>Little Dragon: A Synth-Pop Fairy Tale

>I caught this interview about what must be one of my current favorite groups posted on www.OKAYPLAYER.com 4/06/2010. Check it out after the jump, very insightful.

When Yukimi Nagano, vocalist and de facto leader of the Gothenburg-based electro-soul outfit Little Dragon, took the stage at Philadelphia’s Johnny Brenda’s in March, she struck a different tone than the Jazz Age song bird she portrayed in the 2006 music video for Koop’s “Come to Me”—a tone all her own.
Nagano looked suitably sleek in a black skirt, leggings and a subtly Tron-inspired cropped vest with sequined details, as the band opened with the cosmic tune “A New” from 2009’s Machine Dreams. Awash in color from the stage lights, the petite singer flicked off her slippers, nudging them into a space between cords and amps with her instep, before adding to the sonic brew. When not bobbing about, tink-tinking away on a wood block, she fixed her gaze out towards fans leaning over the balcony rail, as if calculating a moon jump into their arms.
In 2007 Little Dragon released its self-titled debut. A soulful album that harnessed the smoothest parts of R&B, a Native Tongues-era sensitivity to crisp drums, and consistently intriguing songwriting, it won critical acclaim and a diverse following. And all without guitars or a funky horn section. The band turned more ears when “Twice,” the willowy album opener, was featured in an episode of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy. Even Amel Larrieux of the recently re-united Groove Theory – the group that produced “Tell Me,” one of the silkiest R&B songs of the ’90s – found inspiration in their music, dedicating a freestyle to the group on her MySpace blog last fall. That was shortly after Little Dragon finished touring with fuzz rockers TV on the Radio.
Like the singer’s movements on stage, Little Dragon’s music displays a mesmerizing mix of shimmering restraint and gravity-defying exuberance. In Philadelphia, the band’s set list tipped in favor of uptempo synth-pop tracks from Machine Dreams instead of ballads and included “After the Rain” and “Feather” b-side “Stranger.” Through the night, song requests from the crowd were anything but predictable.
A voice rose for “Recommendation”—a finger wag at “the well garnished life” of silence and submission—while another person screamed for “My Step.” One thing was certain, though: Little Dragon added a few layers of funk to their compositions to keep bodies moving. “I think we trigger each other to change the songs, it’s not really a conscious thing. It’s just made it more fun to us to play,” Nagano explained during a phone interview days before the concert. This was evident when she left the stage to dance in the crowd.
But before Little Dragon hit the airwaves and online media channels, Nagano reached audiences by lending vocals to more established acts, including Koop, a Swedish duo known for chill-out jazz intricately woven from countless samples. The group’s records sound orchestral, organic, with Nagano interpreting their lyrics. “When you sing someone else’s lyrics, you have to put yourself in someone else’s mind and be that voice,” she explained.
Starting in 2001 Nagano recorded and toured with Koop, grateful to make music, even if it wasn’t quite hers. “In my teens and early twenties, I was kind of like a piece of clay. People could just mold me and tell me what to do, and I would do it—even if I wasn’t feeling it,” she said. But as the singer’s confidence in her abilities grew, the lack of creative input wore on her. “A lot of people are really good at [interpreting other people’s songs] and really satisfied with doing that. Other singers, like myself, feel trapped and really want to be their own voice.”
If Little Dragon was imagined out of Nagano’s growing hunger for creative freedom, it was made real through friendship. “Writing my own songs has made me learn to know what I want to do and what kind of music I want to do and made it easier to say ‘no’ to things,” she said. With high-school-buddies-turned-bandmates Håkan Wirenstrand, Erik Bodin, and Fredrik Källgren Wallin feeding her a seemingly endless supply of beats, Nagano reportedly wrote to more than 30 tracks for the first record, some of which were reworked for the follow-up.
Nagano is still open to collaboration. The band made spell-binding contributions to the latest Gorillaz album, Plastic Beach. (“Damon is very free in his composing, and he’s really inspired by every genre, and isn’t stuck in having to make a certain sound or make a song a certain way or follow a certain pattern,” she noted.) Though now, she works on her own terms—and always brings her boys along.
“I make sure it feels right,” she said. “If it doesn’t, then we don’t release it.”
Interview by: Purnell T. Cropper
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