How the Swedish singer learned to stop worrying and love the beat
Most pop aficionados and aging Gen Y-ers know Robyn for her late teen-queen nineties smash “Show Me Love,” a reality which is deeply unfortunate because the Swedish pop singer has a deep repertoire of infectious, smartly-crafted electro-pop – including 2005’s self-titled comeback effort. Label woes kept Robyn from reaching the U.S. until 2008, but those who did hear it praised it rightly as the profoundly exciting statement-of-purpose that it was intended to be. Even though Body Talk Pt. 1, the first of a three-part record suite that’s set to release in whole in 2010, is the first full-length Robyn effort in five years, the driving enthusiasm in her music has not waned even in the slightest. Tracks like “Fembot” and “Dancing On My Own” should become club staples in no time, due to their insistent beats and Robyn’s cool, but passionate, vocal delivery. Right before she set to go out on a tour which included stops at Chicago’s Pitchfork Music Festival, amongst other high-profile gigs, Robyn spoke with College News via email, answering our questions about Body Talk’s unusual release concept, her advice to anyone starting a record label, how technology has influenced her music-making, and the current state of electronic music.
College News: It’s been five years since the release of your last full-length, Robyn, but in the meantime, you released The Rakamonie EP in 2006, and The Cherrytree Sessions in 2009. What was the importance of those EPs? Did they in any way help keep you prepared for creating a record of new material?
Robyn: Not really. For me, the writing I’ve done in between records with [producer Andreas] Kleerup on “With Every Heartbeat,” which wasn’t on the first release of Robyn in 2005, and “The Girl and the Robot” with [Norwegian electronic duo] Röyksopp, have been more important in that way. I like to keep writing in between albums and that’s the biggest reason for why I’m releasing this new album in three parts.
CN: How did you start the songwriting process for Body Talk?
Robyn: I went back to Stockholm, where I live, at the end of 2008 to come down from a hectic touring period and got my [songwriting] focus back. [Swedish songwriter] Klas Åhlund and I started writing again in July last year. I learned how to use Logic, the music computer programming software, and started a club night in Stockholm with my friend Louise Sondlo that we call “Konichiwa bitches goes Tutti Frutti.”
CN: What was your goal with Body Talk musically?
Robyn: To continue to explore what I had figured out and liked about the last album. Like Robyn on steroids.
CN: Why break it up in three parts, as opposed to release it as one whole? Is it meant to be a concept album spread over three parts?
Robyn: There is no concept for Body Talk. The three-album idea came out of me trying to find a practical solution to not being able to be in the studio as much as I would like to while I’m touring. I decided to release the first eight songs I had finished as soon as I could so I could get back on the road sooner, but also have a reason to get back into the studio sooner. But then, it also started to make sense to me in other ways like how people consume music in a new way, how I myself am actually a fan of shorter albums and how most albums were shorter if you look back 20-30 years.
CN: How do they differ from the first parts?
Robyn: Most of the songs where written around the same time, so they are connected in some way, but because they are recorded in different periods, the albums will naturally have different characteristics. But it’s not because of a concept: It’s because it just happened that way. If there is any concept, it is that there is none.
CN: In an interview about Body Talk Pt. 1, you described the theme of this record as being “technology versus humanity,” specifically how one integrates with the other in the present day. What was the inspiration for this theme? Do you see any upsides or downsides to technology in its current form?
Robyn: I’m fascinated about how technology affects our everyday lives in ways that it hasn’t before. Our needs and wishes still are very primal: We want to be loved, connect to other people and want to discover new cool things – but you can do it so much faster and bigger on the internet. It’s like our new feathers or face paint.
CN: In 2004, you famously broke away from your label, Jive Records, to start your own record label. What are some of the challenges of running Konichiwa, both long-term and day-to-day? Have you ever considered an alternative business model? (Like doing what Radiohead did with In Rainbows)?
Robyn: I’m happy with my set-up. It’s small and I get to be involved in the details, but still have the chance to reach a broad audience. The most important thing for me is to be able to do it in a genuine way, and that kind of dictates everything else for me. I work a lot though.
CN: You’re in a unique position. You’ve had both artistic and commercial success since the late 90s, and have witnessed a lot of sea changes in terms of how the industry is run. What advice would you give to a young person (say, a college student) trying to run their own label?
Robyn: I don’t want to give advice. I think everyone has to figure it out for themselves. But I would say you won’t be able to do it all by yourself and, if anything, have fun.
CN: As a music observer, 2010 seems to be a great year for electronic-based music, with releases from Caribou, Four Tet, Flying Lotus and Pantha du Prince. Then going back to past years, you have bands and artists like The XX, the Knife and yourself all releasing well-received material. What are your thoughts about the state of electronic music in 2010? Where do you see yourself fitting in, and what has been inspiring you musically lately?
Robyn: Club music has inspired me mostly lately, old and new. I think what’s going on now is reminding me of a lot of the unexpected mixes of genres and culture that happened in the 90s with the rave scene, pop music and hip hop mixing. Artists like Neneh Cherry, Dr Alban in Sweden, the Technotronic and The Prodigy were a big influence on me, and they still are.
CN: “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do” – based on the title alone, I have to ask what the inspiration for that song was.
Robyn: It’s just a song about coming off of tour and just being tired of having people in my face and not really being able say no or prioritize.