Niki and the Dove
Mar 31, 2011
Malin Dahlström (vocals) and Gustaf Karlöf (multi-instrumentalist) jokingly call themselves “melancholy and sad people.” However, one would be hard pressed to come to that conclusion listening to their music. The duo, who performs as Niki and the Dove, weave ambitious pop themes through ethereal, widescreen soundscapes, creating a sound that's as dark and mysterious as it is joyful. Since its formation in February of 2010, the band has already caught international ears, and recently signed to Sub Pop.
The charming pair recently chatted with Under the Radar, filling us in on their belief in the power of the pop song, David Lynch look-alikes, and why we may never know the true identity of Niki or the Dove.
Laura Studarus: It seems like Sweden has a disproportionate amount of great music coming from such a small population. Is there something in your culture that allows arts and music to thrive the way it does?
Gustaf Karlöf: We get the question quite often, actually. Me and Marlin have thought about it, and maybe it’s because we have a lot of darkness here, and we have a light during the summer time. These extremes of both cold and warm and light and darkness, maybe it affects us in some way. I don’t know. There’s a saying that the Swedish are melancholy and a sad people.
Malin Dahlström: And it’s true. [Laughs]
Gustaf: Maybe. I think it’s true actually. In a way, a lot of Swedish people are quite melancholy. Maybe that reflects in the music and in the arts. We just talked about it the other day.
Malin: There’s also a lot of studios in Stockholm. So that can be an advantage.
Gustaf: Did you know that Stockholm has the most studios—percentage so to speak—in the whole world?
Really? I didn’t know that.
Malin: [Laughs] It’s true!
Gustaf: Generally you can walk, honestly, 50 meters and there’s a studio. On average.
That’s pretty incredible.
Gustaf: Not every one is professional of course. Maybe one out of one hundred is professional. A lot of people in their private life are making music. So maybe Malin is right in what she says, that it’s probably why a lot of music comes from Sweden.
So how did the two of you meet?
Malin: Me and Gustaf, we met a couple of years ago. But our collaboration is quite new. We developed and started the band last February, a year ago. So that was when me and Gustaf started to write music together and started going into our collaboration together. We had not been doing that before. We had been playing together and so, but not in this current collaboration. That’s something new.
What was it that made you decide, after knowing each other for a while, that you wanted to form this specific partnership?
Malin: We had sporadically been making music together over the years. But last year, it started with me. I had written this song, “DJ Ease My Mind,” then we recorded it. Together. Then it was just like, we started a band. We just wanted to develop this music making together. It just happened, it was not a decision. It was not consciously made, I think. It just happened to be that way. I think it’s a rather good way to start. It just came naturally. We wanted to work together.
It seems like it was a very beautiful evolution.
Malin: [Laughs] That was nice of you to say! Ah, it’s an evolution. Okay, that’s nice.
So, which one of you is Niki, and which one is the Dove?
Gustaf: They are no longer with us.
Malin: [Laughs] That’s a secret.
I can respect a bit of mystery.
Gustaf: I think that no one is Niki, and no one is the Dove, but both of us are both Niki and the Dove.
I understand that you’re involved in Stockholm’s theater community as well?
Gustaf: You mean working with theater music? Both me and Malin have written for theater back in the day. Both me and Malin enjoyed it very much. To write music to pictures—theater or film—has always fascinated me. I can’t explain why, but there’s something exciting when music meets visual effects. I always liked that very much, since I was like 10 years old. When I go and see a movie I always think about the music, if it’s good or bad, or badly done. For me, it’s always been exciting, that clash.
Malin: For me, writing for the stage has been really, really interesting. For me, the interesting part is that you find yourself a part of something. You’re not doing the whole thing; you create something together with people. You create something that’s bigger than yourself. It’s all the acting, and the directing, and the lights, and details. And then there’s the music. It’s so interesting working with these pieces, and making something whole. Together. It would not be the same art without my music, and it would not be the same art without someone else’s light. So we create this together with the actors. I think it’s really, really interesting.
Does your partnership in the band have the same effect, that between the two of you you’re creating something bigger than yourselves?
Malin: When you create something, you always create it, and it’s something that’s by itself. So bigger than yourself, maybe not. But something else. Something, outside yourself, of course. So Niki and the Dove, we have created a band here, and we try to put things into this band, into this name, and we see that it is filling up with things.
Gustaf: That is a really good question actually. I haven’t thought about it. But when you ask it now, yes. Of course it would not sound this way if I had made it myself of course. But I’m very proud of the music that we’ve done together. When I think about it, it is bigger than ourselves, because I would not have done it by myself. I don’t think Malin would have either. The sound is different that way. But for me, I’m very proud of the results. For me, it is bigger than myself in a way.
Malin: I think that I don’t like to speak in bigger or smaller. I wouldn’t like to put it that way, even though I said it about the theater. But the theater is to describe where you’re a piece of something. But it this case I wouldn’t like to use the word bigger or smaller. You create something that you couldn’t have done yourself. Blah blah blah…
Your music has a real otherworldly sound. When you’re building your songs, do you draw from the idea of dream imagery or reoccurring dreams?
