ABOVE: COCO O. AT SUN STUDIOS IN NEW YORK. PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER GABELLO; MAKEUP: DROO MASCARINAS; HAIR STYLING: SYLVIA WHEELER.
Quadron’s pedigree is impressive. Yesterday, the duo released a sophomore album, Avalanche. Although four years separate Avalanche from their eponymous debut, no one can accuse the Danish musicians of slacking. Producer Robin Hannibal recorded and released a highly praised album as part of Rhye. Singer Coco Karshøj, also known as Coco O., relocated to L.A. and lent her languid, sensual throwback R&B vocals to rappers, such as Tyler the Creator, Chip tha Ripper, and Kendrick Lamar (who makes a guest appearance on Avalanche), and movie soundtracks, such as The Great Gatsby.
EMMA BROWN: If you had to play someone a track by another artist to introduce them to Quadron’s sound, what would you play them?
COCO KARSHØJ: I think maybe for this album I would play them, “I Can’t Help It,” by Michael Jackson.
BROWN: You have a Michael Jackson-themed song on the album, “Neverland.” Can you tell me a little bit about it?
KARSHØJ: Robin [Hannibal] and I are huge Michael Jackson fans. He’s been a big impact on us creating both of our albums. We just wanted to have a song that would be about him, but not really an ode—”Oh, we love Michael Jackson!” So we tried to describe the story of a person who lives his life being a Michael Jackson impersonator. We thought it was funny to create this character. His bed sheets are covered with Michael, and he lives his life being another person.
BROWN: Do you generally write songs through the lens of a character, or are they often based on something that happened to you?
KARSHØJ: It changes a little bit. This album, I wanted to put some of my own experiences and emotions in the lyrics, because I have a hard time writing lyrics. I think it’s really difficult to be a poet. Sometimes it’s almost like writing an essay: you have to get it done and it has to be something you can like for the rest of your life. [laughs]
BROWN: Do you find it easier to write in Danish or in English?
KARSHØJ: I think it’s easier in English. It’s two very different tools; English is easier, because it’s a little more distant. The word “love,” for instance, has a different meaning to me in English than it does in Danish. I don’t know if it’s something about the actual word structure or because it’s used more in English. People say “love” all the time. In Denmark, I think people are a little bit more cheap with their loves.
BROWN: Would you say, “I love chocolate cake” or “I love Diet Coke,” in Denmark?
KARSHØJ: I would say it about things, but to people… For instance, my parents, we never say, “I love you,” to each other. Never. If it happens, it’s because something extraordinary happens and we have to. It’s something that I would get embarrassed by. I wouldn’t say it; I couldn’t say it. It’s something that we all know. In Denmark, you know, you love somebody and that’s it. Here, it’s a part of a lot of people’s upbringing just to use the word love, which is super nice. It’s a good thing. It’s a good thing to use.
BROWN: Has your impression of the US changed since you moved to L.A.?
KARSHØJ: Yeah, absolutely. When I was eight years old, I had a clear image of me being in the States, in a car—a black, big SUV —wearing gold rings, and driving, because that was my home. Now I have a Jeep, and I sometimes wear gold rings. TV in Denmark is not dubbed; we get everything from the States. I grew up with one impression of America that was very film. I was really surprised that there was a whole other side—in L.A., there is a whole music scene of people who are not necessarily in the industry, but having sessions with each other. It’s a more free-spirited vibe. I think the area that I live in, Silverlake, is very chilled, and a lot of fresh stuff is happening. There’s a lot of artists in L.A.—there’s a good creative energy. I thought the culture would be closer to Denmark’s, but American culture is, in so many ways, really different. I speak the language, and I thought I knew a lot about the States because of music and movies, but I think there’s just a way of being social here that is so different that I’m learning still.
BROWN: Is there one TV show or movie that particularly shaped your impression of the US as a child?
KARSHØJ: I watched a lot of Ricki Lake. “Go, Ricki!” That’s where I learned all my slang. [laughs] I love Ricki Lake and then there was [the film] Waiting to Exhale (1995). That’s kind of my dream. I think that’s one of the women I wanted to be—an American black woman.
