In the time that’s elapsed since the release of 2009’s Machine Dreams, the four members of Little Dragon have reached a few milestones. Last year, lead singer Yukimi Nagano collaborated with Damon Albarn, by request, appearing on the Gorillaz’ Plastic Beach album and performing with her group on the accompanying tour. Collaboration requests from TV On The Radio and Raphael Saadiq followed, with the most recent being from Outkast rapper Big Boi. On a recent trip home to Sweden, Nagano and bassist Fredrik Wallin took a break to chat about their famous fans and the dreamy electronic pop on their anticipated third album, Ritual Union.
On the verse of your third album release, do things feel differently than they did the first or second time around?
Yukimi Nagano: It feels different because we know a little bit more of what to expect. The first time we released an album, everything was new but now we know the process better and we feel excited and confident about the music. We’re just going with the flow and seeing what happens.
Fredrik Wallin: We’re definitely a bit more sure and more confident on this one.
You have quite a few famous fans, including the Gorillaz and Raphael Saadiq. When did everyone start to take notice?
FW: That’s been gradual, there have been people approaching us and showing their appreciation and one thing leads to another. Of course, Yukimi’s voice is definitely unique and deep and beautiful. I think it’s a combination of that and the way we like to mix things up. All those celebrities have that in common; they really groove to their own beat and that’s maybe something that hooks us up.
YN: The Gorillaz I found out about maybe 7 months before the album [Plastic Beach] came out. It’s always flattering to hear artists who we’ve been influenced by come back and express the same thing to us. It was the same thing with Damon [Albarn], I think It’s always a nice positive push.
You have an upcoming collaboration with Big Boi. How did you guys link up?
FK: He mentioned us in an interview then he contacted our management and asked if we wanted to do something. We were very flattered because we’re actually big fans of him. We sent over some songs to him to show our appreciation, but we don’t’ know how it’s going to come about yet.
YN: We’ve sent a few ideas back and forth and we’re talking about it but it’s all still in the making. He’s another artist that we definitely love, have been inspired by and are super flattered to hear that he listens to our music. We haven’t really done collaborations with rappers, so I guess we’ll have to see how it works, but I think it’ll come down to whether they can rap on our beats.
As a band you’ve cited Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul as influences. I assume that wasn’t very popular in Sweden when you were younger?
YN: Erik was the one that introduced me to hip-hop music. I wasn’t really listening to it until I met him. Fredrik and Erik were two years older than me when I started high school, and you know there are those people in life who’s opinions you value very much, so I was very influenced by what they were listening to. That’s how I started listening to Tribe and De Le Soul.
Yukimi, people are attracted to the uniqueness of your voice. Have your vocals evolved a lot over the past few years?
YN: It’s inevitable to change so even though I didn’t plan for it to, it will. I think it changes as much as the music changes–if Erik’s drumming changes, my voice will change. Sometimes it’s subtle and I’m not necessarily always aware of it, but sometimes I realize it, ‘oh this is kind of different.’ It’s nothing I plan, it’s more about making songs that feel fresh, in way that I haven’t done before. But I think it’s inevitable that it does change and people who listened to the first album and second albums, and now the third album will hear that there is a difference.
What’s in the title Ritual Union?
YN: We’re living in an age where our rituals are changing and maybe we don’t always define certain things as rituals but in a way they are. Even going to a show, or going to a concert can be a modern ritual. There’s a track on the album called “Ritual Union,” it’s kind of ambiguous, and it can be taken in whatever personal way someone wants to. It’s kind of like a hippie thing, you know? Feeling the union, humanity, the universe; as a band, as a couple–it’s that kind of thing, it’s up to the listener. We’re just trying to be a positive force.
How would you describe the sound?
FW: I think it’s a bit more raw and direct. It’s still us, but maybe more straightforward, with a bit more bass drums and light drums. Before we had that mindset of, ‘we need to add more keyboard,’ or ‘more of this for them,’ but now we’re more confident about having that minimalist aspect and choosing the ingredients that are important instead of just having too much. The tracks may be a bit more poppy, some dreamy, some experiment, some even tribal.
What was the inspiration while recording this time?
FW: You come across new things in life all the time and lately we’ve just been a bit more drawn to electronic, house and techno music and that’s influenced a few tracks a bit. We’re always searching for new music so looking out for new sounds that makes us get up and move.
YN: When we go into the studio, nothing is really planned, there is no concept when we create. It’s more about a spontaneous divide, seeing what comes out and trying stuff that we haven’t necessarily done before. Not trying anything and just existing and seeing what happens when you write works. We want to make music that stimulates us and feels fresh and new; we love psychedelic music and I think that’s why it has become so experimental.
Are you still cool with the title of electronic music then?
YN: Absolutely. I think it’s fun to be in that category because we love electronic music, are very inspired by electronic sounds. We’re inspired by figuring out how to play our sounds live without using backtracks and we’re excited about technology. Electronic music is the future but it’s about doing it your own way. We still like beats and trend-like rhythms that go on forever because it’s such a free work and such a wide genre. I don’t have a problem with being electronic.
What’s the most exciting thing that has happened to you guys in the past year?
FW: There have been some really great shows. Of course it’s really flattering and exciting to get requests from people like your idols, or people you look up to, like Big Boi or the Gorillaz, but playing a really good show is always fun. Of course it’s different for all of us as individual members but I think it’s pretty common for all of us to say that a show would be the most exciting feeling.
YN: We’re totally living in the moment, doing what we love to do and enjoying the whole journey. It’s still amazing to get appreciated and loved for what you’ve done. Obviously there are certain moments that stand out– the Gorillaz tour was very big experience and a special memory for us and will always be that–but I think that good things happen to us all the time. It’s a bit crazy being on the road constantly and being in that bubble and we’re just trying to be here now and loving it because it’s special. My memory is really bad too so I can’t name one specific thing.
You’re playing a lot of festivals this year. Did you record an album that would translate into a very good live show?
FW: Maybe subconsciously but when we’re in the studio we just go for the moment and the sound at that point. We know how great it is to play and see people dancing but when we make music, it’s very in the moment but maybe also a little bit for the dance club. When we play live, it’s a different thing. It’s not like we try to remake the album, we play the songs but also jam out a little bit.
You guys have been in the band together for fifteen years. Does that present way more advantages than disadvantages?
FW: There are definitely some advantages. We have a good way of communicating and we’re pretty clear with each other about what everyone thinks. You don’t have to beat around the bush, usually you can just say, ‘no, I don’t like this,’ then we’ll have a discussion and just move on. We have a connection to each other and try to take care of each other. We also give each other space and liberties to grow and expand our possibilities as people.
Are Swedish fans warming up to your music yet?
YN: It’s going to be great to see how people will respond to the album in our own country. Everything is kind of a slow growth process for us and I think it’s going to be the same way in Sweden. It’s not going to be something that suddenly people get. It’s something that will take its time and hopefully those people that are into it, will stay into it. – BlackBook Magazine