“We had a chance to catch up with the insanely talented and beautiful Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon after their performance at the 25th Annual UCLA Jazz Reggae Festival. This track is unreleased, but gives us a glimpse of their forthcoming release. We def look forward to it!”
The idea of “home” can change quickly. Fall in love with a new city, fall in love with a new partner, fall in love with a new apartment, and what you once considered home may become something very different. Despite moving around a lot when she was younger, Yukimi Nagano, the lead singer of electronic band Little Dragon, has always felt at home where she was born. Growing up, Yukimi lived in Sendai, Japan, Anaheim, California and Gothenburg, Sweden–her birthplace and also where she has spent the majority of her time. “Gothenburg has always been were I feel most at home. I have a lot of great memories of Swedish summers,” Yukimi says.
Currently based in the place she feels most comfortable, Little Dragon—named after her outbursts of frustration in the studio—is like the dream we all had in high school. Start a band with your friends, get famous, tour the world. After releasing a double A-side 7″ single, titled Twice and Test (Off The Wall 2006), they signed with, Peacefrog Records, and in 2007 released their debut self-titled album. Cue the fantasy. Machine Dreams was their second album, released in 2009. This summer, Little Dragon will release their third studio album, Ritual Union on July 26.
Born to an American mother, and a Japanese father, Yukimi tries to bring a piece of herself to her work. For Little Dragon’s first album they used her father’s artwork. “The picture we used was a piece he had made in the 70s, so I grew up looking at that picture and was always very fascinated and drawn to it,” Yukimi says. But, even though it was her father’s, securing the rights weren’t easy. “It was hard at first to get him to allow us to use it, but I think once he got a lot of appreciation for it he felt more okay with it and eventually learned to love the picture.”
Though Yukimi traveled a lot as a kid, being part of a band often means being on the road. From recording to playing to touring, Yukimi is constantly surrounded by her band members (who happen to all be male). She even lived with her band in their studio at one point. Yukimi says they’re like family. “It’s like we are best friends in each others eyes and somehow gender is kind of erased.”
As much as you were probably excited to move out of the studio are there aspects of living there you miss?
Not really because the space is still our studio and we see each other everyday anyway. I don’t really miss never going out and being in that bubble—it was a bit like a escape from the outer world.
Most of the band met in high school, what were each of you like back then?
I guess we were all trying to find ourselves. I was a bit gothic for a second, Eric was very much lost in his headphones when not playing the drums Fred (bass) was taking off from school to go to film festivals and smoking cigars and Håkan (keys) had serious plans of getting into music university with his synths.
Bands can have trouble staying together, do you think your past together has helped you?
We have been through a lot already, so I think we know that it takes an effort to stick together, and at this point we are so close and quite inseparable despite our quarrels.
Do you fight like siblings?
Definitely, we are like a family. We know how to press each-others buttons and make each other mad if we want to. As long as its not serious fighting it’s quite alright.
What role (not musically but position wise like mother, organizer) does each member play in the band?
Generally I loose my stuff everywhere, so I feel like I have three extra parents that remind me to not forget my things when we travel. Still it shifts like Erik can be the mother hen but also annoying little brother, me and Fred are like teenage siblings and Håkan the fragile but stubborn little baby who sometimes acts like the wisest soul of us all.
You grew up listening to American folk music. Who are some of your favorite folk musicians?
I grew up listening to a lot of Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen plus my Dad is a serious Bob Dylan fan. I guess folk music, when it first came, was more of a movement than what it is now. But there is a lot of great new folk music out there and Sweden has a lot of talented melancholic girls and boys with guitars.
Was there a large American music influence in Sweden?
My mother is American so I think I grew up listening to different music from your typical Swedish home. But generally, American music has been and still is extremely influential on Swedish culture. Almost all Swedish bands sing in English it’s a second language for most Swedes.
What was it like growing up in Sweden?
