Robyn and Röyksopp, One More Time
ABOVE: TORBJØRN BRUNDTLAND, ROBYN, AND SVEIN BERGE. PHOTO BY SANTIAGO FELIPE
Röyksopp and Robyn have spent their summer on the “Do It Again” world tour, promoting their five-track mini-album, also titled Do It Again, released by Cherrytree Records/Interscope. The Swedish pop star Robyn broke through in the U.S. with the Grammy-nominated hit “Dancing On My Own,” in 2011 from her Body Talk album. She has collaborated with Norwegian electronic duo Röyksopp, comprised of Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland, several times before, including a 2009 song called “The Girl and the Robot” which appeared on Röyksopp’s Junior album and in 2010 with the track “None of Dem” on Robyn’s Body Talk Pt. 1. After suffering a bout of writer’s block working on her new album, some informal writing sessions between the old friends sparked their imaginations, and they decided to collaborate on a new album as a band. Do It Again ranges from energetic house anthems, pop, and techno, to a ten-minute long ambient track featuring a saxophone solo.
The Nordic trio has been in New York City since August 18 and will be playing at Pier 97 tonight, August 20. They’ll finish up the tour by the end of August with stops in Washington, D.C., Boston, Chicago, and then Toronto and Switzerland. We conducted the interview in person in one of the cozy white offices of the fortress-like Universal Music Group. Robyn looked fierce and indestructible in a white hoodie and thigh-high platform boots, and the guys were dressed in casual rocker outfits including a black baseball cap with the letters “RYXP” written on it. Friendly and good-humored, the three musicians were a bit fatigued since they’d played the early morning show at Good Morning America earlier in the day and the night before on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Röyksopp was scheduled to DJ later in the evening at Output in Williamsburg. These Scandinavians just keep doing it.
GERRY VISCO: So you were on Good Morning America today. That’s a really early gig. How do you feel other than being exhausted?
ROBYN: We feel really good!
SVEIN BERGE: It’s been good, really good. We’ve been treated ridiculously well. We’re being spoiled.
ROBYN: We’ve had a good time together. Being on the road is a lot of hard work and it’s easier when you do it with friends.
VISCO: You guys get along, don’t you?
BERGE: Yes, we do.
VISCO: Do you have any fights?
BERGE: No, we really don’t. And I’m being sincere.
VISCO: Well, I’m just curious—is there any rivalry between Sweden and Norway?
BERGE: There probably is, but in a jokey way.
ROBYN: Since Norway just discovered the oil, there’s nothing we can say.
BERGE: I think you Swedes are superior in the fields that really matter to me.
ROBYN: Yes, but you have so much more money, so it’s evened out.
BERGE: We’ve got a few good athletes as well. Winter sports.
ROBYN: But I don’t think we’re a part of that competition.
VISCO: Well, does Scandi-pop exist? It seems like there’s suddenly a lot of Scandinavian electro musicians on the scene, and a lot of them are moving to America. What do you think about that?
TORBJØRN BRUNDTLAND: I think that people should feel at liberty to do whatever they want and if they feel comfortable with moving to America with their Scandi-pop or whatever.
VISCO: Are you guys going to move here?
BERGE: I don’t mind being here. I’m very comfortable with my New Age haven back in Norway, but we travel a lot, and so we get to see the world. As of now, I don’t have any plans of moving anywhere, because I can take in the atmosphere just by being here, right now.
VISCO: And the tour is very short. Do you ever stop off in certain places sometimes?
ROBYN: Yeah, we have this tour coming up this winter in Australia, and we’ll make stops in Japan.
BERGE: We’ll sneak in a few days to eat and drink and have fun.
ROBYN: And do normal things. You don’t have a lot of time when you’re on the road. Most of the day goes to preparing the show.
VISCO: Do you write songs on the road sometimes?
ROBYN: I don’t. What about you guys?
BRUNDTLAND: We can, but it’s a different mold. Ideas are being put down. We don’t complete songs.
VISCO: You’ll do a snatch of something.
BERGE: I use the recorder on my iPhone to record a note pattern or something.
ROBYN: I’ll try stuff with the band, if I have an idea during sound check. But I usually don’t finish any songs until I get back home.
VISCO: You guys like to collaborate—you like to party together sometimes too. You were all together in Bergen, Norway when you wrote some of the songs.
