There’s something to be said for ugliness. While most pop artists happily inhabit a world of glamour and fashion, Karin Dreijer Andersson surrounds herself in a mysterious, primeval darkness.
Best known as one half of brother-sister pop duo The Knife, Andersson will begin a short North American tour this week as Fever Ray, a new solo project started two years ago when she and her brother Olof took a break from touring and recording together.
The resulting album, released earlier this year, is full of contradictions. It’s a heady mix of steely synths, upbeat tribal beats and rhythms, humorous lyrics and twisted vocals. Though critics like to call her music dark, Andersson is quick to point out sunnier influences. “I wanted it to sound like Miami Sound Machine,” she says, referring to the song ‘Triangle Walks’. “Like Gloria Estefan – very Caribbean.”
Since its release earlier this year, Fever Ray has evolved into a visual project and Andersson’s elaborate stage show (created with director Andreas Nilsson) is winning accolades for its folkloric theatricality and immersive séance vibe. She has also kept busy with The Knife, scoring an electro opera about Charles Darwin called Tomorrow, In A Year, which premiered in Copenhagen this month.
To find out more about all things Fever Ray, we rang up Karin Dreijer Andersson in Stockholm to chat. Read the interview after the jump.
How did the premiere of your opera go?
I think it went fine, finally. We have been working on it for one-and-a-half years so we’ve been at the rehearsals since June but I’m happy with our part in it, the music.
Can you tell me about your contribution?
At first we have had a lot of meetings and discussions with the Danish Theater company, Hotel Pro Forma, about the project and we’ve talked a lot about how to approach this huge subject of Charles Darwin and The Origin of Species and the whole of evolution. At first, I have been talking about how to deal with it. It’s me and Mount Sims who have been writing the libretto.
What was your impression of the final production?
It’s a choreographer and us making music and there’s a light designer and a stenographer and costume designer and everybody was supposed to work without knowing what the other ones did. It was just put together two months ago. Sound-wise, we have been trying to work theoretically with the music because we’ve never done that before. Really following in a subject to work with the music in ways that sometimes we have made music of Charles Darwin’s ideas about evolution in some specific species.
Did you research any animals that you are particularly fond of?
He was a geologist in the beginning so it starts with… rocks. [laughs] And it ends up with a diversity of everything. It’s hard to say so much more about it. At the moment we are trying to finalize an album out of the music, so it will be released early next year.
You’ve been covering “Stranger Than Kindness” by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds on your tour. Are you a big fan?
Yes, I like a lot of things that he has done. My favorite album is the Let Love In album.
That one has a lot of hits.
Yes it has hits but it’s also very dark, I think. [laughs] Such bad things happen. A lot of it is about love.
Your music and his music feature a lot of stories and characters. Do you see similarities between your music and his?
He’s more of a singer-songwriter than I am because he can really choose a subject – he did all the murder ballads for example. I don’t have a theme like that, never. I think my characters are more emotional characters or more psychological states than real physical forms. The cover version that I chose, I think what’s interesting also is that it was written by his girlfriend at that time, Anita Lane. I really liked that song and later on I found it was a woman who wrote it, which I found very interesting. She puts all these words in his mouth and that makes it much more interesting I think.
Because it’s a man singing from a woman’s point of view?
You start to wonder what it was like – why she wanted him to sing these words. And when did it all go wrong?
You’ve done similar things with your videos and when The Knife had the drag queen Rickard Endfors sing “Pass This On”. Why do you get others to perform your songs?
I think that’s very interesting ⎯ to play with the images and see how it affects music. I think it’s really interesting to see other people do your vocals. It gives the music more space when you don’t have to focus on a certain person. It moves the whole focus of the artist away from the music.
How guarded are you about your personal life with the media? The Canadian author Anne Michaels, for example, refuses to reveal anything personal for fear it will taint her readers’ impression of her books.
I’m not that strict but quite a lot. I mean, I think if it has to do with the music. For example, I think this album has a lot to do with me, recently I had my second child and I think it has to do with the state I was in when writing the album, therefore I mention that I have children but it’s not so much more than that.
So becoming a mother influenced the album quite a bit?
It definitely has to do with becoming a parent. At the same time I think there are different times in life when you see things from a new perspective – becoming a parent is one of them. Things happen in life when you really wake up and see them in different ways.
You’ve been involved in the Swedish music scene since the ’90s. Is this the first time you’ve produced solo material and performed it live?
Actually when I started to make music I started by myself. But I never released any solo stuff. It was a little bit like getting back to the beginning in a way when I had this break with Olof. I think that was really nice, to feel that I still knew how to make music on my own.
Were you worried you didn’t have it in you anymore?
I think a bit, yes. We had been working for seven years very intensely, doing everything together. I think it was very important to find out what it was like.
Is Fever Ray a project only for this moment in time or does it have a future?
I don’t really know anything about the future. I like to see everything in projects around albums or around specific times. So I will do these shows in the US and Canada and I have seven more shows in Europe. After that, in January, I don’t know really what will happen. I will do the last show in the beginning of December and it’s no more.
How has Fever Ray evolved since you’ve been on tour?
For the live show I think for me, it sounds very different. I think mostly visually, that’s something I have been working with after the album: all the videos and all the visual side of the whole project.
A lot of pop artists name-check David Bowie as a musical icon who defied expectations through his appearance. Yet, most of those pop stars ⎯ they’re generally female ⎯ still base their appearance on glamor and beauty. Yet there is a lot of darkness and ⎯ for lack of a better word ⎯ ugliness in your live show. Why is that?
I come from a very punk, indie rock background, which is really good for a woman, I think.
Because then you don’t have the whole fashion thing and then it’s important to do everything like the opposite way and I think it’s very important. For me when music is good it must have some element of something ugly and something working against it. It has to have contradictions. I think it’s really important to be ugly and it’s very important to make music that has ugly moments or sounds in it as well.
For example I play with the vocal all the time and in the beginning, not anymore, I had a lot of questions like ‘Why do you do this? You have such a beautiful voice, blah, blah, blah.’ And I think that is an expectation you have as a woman: to always be beautiful and think about how you look. It’s such a relief when I can go on stage in this character and I don’t have to think about anything – how I look or fashion or make-up.
You can just roll out of bed and on to the stage?
Well, I do need a lot of smoke and I paint my face white and black. [laughs] But I think it has very little to do with beauty.
Fever Ray’s 2009 tour dates:
Sept 28 – New York @ Webster Hall
Sept 29 – New York @ Webster Hall
Oct 1 – Montreal @ Metropolis
Oct 2 – Toronto @ Kool Haus
Oct 3 – Chicago @ Metro
Oct 5 – San Francisco @ Grand Ballroom
Oct 6 – Pomona @ The Glass House
Oct 7 – Los Angeles @ Henry Fonda Theater
Nov 29 – Copenhagen @ Koncerthuset
Nov 30 – Oslo @ Rockefeller
Dec 1 – Stockholm @ Cirkus
Dec 2 – Hamburg @ Kampnagel
Dec 3 – Amsterdam @ Paradiso
Dec 4 – Rennes @ Transmusicales Festival
Dec 5 – London @ The Forum