A conversation with Karin Dreijer Andersson
Interview by Adam McKibbin
Previously published on ARTISTdirect
The Knife’s Silent Shout was one of the best albums of 2006, turning electronic and dance music on its head. Almost immediately, fans were clamoring for more. While they wait for the next step from The Knife – said to be an experimental opera based or inspired by Charles Darwin (naturally) – they should all turn their attention to the new solo incarnation of The Knife’s Karin Dreijer Andersson. Fever Ray’s self-titled debut is a spellbinder.
To be sure, Andersson isn’t regurgitating her collaboration with brother and Knife partner Olof Dreijer. There are inescapable parallels, of course, especially given the uniqueness of her voice – and the way in which she plays and distorts her voice. There are no beats for the dance floor here, though – not even bizarro world dance floors. Instead, the mood is somber, sometimes even sinister – but also rooted in daydreams and unfettered imagination.
Andersson spoke recently about the long process of birthing Fever Ray, the art of the music video (it’s not dead just yet), and the increasing struggles facing musicians who aren’t looking to sell T-shirts or commercial jingles.
Your album is the album I’ve listened to the most so far in 2009. Are you able to listen to it at all yourself after it’s created?
No, I never listen to my own music. But I have continued working – I started to rehearse with a band a few months ago to try to find out how to play [the album] live. So I’ve continued working with the songs.
How’s that process coming? What’s it like making the transition to a band and stage from an album that you worked on so heavily by yourself?
I… I hope it’s gone well. It feels good, actually. The music part of the show is already set, but we haven’t really put it together with the visuals yet.
The Knife’s live shows are pretty well known for their involved visuals. Will Fever Ray shows be similar?
Yes. I’m working with Andreas Nilsson again for the show as well, and we have a lot of scenery and costumes and masks. I think it will be very theatrical.
The album is very immersive – a lot of times nowadays, we’re doing other things when we’re listening to music… we’re writing email or we’re folding laundry or doing all these day-to-day things. Fever Ray, though, lends itself to headphones and focus. Who does that for you as a listener – when you’re looking to be swept up in a musical world?
I think most of the music that I choose myself is music that I want to listen to in my headphones and to spend a lot of time with it – and not to do so much more. For me, it’s very hard to just listen to music in the background, like a commercial radio station. I get so into music when I listen to it, so it’s quite hard to do it if you don’t just sit down.
When you were making the album, you worked on your own for eight months – and you had a pretty set daily routine for working and writing. Some people say a routine is imperative for the creative process – to treat it like any other job. That sounds like it’s the case for you?
Yeah, and especially, I think, among electronic musicians. I strongly believe in spending hours and hours, very disciplined. I think that’s very important, especially when you work with the whole process of making music – writing and recording and producing. It takes so much time, so it’s not like you can choose a day… of course you can’t force the ideas, but the ideas are not the biggest thing. If you have ten tracks, maybe you get ten ideas, and the rest of the time you spend recording and cutting files. There’s so much technical time to spend.
Were there tracks that didn’t make the final cut? Or wasn’t there a lot of leftovers?
There’s nothing leftover. [laughs] I continue to work with a track until it’s fine. I work with the idea of the track so much in my head, so I think the idea is very much set and finished when I start to work with it in the computer.
What prompted the beginning of that eight month cycle? How did you know when you were ready to set a schedule and sit down every day?
I had a few of the ideas ready when I started. I just wanted to spend a lot of time on my own and see what happened – and really work on my own with music, which I hadn’t been doing in very many years, and find out what kind of music I wanted to write. It felt very good – and it just continued.
And on the other side, how did you know when the time was finished? Was it clear when the songs were complete?
I think that after those eight months, the things about the songs I found important, I had made – the writing, the arrangement, the tempo, most of the programming of beats and vocal recordings. That was already there. Then I thought “Now anything can happen.” That was when I gave the tracks to these three producers. It’s very strange because you never know when you’ll get that feeling, but at a certain stage you feel that you’re ready.
Was that the first time you had outside ears at all – or were you bringing people in during those eight months and playing stuff and getting feedback?
No, I don’t think anybody was in my studio before that. I tried to play some music at home, but it’s always like chaos at home.
There’s a very impressionistic feel to much of Fever Ray, but there are also some lyrics that are very tethered to the real world.
I think the music is so much about ideas and dreams and fantasies. I really wanted to also use words that connected you with reality in a way, so the lyrics had to keep the music down to earth, in a sense, so it didn’t just flow out to outer space or something. I thought it was really important to have words that connected you to everyday things.
The videos for “If I Had A Heart” and “When I Grow Up” are both pretty compelling and have generated a fair amount of attention. Aesthetically, are you hands-on with the vision, or is there some point where you’re handing off to the directors and say “The song is my baby, the video is your baby, let’s see how you interpret it”?
Yeah, I think I’ve been very good at giving it away to people – now. Before I’ve been more into the video process. It’s a matter of choosing a good director first, then you have to trust him. Andreas did the “If I Had A Heart” video and I have been working with him for so long that I definitely trust him, but it’s also very nice to discuss a lot of things with him; we discussed so many movie and image references before he wrote the manuscript.
There was an article making the rounds recently – and there have been several of its kind – in which some “insiders” claim that it’s inevitable that recorded music will be free in the future. As someone who spent not a week but eight months on her album, how do you feel about that notion – that the album may become just a promotional tool for tours or merch or whatever the future may hold?
I think there is so much unseriousness in the music world. I definitely see writing music as something that’s very serious. It’s a big thing left to find out and solve how composers and performers should be paid for their work. If music is free, I don’t really understand how I am supposed to continue. I think it’s a very strange idea that every composer or artist should be forced to perform. That’s very stupid, I think. And that you should be forced to sell t-shirts with your name on it – that’s also very strange. That has nothing to do with music. Selling your music to commercials has nothing to do with music either. But more and more artists are being forced to do other things than write music. Who is going to write the music, then? When you’re forced to be a fashion or a clothing company all of a sudden, that’s very strange. There are many things left to solve.
Definitely. When was the last time you were stuck in a day job?
It was seven years ago.
What were you doing – if you don’t mind saying?
I was a web designer.
Well, I guess that’s still a creative job, at least.
Mm… yeah. [laughs] But the development of programming goes so fast that I don’t think I can go back to it.