Written by Allen Thayer of Wax Poetrics.
My first-ever experience with Little Dragon was their second show in San Francisco in 2011, at a small subterranean club on Market in the Castro called Café du Nord, capacity 250. Arriving mid-show, their sound hit me in the chest as soon as I entered the room: bass-heavy, dreamy, organic, electronic, moody, rhythmic, and soulful even though Yukimi and the boys were barely visible on the stage at the far end of the room. Picking up the CD after the show, I was initially disappointed, as I was hoping for more of their live sound. It didn’t take me long to come around to their album, but it left me yearning for their next show.
“We try to make as much noise as possible with as few people as possible,” Erik says, though their live sets steer clear of cacophony. “We try to fill the whole space.” Everyone’s got their main instrument/vocals and then something else to tweak: timbales (Erik), various keyboards/electronics (Fred), yet even more keyboards (Håkan), and at one time Yukimi also doubled on blue-LED-flashing, midi-triggered gongs. “Håkan made them,” Yukimi explains. “He’s had this relationship with electricity lately, and he bought these Plexiglas little things and put them on plates, melted them in the oven, sawed out little circles, put the little midi trigger mics on them. He’s really good at creating stuff like that. At one point, there were also lights in them, but they stopped working unfortunately. It was pretty amazing with blue lights shimmering.”
Touring non-stop for four years will either break a band or take them higher depending on how the members accept the challenge of playing the same music every night in perpetuity. “That’s the mission of our live thing,” Erik says. “We’re restless. We don’t want to do anything that stays the same. It’s simply just because of our restlessness. We get so bored of ourselves sometimes.”
“Co-headlining, that seems like fun,” Yukimi says, diplomatically, about the band’s multiple tours of duty in the coveted yet dreaded opening-act slot. “Obviously, we’re gonna be asked to support bands still, and I’m not down to do that, really. It’s just because it’s a hard slot. It takes a lot of energy. Even if it’s Red Hot Chili Peppers in an arena; on paper, it sounds amazing, but then you’re there with this big echoey sound. I prefer our own show at a club. Supporting is always difficult. It doesn’t really matter on what level.”
“I think we’re done with support[ing],” Erik echoes. “There’s no point in it; I don’t see any point in it. It’s just too hard.” But there seems to be dissention, or a healthy dose of conservative financial planning from Fred: “But at the same time. you have to be realistic. You never know how successful you will be, how many records you will sell, and sometimes it’s the only way of surviving. It’s the reality of it. You’ll probably still make people happy, even though it’s hard. I totally get what you’re saying, Erik, in the ideal world.”
“You can have a robot drummer,” Erik says somewhat frustrated. He concedes Fred’s well-reasoned point, “Of course, but who would it be [that we’d open for]? We did Red Hot Chili Peppers.” They’ve also supported tours for the Scissor Sisters, TV on the Radio, Q-Tip, Big Boi, and Gorillaz. “Bruce Springsteen?” Fred suggests. Erik doesn’t take the bait. “It could be that you need the money, but in the long run, it kinda just diminishes your personal fire, because it’s so draining.” Fred either tries to make a point or doubles-down on his punch line, “What about Justin Bieber? That could be fun.”
Yukimi interjects in with some perspective, “At the same time, it’s something that everyone’s gone through, and most people have done it, so you learn something from it for sure. I think those big support shows are the times where you really get reminded of where you started. It’s that feeling of playing almost for ten people or singing for yourself playing together in the little club with nobody there; that’s the feeling when you have people who are just staring at you like, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ or ‘I don’t get this.’ Or you see someone yawning.”
I can’t help but press the issue: “Would you open for Daft Punk?”
Fred, after a prolonged silence: “Who are they?