ROBYN: We party.
VISCO: How do you party?
ROBYN: Every day’s a party for us.
VISCO: Can you give me some details? Are you late night people? What do you like to do? Dancing?
BERGE: I’m not the kind of guy who’ll be sitting there trying to drink every single drop and torturing myself. If I want to leave, I’ll leave. But I don’t mind being the last man standing, if that’s what it takes and I feel like doing that. I don’t really have a plan for partying.
ROBYN: We mostly hang out in the studio, when we work and make music together. But we’ve also become friends so work is not really work for us, it’s more like the thing we love to do. Because we’re friends it turns into other things, like sometimes going out, sometimes when we’re playing festivals looking at other bands performing, having dinner.
BERGE: Walking in the forest and having a swim.
ROBYN: We did have a swim the other week, when we were at a festival.
VISCO: Robyn, do you live in Stockholm?
ROBYN: Yeah, I live in Stockholm. I feel like that’s my home, and I like having this place that feels like it’s not part of my work environment. But I also spend some time in the States, and I go back and forth.
VISCO: So, when you guys go on tour in the winter, you’re both working on new material? Do you have an album coming out?
BERGE and BRUNDTLAND: Yeah, we do. It’s called The Inevitable End.
LOUIS JORDAN: Well, you’ve done a lot of different styles. What’s the vibe for the new record?
BERGE: There’s lyrics, and it’s layered, if I’m to use such a word. It’s Röyksopp’s trademark.
BRUNDTLAND: It has a dark energy.
ROBYN: It’s very welcoming, your album. It’s very inviting.
JORDAN: Are you playing any of it on the tour?
BERGE: No, we’re not, I’m afraid. It’s in the finishing phase now, so we haven’t been able to do that.
BRUNDTLAND: I think also when we started this tour we made a conscious decision that if we threw a lot of our new stuff in there, it would just be too much with Do It Again.
JORDAN: It would overshadow the current album.
BRUNDTLAND: And also Robyn is playing some new tracks so I don’t know why we thought that.
JORDAN: I saw YouTubes of those—the two new tracks, “Love is Free” and “Set Me Free.”
BERGE: And there are all the decisions for why you are performing your new tracks. It just works. I love the new tracks.
ROBYN: But you’re still working on your album.
BERGE: Exactly. It’s not completed yet.
ROBYN: It just now is completed. And it’s its own thing. It’s a Röyksopp album, this is something else. They’re connected and they definitely work together, but it’s your own thing, and it should come after. This project is getting a lot of focus now.
BRUNDTLAND: I know that at first listen, our new album might appear to have some positivity, but on the second listen you’ll find that there is really no positivity to it.
JORDAN: Well, that’s kind of like the song “Do It Again,” it seems very upbeat, but there’s this dark undercurrent. That’s what makes me fall in love with it.
BRUNDTLAND: Exactly. And we like the ambiguity and the duality of music.
ROBYN: Yes, I think it’s more interesting when you can talk about the other side as well. We were saying that before—sometimes there’s more than one side to a feeling or a situation. I think most people who feel things and who are sensitive know what it’s like to feel a lot of conflicting feelings at the same time. I feel like when we make music and when I make music, it’s interesting to not underestimate people’s ability to capture more than one thing at a time.
VISCO: Are you interested in the supernatural, like ghosts and things? It seems like the new video is very atmospheric.
BRUNDTLAND: I love the idea of ghosts and the supernatural. I’m intrigued by it, and it has allure and it’s a great tool in movies with visualization of anything to incorporate hints at the supernatural world, or inexplicable source of fate or whatever. These things have a lure to us, but I wouldn’t say our music is about it.
BERGE: But obviously there is a spiritual side to our music, without trying to blow my own horn too loud. I think Stanley Kubrick said something quite nice about that, in his movies. He said, “Real is good, but interesting is better.” I concur. I think that’s what we’re doing.
VISCO: This might be prejudiced, but would you say that Norwegians are darker than Swedish? In a spiritual sense.
BERGE: Traditionally, you can consider Norwegians like Edvard Munch, the artist who did The Scream, but traditionally, the Swedes are considered to be more angsty than we are. Norway is a bit less cerebral. We just struck oil in the ’60s. We try to distance ourselves from that. But I think it’s fair to say that Scandinavians, especially if we include the Finns, have a sort of angsty and depressed energy.