It was wonderful many times, I think the dramatic long winters really effected my mother negatively, she is from California and not used to that darkness and sometimes introverted Swedish culture so growing up I recall alot of complaining about Sweden. I moved around quite a bit as a child lived in Sendai Japan at one point then moved to Anaheim California but Gothenburg has always been were I feel most at home and I have a lot of great memories of Swedish summers.
Your mother is Swedish and your father is Japanese. What aspects of each culture do you think are a part of you now?
There is a modesty about the Japanese culture and a work ethic that my Dad has influenced me a lot by, a kind of mantra like–no matter what you always work hard don’t give up and do your best. I think I have that in the back of my head. My mother was always telling me that I could be anything I wanted which I think is a quite American philosophy.
What’s your favorite city in the world?
I read the band was named after times when you would loose your temper in the studio out of pure creative frustration for various reasons. Do you still loose your temper easily?
Well, I’m a lot better than what I used to be. I don’t think loosing your temper is a healthy thing but sometimes it happens yes…working on it.
Do you think it has led to greater accomplishment creatively?
No not necessarily, more frustration. I think we are all trying to learn how to disagree about big things be honest without breaking down.
You’ve worn some pretty awesome outfits on stage. Do you put a lot of thought into what you wear?
Sometimes. Depends on my mood. I love fashion and I’ve been inspired by a lot of Belgian designers lately, like Jean Paul Knott and Cathy Pill and also Japanese designers Tsumori Chisato, and Migh-T. I have always loved dressing up since I was a little. But sometimes you can’t be bothered and want people to close their eyes and just listen with their ears, so you can jump around in floaty flowery pajamas.
Are you nervous before you step on stage?
Depends, like getting on stage with the Gorillaz at Glastonbury was a bit nerve racking because sound was mad and you don’t really have a clue. But generally I feel pretty okay and not too nervous, just enough to be pepped.
Three words you would use to describe yourself:
Butterfly, lightning ,water-puddle at night.
Three words, others would use to describe you:
Caterpillar, thunder, snow flakes on nose.
Where’s your heart at?
In your hands. – Heartymagazine.com
If any other band compared its live performance to licorice – because it’s “soft and sweet” and “hard to describe” — you’d probably recoil at their pretentiousness, but Little Dragon isn’t just any band. Humble, humorous and devoid of pretense, the group is a quirky quartet of Swedes made up of bassist Håkan Wirenstrand, keyboard player Fredrick Källgren, drummer Erik Bodin and Yukimi Nagano, the half-Japanese, half-American chanteuse for whom the band is named. Their minimalist electro-soul sound has put them on the radar of eclectic music fans the world over and their live show is definitely something better experienced than described — the licorice reference is just a native Swedish speaker’s awkward way of saying “you just have to be there.” Life + Times sat down with its members to talk about their creative process, their new album and why they don’t use guitars.
Life + Times: Explain the Little Dragon experience to people.
Fredrick Källgren: It’s beyond describing… You have to go to it. It’s like licorice; it’s hard to describe how it tastes [exactly]. It’s soft and it’s sweet but you really have to try it [for yourself].
L+T: What is it like to be embraced by the music community around the world—to get all these props, accolades and love?
Yukimi Nagano: I mean it’s pretty strange and also really amazing and fun. And it boosts your confidence and I think you just feel blessed to be doing what you love. Like our jammin’ out in our studio is being received by people in all kinds of different places and being appreciated.
Håkan Wirenstrand: And being appreciated by people we have been listening to—
YN: Yeah! It’s surreal I guess.
L+T: Name some of these people who you’ve been listening to who have been like, “Yeah, I’m a fan of Little Dragon.”
Erik Bodin: For example Raphael Saadiq, we always loved him and all the things he’s done, so that was pretty huge.
YN: Wendy and Lisa (of The Revolution). They were asked in a YouTube video, “Who would you like to collaborate with?” and they said, “Little Dragon!” and we were just in our studio just like [gasps!]. Also, De La Soul, DJ Shadow, Andre 3000 and Big Boi.
L+T: That’s cool. I come from a hip-hop background myself and that led me to be curious about all different types of music I learned about Little Dragon from other people who were hip-hop heads who liked ATCQ, J Dilla and stuff like that. Why do you guys think that community embraced Little Dragon so much?
