ABOVE: ICONA POP IN NEW YORK, SEPTEMBER 2013. PHOTO BY THEA GOLDBERG
There is copious evidence to suggest Swedish pop sensations Icona Pop come from the future. Caroline Hjet and Aino Jawo knew they were going to be superstars the moment they met five years ago (even though it was not very “Swedish” to admit it). They immediately master the use of advanced technology, most recently the Samsung smartwatch they helped to launch, a futuristic-looking device that syncs up with one’s smartphone. They are into aliens, a hallmark of future folk. They even look suspiciously dystopian, in sleek black garments. Most notably, Hjet and Jawo know precisely how to fashion a pop song that puts your psyche in a vice hold. Yes, we’re referring to the catchy tune to outdo all other catchy tunes: “I Love It.”
But Icona Pop are more than just a one trick future-pony. Their upcoming debut album, This Is… Icona Pop, will highlight the range of the Scandinavian artists. Drawing on punk, electronic, and, of course, pop influences as well as four years of life experience—the time it took the young Swedes to write the album—the record serves as a diary of their meteoric rise to fame. But before they topped the charts, Hjet and Jawo were Stockholm nightlife regulars, DJing at hip clubs and partying with friends: a mentality they’ve maintained despite going double platinum. It is this down-to-earth Swedishness that makes Hjet and Jawo so endearing. If Icona Pop is where humanity is headed, we are wholeheartedly on board. We caught up with Hjet and Jawo to chat about Stockholm nightlife, making it in America, and The X-Files.
ALLYSON SHIFFMAN: It’s so charming that even though now you’re huge pop stars, you still DJ in Stockholm for fun.
CAROLINE HJET: Very drunk, at Kåken.
SHIFFMAN: I went there last week.
AINO JAWO: We have a lot of fun. I remember last time we played was actually my birthday, on the 7th of July, and it was before they closed for the summer, and we just went there and we went bananas.
HJET: I like doing things like that. We travel all over the world, but when we get home the only thing we want to do is be with our friends. We used to DJ for fun, no pressure, just get a little bit drunk with your friends and play the songs that you like, so that’s why it’s fun to be able to do that when you come home.
SHIFFMAN: That’s nice. That seems like a very Swedish mentality.
HJET: [in mocking voice] No, we have to have 15 security guards.
SHIFFMAN: [laughs] Has the reception in the US overwhelmed you?
JAWO: I still don’t think I really understand how big our song has been here. We live in our little bubble. But we’re on tour right now—we’ve been travelling around the whole country—and it’s been sold out and it’s been crazy. I think now we’re starting to realize, Wow, we’ve really reached out to a lot of people.
HJET: Some of our fans were Tweeting us after the show, “Haha, we saw your faces when we were singing along to the songs that you haven’t released yet.” We were literally on stage when we started singing “In The Stars” and songs from the new album and they were singing along. We were like, Wait, how do you know the songs? They said, “We studied them from YouTube videos from some of your shows.” We have the best fans. We’ve been totally overwhelmed by everything.
SHIFFMAN: Can you recall the first time you heard one of your songs on American radio?
HJET: It was our first time in Vegas.
JAWO: We were driving down the strip. We had a show there and this promoter was like, “I heard your song on this Sirius Radio station.” And he put it on and it was our song. We were like, “Oh my god, it’s really happening!”
HJET: For us, that was such a moment.
SHIFFMAN: Your sound seems to get continuously bigger and more electronic. Has that been a natural progression?
HJET: We’ve been writing the album for such a long time. We feel so free. We go into the studio and we do whatever we want and then we call it our pop music. I think that’s what you’re hearing. I hope we keep on developing. You get inspired by travelling and what you’re going through and new bands you haven’t heard before.
JAWO: It’s a very honest album. One of our songs, “Then We Kiss,” is more punk, and then other songs are dancier. It’s a huge chaos of songs that we love and that’s kind of what Icona Pop is. We’re not one genre—we’re kind of everything. We’re still searching for what we are. We think it’s important that people get to know us not only through “I Love It.” We want people to know everything from our first song, “Manners.”
SHIFFMAN: I love that song. I remember seeing you perform it two years ago in a basement in Stockholm.
HJET: Yay! When we listen to the album we look at each other and go, “Oh, do you remember that? We were in Paris and that guy came up to you…” We have such strong memories to all the songs. For “All Night,” for example, we recorded the audience at SXSW and used it in the song and then the rest of the song was recorded in the backseat of a car in a parking lot outside a venue in Gotland, Sweden. Our album has been hustling around.
JAWO: It’s a slutty album.