ROBYN: I think that life is way too complicated already the way it is. I don’t think that any of us need to look for any explanations or come with any solutions when it comes to making music. Life is weird and strange, and we’re just these little specks on this little ball that’s spinning around the universe, and nobody really knows what the fuck is going on. That, to me, is enough. I don’t have to find any kind of solution to that. I think that these symbols, whether it’s this little platform that we’re on that’s floating around in space in the “Monument” video, they’re symbols. Human beings have always tried to find ways to put these things into words. I think different symbols help you get a little bit closer to what it’s like to not know anything about anything.
BERGE: It’s also one of the reasons we can write music and lyrics in a song together. That’s why we can sit together and not necessarily have the right words for it, but we can recognize that feeling that, for instance, Robyn is trying to communicate. It becomes really abstract, but obviously music is our tool and that’s why we feel comfortable with articulating those things with music.
JORDAN: I was curious—the first song you did together was “The Girl and the Robot,” and then “Sayit” is literally a girl and a robot. I was wondering, what draws you to exploring human sexual and romantic relationships using robots? What do you feel that illuminates?
ROBYN: I think there are so many angles to that song, it’s really simple and all of us have different ways of approaching it.
VISCO: Do you know any robots?
BERGE: I probably do. But there are so many angles that we could spend quite a lot of time on them.
ROBYN: There’s something about robots that is very human because they’re not fully functional. In real life they really can’t do that much. They’re always disappointing, like “This robot can play the trumpet!” And nothing else. Or this robot can pour you a cup of tea.
VISCO: They’re like people, they’re a little limited.
ROBYN: That limitation makes them more human, because that’s what humans are as well. We’re never perfect. That’s why I like robots. They’re also fascinating when it comes to the technology aspect. We’ve used these robots for in our songs to talk about a relationship in a new way. I think it’s a great way of discussing gender roles. That’s my perspective.
BERGE: It sounds a bit pretentious, but we try to make things have several layers—like a Simpsons episode. You have your first impression: slapstick and funny voices, but it can also say something more.
ROBYN [to Brundtland]: What do you think about it?
BRUNDTLAND: I think it’s nice when we can say that songs are not one idea. It’s just an idea for the baseline, for the lyrical approach. It’s an idea for the compression of the vocals, all these things coming together. When it comes to “Sayit,” one has to take into account that we have this magnificent toy—a Speak n’ Spell—that can speak certain phrases with a robotic voice. We played around with that, took out small syllables and formed our own words and sentences as we wrote the song. We just loved that process. It’s so much fun. It’s a plastic toy from 1981.
BERGE: Just as we like the vocal cords of Robyn, because they are so unique, we also liked the vocal cords of that specific robot. It’s something we appreciate working with. For example, he said “bitches.” I was trying to get it to say “woman,” and he said, “bitches.”
BRUNDTLAND: We kid you not. It’s actually a glitch in the circuitry, so that it sometimes repeats phrases or just goes amuck. You can hear some of that still in the track. And during one of those glitches during recording, he suddenly spat it out.
VISCO: Do you think you might be channeling into them?
BRUNDTLAND: I feel a kinship with it, with toys and robotics.
ROBYN: Well, you are channeling into them when you make them say new words.
BERGE: That’s true. That’s why we like the analogue synths, because it’s so hands on, and it’s the same thing with this toy, we are actually forging it and forcing it in certain directions, and I love that.
ROBYN: There’s an expression called, “the ghost in the machine.”
JORDAN: What music have you been listening to lately, what’s been inspiring you?
ROBYN: I’ve been listening to a lot of Metronomy, which is a British band. And Lykke Li. I’ve been in the studio with a producer named Christian Falk, who is not alive anymore, he recently just passed away. Right now I have his computer in my studio, because we’re finishing an album that we started making before he died, so I’m going through his music and listening to that a lot.
BERGE: And you love our new album.
ROBYN: No, it’s very true! I actually really love your new album.
ROBYN AND RÖYKSOPP’S DO IT AGAIN EP IS OUT NOW. THEY WILL PLAY PIER 97 IN NEW YORK CITY TONIGHT, AUGUST 20.