist Fredrik Wallin and keyboardist Håkan Wirenstrand—formed two decades ago in an arts-centric school, yet it took more than a decade to release its eponymous debut. The Gothenburg-based band has been on the ascent ever since, even scoring a Grammy nomination for 2014's Nabuma Rubberband. Last month, Little Dragon returned with a new album titled Season High that included singles like "High" and "Sweet." PRØHBTD spoke with Bodin about the new music, fashion designers, alt-right politics in Sweden and if their music video director takes loads of acid. 

What was the original vision for Season High, and how did that vision expand and change in the studio?

I guess the original vision was to fill up our library with new songs so we would not get bored. After two years of touring, there really is a vacuum for new material to get in. We usually don't put words on what we are looking for. It comes from within like a need for something else. We just tried to do something we hadn't heard before, and eventually we had a lot of material, and once you finish it up, you start to think about a title and what it's going to mean... and what does it mean? We thought about calling it Season Five, but then with a twist, it became Season High, and it was easy to continue the whole Season High theme. There are so many highs that you can achieve in music and life, so it's all very abstract. 

When you finished the album, did you feel you went in directions you didn't think you would go?

I think vocally it's even more in bloom than it has been before. "Don't Cry" feels super fragile and soulful. I wasn't surprised by it, but I'm very happy we picked songs like that and not just the typical uplifting dancer songs.

The band typically self-produces its albums, but you brought James Ford [of Simian Mobile Disco] in on this one. To what extent did he contribute to the musical evolution of the album?

He came in very late in the process when we just needed to finish it. We were at a state where we could have continued forever changing reverbs, delays and stuff. We were big fans of his, and we thought it would be fun to bring him in to mix and add a few production ideas here and there. What he did was make it clear that the power of the songs was already there, and he added some small touches that made it obvious for us. He refreshed everything, [gave it] a new sound. We needed his help to get out of our bubble. It was very good actually.

Season High follows a Grammy nomination. To what extent does a Grammy nomination open doors and to what extent does it just fuck with your head?

The music industry's attempts to put a grade on music is a ghost and a demon, I guess, for anyone who's making music because it's such nonsense. It has nothing to do with creativity to put a five out of 10 on an album or to get a Grammy. When it happened, my instinctive feeling was, "Yeah, well, of course we're not going to win the Grammy, but thank you." Really, I have no idea what it means to win a Grammy, to be honest. I'm not so familiar with the American Grammys. I'm mostly aware of the Swedish Grammys, which feels, I don't know, so far away from my world.

We didn't get so affected [by the nomination]. We didn't get anxious ideas of trying to make a duplicate of Nabuma Rubberband, for example. This time we actually wanted to keep it local and not listen so much to the music industry's ideas of what we should do and not do. We found a young kid in Gothenburg who makes videos, for example. We made three videos with him, and it felt so natural and representative of who we are. We are from Gothenburg. We aren't from New York or Los Angeles. We're just a bunch of Swedes who luckily got some attention.

Speaking of the three videos you mentioned—"Sweet," "High" and "Celebrate"—they definitely feel like a different type of high than you mentioned before.

Yeah. Ossian Melin, the guy who directed them, is a very nervous person who is already naturally far out. I don't think he needs any substances at all. He has this very inspiring wish to do something that is super unconventional. I guess that brings in a very psychedelic atmosphere.

It does feel like an acid trip.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, but no people were harmed during the shoot.

Most of the band went to a high school that specialized in music. What were you doing musically that led you to that school?

We all started in music very young. All of us have parents or close relatives who are musicians, and we saw around us that you could live on music. You could be broke, but you could be happy, and you could live on music. If you're not exposed to people like that, you might think it's impossible to even try. I started playing piano when I was seven and drums when I was 10. I always had my uncle who was a musician. He was into jazz, Jimi Hendrix, Talking Heads and very far out music. You get exposed to all of that at a young age. It's a dangerous thing because you're trapped forever with music. 

