Sweden bursts with folks writing killer synth hooks. We meet two of them.
This week marks the gleefully anticipated U.S. release of Instinct, the debut full-length album of Swedish electropop duo Niki and the Dove. It’s been hard to avoid the well-earned media adulation over these two ever since they dropped their first single back in 2010. That song, “DJ, Ease My Mind,” combined 80s synth, bass drops, and Malin Dahlstromm’s gymnastic voice to create a post-millenial soundtrack to club heartbreak. Since then, they’ve just kept upping the stakes, with acid-washed dancefloor goodness like “Mother Protect,” and “The Fox” to the point that this summer’s LP actually has the feel of a greatest hits record.
The neophyte hitmakers jetted over to New York City for the week, which is how on Monday afternoon, singer Malin and multi-instrumentalist Gustav found themselves in central Brooklyn, in the wild woodlands of Prospect Park. Malin’s giggle — halfway between a belly laugh and a cat’s purr — rang constantly over the chirping of birds, while Gustav was a bit more sober. But it was hard to take a man with a ribbon glued to his right cheek too seriously.
Malin shared with us her songwriting secrets, while Gustav jumped in with his own tricks. Apparently, dancing is key. At one point Malin struggled for a word in English, which in hindsight, I realize was “sponge.” Read on to find out why sponges are important to this innovative synthpop team.
“DJ, Ease My Mind” appeared back in 2010, and that’s now on your debut album, which just came out a few weeks ago. So are you looking at the songs on your album and thinking, that’s old material and we’re thinking about new things now?
Gustav: When we started this record, we didn’t know it was going to be a record. We just made some songs for the fun of it. We got good reactions, so we worked on more songs. All of a sudden we had so much songs, after a year, so we started talking, ‘We have the ability to make an album here.’ So it’s almost more like a collection of these two years that have been. This album is more like a period to end an era.
Sort of like a scrapbook.
Gustav: Yes, exactly a collage or patchwork of these two years, because we didn’t plan on doing a whole album at that point.
What kind of new material have you been working on?
Gustav: At this moment we are working on a remix to a song by Clock Opera, an American band.
Malin: No, they’re from London.
Gustav: Ah, they’re from London? No kidding!
Speaking of Sweden, you talk a lot about nature in your lyrics. Did you guys grow up in cities?
Gustav and Malin: Yes.
You’re very urban actually.
So it’s more an idea of a forest that you’re talking about.
Malin: At the time when we wrote these songs, we spent a lot of time in the northern part of Sweden, with big forests and mountains. When you walk out the first thing you saw was the forest and the mountains, blue mountains from afar. So I guess that has some impact even though you don’t think about until now when you get the question! And you understand, ‘Oh yeah, right, we spent a lot of time there.’
When you wrote those songs you were in this area. So since you were songwriting more recently, is it different then, since you’re not there anymore?
Malin: Yeah, good question. I think that you can only tell when you have a little bit of distance to your work, and right now we don’t have any distance at all! So I don’t know.
So you feel like you’re in the middle of it?
Malin: Yes, right now both me and Gustav are in the middle of absorbing stuff. Because we have been working a lot with this record. And right now…it’s just like you’re, do you say ‘swamp’? [makes slurpy sound]. You have to just absorb stuff.
No, that’s not ‘swamp.’
Hahahahahahah! ‘Smudge?’ You know, like these little things (slurpy sounds) you use….
Like a blob?
Hahahahahaha, we’re two blobs! You know Miike Snow? We know them. And Pontus made this fantastic enormous synthesizer that they have onstage. And they call it the blob! Because it’s like an enormous spaceship on stage, with lights, and so many synthesizers. So good looking, this big machine, the blob!
Do you guys party a lot?
Gustav: No. No we don’t.
Malin: I wish we did more parties. I wish so much.
Gustav: I’m quite the calm person. I like hanging out in bars and clubs. when I’m there it’s nice, but I’m not a guy who’s jumping in the middle of the dancefloor.
What are you excited about for the rest of the year?
Gustav: I‘m looking forward to making new music. Maybe that’s a boring answer. But now these songs have been with us for a long time. And it’s going to be so nice starting now, for real, with another point of, of… how should I say?
Malin: From another perspective?
Gustav: Yeah, from another perspective. I look forward to it.
Malin: Me too, me too! But I must say, I would love us to party more! Because you know I love to dance. And I would really like to dance more, but I think that we’ve gone through this period where you need to do other stuff in life. Maybe I can go back to it, I would love to. But as Gustav says, I also love writing music. It’s where we can feel the most happy, when you’re in the middle of that process. And it can also be really terrible when you don’t find what you’re looking for.
So there’s writing music on the one hand and dancing to music on the other…
Malin: Yes, let’s combine them!
Gustav: We should write when we dance! But a lot of times when you start to write, you start to dance, actually. Because you get the energy from it.
Malin: Yeah yeah yeah sure. A lot of times in the studio. You just can’t help yourself, I remember when we made the end of “The Drummer,” we just had to start…boxing. Hahahah! Yes, like one of my favorite quotes is, ‘If I can’t dance to it, then it’s not my revolution.’