By Karl Batterbee | Photos: Jörgen Ringstrand
Scan Magazine caught up with Sweden’s Nina Persson as she prepares for the release of her very first solo album this month, and asked why it has taken so long, what she has come up with after all this time, whether or not she will ever make music with The Cardigans again, and what impact that band had on Scandinavia’s success as a music export.
As the unmistakable face and inimitable voice of The Cardigans, Nina Persson took a stronghold on pop music and its fans all over the world throughout the ’90s and into this century. American teenage years were soundtracked by Lovefool, and an even wider demographic fell for the undeniable charms of songs like My Favourite Game and Erase & Rewind. Their artistry gained more credibility, as if it were needed, in later years with For What It’s Worth and I Need Some Fine Wine And You, You Need To Be Nicer, and then, when the band split, we all inevitably went into waiting for the frontwoman’s solo album. Fast-forward to February 2014, and that solo album has finally arrived: Animal Heart.
Not scared of it anymore
What is unusual about this record is just how long it has taken for it to be made. The last time The Cardigans released any music was almost a decade ago, in 2005, and when they went on a break, many expected the first Nina Persson album to come out immediately. Instead, she got involved in another project: A Camp. So why did we have to wait so long for a Nina Persson solo album?
“It was not until this point that I thought: wait, why not? But I was still so resistant to it before for some reason,” says the singer. Timing has also played a part – the stage at which Nina finds herself in her life. “For me it’s a good way to work right now, because I live in New York, away from my usual collaborators. I have a kid, and I need to be so meticulous about the planning and everything, so it just works well to be operating on my own for a while. I’m very flexible this way, and I’m also the only one who has to suffer the consequences if I turn things down or if something doesn’t work properly. So there were a lot of things that just made it seem like the right time. And also, I just wasn’t scared of it anymore.”
The hardest thing about going solo after being in a band for so long has, in Persson’s experience, also been the best: “The best thing is that I get to make all the decisions, and the hardest thing is that I have to make all the decisions. With a band and with all the decisions that need to be made, there are more people taking on the load. But then it’s often a big slog that’s hard to navigate – long and complicated email chains and all that. And now it’s really just me, so it’s a lighter feeling. But I do sometimes miss the companionship too.”
Honouring the singer
For Animal Heart, Persson has written everything with husband Nathan Larson (A Camp, Shudder To Think) and Eric D. Johnson (formerly of The Shins and Fruit Bats), but with a new approach: no lingering in studios and no super producers. Instead, they “hung around at the house in Harlem and played the songs with just a drum machine, a guitar and piano.” She speaks confidently about her role in writing songs for herself. “Both with the Cardigans and A Camp, I have done everything with very driven, career-oriented musicians, but now I wanted to put my own instrument first. Honour the singer. In my work, I have also understood that pop music is lodged deeper in me than I previously wanted to admit,” she says. “I have forced myself to follow my instincts with this album. I have simply no time to dwell on things anymore, something I did a lot of before.”
The jazzy, playful pop melodies she made into an art form with The Cardigans are still there, but at the same time, she takes a couple of clear steps forward in her development with tracks that land somewhere between the melancholy of A Camp and a sort of blue-eyed soul genre. Several tracks also contain soundscapes reminiscent of one of Persson’s first musical roots: ’80s pop. “There are some elements that are quite new and quite different to anything I’ve done before. One is that I brought in a sound and a style that is a little bit more modern. It’s much more keyboard-based than before, and I’ve used a lot more synthesisers. It’s not as woody and guitar-driven. And perhaps it doesn’t sound as much like a traditional band, as The Cardigans was.”
Scandinavian music is a massive export, now more so than ever. But does the singer feel that she helped shape the region’s reputation for making good pop music, as a member of The Cardigans? Her response is un-Swedish in all its pride: “I actually think so, because before we blew up, the big acts that came from Sweden – and this is with all respect, because I’m very much a fan – were ABBA and Ace of Base, and music that was often perceived as being superficial and commercial. I think what we did is that we tried to get that sort of recognition with a slightly different kind of music. ABBA gave a lot of confidence to Swedish musicians though, that not all music out there needs to be from an Anglo-speaking country. And I think that we probably helped give courage to Swedish musicians too, that more Swedish music and not necessarily radio hits could make it.”
More likely now than it has been
The big question that springs to mind when speaking of The Cardigans’ legacy is of course: will they ever make another album together? “To say if I foresee it or not is difficult. But we are at the point now where we are playing a lot together, and we’re having such a good time and loving it. And we’re more excited about the thought than we’ve been in a long time, so it’s definitely more likely than it has been. We do talk about it; it’s just really down to the logistics of it. I live here, the other guys live in Sweden. So we would just have to figure out how and where and when. But we do have a lot of fantasies about it. I just spoke to Bengt (Lagerberg – the drummer) the other day on the phone and we were like, ‘I wonder what it would sound like!’ So yes, we’re curious about it.”
So we had to wait for a Nina Persson album. But by the sounds of it, The Cardigans fans might not have to wait quite as long…
Nina Persson’s solo album, Animal Heart, is out on 11 February. Nina is touring Scandinavia and northern Europe throughout February and coming to Scala in London on 5 March.