Ritual Union in 2011 was the album that seemed to increase your profile in the States. Looking back, do you think a specific area of musical growth helped propel this album to the masses?

Do you mean in our own world or everywhere in music? 

Actually, that's a better question. Do you think the album was successful because of something you did musically or do you think it was because the world was more ready for that type of music?

I know it is very philosophical to try to determine what makes a bust and what doesn't make a bust. The only way I could determine if there is somebody paying attention is when we go on tour. We started off playing for 10 people, and we sold some 10 CDs, and that was like, "Wow, man, we're having some kind of success here." We were very happy for whatever we could get, and then during Machine Dreams [in 2009], we got asked to tour with Gorillaz, and we had exposure coming from all kinds of places. It was great to see people we look up to like our music, and that kept us going and believing in doing as much ourselves as possible. Maybe that's what makes people like music… when they feel it's personal and genuine. 

What else can you do really? I don't know. With Ritual Union, I remember a lot of the times when Fred was touring with Gorillaz, and Håkan [Wirenstrand] and I were left in the studio finishing up the album and trying to learn how to mix. It's very self made, that album. I think the power of the album is that it's very personal and homemade.

What fashion designers are you working with right now? 

Some of the outfits we have at the moment are custom made. We found a girl in Gothenburg, Saina Koohnavard, who is an amazing magic spirit, and it was a very natural connection. She made the clothes we wear that glow in the dark. 

I read that your first concert was Prince in Sweden. 

It was amazing. My sister is eight years older than me, and she was listening to Prince, especially Sign 'O' the Times and the albums around that. My parents fooled me and said we were going to get a travel visa, and instead we went to the local arena. I didn't realize even then that it was Prince. It was the support act, and I was like, "This is so loud" as I was covering my ears. Then they said, "You know what's going to happen now?" No, I was six years old. "Prince is coming." "What?" And out he came. I don't remember much of the show other than I was just super energized and extremely happy. My parents said once he came out on stage, I stood up on the chair and danced the whole time. 

You've been coming back to tour the States for years, and during that time, you've had a bunch of states legalize cannabis. Have you noticed any difference in the states that did? 

In America? No, I couldn't say so. It's always been nice coming to America, and the people are very open with… it's such a soft drug, marijuana. Culturally, I'm sure people don't smoke more now than they did before. It's just the politicians were smart enough to put a tax on it and make some money. It makes sense. Sweden is way behind. 

The U.S. and France are two countries experiencing a political crisis with the rise of the far-right, and Sweden seems to have something similar with the Sweden Democrats. What should Americans understand about what's happening in Sweden?

For a long time, let's say since the forties, the Social Democrats had the majority of votes, and they could work on their ideas in a slow reformist way. I guess that made what we have in Sweden today, but the Sweden Democrats say the old was so much better before. If you went back 10 years ago, [the Sweden Democrats] would be the neo-fascist hooligans, and if you look at who's running that party, it feels like just a few actually have some brain cells. It's so sad that whoever runs that party has a skill for pushing the right buttons for the older generation and bringing in some young kids. They give you the wrong statistics. It's all very similar to what Trump is doing. You come with some alternative facts, and you push some old sentimental buttons that say everything was so great before. That's all people can relate to. Politics is so absurd. A simple question like that would only make sense if you don't pay attention.

The Sweden Democrats is the third-biggest party at the moment in Sweden. If they are going to have some power, they must collaborate with other parties, and no other party wants to do that, but we will see. I don't know. I feel like, when things are politically shifting the way they are with Trump, it's when the more progressive music comes and people actually start to be a little bit more rebellious. I think it goes together. I don't know what more to say. We live there, and I find peace in Sweden, although there is a shaky part of the politics. 

Just beware of those Russian hacks.

Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

David Jenison (david@prohbtd.com) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD. Photos by IB Kamara

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