YN: I think that says a lot about hip-hop music and just about being curious. That genre of music is about using samples and being into all different styles of music that you transform into the hip-hop sound. I think that’s definitely part of [Little Dragon’s appeal]. You’re open and you want to hear new stuff. We’re inspired by like J Dilla and all that. For us, it’s like you love that music but you’re not from that culture and as much as we would try to make that sound, we just can’t make it. So we have to make our own and take the inspiration from there and all the different things that we love and mix it up.
L+T: A lot of bands get known for a sound they have at a certain time but many people don’t realize that the band went through a number of evolutions before they got to where they are. You guys have all known each other since high school, so what types of music did you guys used to play when you were in your experimental phase?
YN: [laughs] I don’t know if you want to know this!
EB: We had a freeform band for a couple of weeks. We were talking about forming a band in school – I don’t know what it’s called in English [says something in Swedish]. You know like dint-dinna-diiiiiiiiiin [imitates trumpet sounds]. Just to get into that whole thing and just jam on different kinds of salutes.
L+T: Like a marching band?
YN: You know the short themes they have for like movie companies? Almost like a sound logo.
L+T: Like 21st Century Fox
EB: Exactly, like very bombastic but very short—like 20 seconds.
L+T: So like a CD with 100 tracks that are 20 seconds each?
EB: I don’t know, we didn’t go that far with it. The other guys in the band didn’t even know about it. [laughs]
L+T: What about vocally? How did you arrive at your style of singing right now?
YN: In the beginning I was really trying to sing like an American R&B singer.
L+T: Like ‘90′s R&B?
L+T: I’m dying to hear your Mary J. Blige demos.
YN: I really tried and I loved Faith Evans and Lauryn Hill but I just couldn’t do it because it wasn’t me. So I think after you test it out then do some more songs that are more free, you’re like, “Fuck it, let’s just do whatever.” Maybe you can’t do that ad lib like so and so but whatever. Who cares? It’s about making a song and trying to say something.
L+T: What is your creative process like?
EB: Sometimes it starts with drums. I usually just record drums all the time with different beats that I play. Sometimes Yukimi comes up with something already that goes on top of the drum beat itself and we find something. Then we’ll be nodding our heads for a couple hours and then we’ll play it for the others and they’ll say “Eh, that’s embarrassing” or “Wow, that’s so good”
YN: Then just let it be.
EB: Sometimes you just let it be for a couple of days or whatever. It can stay for a long time and you can get to it later on.
YN: Everyone writes and produces a bunch of stuff and we have a lot of material and some of it we sort of forget about— actually a lot of it—but the ones we feel have something, we continue on until we finish and the ones we finish that we love end up coming out. We have a lot of stuff even beyond the third album [that] we want to play as well.
L+T: With this third album is the sound going to be much of a departure from what you’ve done before?
FW: It definitely has a connection [to the older stuff] but it’s another step. I’d say it’s more soulful and maybe a bit “tribal” if you can say that. But you will definitely recognize the Little Dragon sound.
L+T: I want to ask you about lyrics and your choice of language. Why do you sing in English?
YN: I’ve gotten that question a lot. Honestly, it’s the most normal thing for me. Writing in Swedish would be really hard, not just because my mom’s American, but most Swedish artists would say that it’s just kind of in the Swedish culture to write in English. There are a lot of artists who’re famous who write in Swedish, but generally most artists and bands will write in English. It’s just kinda what you do; I think we’re so influenced by Western music culture that it’s natural.
L+T: As far as actually writing lyrics some people start with a piece of poetry and set it to music; some people just recite melodic gibberish to an instrumental before fleshing out the song lyrics. What’s your process like?
YN: I think it’s the same thing as when the guys write the music— sometimes it’s drums sometimes it’s a melody and it’s the same thing with lyrics. Especially when I record when it’s only drums and vocals–sometimes it’s random or just some thought that I had or it can even be pieces of sentences that have something that I want to take further. There’s not just one method.
