Interview and photos by Seher Sikandar
Little Dragon is a Gothenburg, Sweden based band that has been one of music lovers’ best kept secrets of the last couple years. With swinging electro-synth tracks and soulful yet at times haunting vocals of lead Yukimi Nagano, Little Dragon’s sounds have put many in a blissful trance, including myself. The band consists of Håkan Wirenstrand on keys, Fredrik Källgren Wallin on bass, and Erik Bodin on drums. Yukimi is known to get down on a little percussion as well.
Between the concept of their debut music video for “Twice” extended into a short film that showed at Cannes, a soundtrack feature on Grey’s Anatomy, and a recent tour with TV on the Radio this spring, Little Dragon is coming to spray its dragon breath in an ear near you.
I was lucky enough to sit down with the fun and quirky bunch where we got to talk about tourettes, the recording process, and fruit. High school crushes and drugs, too. You know how we do.
I read that you all went to high school together – that’s awesome. What was life like in those days? What would you guys talk about and dream about?
YN: I think we admired each other already as musicians. Kinda like, I thought you [gestures to Eric] were a really good drummer -
EB: [to Yukimi] And I thought you were really cute. [Yukimi laughs] But really, she was the only one of the girls – and boys – who was singing that sort of got a spell on you right away. She had the magic already, back then. [sings "I got a spell on you"] But I remember the first time we all started playing, we were fourteen or something and Yukimi came with a red gothic outfit with this amazing deep voice.
So in high school you all were already kinda jamming out and stuff.
EB: Yeah, we formed a little band in high school.
YN: I think we were all pretty determined that we wanted to play music in our lives, but it wasn’t until afterwards that we formed the band [Little Dragon]. It was pretty easy since we all had lived together in a collective and we knew each other so well – so it just kind of happened naturally.
Although a simple animation, the “Twice” music video was very entrancing and captivating for me and a lot of my friends that watched it. I’m curious to hear the story/concept behind the video and the song.
YN: Well, actually the guy that made that video made a short film out of that. He kept that animation from the video and made it longer – so it’s eight minutes now and it’s gonna be in Cannes. And we made music to it [the extended video] – Fredrik did most of it. It’s very different from the song and feels like it’s very dark – it’s more focused on the film.
EB: But the video was more, uh, yeah we don’t really know what it’s about.
YN: The director knows.
Cause when I looked at it, I was looking at these little stick figures and I wanted to cry. It felt like she got the gift from her old lover and then he was really broken she was leaving –
YN: I think the skeleton is death
The skeleton is death? And then I felt like she went back to her other lover, the skeleton and forgot about her other lover that was waiting at home…
YN: [laughing] Wait til you see the whole film, there’s more – the story goes on.
EB: But when he [the director] came with the idea, he was like, “yeah, we’re gonna have these shadow puppets. And there’s gonna be a girl. She gets a gift from her friend, she leaves, she sees the skeleton, he plays the whistle, and then she drops it” and we’re like…
EB: Yeah, great. And he [the director] has this very mystical smile on his face. He’s a very special character, Johannes, who made the video. It’s about his life maybe, who knows.
Your music is very visceral and evokes a very tangible mood. Ethereal. How do you feel when you perform?
YN: Well, when we perform I think it’s very up and down. Most of the time it’s good but sometimes it’s awkward and you know, maybe you’re getting a weird vibe from the audience or people don’t know who you are and they’re in some sort of strange mode trying to figure out if they like you or not – and you can get a little too self conscious at times. But then we’ve had a lot of wonderful, amazing shows that make you feel like everything’s worthwhile.
What’s it like when you write and when you record?
YN: In the studio, I think we’ve just been wanting to be inspired by music. Like, we just feel so bored by music we hear on the radio and commercial music; we wanna make music that we wanna hear. I mean, at least – I’m not sure if it always comes through – but to have an ambition of making something that sounds a little bit innovative.
EB: I guess when you’re getting to the point where the song is close to taking shape, you know, it feels like magic. Really, you want to hear it over and over and over again.
FW: But before that, it’s a lot of feelings -
YN: Stages, yeah.
