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“Fuck us, Big Boi” – The Line Of Best Fit meets Little Dragon

“Fuck us, Big Boi” – The Line Of Best Fit meets Little Dragon

02 August 2011, 11:00
Words by John Freeman

There are numerous advantages to bands getting cosy with major record labels. Today’s interview with Gothenburg’s Little Dragon is taking place in a swish meeting room at EMI’s head office in Kensington, due to the corporate behemoth kindly doing some of the distribution of their new album, Ritual Union.

It is a pretty funky meeting room; there are huge cardboard cut-outs of the Gorillaz characters on one wall, and a (what turns out to be fake) bright pink Raleigh Chopper bike in a corner of the room. There is a Wurlitzer jukebox and a ten-foot tall sparkly space rocket in the open-plan area. While I can understand the need for the former, I don’t have a clue as to the reason for the latter.

Little Dragon are all present and correct. Singer Yukimi Nagano has draped herself along an uncomfortable-looking sofa. Drummer Erik Bodin is a bundle of energy and most intrigued by the Chopper bike and bassist Fredrik Källgren Wallin is impossibly tall and with green eyes the size of dinner plates. Keyboard player Håkan Wirenstrand is the token quiet one but has perhaps the most fabulous ginger beard in the history of facial fuzz.

The band are in London to promote their third album. Ritual Union is a slow-burning, seductive beast, which further refines Little Dragon’s minimalist take on electronic pop. “For us, it is a natural progression,” Frederick says “We have a little more confidence that what we do is good enough.”

I have met Yukimi before. We spoke before a Little Dragon support slot on last year’s Gorillaz tour. She was stressed (the band and crew had arrived late) and had a blinding headache but was utterly charming as she coped with my befuddled line of questioning. Back then, Yukimi described Little Dragon’s eponymously-titled debut as “naked” and its follow-up (2009’s Machine Dreams) as “anonymous.” She was confident that the set of songs that would become Ritual Union would be “somewhere in the middle.”

Yukimi’s charm levels rise even further when she allows me to perform an awful journalistic trick – the quoting back of interviews from ten months beforehand – when I remind her of the three-album summary. “I think we can all agree that the first album was naked, but the anonymous vibe of the second album was more, I feel, that some people will love it and you can listen to it and give in to,” she says. “I think that the new album is a little more direct and there are a lot of details there that you can discover. It is a little bit more minimal than Machine Dreams; the songs are raw but still are soulful.”

This combination of soul and minimalistic electronic pop has won Little Dragon many admirers. Offers for enticing collaborations have come think and fast, as artists as diverse as Gorillaz, David Sitek, José Gonzaléz and SBTRKT all jostle for a piece of a band who started out as school friends, before unanimously failing to get into music college. They then began to make music together in their commune-cum-studio (lovingly named the Seal Colony), and christened themselves Little Dragon after the diminutive Nagano’s fiery temper.

The latest high-profile fan of the band appears to be Big Boi, which is a particularly exciting prospect for Fredrik. “We are big fans of Outkast,” he says. “Someone read an article with Big Boi where he said he really liked Little Dragon. He said that Andre had played our stuff to him. That was really awesome to hear for us.”

However, it would seem that a Little Dragon-Big Boi collaboration is not quite yet a reality, as Yukimi is keen to point out. “It says it in the press release, and it comes up in every interview but we have met him once and are talking about it but nothing has happened, so who knows? There was a quote from Rolling Stone, because they were talking about this before anything happened and Big Boi said ‘yeah, they sent me some music. It sounded different and dope. I think I could fuck with it.’ That was his quote, so we’ll see.”

“Fuck us, Big Boi,” Erik chants to general merriment; The Line Of Best Fit has a title for the article.

As the bout of giggling subsides, we revert back to the calmer waters of Ritual Union. The album cover is a collage of wedding photos, while the title track’s lyrics find Yukimi in a reflective mood (“Ritual unions / Got me / In trouble again”). While the parents of all four band members are divorced, Yukimi is keen to contextualise any anti-marriage message. “It’s just another side of the whole picture,” she explains. “For me, it is a rare thing for me or my friends to have parents that are still together. I don’t know why, but in Sweden it is extremely common to be divorced. I don’t think that marriage necessarily has less value because of it, but if you have ten years together, then maybe that is of extreme value to you. I just think there is this very traditional ideal where you get married and you have to stay together – it is seen as a failure if you give up.”

