Putting the I’s in Miike Snow
Published June 23, 2009
This week in New York, the three men of Miike Snow finally showed their faces. The band—which had been lurking anonymously on the Internet for a few months now, dropping tracks all over RCRDLBL and remixing every Indie pop hit it could get its hands on—took the stage for its first New York show this Saturday at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg, and then reprised the performance last night at the Mercury Lounge. Through relatively short but energetic sets, the band revealed itself to be neither a lonely sad bald guy, nor a Wizard of Oz-ian robot-producer-puppeteer, nor the mythical Jackalope that they’ve been using as an avatar for the past few months. Not quite, anyway.
As it turns out, Miike Snow is a team of three talented young writer-producer-songwriters, each of whom boasts his own individual laundry list of musical accomplishments. Andrew Wyatt—formerly of Fires of Rome, Black Beetle and the AM—was an in-house producer for Downtown Records for a number of years. Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg, also known as the Swedish writing-producing team of Bloodshy & Avant, have spent the last decade or so writing and/or producing pop songs for basically every reputable name in the field—including Kylie, Madonna, and Britney, for whom they penned the indubitably anthemic pop masterpiece, “Toxic.” It’s no wonder, then, that the band’s eponymous debut album, which came out on June 9 with Downtown Records, thumps with eclectic, hook-filled electronic pop jams. (See: “Animal,” for starters.) What is surprising is that the band can replicate the experience live, without the help of a computer, an iPod (God forbid), or anything that was invented after the year 1980. Andrew Wyatt explains to us how this is even possible.
LUCY MADISON: First things first. You live in New York and Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg are based in Sweden. How did this group come together? And why?
ANDREW WYATT: We met through a friend, a music business guy. I was in Sweden visiting, and someone told me that I should hook up with these two guys. Actually, it turns out I’d met Christian in the studio maybe a year before, but we only actually recently remembered that. He was super skinny when I met him, so I didn’t really recognize him the second time around. [Laughs] But when we first got together for the first time several years ago, we did some writing for an album. It never really came out, but we stayed in touch. We had a fantastic time; we have a very similar sense of humor. It’s very Dadaist.
LM: So you just clicked immediately.
AW: Yeah, we really clicked as people immediately. Musically, not much came out of that period, but when I came back to Sweden for something else we hung out. They said, you know, we’d love to start a band with you. I have a high level of respect for them as artists, so I decided it would be a fun thing to do. An experiment.
LM: And they had already really proven their abilities as writers and producers…
AW: Yeah, exactly. They have a certain irreverence to their approach that has made their stuff -particularly their biggest hits, like “Toxic”—it doesn’t really sound like anything else, and it has a very subversive aspect that people sense to it. It’s not what you would necessarily think to do had you been asked to write a song for Britney Spears, you know?
LM: To me it seems like that’s probably a big part of why it resonated so much with people, too.
AW: It’s why it’s one of Dave Grohl’s favorite songs. I mean, it was a risk.
LM: When you first got together and formed this band, did you have any problems making it sound cohesive? Or did you find that you gelled instantly in terms of musical sensibilities?
AW: I think it happened pretty fast, actually. The project has a very postmodern approach to it, for lack of a better word. We mix different elements from different styles of music with very little reverence for history or tradition, and I think that’s why it sounds fresh. One place where I feel like the album succeeds is that it does sound kind of fresh.
LM: Especially when you guys first emerged, you maintained a very mysterious image. What was the purpose of that?
AW: Well, you know, I think that doing interviews is great. But I don’t think we have any interest at all in being pop stars or anything like that. In fact, that’s kind of our worst fear. We just want to keep this about the image of the Jackalope, which I think is sufficiently Dadaist. We want people to get into that image; it’s more about, “Go have a crazy adventure,” rather than have it be about our personalities. Because it really isn’t. It’s an experiment, and it’s an adventure. And it’s not much about anything else. I think it’s always a mistake when you start connecting a band to a personality. You begin to limit what you’re able to do.
LM: By shrouding yourself in mystery, do you feel like in another way you are creating yet another distraction from the music?
AW: As long as the people who wish to know more about us have content that they can uncover, and be satisfied with that, I think it’s fine. We’re living in an age where you can find out just about anything about anybody. But I think that’s another big huge reason for the Jackalope, too. It symbolizes that this time that we’re in is so privacy depleted that, it’s better to lose yourself, your identity, in some kind of nonsensical entity.
LM: How does that manifest itself in your album, Miike Snow, which came out a few weeks ago.
AW: I think the record is about pulling different melodic and lyrical and production ideas in from lots of different sources with very little regard to tradition, or reverence for tradition or mythology. I would say that we mixed that with a very emotionally direct approach to the lyrics. And then—and this is something that I think that we came at because of the fact that we’ve written so many pop songs for people—the whole album is kind of held together by hooks. It’s very hooky. I think that that may be what we move away from on the next record. I love hooks, and we love hooks, but maybe to try something with some other elements, without necessarily having to have hooks in every song.
LM: How have live performance gone thus far? Electronic music is often hard to pull off onstage, just because there are so many components that go into the production of songs. But I read that you aren’t using any computers…
AW: Yeah. I used to produce this band, Dragons of Zynth. There’s something about their live shows, which to me, is ultimate. I mean, you feel like somebody could get hurt when you go see them live. There’s something very scary about this; it’s dangerous. You don’t feel quite safe. And I think that’s a great element to bring to your live show—particularly when you’re playing shows like we are now, in small clubs, where people can see you manipulating the instruments. I think a lot of bands coming out now, particularly ones that have one foot in the dance world and one foot in pop songwriting, are using prerecorded backing tracks and then just singing the songs on top of them.
LM: Right, singing over their iPods.
AW: And we’re so not into that. So we have a DJ mixer and we have samplers, but we’re really not using anything that was made post-1980, with the exception of some effects that have been invented since then. Effects pedals and stuff. So what you’re hearing is actually being constructed in real time with electrical currents.
LM: You grew up in New York, right? Were you a big music nerd?
AW: I was a total music nerd. I grew up on Perry Street in the ‘80s. My father wrote books about jazz, so I was always at the Village Vanguard. And my older sister was like, the New York scenester girl who was probably at Interview Magazine parties in the ‘80s—so I got a lot of the Clash and punk rock and stuff from her. Later she turned me onto hip hop. She was pretty classic; she was a part of that first batch of like downtowners.
LM: So have you ever played in New York before?
AW: No, I’ve never played in my hometown.
LM: What are you most looking forward to about playing here?
AW: I am really looking forward to being home, sleeping in my own bed. And wearing clean clothes.