When I eventually got through to Svein Berge, one half of Norwegian electronica titans Röyksopp, he informed me that he was standing in his house in Norway, looking at the snow out of the window, and eating a chocolate bar. “Can’t complain about that?” I asked; he concurred. About to release their rather excellent third full-length album Junior, things are looking good for Röyksopp. I talked to Svein about the themes behind the album, about the duo’s female vocal and lyrical collaborators, very specific percentages and about what they’re up to next.
A few of us at The Line of Best Fit have heard the new Röyksopp album, Junior, and we’re big fans, we like it a lot… how pleased are you and Torbjorn with the album?
Yeah… you have balance between being humble, and being confident, I think. We are very pleased with the outcome – it’s as simple as that, we are very pleased.
Do you think it’s something different, a step on from what you’ve done before?
I hope so – again, referring to balance, we want to maintain what we consider to be uniquely Röyksopp in terms of the atmospheres and the soundscapes that we create. You have to try to move forward in some way… not neccesarily forwards but sideways, diagonally or sideways is where we want to go. We think we’re on the right direction with this album.
Another thing that’s quite interesting about the album is the guest vocalists on the tracks, how do you go about matching the singer to the song?
Maintaining what uniquely identifies us as Röyksopp, namely the sounds, we try to make the sounds interesting and fresh and when we’re looking for collaborators in terms of vocals we’re always trying to find vocalists that are unique and can fit well with the song. For instance the female vocalists we have on this album are quite diverse, in our heads, in terms of vocal abilties. You have on one track Lykke Li, who has a sensual, girlish, whispery, secretive voice. It’s very percussive as well… it’s not those long, wailing Christina Aguilera notes, she’s doing it short and snappy. That almost naïve approach to at least the way she sings on “Miss It So Much” which is very much a track romanticising the old, we wanted it to have a certain naivety, and that sits very well with her whispery, secretive voice. It’s a very delicate voice… it’s the kind of voice you’d like to wake up and have whispering in your ear.
“Miss It So Much” is quite nostalgic, isn’t it?
It’s very nostalgic, to us in terms of harmonies there’s a fling with sort of 50s to it for some reason, and again with the lyrical content, saying something about missing makes it even more nostalgic. The soundscape that’s created is supposed to sound warm and old.
Lykke Li and others on the album are Swedish, of course – do you think there’s a strong connection between Swedish artists and Norwegian artists?
Traditionally I wouldn’t say… I know I’m not mistaken if I say that Swedes are culturally superior to Norway, especially in terms of music and dealing with pop music, especially since Abba. They’ve been way stronger and more confident in producing music compared to Norway, at least. In this day and age, I’d say things have slightly changed. In Scandinavia, not only Norway or Sweden but also Denmark, there’s a lot of interesting things popping up, especially in elecronic music, and the crossover to pop.
Two countries that seem to be on the rise are Norway and Denmark – do you think that Norway is on the rise as a music scene at the moment?
It’s hard to predict but I think that after lying dormant for twenty years, it’s about time… there’s hasn’t been anything since A-Ha in about 1985, and then it went quiet. There has been the occasional artist here and there, but in the last few years it has been evident that it’s possible to live in Norway with today’s technology [...] for a guy to sit in a flat with his guitar and his keyboard and his laptop and produce something that sounds quite professional. It’s all about having the confidence and the ability to just play around – it seems there’s a lot more people who’ve understood this and broken this code for achieving something musically.
Some might say that Röyksopp have been around for a long time, and that it’s odd that Junior is just your third album. Is that because you’re a perfectionist organisation, or is it just that you’ve been busy touring and working on other things?
It’s a combination of the two… we work hard when we work hard, but it’s not as if we get up at 7 in the morning every day and spend 8, 9, 10 hours in the studio. We have periods where we just muck about and go partying and go hiking in the mountains or whatever for a week, and then you get a creative boost which drives you into the studio. And then we eat and sleep and make something. When we’re in that mold, we’re very perfectionist – we play close attention to the details in the music. We don’t call it perfectionism, we call it autism, because we can’t control it. It just becomes that way.
How does the creative relationship between you and Torbjorn work?How do you work together as a partnership?
We sit side by side, with our keyboards circling around us, and with the computers in front of us. We sit and stare out the window, and we might just start with a sound we like and start spinning on that, and you think of imagery and try to recreate that. Or, you just work in an improvisation, starting with the basics and building around it. There’s lots of different ways to build a song. Sometimes we just sit around and think “wouldn’t it be fun to make a song about a robot and a girl”, and you can start writing a few words and take it from there.
I think “The Girl and the Robot” is another highlight of the album, where did that come from?
We had the chords and the melody in place, and we really wanted to get Robyn on board, who has that great strong voice charged with energy, and she has a sort of sexiness to her voice as well as strong emotion. In addition she’s a very creative person – all the women we’ve worked with on the album have written for it, they’re not just given a song and told, “here sing this”. So we wanted to get her onboard as early as possible, and we wrote the lyrics together. We had this idea about writing a love song and together we shaped the idea of a relationship between a girl and a robot which can either be interpreted literally or it can be about lack of communication and trying to cope in a relationship.
Another interesting piece is “Röyksopp Forever” – the title is quite interesting, is that a track that’s about Röyksopp in a way?
Very much so, it’s borderline cheesy which we like, it’s epic and there’s a lot of compression which are all things about how we want Röyksopp to be. We like to bring an element of humour into what we do – it’s meant to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek and the title suggests that. If anything it’s a homage to the 70s, some of that electronic pioneers of the 70s, the likes of Vangelis and these people, and Krautrock, like Tangerine Dream and even Pink Floyd and King Crimson, all of those rolled into one. It’s a big thing which we called “Röyksopp Forever” and it scratches the surface of what we’re about. We have a tendency to just build and build until there’s no room left… we’re not really that pompous but sometimes it just comes out that way!
We’ve talked a bit about a few of the songs and what’s behind them, do you think there’s a theme behind the album, any big inspirations for the two of you?
If there’s a theme it’s a paradox if anything. We feel that the album is, to us at least, cohesive, there’s definitely a diversity. It’s kept together by a hidden factor, an X factor if you will, which I’m not able to pinpoint, but whenever I play it to friends they identify the tracks as Röyksopp although they are quite different. The three songs we’ve just mentioned – “The Girl and the Robot”, “Miss It So Much” and “Röyksopp Forever” – there are quite different in terms of production and themes and the emotion of it. I think what we wanted to bring to this album was a cohesive diversity, if that’s possible. We wanted the listener to listen through the album, and to use a cheap and cheesy word on it, we want the listener to experience a journey. Taking the listener from the happy side to the sad track, there’s the emotional track, the track with a dark side, anxiety, a paranoid thing… we wanted it to be a mix, but at the same time you want it to be kept together somehow and I hope we’ve succeeded in that.
Apparently Junior‘s only really the first half of the story and that there will be a follow-up album, is that true?
That is true, that’s what you get for crying wolf because we tend to amuse ourselves by elaborating every now and again in media but when it comes to Senior, that’s 99.7% finished and we hope to release it later this year, autumn or winter. At least during 2009 – Senior‘s the flipside to Junior, it’s all about atmospheres. Junior has quite a heavy emphasis on vocals and the rhythm and it’s quite direct, whereas Senior is more withdrawn and introspective and create an atmosphere and an ambience, to sit down and if you don’t need constant loud information all the time that’s what Senior is all about.
Lastly, what are you or Torbjorn listening to at the moment, do you have any recommendations for TLOBF’s readers?
I listen to everything…[Svein looks at what he was listening to before the interview...] There’s MGMT, I like them a lot… really like the video to “Time to Pretend” and obviously “Kids”. I don’t think we have any secret names that people don’t know, in terms of contemporary music, it’s all down to the occasional 12″ that you like… you get these names like Justice and so on [...] there’s Kleerup, who has been working with Robyn, as on the track “With Every Heartbeat”, just to mention that… there’s Datasette, he just did a remix of our single “Happy Up Here” and I’m very fond of his production and programming, I believe the future holds a lot for him. Anything, everything… I don’t stick to one genre, I can listen to Led Zeppelin just as much as Al Green, or whatever.
You were talking about interesting futures, I think Röyksopp has one of those, so thank you very much to talking to us!
Thank you for having me!