photographs by Mads Tegler
It was the crack of dawn this side of the globe. I swear, I was struggling so hard to emerge from still being in the depths of dreamland that I was slurring my words. By the time Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon greeted me on the line from London, we were on opposite ends on the spectrum of sleepiness as she put it. Thankfully, playback revealed her responses to be as candid and thoughtful as I'd hoped, in spite of my fogginess.
Mid 2011 sees Little Dragon finally enjoying the kind of boom in popularity that they deserved in the wake of a plethora of high profile collaborations (with the likes of Gorillaz, Maximum Balloon, Raphael Saadiq, DJ Shadow and the superb SBTRKT) as well as the release of their third album, Ritual Union . There aren't that many bands gigging right now that sound like Little Dragon do; with ability like they possess, nor a work ethic like they quietly go about with.
Their journey to this point has been the old fashioned way: with lots of gigs and lots of hard work, and their recent success hasn't been a surprise or out of the blue - and they don't pretend it is either, like some other 'break-out bands' often make it out to be. Perhaps it's because they're not teenagers. Perhaps it's because they've been around as a band for about fifteen years. Perhaps it's because they're Swedish. Perhaps it's because they don't really care about too much else except making music that makes them feel good.
I'm pretty sleepy to be honest. It's pretty early in the morning here in Sydney - where do you happen to be right now?
YUKIMI: I'm in London right now and it's pretty late, so we happen to be on different spectrums of sleepiness.
Can you talk a little
bit about Ritual Union? It feels like the most 'pop' album you've done
so far in lots of ways, and the most experimental in some others (like
in the instrumentation which I feel is your trademark), though
melodically and genre-wise, you can vary so much. What were you aiming for on this album?
YUKIMI: Well I think basically we were aiming for making music that felt kinda fresh for us. Usually we go into the studio without any kind of plan and it's just more about capturing moments and trying stuff and experimenting and moving more with just intuition than anything else, I guess. Not necessarily wanting to make a record like what we made before, just looking for something that feels new.
I think that Machine Dreams had a thicker sound. It had a lot of layers and synthesisers; I guess in a way, Ritual Union has a more minimal vibe to it. There are a lot of songs there that are live drums based and just sort of with basic drums, bass and some synthesisers on top of it - and a vocal. I definitely think there's a poppier vibe but still with dreamy elements. It's nothing that we really plan out. Just going with what happens in the studio.
I really love how natural and organic your approach to creating music is. Being such proficient and prolific musicians, how is it that you guys keep challenging yourselves?
YUKIMI: Well we love finding music that feels fresh to us, different. I think we've been influenced by so many different styles of music, and we still are, obviously, and I think it's just about being open. I think we all love music that has a psychedelic vibe to it where it can kind of take you away somehow. Whether it's a beat that has that effect, where you feel like you can listen to it forever, or if it's more of a soundscape where you can sort of escape inside your headphones to or whatever.
When you get pulled into the music when you're jamming, we wanna make music that feels fresh and inspiring. But when we're there and making it, we don't think of it. It's about intuition. You don't know why and you don't consider why you like it. It's a feeling. You might not realise til afterwards.
Can you tell me a little bit more about the title of the album and the lead single? Judging from the phrase, a 'ritual
union' seems to me a very reverent, respectful way of describing
well, sexy things. Can you give me some meaning to that?
YUKIMI: Well, I mean it's a song that's kind of challenging the emotion of wanting to be with someone for the rest of your life. They're the sort of emotions that most of us can relate to and have had at some point in out lives. I think we get fed so much this picture of love that is something fluffy and beautiful, like you know, american romantic comedy where it's sort of like, that feeling that you want to be with that person forever, but you never get to here the rest of the story.
Pretty much everyone I know has some sort of divorce in their background. People aren't getting married any less, I think it's still something people do and want very much. It's not a way that I think everyone necessarily celebrates love. But it's something that I wanted to write about; the skepticism of that.
It was a really beautiful, delicate way of putting something so big in everyone's lives. So what scares you the most about the music industry?
YUKIMI: What scares me sometimes is that maybe some people aren't as curious about music. They just eat up this music that they are fed from like, the radio or wherever that to me, kinda feels fabricated. I mean, I love pop music in many ways, actually I love a lot of music that is extremely commercial as well as the opposite; I mean, I don't think commercial music is necessarily bad music because it can be really phat you know?
I guess you're talking more about people's consumption of it rather than the actual music?
YUKIMI: Right! Yeah I guess maybe people just sort of…stop…maybe more on the industry side. The more 'bribing' part of big record labels who know how to get what they want to get their artists played on the radio. And that can sometimes be annoying and frustrating!
Do you guys ever feel self conscious about your image or maybe yourselves overall, even at this stage in the game? Especially compared to all these really highly and often ridiculously overproduced artists that are out there...
YUKIMI: Absolutely! You feel conscious of what you do and how you sound and look. And you compare yourself, but I think in a good way. I think something that we've grown to learn is that it's good that we have a lot of different music out there. It's a good thing. One of the other things with the commercial side of stuff is that, a lot of it sounds really alike, but for us, it's about feeling confident about who you are.
Not everyone's gonna like your music but you don't have to feel devastated about it. Some people are gonna love it, some will think it's just okay, some are only gonna like that one song… Everyone's different but you don't have to take that personally. Absolutely we feel self conscious, but at the same time we have to be self confident about who we are and be okay with that.
Who do you admire in music at the moment? Like, who do you think is doing cool things or is presenting themselves in a cool way?
YUKIMI: Um well I definitely like Ariel Pink, I love Haunted Graffiti, I think it's beautiful and it's one of my favourites form last year. I liked Caribou's album a lot, I thought it was a really good dance album. I'm definitely liking the energy of Odd Future, even though I'm not crazy about their music, I think they're kids who are just being themselves, as well as being their friends. I like everything from Eno to like, Drake.
BONUS - check Yukimi's latest cameo on DJ Shadow's piano and drum driven 'Scale It Back' before peeping the full picture gallery below that: