Yukimi Nagano talks to Clash Music

Press releases are often the superlative, superfluous bane of any music hack’s daily ritual. Once you’ve cut through the hyperbole and era-defining embellishment, you’re often left with one lingering nugget of information: the celebrity fan. Often it’s laughable and tenuous (sorry PR types) but sometimes it’s laudable. Credible, even.

Little Dragon, unashamedly, have a few. After making ends meet working in cafes and as session musicians in their native Sweden and beyond, it’s been a slow burning rise to prominence. Their ‘Machine Dreams’ LP generated a healthy amount of plaudits in 2009 but it seems that only now are they really nudging over the precipice.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s drastically changed for us,” singer Yukimi Nagano starts, “it’s been gradual. It’s always a boost and motivation to hear that artists that you’ve been inspired by have been inspired by your music, but it wasn’t like Gorillaz or all the other artists contacted us at the same time. Everything happened one thing after the other. When you’re on the road as much as we are, it’s natural to get the chance to meet and work with artists you’re inspired by and that you admire but we’ve never been seeking it out.”

Others have been seeking them, though. David Sitek (of TVoTR fame), Big Boi and Damon Albarn were all enthralled by Little Dragon’s chameleonic music approach, and in a year that’s seen a mainstream upturn in the more experimental side of pop – take a bow School Of Seven Bells, Rainbow Arabia, Glasser – the shifting backdrops, playful transitions and Yukimi’s dynamic vocal similarly, quickly take root.

They’re a band destined for hybrid, bastardised genres to be desperately coined in their honour; to be shoved and shoe-horned; compartmentalised for context. It’s something they’ve managed to constructively avoid for most of their career, dancing around labels of electro jazz or dream pop, and it’s a lack of definition that Yukimi takes some pride in.

“We’ve been ourselves and haven’t been compromising our music and I think there was a point earlier in our career that our music was too experimental but we’ve kept doing what we did when we started and it’s a good feeling to hear people are catching onto it without having to transform yourself to fit an environment that’s more accepted or accessible. We want to make music that feels somehow different and I think it’s a compliment, for sure.”

“When we’re in the studio it’s never really about challenging the listeners,” she continues. “I don’t think we even think that far ahead. It’s more about challenging ourselves and each other and it’s more about our dynamic as a group. It might be that two of us go to the studio and start playing something and one of us says they don’t like it – that’s enough to hurt us right there, but we play it out and go on from it.”

It’s the first indication that behind the subtle arrangements [supplied by bandmates Erik Bodin, Fredrik Källgren Wallin and Hâkan Wirenstrand] and Yukimi’s soft purr, there’s an unexpectedly uncompromising edge. Masked by a playful imagination, there’s a hard focus that isn’t fully belied in the music they make. It’s an indictment of an attitude steeled, and contented by, the opportunity to create. This time round, we should all be ready for Little Dragon’s life story.

“Usually when we’re in the studio, it’s impulsive. It’s just about inspiring yourself and being playful with it and that’s we did with ‘Ritual Union’ and pretty much what we’ve always done. The approach has always been the same – it’s about challenging yourself to do something. On tour you go to places, see things, meet people, and create this story in your head. I think it’s unconscious and it’s just life that you experience. You might not plan to remember or express those thoughts but in the studio, they just emerge in that way.” – Words by Reef Younis

Little Dragon happy getting big

The fuming tantrums Yukimi Nagano used to throw while recording in the studio gave Little Dragon the inspiration for a name.

Provoked by an otherwise male contingent in her band, the Japanese-Swedish singer was occasionally known to blow a fuse – but no longer, well not much.

“It’s a little exaggerated but there is some truth in it,” Nagano says of her “Little Dragon” nickname.

“But we’ve grown up a bit and I realised you can’t have a fit every day because otherwise you won’t be able to stand each other.”

To think of the four members of Little Dragon arguing over who’s turn it is to make coffee belies the icey confidence that runs through their electronic pop, most famously on last year’s pulsing single, My Step.

Growing up as school mates in Gothenburg offers a clue to their playful friction, as do the years touring together in a cramped van around Scandinavia, then Europe, then the American west coast.

Frustrated scuffles aside, the band have been patient in realising a career that only now is starting to penetrate the mainstream. Their steady rise has won them high billing on this year’s Parklife line up.

It’s been a long time coming. Little Dragon’s debut single Twice was released way back in 2006 before the band – also featuring Erik Bodin, Fredrik Kllgren Wallin and Hkan Wirenstrand – signed to UK independent label Peacefrog.

A self-titled album was released a year later and songs from the early era are still winning new fans, the slow-burn success testament to Little Dragon’s craft in a genre that rarely waits around.

For Nagano, there is always been virtue in taking your time.

“The music we all love is music that’s considered to be timeless,” she says.

“We all love electronic music but it doesn’t have to just be something with endless beats.”

Inspired as much by hip hop and r’n’b as African rhythms and house music, Little Dragon are also renowned for their down tempo side-projects with fellow Swede Jose Gonzalez and the Nordic lounge musician Hird.

A richness in sound is what attracted Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn to invite their collaboration on last year’s Plastic Beach album, recording the epic Empire Ant together before bundling them into his world tour.

After impressing Australian audiences during their support shows for Gorillaz in December, Little Dragon are returning less than a year later with a new album Ritual Union.

