Monday 19 February 2018

Electric Picnic: Robyn Carlsson

Ed Power

Ed Power

Robyn Carlsson, ice-cool queen of Nordic pop, is in a distinctly frosty mood. "I don't want to answer that," she snaps, in response to an innocuous query about Lady Gaga. "I always get questions about other female artists. I'm not a fan of it -- the fact that girls always have to answer what they think about each other."

Umm... fair enough. On the other hand, Lady Gaga IS the biggest pop star on the planet. As someone in (roughly) the same line of work, surely Robyn has an opinion on the Poker Face singer's juggernaut-like rise?

"I don't think Johnny Depp has to answer questions about Leonardo DiCaprio all the time. Even if he did... it's wrong. I don't have an opinion. I think she's good at what she does. What's cool about pop music is that there are so many different female artists."

An enquiry about her time touring with Madonna elicits further eye-rolling. "What can I say about that?" she harrumphs. "It was a great experience. It's like a little city travelling around with her. The whole thing is on such an amazing level. It was like being on a field trip in school. It's interesting."

Seeing first-hand the crazy degree of scrutiny a star such as Madonna has to endure on a daily basis, did she think, 'thanks but no thanks'? "I don't really feel I can have an opinion about that," says Robyn, her Swedish accent tinged with a distinct American twang. "I don't think it's ever going to happen to be honest. I go about things in a manner that allows me to keep my feet on the ground. What's important is that I can do what matters to me and have fun while I'm doing it."

Her chilly demeanour is hard to explain. After a career of cruel knock-backs, suddenly everything is going right for Robyn. She's about to release the second of her trilogy of Bodytalk mini-albums, the first instalment having basked in universally positive reviews. On a recent joint tour of the US with Kelis, she blew her co-headliner off stage. Artists as diverse as Röyksopp and Snoop Dogg are lining up to collaborate with her.

"I'm not going to give you a scoop about what Snoop Dogg is like," is her inevitable response to a question about the rapper. "He's a really nice guy. A really smart person. When you meet him, you understand why he's been in the industry for such a long time. I'm a big, big fan."

One person she probably won't be working with in the near future is her old song-writing foil and producer Max Martin. The man who brought you Britney Spears (we've him to thank for ... Baby One More Time) Martin oversaw Robyn's success in the 90s when she scored several American top-10 hits. She eventually tired of being a glorified puppet and struck out on her own. Nonetheless, she insists there is no bitterness between her and Martin. "We're still friends," she says. "We have coffee. I play him songs. He plays me songs. For sure, we think differently about what we want from a song. I still get good advice [from him]."

We're almost afraid to ask, but what does she think of Martin's work with Katy Perry (he co-authored her soft-core lesbo romp I Kissed A Girl)? Another sigh. "Um... yeah. I think Katy Perry's cool. He's a great songwriter."

Unlike most pop songwriters, Robyn imbues her songs with genuine, grown-up emotion. With its glitchy beats and treated vocals, her music can feel as if it has been beamed to you straight from the year 3000. Yet, beneath the sci-fi gloss, there's lots of straight-up confessional gushing. Consider the standout Body Talk Part 1 track Dancing On My Own, in which she contemplates the loneliness of being on the disco-floor when nobody wants to hook up with you. Dare we inquire if this is drawn from real events?

"Everything I write is from personal experience," she says. "It doesn't mean there's been trauma in my life. You experience things, sometimes they are big, sometimes they are small. They still inspire you. It's not always exactly as it happens in the song. There's a line in one of my songs about a girl at the station who has no shoelaces on. It's a metaphor, a way of describing an emotion."

She has a surprisingly geeky side too. A keen reader of science fiction, Robyn is fascinated with artificial life. On Body Talk Part 1, there's a vocoderised ballad called Fembot. She has previously written songs called Bionic Women and Robotboy and admits to being obsessed with the Isaac Asimov anthology I, Robot.

"I was intrigued by that book. I've always used robots in songs, they give a more simple perspective to what it's like to be a human. I don't think writing about robots is writing about the future. It's more a metaphor for human emotions."

Robyn's last proper album was a critical smash and yielded the radio hit With Every Heartbeat. However, that was five years ago and her record label has been clamouring for new products. Was there push-back when she let it be known that she would be releasing a series of mini-LPs instead?

"I wouldn't say there was resistance. Maybe they were a little cautious in the beginning. They wanted to see how it would work."

Still, why put out your new music in dribs and drabs when you could unleash it all at once? "After releasing albums for 15 years, the routine of being in the studio for two or three years, and then touring felt uninspiring. I wanted to see if I could break that structure and be more organic," she explains.

"People have responded in a positive way. It resonates with how most individuals consume music. You don't have the situation where there are a few big albums being pushed on the public through a few channels. People are making up their own minds and .... the industry is adapting."

Body Talk Pt 2 is released today. Robyn plays Electric Picnic tomorrow

Irish Independent

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