Little Dragon is definitely something special. Hailing from Gothenburg, Sweden, the foursome of Yukimi Nagano, Erik Bodin, Fredrick Källgren and Håkan Wirenstrand create mesmerizing music with an underlying composite of soul, funk, r&b, trip hop, and electro-pop. Their unique sound is both familiar and alien, essentially being hard-to-define or categorize, thereby broadening its overall appeal. To date Little Dragon has released two full length studio albums: Little Dragon (2007) and Machine Dreams (2009), both on the Peacefrog label. Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano was kind enough to answer some questions for Hellbomb.
HELLBOMB VIC: You have such a warm, eclectic voice with striking soulful tone. It is evident that you really feel what you are singing in a given moment and that expressiveness comes through to the listener creating this wonderful sonic experience. One of the many great things about Little Dragon is that your unique brand of music is not pre-packaged in a commercially obvious way, and it is undeniably sincere in every regard. Did this approach create itself or was it a goal from the very beginning?
YUKIMI NAGANO: We never planned anything but all shared the same passion and I guess that’s the glue. We started out writing recording music in our rooms together just as mates. We were drawn as friends because we admired each other’s expression as musicians. We didn’t have any specific plans just a lot of dreams and situations we wished for. One of our weak points has always been to promote ourselves so I think if it wasn’t for our manager we would probably still be spaced out in our studio trying to figure out easy ways to pay rent.
HBV: Although I’ve never been to Sweden, it looks like such a beautiful place and a visit is definitely in my future. When I think of Sweden and music, what comes to mind is so diverse, from Death Metal to Electro-pop. With Little Dragon, was it ever challenging to co-exist with the other types of music emanating from Sweden, particularly in Gothenburg?
YN: Not really, the abundance of music in our city has only been a positive inspiration. Haven’t seen that much of the Death Metal scene though, just know it’s a big thing. Guess were all in our own little bubbles. It’s great to know so many musicians in Gothenburg and we feel quite proud to be from the same little city as so many other artists that we love.
HBV: This relates to my previous question. In America, we seem to have a lot of people defining themselves through countless music sub-genres, especially in the indie world (you know, things like post-rock-twee-gaze-math-tronica). In Gothenburg, would you say that is there somewhat of a strong divide between music genres and scenes? or do many of the scenes overlap?
YN: Gothenburg is a pretty small city so there are some scenes but not that diverse. Or maybe I don’t know…and just haven’t seen the scene?!
HBV: You started making music with Erik, Fredrick and Håkan back in your high school days. Were your initial musical efforts always electro-synth based or were there any previous incarnations of your music? At any point did the band ever experiment with guitar?
YN: One of our close friends played some guitar and he would jam out with us at times. So we weren’t all against guitars but its never been our favorite instrument. Guess its all about how you play it. There is tons of African music that we love with guitars so were not anti. I think we always wanted to make music that felt a bit new somehow. In those days we were very influenced by artists like by D’Angelo, Jay Dee and kind of wanted to make more soulful songs with heavy beats, but we started finding what felt like our own sound after songs like “Test” and “Forever”.
HBV: I love how the music of Little Dragon is essentially unclassifiable. Is this intentional, or the result of an organic process which simply happens when you sit down to write?
YN: It’s definably just what happens when the four of us are in the studio. Its been a bit frustrating sometimes. For example, after releasing the debut album, we noticed how in Sweden at least not being that definable had become one of our disadvantages and the press found it annoying not to be able to say what it was exactly. But luckily we were embraced in other places.
HBV: Little Dragon is an incredible band both on record and live. When you compose music do you go into it with the live show in mind? Has it ever been a challenge to replicate any of the songs live?
YN: It’s a challenge quite often. Or at least a process. Since we want to play all of our sounds live we have to sample all of the recorded elements and that takes some time. But I think most songs feel better the more you have played them. After the first album we roughly decided that it would be nice to write some more up tempo songs because there is nothing more uplifting than watching people dance to your own music and an album of ballads just wouldn’t make that happen.
HBV: Many people have mentioned that there is sometimes a Prince vibe present in your music. I can personally hear this in songs like “Test”. What are some of your other favorite artists and how did their music influence the evolution of Little Dragon?
YN: Prince has always and will always be a favorite. I always loved artists that felt unafraid of being different like Kate Bush, Prince, etc. But all of us in the band have our individual influences and that’s probably one of the reasons why our music is a bit shattered and undefinable at times. Håkan (Keys) grew up with Swedish Folk music and went deep into synth music: Kraftwerk, Jean Michel Jarre. Erik always loved hip-hop: De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest. Fred listened to Swedish pop and also jazz music like Cannonball Adderley, Coltrane, etc. But we’ve influenced each other at this stage and seem to love a lot of the same music
HBV: Electronics are a major component in your overall sound. What role, if any, do advancements in music technology have on the way you guys go about creating music?
YN: It’s easy for anybody to make music or have a studio these days and that advancement was what made it possible for us to record our ideas in the first place. I think new programs keep getting more efficient and it’s easier but at the end of the day making music is more about feeling and ideas than equipment.
HBV: I read that while in America you had to drive some major distances to get to shows. In past interviews you were asked which of those US shows stick out in your head. Was there anything you experienced during the actual drives/rests that stand out in your memory? Food, people, sights, smells?
YN: A lot of bad road food, or sometimes not eating. Most of us eat vegetarian/vegan so good food was hard to find on the road. Definitely met a load of interesting people. Sometimes it was so surreal ending up in some small city in the middle of nowhere with spaghetti legs from driving all day. I remember arriving in a small broken down club in Kentucky; people were so sweet, one lady brought us home cooked food and one girl gave us a painting she had done inspired by our song “Twice”. That place was a trip but a memory for life.
HBV: I would love to see Little Dragon in Atlanta. Any plans to play some shows in the US?
YN: We will be touring with Gorillaz this fall, guesting with them on their US tour but back in January for our own US tour and I’m quite sure we will make it to Atlanta.
HBV: Has the band started work on a successor to Machine Dreams?
YN: Yes we are currently working on our third album and have a lot of songs already, so hopefully we will release it in 2011!
HBV: Regarding your work with Koop and Sleep Walker(which I both love), are you a big fan of jazz and did you pursue that genre or did the pieces somehow just fall into place with those collaborations?
YN: I love a lot of jazz music but I don’t like Jazz when it feels like sports playing, like a race on who plays the most technical solo. To me that aspect of jazz has distanced me from it. In Sweden jazz music feels so academic and sophisticated that it often is boring to me. I started touring with the Koop guys right out of high school and it was a great opportunity for me to see the world, sing and get over my nerves on stage. Singing with Koop opened a lot of doors for singing with other jazz projects like Sleep Walker. It was never really my thing though, so I guess once we released the Little Dragon album I felt at home and like I at last could be myself and sing my own lyrics.
HBV: Do you see any other jazz projects in your future?
YN: No, Little Dragon is all I want.
HBV: Thanks Yukimi! One last question for you. We view our site, Hellbomb, as being a global bulletin board alerting others to the work of musicians, writers and artists that they should check out. Who would you recommend and why? – Source.