“We’ve always toured pretty hard and it’s always been for the love of the music but it was great to finally write some new songs,” says Nagano.

“We can’t wait to be back in Australia.” – Source

The FADER speak to Little Dragon

Describing a recent show that had the kids in Northfield, Minnesota literally hanging from the rafters, singer Yukimi Nagano of Swedish band Little Dragon talks a lot about the idea of music as a blissful unifier. “I think we feel sometimes when have these really special moments that are almost euphoric, that going to a show can seem like a kind of ritual,” she says. Their newest record, Ritual Union, sounds like the membership card to that cult of good times, a portable celebration that allows fans to access the ecstasy from the comfort of their homes. “Hopefully,” she says, “people will play the record and by the time it’s over, they will wonder if this is reality or a dream and just say, ‘Who cares, let’s listen to it again.’”

When asked to explain their sound to someone who has never heard them, however, the band, comprised of high school friends Nagano, Erik Bodin, Fredrik Wallin and Håkan Wirenstrand, takes pause to consider. The often used label synth pop doesn’t do the Gothenburg-based group’s third full-length effort the justice it so readily deserves. Of particular note are Nagano’s unexpectedly soulful vocals, which burst with a sultriness that quickly dismisses any image of dorks in lab coats behind a bay of hulking Moogs. On track after track, gleefully shuffling drum lines and spare production underscore a kind of schoolyard simplicity, as if the notes are playing an infectious game of pattycake with your eardrums. “We just love making music and exploring,” explains Wallin. “We always try to stay open and have fun.”

Having fun, for Little Dragon, requires an ethos of trial and error and experimentation. The band feels their way through instead of having preset ideas about how a song should sound. Ritual Union is a groove hit by four musicians playing until they get it right. Back home, a day’s work often sees the band in the studio from 10AM to 10PM, a schedule that makes them so prolific that cutting an album becomes primarily a process of elimination. “We write a lot of music and some of it’s good, you’re loving it at the time, but the next day maybe you’re not feeling it anymore,” says Nagano. “The guys have their set up, and it’s pretty playful. And sometimes we happen to capture a real moment. The songs that we keep are the ones that feel good for a long time.”

Spontaneity like this can only come from the easy camaraderie of life-long friendship, and years of knowing and celebrating each other’s strengths as much as their differences. “Everyone contrasts with each other but still fits together,” says Nagano. “That way, when things go good you share that joy and when things are bad you share that as well. And in the end it’s just rewarding.” It’s a thrill that comes from a deep union, but one that remains open to everyone who listens. – The FADER

Yukimi Nagano and Fredrik Wallin speak to BlackBook Magazine

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.
tribal.

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

thisisfakediy.co.uk interviews Yukimi Nagano before Glastonbury set

Little Dragon are preparing for the release of their forthcoming album ‘Ritual Union’. And what better way to test out new material than at Glastonbury? Yukimi talks Gorillaz, helicopters and plastic bags.

Hello, who are you and what role do you play in the band?

Hey, we are Little Dragon, I’m Yukimi. I sing dammit! 


How many times have you performed at Glastonbury?

We were guests with the Gorillaz last year – that was our first time.

What’s your Glastonbury (or Festival) postcard moment?

We had our own show the same day as we were performing with Gorillaz, and the only way we could make to Glastonbury was by flying in to the festival via helicopter. I would say flying in over the festival in the sunset would be our postcard moment – pretty epic!

Who will you be looking out for in the backstage area?
Not sure, Toro Y Moi? Big Boi? Ariel Pink…are they playing? I need to double check the lineup.


How do you plan your festival set?

We like to keep the crowd moving – our aim is for intense, electric, short, sweet, upbeat…kind of…


What makes Glastonbury special?
It’s such a huge festival in a beautiful setting – too many bands to see and not enough time.

What’s your worst festival memory?

Walking around with plastic trash bags taped up on my legs, sliding down a muddy hill at Bestival trying to get to our stage…once we arrived the stage had collapsed in all the mud – it was awful! 



Have you ever worn fancy dress at a festival? If so, what did you dress up as?

I dress up for stage but I don’t think I would be attending festivals too much if it wasn’t for performing. I’m not a camping type of gal. 



How do you deal with Glastonbury weather?

You just deal with it. Fingers crossed it will be loveliness this year!


Which festival, in your opinion, is sporting the best line up this year?
Glasto!

Finally, where else can we see you play this summer?

A few more festivals – Pukkelpop, Sonar, Roskilde, Outland Lands, PITCH, Melt, Soundwave, Bumbershoot and Northcoast. We have a BIG fall tour in the works after the new album is released. – DIY

SBTRKT and Little Dragon’s “Wildfire” track is given a video

This is quite the bizarre visual companion to SBTRKT’s “Wildfire”, directed by Sam Pilling. Take a look, tell us what you think, and use these as a guide to sing along. Unfortunately there is no sign of Yukimi in the video. Very much an artistic piece.

You can also download a HD version of the video by clicking here.

Little Dragon perform “Little Man” at UCLA Jazz Reggae Festival and Yukimi Nagano speaks to Truth Seekers Radio

“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!”

Heartymagazine.com sit down with Yukimi and chat all things Little Dragon

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?

Tokyo

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