Monday, November 16, 2009

Interview with Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon

From left: Fredrik Wallin (vocals, bass), Håkan Wirenstrand (vocals, keyboards), Yukimi Nagano (vocals, percussion), Erik Bodin (vocals, drums).

Yukimi Nagano was a featured vocalist on fellow Swedes Koop's 2001 album "Waltz for Koop" as well as their 2006 "Koop Islands" release, but with her three Little Dragon band mates Fredrik, Håkan and Erik she seems to have found her true voice.

The Gothenburg quartet describes their music as electro-soul. Two full albums have been released so far on London based label Peacefrog: the self-titled album "Little Dragon" in 2007 and "Machine Dreams" in 2009. Their music videos are some of the most playful and interesting to come around in a long time - they don't adhere to any rules and neither does this genre-bending band.

Q & A with Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon

The Nightfly: Gothenburg is known for its melodic death metal bands, but also artists/bands like Jens Lekman, The Soundtrack of Our Lives, and Jose Gonzalez. Is the music scene there more diverse than in other cities in Sweden?
Yukimi: I think Sweden in general has a pretty diverse music scene, I guess especially in the main cities like Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmö.

The Nightfly: You were born and raised in Sweden to an American mother and a Japanese father. Do you consider yourself Swedish or more of a “citizen of the world”?
Yukimi: I feel quite Swedish more than anything else, but it's good to have more than one place to call home.

The Nightfly: You were a featured vocalist on Koop’s bestselling albums when you were just a teenager. How did you meet up with Magnus and Oscar and what was the most positive outcome of this collaboration for you personally?
Yukimi: I met them at a jazz club where I was singing in a band called Octagon Session at the time. After we had played, Magnus from Koop approached me and asked if I would be interested in singing on their album. It was great to tour with them and it gave me touring experience pretty early on.

The Nightfly: You have a very distinct voice and a wide range. Did you ever take formal lessons?
Yukimi: I went to a music high school and took some singing lessons there, but I was not very serious about it and never really liked my teachers.

The Nightfly: Your father is an accomplished visual artist and did the beautiful animation for the recent “Swimming” music video. How did that collaboration come about?
Yukimi: He wanted to make a video and we gave him free hands to do whatever he wanted. It was great to get his interpretation of the song.

The Nightfly: Little Dragon's music videos are highly creative. Does the band commission these very playful shorts from video artists/film makers that you like or do they usually approach the band?
Yukimi: It's been both. We contacted Johannes Nyholm who made our "Twice" video and also Hideyuki Katsumata who made our video for "Fortune".

The Nightfly: Who made the haunting shadow puppet music video for the track “Twice” and how do you personally interpret the story of the bird, the girl and the skeleton?
Yukimi: Johannes Nyholm. We were fans of his work and really happy about his interpretation. Even though we helped out a lot in making the video - moving the puppets, blowing wind, pulling down rain - we never really knew what he had in mind. I think we all have our own individual ideas about what the story means.

The Nightfly: On several tracks on both albums there is a strong influence of traditional Japanese music in your vocal phrasing and in the song arrangements. Did your father introduce you to music from Japan when you were growing up?
Yukimi: Interesting. No, I never really listened to Japanese music growing up, I just know some Japanese kids songs - my dad has always been into Western music. Yet when we played in China some people felt that my voice reminded them of Chinese opera from a certain region, so maybe I have an Asian expression, but I'm quite unaware of it.

The Nightfly: Little Dragon’s first album used elements of neo soul to great effect, especially on the sublime track “Forever” whereas the latest album adds more new wave to the mix. Was this a natural development that came from playing around with different sounds during the writing/rehearsal/recording process?
Yukimi: Yes, it all came about naturally. We just basically meet in the studio, make music in the moment and try to have fun.

The Nightfly: The four of you seem to be on a perfect creative wavelength. Do you attribute this to your friendship going back a decade?
Yukimi: I definitely think we have grown together and we know each other very well. It feels like a second family somehow.

The Nightfly: Do you change the song arrangements when you perform live?
Yukimi: Sometimes. We like to keep it a bit open and that usually leads to the arrangements changing and expanding.

The Nightfly: How has your U.S. tour been so far and what tour plans do you have lined up for 2010?
Yukimi: It's been great! We're so exited to play some of the cities we've never been to before. We will definitely be coming back to the U.S. in 2010.

The Nightfly: In which country or region do you have your biggest fan base?
Yukimi: Hard to say. We have a good fanbase in California.

The Nightfly: In the band bio on Peacefrog’s website you describe Little Dragon like a city of “blue traffic lights, fast food-signs, neon, love, loneliness, technology”. Could your music just as well have been created in a rural setting like the deep forests where Håkan grew up or is the sound of Little Dragon uniquely urban/metropolitan?
Yukimi: I think it could have been made anywhere - as long as we have our synths close by.

The Nightfly: Are you the primary lyricist in the band and where do you get the inspiration for your lyrics?
Yukimi: Usually the guys start with an idea like a beat or some chords and I get really inspired. I would say their sounds and music are my big inspiration and also whatever is going on in my head - life, books, dreams, etc.

The Nightfly: Which songs/albums/artists/bands have had the greatest impact on you?
Yukimi: So many. Prince, Kate Bush, etc.

The Nightfly: Which artists/bands are you currently into and how do you usually listen to music - CDs, iPod, web?
Yukimi: iPod mostly, but also just checking out blogs on the web. I listen to my playlists with everything from Salt-n-Pepa to LCD Soundsystem.

The Nightfly: You have stated that from time to time the members of Little Dragon have had to take regular jobs, but that “we would rather stay broke, so that we can concentrate on the band”. The “starving artist dilemma” is a familiar and frustrating one to most creative types. How do artists stay true to themselves?
Yukimi: I think just trying to spend as much time as possible on what you love will make you grow and get better and surely things will happen if you work hard.

The Nightfly: Like U2, the members of Little Dragon met in high school [about a decade ago]. Do you picture the band still playing together when you’re in your 40s and 50s?
Yukimi: Yep!

The Nightfly: If a company offered to make Little Dragon action figures what would you want them to look like?
Yukimi: One half-Japanese girl, one bearded blond guy, one tall lightly bearded guy, and one chubby bearded guy.