EB: The ideas will come quickly.
FK: And you just have to be ready to record!
EB: Yeah, otherwise Yukimi will be angry at you! [laughs]
YN: I think the music that they make gives me a direct feeling. The sounds have so much of an instant feel to it that usually I’m like, “I really like this. I’m gonna try to write something to it.” And sometimes I struggle and listen to it over and over and try to write something or sometimes I listen once I’m like, “I know I’m gonna find something for this.” It’s both, up and down. Sometimes when you haven’t been in the studio for weeks, you know it’s gonna be a bit tougher, like the first two weeks, and then you’re going to find the flow of it and that’s the high of being creative: when you can just let go and not be so analytical. You just let it flow.
L+T: I know you’ve probably heard this question before but I’m going to ask you for the billionth time: Why no guitars in your music?
FK: Well, for the first part, no one in the band is really a guitar player. Like we can play a few chords, but the thing is our studio is next to the [train] tram crossing so as soon as you plug in a guitar, and sometimes with the electric bass, you get this horrible hum and buzz and you can’t get away from it.
L+T: You have a very diverse fan base, how do you think most people discover Little Dragon?
YN: I say word of mouth because we’ve been here quite a lot and played places across the country. Even when we played at the Milestone in Charlotte–it’s the shittiest punk club ever like you don’t even want to touch anything–it was like a third or almost half-full. And then we played that place again and it was all full and basically, [people] had come out to dance and have a good time with us. It’s grown very gradually. We haven’t gotten that much help!
L+T: That’s truly organic. What role do you think the Internet’s played in this?
EB: Huge! With Myspace and Facebook.
L+T: You guys are still on Myspace?
L+T: So you actually go on like on “a normal day?”
EB: It used to be that I was there all the time, but then they changed the lay out and I didn’t understand anything. I got tired.
L+T: Any final thoughts for the people?
YN: Third album coming out this year…
L+T: Buy that shit!
Little Dragon: [Laughs] – Life And Times
(Thankfully) This was brought to my attention by, one who I could possibly call long-time contributor (?), Andrew. Complex.com have compiled a collection of images which are insanely beautiful (there is no calculation possible for how much of an understatement that is) and a snappy little interview, too. There is also a behind-the-scenes video that comes with the provided link below (Edit: I’ve embedded the video below). Do enjoy, one and all.
Swedish band Little Dragon is reportedly named after its petite Swedish-Japanese lead singer Yukimi Nagano’s temper, and all of her fire-breathing moods are on full display with their third record, Ritual Union, out in July. Think ’80s vintage Prince at his horniest, fronted by Björk, and you’ll get an idea of the band’s funked-up and odd sound. Sticking to their all-synths, no-guitar policy, the record is sure to be your sultry summer soundtrack. Or at least it’ll be the shit your girl plays to explain why she’s breaking up with you.
Do you even have ugly people in Sweden?
[Laughs.] I think everyone here is beautiful.
You’ve talked before about how Prince was a big influence. What do you make of him censoring all of his old dirty songs?
I have not really listened that much to his recent stuff. I didn’t know that he stopped singing those songs, actually.
He’s gone Jehovah, so he’s not allowed to talk about sex anymore.
I think that’s a shame.
What’s your favorite dirty Prince song?
I don’t know which songs are classified as really dirty ones, but I like “If I Was Your Girlfriend.”
So does the name of your band really come from your bad temper?
It’s a funny way to put it, but it sort of came out that way. It was something that the guys called me once in Sweden, and we liked it as a band name. I have definitely had my fits in the studio.
Little Dragon’s music touches on a lot of different emotions. What music would you put on in the bedroom when you’re trying to set the mood?
Not Al Green, that’s too much of a cliché, but I’ll probably put on something strong and weird. Some Brian Eno.
Has anyone confessed to conceiving a baby to your music?
Not necessarily confessed to that, but I have heard people say that their girlfriend called them up and broke up with them and played “Twice.” I have heard more of that, actually, than people making love.
