“Manners” is addictive, although that’s an understatement. It’s brashly addictive, a song that strikes you surprisingly from behind with its synth and fuzz in the beginning before leaving you reeling to the unforgettable hooked chorus. With Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo, two DJs who still spin in Sweden, at the helm, Icona Pop caught the attention both of Neon Gold and Patrik Berger. Who’s Patrik? He wrote Robyn’s mammoth hit “Dancing On My Own.” I was lucky enough to call on over to Europe for an interview, asking about who they are, getting people moving, and how the debut album is shaping up in London.
So did you see the royal wedding at all?
Caroline: We just saw it on TV. We were actually working, but we were having lunch and watching the wedding. It was nice. It’s very nice being here though! We’re having a few [recording] sessions and with our favorite producer with us.
So Sweden’s developed a world renown reputation for pop, especially in the last decade. Where do you think that’s come from?
Caroline: Funny, we get asked that question all the time. We don’t seem to be very famous for their pop or their music. We just think people are so sensitive for art, music and especially the whole country. So if you’re in the business, you are drawn to the people that are doing the same thing and that’s why it complements collaborations and everything…Or maybe it’s something with the water or the weather. We have darkness for six months every year. So I think people have to be creative make up with it being dark.
What’s the music/artist community like in Stockholm? Is it collaborative or do people do their own thing?
Caroline: I think people collaborate with each other, of course. It depends on what kind of artist you are. Sometimes you work alone, sometimes you’re inspired by other people. And yeah, I don’t think like collaboration thing is different wherever you go.
Aino: Although Stockholm is very small, so if you are in electro you pretty much know many other people. Of course we want to help each other to create things, like electro for example…
Caroline: Yeah, and develop it. I think we just decided to work with people and get them to Sweden and go over and to make Sweden bigger than it is.
How is the album coming along? I’ve only heard a couple songs and am trying to grasp what the album will sound like; “Manners” sounds different than “Top Rated” while “Still Don’t Know” is in the middle ground.
Caroline: Our album is going great! Its gonna be soooo good. We have so much to say and our sound is very fresh. We are not afraid to to just do our thing. When we are in the studio we always create our own “Icona Pop world” and know we feel that we are ready to let the rest of the world in. We know what we want this album to be and very soon we feel we are there. We think some people might be surprised because some of the tracks are very different from the other singles we released so far. But we love them all!
So do you have a lot left to do with the album?
Aino: No, we don’t. We have written so many songs so by now we would be ready to release two albums at the same time. [laughs] But its not only about good songs, we want the album to be more than that. We want it to leave a certain feeling behind. We want people to get to know Icona Pop and and feel the power in our galloping drums and connection through our lyrics.
I read that you both DJ. How has that helped coming up with the album?
Aino: When you’re a DJ, you have to constantly find new music. You’re constantly looking for music, that’s when you find music or a sound. Sometimes I can get lazy and just listen to the same playlist on iTunes. That’s when you have to look…And you find so much new good stuff, or maybe old stuff that you haven’t heard before, which makes you constantly hear new stuff. I think that’s a very big part of the creation of the new album. I really do. That’s a good thing.
I’ve heard that as a DJ in Sweden, it’s a little harder to get the crowd moving. Has that little challenge of getting people to dance helped in creating your sound?
Caroline: Well, the crowd in Sweden can be quite tough. When it comes to DJing, people love to party. People are crazy so, of course it’s difficult to just stand there when people are moving or not. But when it comes to the DJ thing, people are very good at that too. I think the crowd generally, if it’s a new band, is trying to get an opinion before they say, “Hey! You’re awesome!” They really want to think you’re awesome before they say it.
That’s what I like about Sweden’s crowd. They’re great. I mean, it’s just a little bit harder sometimes. People don’t really applaud if you’re not worth it. Of course it’s a good thing to stand up there and do you’re thing even though people are not bouncing. Of course you care about the people in the audience. If you perform, you really want to please the audience. Sometimes you get to know an audience, but it takes a little bit longer. You’ll have to give them that time. And in the end of the night, hopefully they will dance.
There’s a certain confidence involved instead of having to worry too much.
Caroline: Yeah, I think it’s very important that you have to give a lot even though some people are standing there, putting on records. But I think you should have a good time, because people feel it and get inspired. If you’re having a good time, people will have a good time.
