News Reading & Leeds 2012: Niki & The Dove: ‘It Feels A Bit Like We’re Starting Again’

In ‘Instinct’, Gustaf and Malin - Swedish duo Niki & The Dove - have dropped an implausibly brilliant album of perfectly formed pop songs. In anticipation of their set at this weekend’s Reading & Leeds Festival, Huw Oliver phoned them up to discuss the record, image and Sub Pop.

How’s your summer going, guys?

Gustaf: Quite good, not too much and not too little going on.

Malin: We’re doing V festival in the next couple of days and the weekend after that, it’s Reading and Leeds.

You’ve just released ‘Instinct’ in the US. Do you think it’s gone down well?

G: It feels good; it’s a big country. But it feels a bit like we’re starting again because we haven’t released anything over there before, so it’s like a new start. We get a lot of new reactions on the album that way.

You played New York quite recently, too right?

M: Yeah, it was nice. I like playing there. We had a good night.

G: It’s a good place to be, and of course it was great. I think it was our fourth or fifth time in New York actually. We’ve done some support shows in the past. The audience is always interested in your music so it’s good playing there.

Two years were spent honing the songs on ‘Instinct’. Did you feel a sense of relief when it came out?

G: Yes.

M: But I think it’s important to say that we didn’t actually spend two years making it. If you take into the account the time we actually were in the studio, then yes, it was two years, but we had to do other stuff. We would work for a month, then go away and do other things, and then come back, and so on. That’s why it took so long.

G: But it’s nice to finally deliver the songs and start something new, a new period in our history, so to speak. It’s definitely a relief.

So, how did you guys hook up with Sub Pop?

G: They heard some stuff we released early on and were really interested from the beginning. We could feel that they understood the music, and that we were doing it for the sake of the music, and not for the sake of anything else. So, they were really supportive right from the start. For us, it was a great honour that they contacted us because we’re big fans of that label. It was like some sort of strange and happy dream that they wanted us. And it was quite surprising because we’re an electronic band with a lot of synthesizers; they usually do more guitar-based music. In the beginning, we were quite mesmerised by that because we don’t use many guitars. But we still feel at home.

How easy is it to recreate the album live?

G: It’s always a challenge doing things live, and we think it’s important to keep the music alive and fresh for ourselves when we play it. We’ve been playing the songs a lot now and we feel that it’s important to open up some of the songs so that you can improvise on them. That way, we don’t get tired of them. So, we try to have an open attitude. It’s always nice to add something that wasn’t on the album. Sometimes it can be difficult to reach the thing that you want to express live, of course.

Many critics have picked up on the visceral, unremitting nature of your record. There are frequent bursts of joy, but there’s not a moment’s rest. Was that intentional?

M: I think that when we started, we didn’t even know that we were going to make a record. At first, we released a single, and then an EP, and it was all working out, so we made an album. It was not something that we planned from the beginning. And I think that’s something which contributes to the fast-paced, collage form of the album, and I like that.

And it’s definitely a pop record through and through. What kind of pop music were you listening to when you made the album?

M: Gustaf?

G: We didn’t listen to that much pop music because it’s easier not to. I think – I don’t know about Malin – of course you can feel inspiration from other music, but you can also simply start to analyse things, and in an unhealthy way. I think it’s quite negative to listen to other pop music when you’re making it, too. I find much more inspiration in other music styles and ways of expression. Silence is very healthy too; if you come home after a whole day in the studio, it’s nice coming home and having no music at all.

What comes first – the music or the hook?

G: It’s always a mix. You don’t have a recipe for doing that. A song can start in very different ways, maybe with a word, or maybe with a bass-line and drum beat. There are no rules for us.

What with your headdresses and so on, image forms quite a vital part of your live show. Your album artwork is pretty artistically elaborate too. Do you think image is important in pop?

M: I think… since we have eyes, we cannot just listen to music without using them. We’re not blind; of course we see what’s going on. We get an impression visually too, so there’s definitely something there. I think that if the two of them go together solidly, then maybe the audience or listener gets a completely different impression than if they didn’t. I don’t really know what to say when it comes to our band. Everything is dynamic. We just do the stuff we’re into right now because we want to explore it. I think that dynamic goes for almost every band.

Finally - there’s so much amazing music coming out of Scandinavia at the moment, but are there any Swedish bands you’re currently into?

G: Err…

M: Little Dragon.

G: Of course.

M: I always love what they do and what they put out there. They’re always doing something imaginative and it always feels good.

Niki & The Dove will perform at Reading & Leeds Festival from 24th - 26th August. The band’s new album ‘Instinct’ is out now.

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