According to the intro to her brilliant 2005 album, the Swedish pop ass kicker Robyn has “split the atom” and “invented the x-ray,” and is the “world record holder with a high score of two gazillion in Tetris.” And while those claims may be (slightly) dubious, her eponymous album was an uncontested knockout that spawned four European hits, allowed the one-time teen-pop star to reignite her career in America, and ended up at the number 68 spot on our own Top Albums of the 2000s list.
So when we recently heard that she’s planning to crash back into our world this year with three albums that feature collaborations with Snoop Dogg, Diplo, and Röyksopp, we had to know more.
Chatting from her management’s office in London, Robyn told us her next, as-yet-untitled, more dance-y release is due in June, with another one due “sometime after the summer.” After that, she’s playing it by ear. “Let’s see how far we get,” she said. The accelerated schedule is part of her plan to make music more fluidly without long breaks disrupting her creative flow. And, since she’s the founder and CEO of her own Konichiwa Records imprint, she has the luxury to try this stuff out.
At least part of a new song, presumably “Fembot”, is currently streaming at her site. Heavy R&B vibe, Auto-Tune, “Fembots have feelings too”: uh, sounds pretty great so far.
In the following interview, she goes in depth describing her upcoming projects, what they’ll sound like, and why she’s different from fellow Swedish iconoclast Fever Ray. After the interview, check out a behind-the-scenes documentary of Robyn in the studio.
Pitchfork: It seemed like the interview with Swedish magazine Bon, in which you talked about putting out three albums this year, really came out of nowhere. Was that the plan?
Robyn: I’m secluded over in Sweden, so I had no idea that it was going to be this hot news that people were going to write about [laughs]. When I’m in the studio, I become a total nerd. I don’t travel that much– I’m just seeing friends and family and making music. So I did the interview around the end of January and thought, “Well, by the time this comes out I’ll have a release plan and a press release and shit, so I’m just going to tell him about the new material.” It ended up coming out way before I finished– I’m still finishing things up in the studio as we speak. So I’m still that nerd. I haven’t come out of my closet yet. [laughs]
Pitchfork: How did you come up with the plan to release three albums across one year?
R: I felt really happy and fortunate to be able to tour outside my home country for the last few years, but when I got into the studio it was hard to get back into that mode. So I starting thinking of alternative ways to work and make music. Everything is up in the air with the music industry at the moment and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to do things differently– especially if you have your own label like me. That’s what it’s for. So I thought about how to cut down on these big breaks between studio time. It’s not a new idea– a lot of people put out less-planned releases that are not that long, sometimes they’re called EPs. But these releases are not EPs. They’re albums with enough songs to make them feel like real bodies of work. They are shorter than usual, but still closer to ten songs than five. For a while we were discussing naming them Some Songs and then Some More Songs [laughs] because everyone was like, “What is this thing you’re releasing?” But to me they’re albums.
Right now I’m finishing the first one, which is going to come out in June. I’m already working on the second album so I hope that’ll come out sometime after the summer. Then later on maybe another release. Let’s see how far we get.
Pitchfork: Why not just put out a double album instead of breaking things up?
R: Because I would have to wait even longer to release it. Or I would stress out while getting everything done and the songs probably wouldn’t have been as good. I felt like the last album stayed alive as long as it did because it was good, and if all of those songs had to be consumed and listened to and processed in a shorter time period they would’ve started cannibalizing each other. Some songs are nice to release when they still feel fresh. Why release so many at once? It doesn’t make sense to me. And a lot of people don’t even have time to listen to albums anymore.
Pitchfork: You’ve mentioned that the upcoming material is more dance-oriented. What brought that about?
R: I’ve been on the road for almost three years in a row and I’ve been exposed to a lot of club culture all over the world. Not only in Europe but also in America, where something is changing– you guys have festivals again and there’s a community of people that are really connecting with types of music they probably wouldn’t have been exposed to before.
I went back to a lot of things I grew up with, like Technotronic and early acid music. I like a lot of the minimal stuff that’s out now like Booka Shade and Gui Boratto, too, even though it’s a lot slicker than stuff from the 80s or the 90s. And I’ve been listening to Giorgio Moroder and early Prince records where he was doing a lot of disco-sounding music. I feel like the dance world is like the last genre to be really be exploited or commercialized in the right way. It’s really going to have its time now and not just be looked upon as kitsch.
Pitchfork: What was it like working with Diplo on the recently leaked song “Dance Hall Queen”?
R: It’s the funniest thing because Diplo has this weird insight in Swedish music culture. He knew this band Midi, Maxi & Efti, who are these girls from Northern Africa who grew up in Sweden and made these cool-but-kinda-corny songs in the early 90s. We talked about music I grew up on and how it’s so dear to me even though a lot of people think it’s corny. And he just got it. So we started talking about how we could do an Ace of Base song but, like, now.
Pitchfork: One of the more interesting parts of your recent interview with Bon was when you talked about how you’re working in the “commercial” realm and Fever Ray is working in the “tastemaker” realm. What did you mean, exactly?
R: It is a complicated thing to explain. I’m aware of my place is in the industry because I’ve been doing it for such a long time, but making music can be very un-cynical for me, too– sometimes I write songs that just come out in a pop format because I grew up on melody and these amazing artists during the 80s. It’s my tradition and it’s something that I can’t really control. At the same time, I also have this person in me that’s like, “Oh, now I’m doing something very different with Röyksopp.” I can switch between those two roles and I like doing that.
And it’s really important for me to not take this whole thing too seriously. It’s pop music, you know? It’s entertainment and at the same time it has to mean something to me. I like dealing with that balance. That’s what inspires and fascinates me about what I do. It’s a challenge to be a part of the record industry even though it’s so fucked up. I feel like making music for ten people in a secluded part of the music world is maybe not as big of a challenge.