Aino: And then also we are working 24/7. I think it’s important to love your work, and that’s what we do. So that’s why we are constantly trying to get everyone in the same mode as we are.
Caroline: Because we’re having a very good time!
Aino: We just want to give it to people that are in the club, or the audience or the studio or in the grocery store. [laughs]
You were in New York too, how did the show go?
Caroline: Yeah! Oh wow, it was so nice going there. We so want to come back. We hope we can come back.
Aino: We are coming back!
Caroline: First of all it was so nice working with Neon Gold. And be able to perform that night. It was such a great night. The feeling, the other artists. When you come from Sweden, we didn’t expect anything because we haven’t released anything or our album. We were going there like, “I really hope it’s going to be a really good gig.” We were so surprised because people were actually singing along and responding very good.
Aino: Such a good feeling that night.
Since you both have different personalties, how do you approach writing songs? Is it similar to one another or do you have different styles?
Caroline: Actually everything is very simple. If someone wants to write the verse or gets a feeling for the chorus, we’ll do it. If someone wants to sing the chorus…just do everything. We don’t allow ourselves to go into the studio if we don’t have a feeling for it. And also we’re at the same level. We get a lot of inspiration from each other. We’re getting inspired by the people that we’re working with. So, I think that’s why when we met the first time we started to write together. We were like, “Maybe this’d work.” We realize quite quickly that we were talking the same language.
How is working with Patrik Berger and Dave Ether?
Caroline: We have been working a lot with Patrik Berger and Dave. When we started to write this album, Patrik was…
Aino: …so emotional and that’s what we love about him. He’s jumping up and down if he likes something, and walks out the room if he doesn’t. He’s so creative. We’ve been working with so much good people. It’s so nice working with Elos.
Caroline: The guy that we’re working with right now. He’s really going to be a huge help.
We call him Child Man or ManChild. We’re trying to create his stage name. [laughs] His name is Elos Lolc. And he’s here right now with us in London.
Icona Pop – “Top Rated”
When you first came together, it was off of a break-up. When you started playing music together, did you approach it as something serious, or haphazard and it became something serious?
Caroline: The night we met, we really felt that we connected. It was the second day that we really proved it to ourselves that we could connect and write. We were kind of surprised, and that second day, we were like, “Yeah, we should be in a band together.”
Aino: It’s something with the energy you get from different people. I felt it with Caroline. I felt as it was meant to be. I never thought otherwise that I would be in a girl band. [laughs] And I don’t think Caroline did either. But when we met, it was like, “Of course.” There’s something about her.
Caroline: Yeah, we’re having a blast! We both were trying our own music, and trying to get it all together before we met. But it didn’t really come together and pull it off. Then we met and said, “Let’s go, this is going to be cool.”
If you weren’t in the band, what would either of you be doing right now?
Caroline: I can’t really see myself doing anything else. Actually, we’ve been talking about this a few times. This is all or nothing I think. Maybe you’d lie on your kitchen floor crying and I would just get frustrated with my mind not being able to do what I wanted to do. Maybe we would still be there, living our lives in frustration.
So while I was coming up with the questions, I showed your music to one of my friends. She instantly started loving it, so you’re doing very well!
Caroline and Anio: Oooh! Wow!
Caroline: We really want to come. We really hope to! Now that we’re actually finishing up the album, we really want to go out and meet people. And every person we hear who likes what you’re doing, it’s…wow! I still can’t believe it.
So when you wake up in the morning you ask yourself, “How did I get to London?”
Caroline: Yeah! That happens a lot. But it’s a really nice feeling. Sometimes you forget it.
Aino: Sometimes when you think about it, it’s so strange actually that you’re doing what you really want to do. It’s a pretty awesome feeling.
Caroline: It’s a luxury. We often think about…it’s a lot of work, a lot of feelings and effort in it. We love it. We’re having the best time, and we’re hoping that people are going to take our album with open arms.
I heard that you described yourself as ‘Death Pop’ in Sweden (Dödspop)?
Aino: It sounds so depressing!
Caroline: I don’t know if you can say it in English, but yeah! Yeah we do!
Aino: It sounds really harsh in English than it does in Swedish. We do, because we’re kind of hardcore and death pop.
Anything else to you’d like to add?
Caroline: I hope that you got a good picture of us. We hope to see you in Sweden!