You have blood on your hands!” – Complex.com
Ther Jerusalem Post interviewed Erik Bodin this week and we’ve got the link to the full article below. Erik talks Gothenburg, Gorillaz, touring with José González, and Yukimi’s undoubted charisma.
“Little Dragon proves to be the tantalizing exception amid the barrage of 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s oldies shows showering down on Tel Aviv clubs and arenas. The electro-indie band from Gothenburg, Sweden, may not be a household name, but their star is rising around the world thanks to their bright take on dance music and a high-profile boost from another buzz band – Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s virtually animated Gorillaz.”
“”Gothenburg is similar to Glasgow, where I am right now – cold, rainy and sleepy,” said Bodin. “You have a lot of time and privacy to go into a bubble and do your own thing. There are a lot of bands, but in general the music scene there is more about people hiding out inside, like we do, and making their own music in an effort to deal with the boredom.””
Read the full article here. (External link.)
What’s going down at the Dickies’ house? What Austin-type scenarios has Yukimi got herself into? Will Erik let us in on his favourite Christmas song? Is Fredrik willing to release the demons of his dark childhood? And what exactly does Hakan have in his wallet? Click here and you’ll be taken to a Facebook page (one you do not have to be logged into to view) where you’ll find all the answers in video form. This video came to my attention due to the wonderful contribution of Andrew, a visitor to this here site, so we thank him very much. Keep those contributions coming – of old and new news and multimedia – because you just can’t have enough Little Dragon in your life.
Some short words from Yukimi and Erik here, thanks to the investigatory skills of the BBC. There’s some talk about the current state of Gorillaz, an impending showdown with DJ Shadow, their recording processes, and 2011’s Glastonbury festival. Okay, so it’s not in depth, and besides the DJ Shadow snippet it’s nothing particularly new, but it is something and further exposure for the band.
Little Dragon will tonight take to the Digital stage in London for a sold out show. To everyone there, we envy you.
Thought it might be fun every now and again to post an old interview with some decent information to fill the gaps until we get Ritual Union news. This following interview is from BRM (www.beyondrace.com).
BRM: Little Dragon has been categorized as “electronica soul” in the past, with this retro sound so pervasive in the last album, what were some of the greatest influences for your band that helped create Machine Dreams?
Yukimi Nagano: I think we felt inspired by electronic dance music but also African music and all kinds of other styles we have listened to in the past. Our debut album had more ballads and on Machine Dreams we felt like we wanted to make songs people would want to dance to. But basically we would just meet in the studio everyday and create ideas in the moment without any grand plan and then kept and developed the ones we liked.
What is your musical background?
I grew up listening to the music my parents would play at home, everything from Joni Mitchell to Earth, Wind and Fire and a bunch of folk from the ’60s and ’70s. In my teens I was blasting a lot of r&b in my room but I also loved artists like Kate Bush, Depeche Mode and Prince. Now a day I’m listening to Erik’s (Bodin, Little Dragon’s drummer) house playlist in the van on tour.
Do you see a demographic trend in your fan base?
It seems like we have a really mixed fan base, from serious hip-hop guys, sound nerds, electro kids…hopefully anyone who is open minded and curious will find something.
What are some of your aesthetic influences, in your dress, cover art, music videos?
I’m a fan of Japanese art both old and contemporary. There is something very psychedelic and detail oriented about it. Hideyuki Katsumata made the cover for Machine Dreams. The whole band fell in love with his pictures. Felt like it fit our sounds perfectly, and there was something very traditionally Japanese about, them yet very original. My dad made the cover for our debut album. It was an illustration he had made in the seventies that I had loved my whole childhood. Both my father and Hideyuki have made illustrated videos for us.
Sweden has some great music video directors like Johannes Nyholm who made our puppet video for “Twice,” but also, Andreas Nilson is a big inspiration. I love all his work! We have been lucky to be able to work with creative people around us who we admire, like my close friend Ann Louise Landelius, who has designed a bunch of my stage clothes.
“Denmark has always had a lot of good furniture.”