It’s been eight years since A Camp’s countrified debut album (which garnered four Swedish Grammys). The group that was initially a Swedish collaboration of Cardigans chanteuse Nina Persson and musician Niclas Frisk has become a trio. The project has also expanded its pallette musically, bringing in pan-global themes that the intimate first album only hinted at. American film composer, Nathan Larson (former Shudder to Think art-rocker and Nina’s husband) helps in that endeavor.
The trio’s new release is the imperial-themed Colonia. Kevin March (Guided By Voices) returned on drums, but since he was on paternity leave, his time in the studio was slim. Maturity has also seemed to set in for Persson. When Prefix talked to the now 34-year-old “love fool” before she boarded a plane for Europe, her voice was calm yet she spoke economically: “I’ve gotten used to this whole interview thing now,” she laughs. Discussion topics ranged from her revelatory 2007 trip to South Africa, to downloading pirated copies of the Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In, to the sometimes irritating posts on The Cardigans’ message board, to how she always imagined her voice sounding more like David Bowie than Sandie Shaw.
You’ve been in Brooklyn for some time. How is the area treating you? I know you mentioned there have been some burglaries of recent.
Yeah, it’s been almost two years. The thing with our home is that since it is under serious renovation we’ve become buddies with the local police by now. They say that burglars love construction sites because there’s no order anywhere. I hope that is why it happened so many times. It’s been great but we’ve had some ordeals.
Other than that, how have you been adjusting ? Have you found any cool hangouts in the area?
Some of the hangouts that we liked in the beginning are already closed and others keep popping up. It’s really an area that’s changing a lot. We have a lot of friends that live in downtown Brooklyn, so we still do a bit of that. I love being able to go to the local grocery store and I love the neighbors we have. People are very local up here.
The influences for the new album are fairly diverse from the first A Camp release. Some ‘60s girl-group pop, ’80s punk, Roxy Music, David Bowie, and others could all be considered influences but what did you want to come across with Colonia?
Since this is essentially the second record that we’re making under this project and the first record was kind of folky, which I still love, we wanted to do something drastically different. These bands are what we listen to and lean toward. Folk music is kind of introverted and observant of the past, but we wanted to make music that was a little more obnoxious. We’re still the band we are, so it’s not going to become punk rock, but we want to be more maximalist than minimalist.
Especially with “The Crowning” and many of the other tracks, the word that popped up in my mind was “decadent.” It reminded me of those old radio pop tunes that are simple but the arrangements are not afraid to be a little maximal, like you were saying.
With the first record we did exactly what we wanted to do then but now we were really hungry for using lots of horns and strings and choirs, everything. We decided to make a record that would make people accuse us of being really pretentious and over-the-top.
How did your 2007 trip to South Africa impact you in terms of the new record?
I went with my friend from Lisbon to Capetown and my Swedish girlfriend went over. This girl from Africa; she’s actually from Namibia. We drove through the Namib Desert. It was like a six-day drive, and we were camping in the desert! I’ve never been outdoors in the first place. I don’t even know the woods and the countryside of my own country. It was really large for me to camp and there were actually animals. Ultimately there was a very crazy stamp of colonialism in the area. Germans colonized that part of Africa, and my girlfriend is of German descent. My girlfriend I really love, but she’s from a history of colonialism. The concept is very fascinating to me. It’s strange that mankind thought this was cool to do.
I also got quite influenced by animals because I was really quite scared at times. I didn’t really encounter any animals but we were eating in the camp and there were jackals slinking around that we had to send them off with our cooking ware. It was shocking to me. I don’t want to sound pretentious, but I really was humbled. I used to think that African culture was all the same with the tribal drums and tie dye. Africa is really compelling in a bigger way than what I had thought. I realized that even in a short two-week trip.
There’s a resurgence of African memes in Western music right now that some label “musical colonialism.” Do you view this new A Camp release as an extension of that influence at all?
We’re still a very Western band, so I can’t say we were influenced by very “exotic music.” That being said, there are some horns that are sort of influenced by this Ethiopian jazz guy named Mulatu Astatqé. He’s amazing. He sounds like a David Lynch soundtrack or something. I’m very scared of jumping into that area. I’m even scared as a Swedish girl diving into the world of country music. I never thought that the white man can really sing the blues. I think a lot of music you’ve got to be careful with, but you can take influences and instruments for sure. Personally, I would be scared to dive into that. I make the music that I can handle and that’s mine. I can’t really judge but I wouldn’t do that, just because I want to be respectful of the music being done in a certain culture.
On the A Camp and Cardigans releases I’ve always noticed a lot of nautical imagery. This time you even included a slideshow of old fashioned ships on the A Camp site. What draws you to sailing ships as a songwriting element? Does it have anything to do with your Swedish heritage?
I don’t know. Sailing ships are very compelling. Islands are very compelling. Being trapped by water is too. I’m a little bit scared of both. Also there’s the religious symbolism.
Plus, it goes together with the idea of colonialism, since ships were the first things the colonized often saw on the horizon.