As for the album cover collage, rumour has it that the pictures of happy couples are family and friends of the band. “We cannot confirm or deny,” says Fredrik to another flurry of laughter. “No, it is parents and relatives and old family photos. We were looking for something that suited the title Ritual Union.” Yukimi adds, “I don’t think the people in the photos have actually seen the cover yet.” Fredrik looks mock-worried; “They might be annoyed. There might be legal issues.”

Last time we met, Little Dragon were firmly entrenched on the Gorillaz touring bandwagon which saw them shack up with the likes of Bobby Womack, Mark E Smith, De La Soul and Kano as Albarn’s spectacular live show bedazzled across the globe (“The thing with that tour was that it became like a big family,” Erik reveals). Yukimi had related a coach-trip chat with Bobby Womack, who told her that his songwriting process always started with the hook. When I remind her of this, she admits to having forgotten the conversation with the soul legend. “But I thought that was super-interesting because he is from an era where it was about getting your song a Number One and thinking in terms of hits,” she says. “If you look at hits nowadays, they are very different from what hits were in his time. Then, they were really good songs; like a perfect package of a good song with the feeling and the message.”

So, has Yukimi ever tried to emulate Bobby Womack’s method? “A little bit. But what I think is a hook is maybe not what someone at EMI thinks is a hook.” Yukimi then breaks into a quite lovely version of Lady Gaga’s ‘Alejandro’.

Since the release of their second album Machine Dreams in 2009, Little Dragon have not only acquired celebrity collaborators but also a quietly loyal fan-base. In the hours after our interview, I follow the band to their free gig for a radio show, to be broadcast that night. Unfortunately for me, the event attracts a huge number of fans and the subsequent time it takes to get everyone into the tiny south London venue means Little Dragon’s performance is delayed. And my cunning plan of seeing the show before dashing to catch my train is foiled.

Earlier, I asked the band about their expectations for Ritual Union, and whether they feel ‘established’. “I think we’ve realised that it is a fragile situation,” Yukimi says before Fredrick interjects, “We do feel established.” “Yeah, I do feel established in one way,” continues Yukimi. “But it is not like we feel we could take a year off and chill – which maybe would be nice to do. But, there is a kind of responsibility which comes with the growth of .”

“Sometimes you wake up from the fog and notice that your ride is a splitter van and that is a little sign of progress compared to coming on the Tube with all your gear,” interjects Erik. Yukimi rolls her eyes, “Yes, I forgot about that – it was terrible.”

“I think we learned that we shouldn’t have any expectations, because we were promised a lot of nice stuff at the start and it never turned up,” continues Erik, who, after Yukimi, seems the most forthright member of Little Dragon. “What actually happened was that we drove around America in a little van and got to feel it the real way – for which we are very thankful. But you cannot have expectations – you are doing art so how could you plan or even think you would get a certain reception? We are very happy and feel solid about the record. We want to have fun and keep on doing what we are doing. From other people, I don’t think we expect much.”

Little Dragon should be happy with Ritual Union; it is another masterclass in understated electronica. All three of their albums, however, would appear to be cut from the same sonic cloth. Their music seems to have a blueprint. I ask Yukimi whether the fourth Little Dragon record could be radically different – like an album of folk music, for example? “I don’t think it will be folk. I think I can say that. But, we definitely want to break any walls that are there. There are definitely things we’d love to try and haven’t done before. We always love to feel that there is a freshness. I don’t think we necessarily have to sound different, it is more about whether we like it or not. But to like it, it has to not sound exactly like the last thing.”

Erik, who has been a percussionist with fellow Gothenburger José Gonzaléz, picks up on my random shout-out for a folk album. “The thing with folk – and I’ve been playing with José and he is very much a folk guy – is there was a whole scene about being in the woods and playing in the forest with an acoustic guitar and I think at some point, we’d like to bring the synth into the woods and make an electric forest. I think, since you brought it up, that is still our mission.”

As with several of my previous interviews with bands, my final question is one dreamt up by my young children. This time, they’ve asked me to find out what the band would do if they ever met a little dragon. The four Swedes seem to take the question ominously seriously. Yukimi looks me in the eye; “I’d set it free,” she says. Håkan, who hasn’t spoken for what seems like an aeon, suddenly perks up and clearly has a different idea, “We’d give it an instrument and let is join us.” Now that could be a marriage made in heaven.

The album, Ritual Union, is out now via Peace Frog/EMI

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