SHIFFMAN: So what can you tell me about these super-futuristic watches that you’re wearing?
JAWO: I feel like James Bond.
HJET: [speaks into watch] Can you get my car?
JAWO: We’ve been working with Samsung for a long time. We think their stuff is awesome. So we got this new product today and we’re still learning them, but it’s basically like a phone. It’s weird, but just by having it on today I’m used to it. You’re constantly updated and you can take spy photos—it’s very fun. I’m going to start a competition to see who can take the sneakiest photographs of handsome guys. We are an electronic band so we love electronic gear. We’re geeks.
HJET: We think it’s sexy.
SHIFFMAN: It suits your style. You look like you are from the future. I just came from Stockholm Fashion Week…
JAWO: How was it? We’re usually there to support our friends.
SHIFFMAN: It was great. You two always dress fantastically. Are you big supporters of Swedish fashion?
JAWO: We love Swedish fashion. We love a lot of upcoming people and of course Acne, Dagmar, Ann-Sofie Back…
HJET: Tiger of Sweden. I think when you live there you get a little bit spoiled, but then when you’ve been out traveling—and of course you find so much great stuff when you’re traveling—but then when you get home, you see all this stuff from a different view. We have not been home for two years.
JAWO: We come back, but we’re always in Stockholm for one day. We just turn up.
HJET: We always go straight from the plane out because we never have the time to have a day off. We’re just like, “We’re going there, everybody, meet us at 12 o’clock.” Everybody thinks that’s what we’re doing every day on tour.
JAWO: We’re so boring on tour. We don’t party all the time. We work too much.
SHIFFMAN: Tell me about the video for “All Night” that’s about to come out.
HJET: We have the most incredible people in this video that stand for everything that this song is about. It’s about finding your element, your way of expressing yourself and when you find that, you just want to do it “all night” and never stop.
SHIFFMAN: How are your families responding to your success?
JAWO: We have the best families. They saw us when things weren’t going that well, and they’re just happy to see us having a blast.
HJET: They feel very happy that we have each other. We’re sharing everything, all the cool moments, everything that we’re going through we go through together and that’s so much more fun.
JAWO: When we get together we get super powers. It’s the same thing when we go out partying. When we’re together, I can just watch Caroline and know she’s going deep down in the shit.
HJET: [laughs] And you’re going with me.
SHIFFMAN: So what would you be doing if you weren’t making music.
JAWO: I would be an astronaut.
HJET: We’ve been talking about this. You would be an astronaut and I would be Agent Mulder.
SHIFFMAN: From The X-Files?
HJET: Yes. Not Scully. And I would be chasing the aliens that [Aino] is fighting. So we would still end up being a team.
JAWO: My last boyfriend and I watched all the episodes of The X-Files. It took a year because there are so many. And I’m so in love with Mulder.
HJET: So you would be in love with me.
SHIFFMAN: She already is! How did you guys meet anyways?
JAWO: We met about five years ago. I was dumped… I was so down —it was my first real heartache. A mutual friend forced me after two weeks of just laying in a bed to go to a party, and it was Caroline’s party. We met, and it was like falling in love with someone. I felt so much.
HJET: It was kind of electrical. Then the day after Aino came to my place with a bottle of wine and a computer and we wrote our first song and two days after that we booked our first gig and one month later we had our first gig.
JAWO: And we didn’t even talk about what kind of music we were going to write. We were just like, “Hey, should we start a band?”
HJET: I called my mom and said, “I’m in a band!” She was like, “Caroline, where are you? I’ve been trying to call you?” We called in sick for work… it was a crazy time. We didn’t believe in sleep at all, we were just working, then in the studio, then we DJ’d at Spybar… we were so hyped.
JAWO: [Our friend who runs Spybar] was taking good care of us. He never even asked if we could DJ. I miss those times.
SHIFFMAN: What advice would you give yourselves when you were just starting out in Stockholm?
HJET: I think it’s to stick to what we said in the beginning when we were just like, “Yeah, we’re the best band in the world.” And we had one song, and we just met.
JAWO: We were pretty cocky.
HJET: We always talked about how we were never scared of anything. We’re dreamers and we dare to dream big and I think it’s important to dare to say, “We’re going to do this.” It’s very important to be able to talk about your dreams.
JAWO: That’s very not Swedish. That’s why it was such a huge thing when we met each other. We said, “Oh, we’re going to rule the world soon.”
THIS IS… ICONA POP IS OUT TODAY, SEPTEMBER 24 AND ICONA POP IS CURRENTLY TOURING THE US. FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT THE DUO’S WEBSITE.