Nina Persson on Her Debut Solo Album, Children, and Music Less Bearded Out on Her Own

In the Daylight

May 14, 2014 Issue #49 - February/March 2014 - Portlandia Bookmark and Share


It's been 20 years since Nina Persson first emerged as the frontwoman for the Swedish five-piece The Cardigans. Now, after six Cardigans albums and two with her own A Camp project, Persson is finally stepping out on her own. Written at her home in Harlem with her husband Nathan Larson and ex-The Shins and Fruit Bats' Eric Johnson and recorded both in Brooklyn and Gothenburg, Sweden, Animal Heart is Persson's first album to be released solely under her own name. The album also marks a musical change of sorts for Persson, eschewing the guitars of her most recognizable work for synth-textured pop, led at its forefront by her own enchanting vocal melodies. Under the Radar caught up with Persson prior to the album's release to talk about her new direction, new inspiration, change of work habits, and parenthood. [Note: There was an article on Nina Persson in our February/March/April issue, this is the full transcript of that interview.]

Frank Valish (Under the Radar): Was the new video [for "Animal Heart"] shot in New York?

Nina Persson: Yeah. It's shot in Harlem, actually coming out of my house. On my block.

How long have you lived in New York?

I've lived here on and off since '98. 15 years. But I've had several rental apartments. We've had this house for seven years. For seven years, it's been my one home.

When was the album written? Did you write it recently or were the songs culled from longer ago?

It has been quite a long time, a year and a half. It was all written after I decided that I wanted to make a solo record. I just worked really slow.

What have you been up to since the last A Camp record? I understand you had a child.

Yeah, I had a child, so I was working a little more sporadically for a couple of years. I did things, but more like one-off things. I'm in The Citizens Band in New York. I did that project a couple of times. I toured with The Cardigans last summer. No huge project, like a job usually is. It was a good period because it was a time when I could say yes to a lot of fun one-off requests and be a little freer. I'm sure media-wise, I've been under a rock a little bit for a couple of years.

When did you first think about releasing an album only under your name?

One thing that played a big role in the decision was that this was the only way I could think of working while I have a child because if I'm the only factor, the only agent that needs to be moved around and so forth, the one person to make decisions, it would be easier logistically. Now I'm going to have to be touching base at home once in a while and all that. And also I've done so many records with bands and I've done records where I've sort of touched on being solo. The first A Camp record was technically solo but I preferred to call it by a project name because there were so many people who worked with me. But I just felt like I'm fine being solo now. It was a big deal for me before because I was so much more comfortable being in a band, but it just felt very natural for me now.

Was there any apprehension at all for you in the process, knowing that it's not under a band name? You've been doing this so many years. I wonder whether that makes it easier to step out, or maybe not.

It's really both. There's parts of it that's like starting from scratch, which I enjoy. I always like when I put out a record to feel that it's a little bit of a blank canvas, because I have a weird problem with being pigeonholed. So to start from a new standpoint is refreshing. And then I'm yet to see exactly what it's going to be like, but so far we've been mostly working on the record in Sweden, where people are pretty familiar with me, as a solo person too—they know my name, and not only The Cardigans. I think it's going to be exciting. I have yet to see whether it's going to be a hindrance or a help.

Is there a difference between the expectation you feel or the pressure you feel, if there is any, in Sweden versus here?

Not that I feel. In a way, in Sweden, I also know that I have a warm home, if you know what I mean. In Sweden, we've been around for such a long time so people have already decided that they want to like it. And that's not the case elsewhere. So I feel that there are higher expectations for me elsewhere, because I'm not as cozy elsewhere as I am in Sweden.

Are there intense touring plans?

There's no intense touring plan, because that's one of the things I can't do anymore, since I have a kid to see, but I'd like to do some touring. It's just a matter of finding out how humane you can make touring. It's also an economic question, especially in the U.S., which is so big, and even the shortest and most humane tour is long. But I'm hoping to. I really enjoy it and I still want to be a performing artist.

I didn't know if there was a thought that because your name is more familiar in Sweden and The Cardigans might be more recognizable as a name here, whether you thought that you had to hit the touring hard here, or are you just going to do what fits into your schedule?

I'm going to do as much as I can, while still making sure that I'm seeing my kid a little bit. It's the first time I worked like this since he came, so I don't know how much that is. I've been traveling quite a bit, just for the last two months, and it's just different. Whatever I can do. When we would put out a Cardigans record, we would sort of sell our soul to the whole machine, and be available all the time and be away all the time, and that can't happen now. I just have to see what works.