Exactly. It’s also a vehicle that people are not generally in touch with anymore. I guess that is why I’m scared of them. I’ve written several Cardigans songs that mention war and ships. I think it’s just incredible imagery. Islands are also very fascinating. I just read this amazing Swedish novel. People say that people on islands have such a wonderful common mentality because they are surrounded by water. That includes Manhattan, Japan. Iceland is another great example. When I think about going back to Africa I just want to visit the islands like Zanzibar and Madagascar.
What was that book you mentioned?
It’s from the author of Let the Right One In. I can’t remember what it’s called [Handling the Undead], since I’m not sure if it’s been translated into English. It’s John Ajvide Lindquist’s second novel. It has the same creepiness but set on an island in the Gothenburg archipelago. You should try to get it. I hope they translate that too.
I didn’t even know Let the Right One In was a book. I just watched the film recently.
Did you see it in the theater?
No, I watched it at home.
You got it online? Damn you! [laughs] No, I’m just kidding. I want to get a hold of it too, that’s why I’m asking. I’ll try to look for it. Did it have Swedish subtitles?
Yeah. I’m not that good with my Swedish.
[laughs] Good, I should try to get it with the English subtitles for my friends on tour. You should try the novel too.
Since we’re speaking about islands, I wanted to ask about “Bear on the Beach” off Colonia. Somebody on The Cardigans message board pointed out that it sounded very similar to “Blue Flower” by Pale Saints.
I saw that post on the site. The guy was accusing me of being a plagiarist. I have been known for being a huge Pale Saints fan, and I was really into that song. I can totally hear the comparison, but I was actually unaware of it. It must have stuck, and I didn’t realize it until this guy was all up in my grill. I’m not even embarrassed to say it. I was listening to that song a lot when I was discovering music. I was listening Pale Saints, The Sundays and a bunch of 4AD stuff, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this pops up.
That message board is so funny because for one, Magnus fields almost all the questions no matter how inane or repetitive they are. There were a whole lot of, “When’s the next Cardigans album coming out?”
I know! I’m not blaming people for wanting to know, but sometimes when I’m doing press for A Camp I have to tell them, “This is what I’m doing now; I can’t tell you anything that’s going to happen with The Cardigans.” It’s nice to know that people will miss us if we didn’t do anything else.
Here’s an oddball question: What advice would you give your younger self about having a career in the music industry?
The last few years I have been forced to get a crash course in understanding the industry. We have our own label suddenly, and I couldn’t have cared less before. Now I have to get my own grip on things, and it’s great. You have to work harder when you make all of your own decisions. I would advise my younger self to just get on top of things. Though it’s really boring at first, knowing how a label works makes you understand why you do certain things as an artist. I’ve become more at ease with things like interviews and a lot of other things I found incredibly tedious before. Basically, don’t let everyone else take care of everything for you. For a younger person starting out, the climate demands that kind of attention from you. When The Cardigans first got signed we were immediately on a major international label. We just had a huge system that was way above our heads. The Internet makes things easier to do it on your own and recording music is much easier too.
Colonia jumps geographically, musically and through time. What drew you to that approach?
We just like revisiting some of the art and literature from those different eras. I like to be kind of a time bandit.
“Stronger Than Jesus” can be taken several ways lyrically but was there any specific message or image you wanted to come across with that single?
That song really started out from us having the melody first, it was really fun to play, and we knew it was going to be a great song. It was really hard to find something to write about. My initial feeling was really sort of childish and bold. I thought it would be fun to paint a picture of love kind of like a crazy superhero kicking Jesus’ ass. I wanted it to be this bizarre fight that was simple that really didn’t ask for being taken too seriously. I was also thinking of a song like “Give Peace a Chance.” When you hear it now it seems a little naïve but people needed to talk about big ideas in the 1970s.
How did your duet with Nicolai Dunger “Golden Teeth and Silver Medals” come about? That seems at first like a typical love song but then becomes fairly meta.
When we first made that song we thought it would be a good duet song, and Nicolai is an artist I have loved for years, so that was a chance for him to get in on the project. I wrote the lyrics with him in mind so that’s why his name is in the there. I also love duets, and it was great to have this conversation on love but on an existential level. In hip-hop they always namedrop, and in pop music they always take away the actual personas of the performers. It felt like the song I did with The Cardigans called “Communication” (Long Gone Before Daylight), and I was singing the song lyrics for my age at the time. I like to mark things in time or tie them to a certain person.
I wanted to go back to the concept of the album title Colonia, in regards to the artwork. Does that title align with sense of detachment on the cover artwork?
The chopped-off heads started because I was fascinated by the photographer Man Ray. There’s a photograph he did with a woman resting her head on a table, holding an African mask. We just wanted to do a rip-off of that but it looks like we were victims of some colonialist headhunters. It’s really hard to make album artwork without it being just a plain old fucking beauty shot with Vaseline on the lens.
You’ve not always been happy with your vocal performances in the past. Was that still the case with the Colonia sessions?
I feel I’m becoming more and more comfortable. The worst thing you can do is not be able to perform and I couldn’t do that in the beginning of my career. I’m not all the way there but I’m closer. What I hear is a little more like what I had envisioned.
What did you envision?
I wanted to sound like David Bowie. [laughs] David Bowie is a great musician because then you can rip off a bunch of male artists without being caught. Now I’ve just revealed my secret. If a woman does what a man did before, there’s already room for interpretation.