Gustaf: Not exactly. Not for me anyway. I’ve never been fascinated by dreams actually. That has never interested me. I always think it’s boring when people start to talk about their dreams. For me, it’s not inspiration. I don’t know about you Malin?
Malin: No. I mean, I’m interested in dreams. I think that sometimes it can be thrilling to discuss dreams but no, we don’t draw from our dreams.
Gustaf: Maybe we do it unconsciously.
Malin: Maybe it’s understood as dreamy because we use symbols. Oh now, it’s a long answer to a short question!
I’ve heard your music described as cinematic. How do you feel about that term?
Gustaf: Oh! I’m very glad when I hear that!
Malin: Me too! That’s a compliment.
Gustaf: Absolutely. That’s something I dreamt about, making cinematic music. If people see pictures when they hear our music, that’s perfect.
Do you have a favorite filmmaker?
Gustaf: Yes! I’m very fond of Robert Altman. I think he’s underrated. He’s a really good director I think. I’m very fond of David Lynch.
I ran into David Lynch once.
Malin: Really? Oh tell us about it!
Yup. I was on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood and he was standing there, holding a live cow. It was the weirdest thing I had ever seen.
Gustaf: His movies are really terrifying. There’s a lot of humor too. I laugh a lot when I see his movies.
Malin: There is a lot of humor!
Gustaf: People miss that a lot. If you see him again say hello for us. And if he wants some music in his movies he can call us! [Laughs]
Malin: Of course, he makes music himself. Oh, an hour ago, I was on the bus, and then I had just seen David Lynch. A Swedish look-alike!
Gustaf: Oh shit!
Malin: It wasn’t him, because he spoke perfect Swedish. I actually sat behind him because I was so intrigued by this person. He was really a look-alike.
Gustaf: I have to add someone to mine. I have to mention Woody Allen, of course. I’ve always respected Woody Allen’s talent for making quite simple movies. When you see them, there’s such wisdom—wisdom that you can’t explain right away. But I always feel so filled; I want to live on with my life in a joyful way. There’s a lot of talk, but you can see beyond that.
Malin: I love that there’s a lot of talk.
Gustaf: He’s very unromantic in a way.
Malin: I see it completely different! I was just going to say I’ve never seen anyone that romantic in the most beautiful way because he’s not sentimental about it. He’s romantic in the most wonderful way.
Gustaf: Ahh...okay, in a way. But he’s very unromantic in his expression! He doesn’t put in a lot of color and special effects, he’s very down to earth.
Malin: Yes, but that is the true romantic. Okay, okay, anyway.
You’ve got my vote—I adore Woody Allen.
Malin: He’s one of the best.
Gustaf: And a lot of humor!
We’ve heard some absolutely beautiful singles from you. Are you working on a full-length right now?
Gustaf: Yes, we are. We hope it’ll be out in mid-autumn. This week we’re finishing a new single. That’s going to be released in April or May in the States. We hope. It’s called “The Fox.” It’ll be out on Sub Pop.
Will any of these singles you’ve released so far be on the full-length?
Malin and Gustaf: Yes!
You mentioned how you love Woody Allen because he makes you feel a deeper truth. Do you find that is true of pop songs or as well?
Gustaf: Good question. There’s so much pop music, all the time. You put it on your radio. Of course we can find it in music. You don’t have to have a particular style of music. The kick you get from music you can get it from any style of music, I think.
Malin: I would say that I can really get it. When I listen to some pop music, I can understand, better, the essence of life, I would say. It’s about every day life. You have to bring meaning to your life. Every human being has to bring some kind of meaning to her life. I think that for me, some pop music helps me with that, and helps me discover what’s underneath the every day life. Underneath, or above, or somewhere, it touches something that as a human being you know is there. But you can’t always reach it and you can’t go into that mode, you can’t put yourself in that mode every minute of your life. But sometimes you need to, and that helps you.
Gustaf: I think that pop music can be very underestimated. A lot of people talk about pop music as something lower quality. Art snobs talk about pop music as something cheep, so to speak. But I have a lot of respect for the power of the pop song. A good pop song, it’s so powerful, and it has so much life in it.
Malin: A powerful pop song can change when you hear it over and over again. It’s really life changing.
Gustaf: But I also have to say that it doesn’t necessarily have to be in a pop song for me. That power can be found in classical music or jazz. But the pop song is so powerful in a direct way. You don’t have to go through your brain; it goes straight to your heart. This sounds stupid because classic music and jazz goes straight to your heart of course. It’s very interesting. I’m still fascinated about the power that music can give you, and the comfort that you can get from music. It’s incredible I think. Words and pictures can’t get through to you like that. One of our Swedish writers, he said once that he was so jealous, of musicians, because they can use music as a language, you don’t have to use words. He couldn’t do music, so he had to write to get out his expression. But he envied the guys who made music, because they didn’t have to deal with words. I think that he has a point there.
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