How was the process of writing and recording these songs different from your other experiences, apart from just the logistical aspects?

It turned out to be really easy this time. I wrote it with Nathan Larson, who is also my husband, and Eric Johnson, who would come in to New York from Portland for a couple of days a couple of times. And once he was in town, we would just sit down and blaze for four or five days and get a lot done. It was easy to turn on and just churn out songs. Once we found the colors and the direction, it was easy. I used to be very thoughtful when I was writing. I would sit long nights, drinking tons of red wine; it was just hard and anxious. This time it all happened in daylight pretty much. It was just easier. I found a way to just go with my intuition and just decided that whatever I do fast is going to be good enough.

That almost seems a bit counterintuitive. In that this is the first solo record, it seems like maybe it would have been a bit more, not difficult, but more tedious of a process, being that this is a new thing.

That would have been my nature to work like that. And it's in my nature to be very anxious about a project like this. I was. But I realized really early on that if I was going to go with my old m.o. I was going to kill myself. Because it does. There were many things where I was a little bit at a crossroads. If I'm going to have this job, it has to be easier. If I can't trust what I do intuitively, I don't know if I can do this anymore, because I can't sweat that much. It has both to do with having to get up in the morning and get my kid to school and it also has to do with [the fact] that I can't have anxiety be my job.

I wondered how much was due to you now having a child, not being able to toil and be anxious more than you need to.

Absolutely, and that could also be really scary, if you're used to things turning out the way you wanted after working at your own process, so it was really rewarding and gratifying when I realized, after a couple of writing periods, that I still liked what I did when I just didn't go to that dark place. But it was really good, because I've always thought that was my juice, what made it good what I did. But it's not. It was hard also, because Nathan and Eric had to sometimes push me out of that tendency. I would really question things and try to go to a place where I was overthinking things and overanalyzing things, and they were like, "Whatever, it's good."

That has to be incredibly liberating.

It completely was. It was equal to three years in therapy, just to have them make me snap out of it.

Did you find that a particular theme emerged as you were writing?

A little bit. It's not that I come up with a couple of lyrical themes. They're not so much themes, maybe more sort of images that I use. I felt like a lot of the songs are sort of about moving forward. That sounds very general. But it's about dealing with sentimentality. Dealing with how to think about your luggage and how to bring that with you along the way. And I always like to talk about the moon and the night and forests and animals a little bit too. In a way I'm still trying to figure it out myself, what the hell it turned out to be.

Was there anything you knew you wanted to do differently musically this time around, to separate it and make it its own thing?

One thing that I thought would be really fun is to do something that's a little bit more modern-sounding. Both with The Cardigans and A Camp, I'm sort of attached to musicians who are really driven guitar players. I was going to take the chance to ditch the guitars, which I did. There's still some guitars, but there's mostly analog keyboards and synthesizers and things like that, and even drum machines. And since it's not a band, I'm also not attached to having to have live drums on all the songs. I'm actually doubling a lot of the time so that there's both programmed drums and live drums. But I was also trying to think up, aside from my two bands, what if I peel off what have become our common roots or our common reference points? Then what's left is what are actually my roots when it comes to music. And I started listening to music in the '80s basically. Eighties pop was basically what I was listening to, so I thought it would be fun to glance at that. Because I love a lot of that. It's a little less bearded music.

Is it nerve-wracking to think about that promotional machine starting back up now that you're rooted [her son is three years old]?

A little bit, just because I had a couple of years of being super-mellow compared to what my life's been before. I've pretty much been in one place most of the time. I really don't want, and I'm sure most parents feel like this, I just don't want any of my work to ever hurt him. I think it's really good for a kid to see that their parents have jobs that they love and they're inspiring and challenging. But I also don't want him to feel like I'll ever leave him for anything. That's the only thing I'm concerned about. Otherwise, I'm really psyched to work again and, having already worked for a couple of months since the record has been finished, I feel great about it. It's wonderful to remember, just to realize, that I'm totally the same person. Just with a kid. That's good. Because it can make you wonder sometimes. You know how sometimes if you get kids late, you can sometimes have weird thoughts that it can turn you into somebody else, that it's going to make you want different things? It's not really true. And I'm happy to have discovered that.

www.facebook.com/ninaperssonofficial 



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