Little Dragon: “You Want To Surprise Yourself”

Interview Little Dragon: “You Want To Surprise Yourself”

It’s playtime - Little Dragon just want to have fun.

It’s late on a Monday evening and hidden away three floors up at a photo studio in Southwark, Little Dragon are only just finishing a long day of talking about their new album. They seem exhausted, and it’s unsurprising considering this is a reflection of how hard working they are as a band. They’ve spent the past few years repeating the cycle of relentless touring, including a world tour with Gorillaz and going into their own studio in Gothenburg to record music.

Having toured so much for 2011’s ‘Ritual Union’ and with such boundless energy in their performances, it’d be a safe assumption that they’d want to scale back with their new album ‘Nabuma Rubberband’, and they agree. “As much as we can, we try to maintain a good balance. It’s going to be a lot of touring but we enjoy that as well!” says bassist Fredrik Källgren Wallin.

Drummer Erik Bodin chimes in. “Before we took the big break to write this album – there were definitely moments when it was all cracking up a little bit, but it was nothing we couldn’t handle.” Frontwoman Yukimi Nagano definitely feels that the fanbase they have is largely due to the live show they put on. “It’s not as if we came out of nowhere and had a big following of people behind us,” she explains. “We really had a fan base that grew from a lot of touring.”

A site was launched by the band in conjunction with the lead single from ‘Nabuma Rubberband’, ‘Klapp Klapp’ on which you could enter your phone number and it would be played down the phone to you. It would be optimistic to expect them to have individually called everyone, “It was an automated recording, we recorded the files,” confirms Fredrik. Maintaining a sense of personal connection is important to Little Dragon but whilst some bands use Twitter, Instagram and other variants to establish that connection – they don’t feel that it’s been necessary. “Even without communicating via social media, we feel we have a connection to fans that come to our shows,” he continues.

Recording ‘Nabuma Rubberband’ in their hometown Gothenburg meant that there was a familiar work environment but for Yukimi, she wants to break out of the feeling of familiarity. “We’re at a point now where we want to work in new studios as well if we get the opportunity and it makes sense. We don’t have to be there [in Gothenberg] but it’s definitely a comfort zone.” As Scandinavian pop artists such as themselves have been getting so much attention, I ask them who they’re excited about from their homeland. “Mapei is nice!” enthuses Yukimi. “Marcus Price, he used to be in a hip hop group but he started something new and more fun, I really like them,” comments Erik.

Having produced the album themselves, the process was no different to how they’ve always recorded – it was a way for them to keep creative control over their own output. Keyboardist Hakan explains, “We’re a little protective and careful about who we work with.” Erik elaborates further, “We produce each other because we’ll do it separately then someone will come in with fresh ears. It’s a vague word nowadays because anyone with a little home studio is a producer – it’s so easy for one person to come from an idea to a finished product.”

“Make yourself uncomfortable somehow. You want to surprise yourself.”

— Yukimi Nagano

A muse ‘It was nothing we couldn’t handle.’ for Yukimi whilst working on the album was none other than Janet Jackson. “It was vocally inspired by her very soft voice. Janet Jackson has been rediscovered in my world because I never really listened to her.” But most of all, it was producing and listening to each other’s work that was inspiring. “Listening to that over and over, making that take your imagination somewhere – I really zone into that. [Our music has] a peaceful and reflective message, sonically it’s visual and dreamy. A lot of our music gives me a sense of being in a different space to the one I’m in.” It’s a feeling that’s mutual from her bandmates but it’s something that comes with a lot of work. “If you love what you do, it’s a blessing. Of course though, there’s a lot of frustration because you have high demands of yourself – you want to create something you’re blown away by so it’s hard,” stresses Fredrik.

This is a sentiment that’s shared by Yukimi. “I definitely feel that it’s a never-ending journey. I don’t think I’ve found myself in the writing. I think you should feel that you’re not in your comfort zone for the rest of your life – it’s about changing the process a bit,” she states, “Make yourself uncomfortable somehow. You want to surprise yourself.”

Wanting to push themselves is something that Little Dragon practice both in their music and as people, “We all easily get bored of ourselves, there’s restlessness within all of us and as a group even more – even when we play live, there are some songs where we think ‘the song is dead and nothing is really happening’, You want to find something new, I think we’re searching in that way,” says Erik.

Keyboardist Hakan Wirenstrand is a constant source of one-liners. When talking about their collaborations with Big Boi, Gorillaz and other artists he laughs, “Something to put on your CV”. Yukimi gives more colour to the experience. “It’s nice to see artists doing what they’ve been doing for so long. The one thing I felt was proven on the Gorillaz tour was there were so many people, ages and genres and you feel that they’re all artists. It’s the beauty with this job; you can be a kid for the rest of your life and play. You can do the same thing you were doing, dancing around in the mirror when you were ten, but on stage. It’s amazing in that way.”

A recent experience that excited her in this way was Little Dragon getting to play on David Letterman. “That was huge!” she says enthusiastically, “it’s always been a dream, seeing other bands there and all of a sudden you’re on there doing it. It was surreal but also normal at the same time for some weird reason. For me, I feel Letterman is the peak.” Whilst they enjoy TV exposure, they’re not as concerned with radio. “People are very comfortable in the radio world hearing the same thing over and over,” comments Erik. “It’s sad when [being on the radio] affects the creative process,” adds Yukimi. “With us, we want to make something that’s innovative and new – if you’re trying to make something for radio then it’s not necessarily going to bring out anything innovative.”

As Little Dragon has transformed and become bigger, the dynamic between the four close friends has changed with it and it’s something they really took into consideration with ‘Nabuma Rubberband’. “We’re four strong opinions together and sometimes we clash which gets really uncomfortable vibes but sometimes we harmonise and it’s a smooth ride.” Being with each other a lot has given them a safe connection but that’s not to say that they don’t experience the same loneliness that their solo peers face. “We deal with that too, but at least we’re four people experiencing it at the same time.”

Little Dragon’s new album ‘Nabuma Rubberband’ will be released on 12th May via Because Music.

Tags: Little Dragon, Features, Interviews

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