FW: First you come up with an idea and, “Wow! This is so nice!” Then you start to work on it and then the next day you’re like, “Oh…” -
YN: It’s sh*t. [laughs]
FW: It’s crap, it sucks. And then you get frustrated…
EB: And then somebody else comes into the room and says -
YN: “It’s great!” -
EB: “It’s the best thing I ever heard.” -
YN: And you go, “Really?” And then, you know, you just keep working on it, and…it’s kinda the process.
EB: And then someone comes in and says, “This is the worst thing I’ve ever heard.” -
YN: [laughing] That’s happened before as well
EB: [laughing] Yeahhh, and the one who’s made it so inspired and you just cracked the balloon…
YN: But I think we all can get really happy and high when we’re in the studio. I don’t know if we all think about it really, but there’s nothing as fun as when you feel like when you have an idea of a song that feels really good and you’ve listened to it long enough to know that’s it’s not just a momentary feeling. And you can turn all the lights off in the studio and crank it up – like, listen and nobody’s heard it. It’s different once you decide that it’s going to be on the album and people are gonna work with it, then you start getting more cold feel and afraid of what people are gonna think and, “will people like this?” But when you’re in the studio, then it’s just kinda for us and it’s a real buzz.
Spending so much time together and being such old friends, you must know each other quite well. What idiosyncrasies and quirks have you learned about each other along the way?
EB: I don’t know anything normal about these people. [laughs]
YN: I think everyone has their sides.
EB: Yukimi is like a leaf in the wind, you know, just flying around. She could easily just fly away into some… [notices Yukimi's expression] Yeah, she doesn’t agree because she doesn’t know it looks from outside [laughing], but…
FW: Eric’s mouth is always working [does "blah, blah, blah" impression]
YN: Eric has tourette’s
EB: I don’t officially have tourette’s, but I think I might go to the doctor and get it [checked out]
HW: Fred has a funny habit.
FW: What is that?
HW: He stuffs ginger up his, uh [points to place where you usually would stick tobacco between your gums and lips]
EB: Fred is a guy with many addictions
Ginger instead of tobacco? What exactly does the ginger do?
FW: Yeah, perfect chemisty. It’s kind of a buzz. Håkan has this funny thing: whenever he sees pasta on the table, he rubs his belly.
EB: And he’s very talented in scratching his head and beard when he’s thinking, which he always does before he opens his mouth. It’s an art form.
A friend used to ask everyone this question when I was in elementary school: If you were a piece of fruit, what would you be and why?
HW: I wouldn’t want to be eaten, so – something poison [laughing]
FW: There’s this honey mango or something from India or Pakistan…in Sweden they call it a honey mango.
YN: It’s really yellow.
FW: Its really yellow, super sweet.
So Fredrik, do you want to be a sweet mango?
YN: Cause it’s so sweet.
FW: Cause it’s so sweet, yeah. Cause they’re exclusive [laughing]. Expensive [more laughing].
You’re expensive? I’ll keep that in mind.
FW: And they’re super soft when they’re really ripe.
So you’re soft – you seem like a mild mannered person.
HW: Soft and juicy.
Soft and juicy! TMI! [laughing]
EB: I would be a banana. Just because I have tourettes.
How do bananas have tourettes?
EB: [defensively and confused] I don’t know?! If you don’t have tourettes, you don’t know why you wanna be a banana. Or a mango, any mango.
[Fredrik begins to interject on Eric copying him]
EB: Noooo! You wanna be the special honey mango , I’m just a proper mango.
EB: Cause it’s the king of fruits.
EB: An ice cube.
That’s not a fruit! She’s an ice cube that all your fruit sits in…?
YN: I would be a lime.
YN: Cause you can do so much with it [laughing]. You can make mojitos, caipirinha.
Caipirinha! Everyone talks about that drink – what is it?
YN: It’s Brazilian. It’s like…rum and brown sugar and lime – it’s like mojito without the mint.
So a lime because it’s versatile? And a little bit sour?
Little Dragon will perform at Giant Step’s SummerStage on Saturday, July 18, alongside Q-Tip, Chester French and DJ Benji B. The group’s sophomore album, Machine Dreams, is due for release in mid-August. Get ready.
Seher Sikandar is a Bay Area-based photographer and writer who covers music, art, and lifestyle events. Check out her work at rehescreative.com.