BROWN: What sort of music were you listening to 10 years ago?
KARSHØJ: Ten years ago, I was 15. I think that’s when I discovered I actually did like some rock music. I was at kind of a hippie boarding school just for one year—it’s a very common thing in Denmark to go to a school just for one year. Some people played me, I think it was Coldplay. [laughs] We were all lying out in the sun, braiding each others’ hair, listening to Coldplay. And I realized, “Oh my god, I think I actually like rock music.” Because I had been straight, only R&B, soul, jazz.
BROWN: Is your family musical?
KARSHØJ: My dad was a punk drummer. So, yeah, a little bit. Both my grandparents on each side always played music. Some families have quiet dinners; we were always listening to flamenco or jazz.
BROWN: Do you listen to music in the studio while you’re recording?
KARSHØJ: We listen to music, but it’s mainly if it comes up in a conversation. It’s not like, “Let’s listen to this track and get inspired.” It’s more like, Robin is telling me about an R. Kelly song and he has to play it to me. But it feels great to listen to music in the studio in general, because the speakers are so loud. Nowadays I feel like a lot of people listen to music on the computer or an iPod dock and the sound is just terrible. It’s so amazing to really actually listen to music in the studio.
BROWN: You’ve mentioned that the name Quadron is inspired by your African heritage; both you and Robin are a quarter African. When did you discover you had that in common?
KARSHØJ: Very late, actually. I knew him for a couple of years, but he looks so Danish to me. Maybe it was even in the creation of the name, because I had always been bragging about my heritage. I think all of my friends know that I’m a quarter African. Because I look more dark in Denmark, people always confronted me about it, asking me where I was from. I think Robin didn’t have that thing in his life. So, I think it was one day in the studio he told me. I just think it never came up.
BROWN: Robin’s other project, Rhye, got such rave reviews when they released their debut album. I imagine it must keep him pretty busy. Have things changed for Quadron since Rhye started?
KARSHØJ: The Rhye album has been done for a while. It was something that he worked on while we were in a very early stage on our album. It didn’t take that long to make it. It’s definitely just amazing to see all the good response that they got from Rhye. They’ve been accepted so well, I’ve been even more excited to see how our album is going to get received. I love the music, it’s my favorite album, so I’m happy that he made it so I can listen to it.
BROWN: Does it embarrass him when you put it on?
KARSHØJ: No, Robin doesn’t get embarrassed like that. We like to hear our own music. [laughs]
BROWN: You’ve collaborated with some high-profile artists like Kendrick Lamar and Tyler the Creator, and you had a song on the Great Gatsby soundtrack. Do you ever reach out to people yourself, or do you wait to be approached?
KARSHØJ: I tried to email Frank Ocean. [laughs] I met him once and he gave me his email, but he never really replied. I think he’s a busy guy.
BROWN: How was your experience working with Kendrick versus working with Tyler?
KARSHØJ: They’re very different personalities. Tyler, I think he’s going to be an actor or an entertainer at some point. He’s hilarious, and he’s constantly making jokes. Kendrick is a little bit more shy. The way they work is also a little different. I think there’s more humor in Tyler’s work, and Kendrick is being serious.
BROWN: What do you see as the point of music?
KARSHØJ: I was just thinking about it, because I heard some music and I was thinking about how some rock bands take themselves so seriously. It’s kind of funny when people take themselves that seriously when they are a musician, because it’s all about creating sounds that make people happy. It’s such a pleasant job to have, because all your job is about is giving people a great experience. Most people use music when they’re happy or in an emotional state of any kind. It’s just an extra treat in life. It’s not necessarily like food, or water, or love. It’s just an extra bonus thing.
BROWN: Do you feel the same way about visual art?
KARSHØJ: No, I don’t. I’m sure people would argue with me about that, but I really think music is different because you can use music for anything, for everything, all the time. I have music with me, on me, constantly. You can create a soundtrack to your life. There are so many songs that remind you of your past—it creates memory. It’s like a memory bank, I think. It’s more like a photo, I think. A song can be like a photo because a whole flash of a year of your life comes up when you hear a certain song. It’s really cool.