interview by Michael McCarthy
If there’s ever been someone we’ve interviewed here on Love is Pop who needs no introduction it’s Nina Persson. But, just in case her name doesn’t ring a bell, Nina is the beloved vocalist of The Cardigans. In most of the world, they’ve had roughly two dozen big hit singles, their Best Of album consisting of a mighty impressive 22 hit songs. Here in the U.S. there’s one tune in particular that everyone knows and loves and that’s “Lovefool,” which many of you will recall as the breakout hit from the soundtrack to Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 version of Romeo & Juliet. That soundtrack and The Cardigans’ album featuring “Lovefool,” First Band on the Moon, sold millions of CDs and millions of listeners have been fans of The Cardigans ever since. However, there’s more to Nina than just The Cardigans. She’s also the frontwoman of the critically-acclaimed band A Camp, which has released two successful albums, 2001’s self-titled release and 2009’s Colonia. But the main reason we’ve spoken with Nina is her recently released, first ever solo album, Animal Heart, a gorgeous collection of super catchy tunes that fans of any of her previous releases are sure to fall head over heels in love with. In addition to Animal Heart, we spoke with Nina about the future of The Cardigans, her thoughts on Spotify and more. Read on and enjoy…
MM: One of your collaborators on the Animal Heart album is your husband Nathan Larson, who’s also in A Camp. So, I was wondering, when you started writing the songs were you planning to do a solo album from the beginning or did you start writing for A Camp and then decide to do a solo album?
NP: The idea was to make a solo album from the start. I’ve actually worked with Nathan on pretty much everything I’ve done. Nathan has even helped me with Cardigans stuff. I’m very attached to him when it comes to songwriting. But the idea was definitely to do it solo. Technically, there’s not a lot of differences, really. It’s just you get to work with different people. The music probably would have been the same.
MM: What was the first song you wrote for the album?
NP: The first one was “Forgot to Tell You.”
MM: What were the easiest and most difficult songs to write for the album?
NP: Well, the easiest… God, I can hardly remember now. I need to look at the record. The thing is that they’re all – the music is usually quite easy. My big problem is the lyrics. I have to sit and really, you know, churn out the lyrics, which can be really difficult.
MM: Did you write the lyrics entirely by yourself or did the gentlemen collaborate on the lyrics with you as well as the music? (Gentlemen primarily refers to the above-mentioned Nathan Larson and Eric D. Johnson, formerly of The Shins, who co-wrote the songs with them.)
NP: We did everything together. But I’ve sort of taken the responsibility to finish up the lyrics. Because it’s my record, I have editorial function on it, kind of. But it’s ultimately my field. They come up with ideas, too. And I always sort of consult Nathan and ask about it. But it is somehow my process. The music for the song “Food for the Beast” was difficult just because it was so shockingly different in a way. We were like, surely it can’t be like this. But then we just let it be the quirky child that it was when it was born.
MM: I noticed almost a new wave vibe to “Food For The Beast” and even a little bit with “Animal Heart.” Were you inspired by new wave when you were working on those?
NP: Yeah, a little bit. I like that scene. And I also really felt like I wanted to do another kind of retro, which was like ’80’s retro. It’s foolish to say that I do it because of modern music if it’s not. So, yeah, I grew up in the ’80’s and those sounds from those bands are sort of very dear to me. I still haven’t really been able to start loathing the ’80’s, which has been so unpopular in periods. That’s when I started to really be attracted to pop music, during the ’80’s, because I listened to the radio. So, yeah, new wave is super attractive, I think.
MM: Great. I remember The Cardigans’ Gran Turismo was very much like an electronic pop album, which there’s some elements of in Animal Heart. But soon after you made Gran Turismo you did the first A Camp album, which is very organic sounding. Were you deliberately trying to get away from the electronic elements when you made that album?
NP: I really wanted to get away from the coldness of Gran Turismo. And in some way or another every record I’m involved with is a counter reaction to the previous record. I tend to go a little bit all in, into some idea, and then you’re so sick of it and you feel like you need to do something vastly different. It’s not always very clear to other people, but that’s how it feels. I think my solo record was in a way a counter reaction to A Camp’s Colonia. Even if I love that record, I really felt like I had overdone the thematic thing. We got so obsessed with different themes that we really milked on that record. What I wanted on this record was simplicity and to not be so ambitious with some kind of art value. On this record, I felt like no, I’m not gonna try to make like literary, I’m not going to try to win the noble prize with my record. I’m just gonna do a fucking pop record. That’s exaggerated, but it’s a little bit how I felt. I’m just going to go back to basics because that’s where I come from.
MM: It’s interesting that you say that because I noticed some of the songs on Animal Heart, like the title track, and “Burning Bridges for Fuel,” seem to have a theme of moving forward or even fleeing. Was that kind of the thought there, that you were moving forward from your last album?
NP: Yeah, that is the theme on this record for tons of reasons. I’ve just had a crazy period in my life. There was a bit of a halt in my creative life, I’d say. I just feel like, if I’m gonna over think what I do there’s never gonna be anything done, ever, and I need to do something. I just need to do. And it’s OK. I pretty much do a record a year and then the quality really varies. I’m thinking sometimes about Neil Young. I’m sure he’s always been very convinced about every record he’s done. But in retrospect there’s a lot of weird records. That must be OK. If you’re gonna be so subconscious about everything you release nothing is ever gonna get done. You can’t start reviewing your record before it’s even done. That was one part of it. And also I’ve been thinking a lot about sentimentality, and attachment to the past, and to memories, and to people, and it is a problem for me. That’s why I wanted to bring it up on this record. Because I don’t know what to do with certain things. All the luggage you’ve got is not necessarily helpful. I’m also not a person who can just coldly dump things or people. These are some quite ambitious themes on the record.
MM: Your press release states that you’ve been having a lot of recurring dreams about rooms and houses. I was wondering – are all the rooms in your dreams like nice places or were they like scary places and how did that, if at all, effect the songwriting?
NP: I couldn’t call it a recurring dream because it’s never the same. It’s just a very common feature in my dreams. If I don’t remember much when I wake up, I do remember locations. They sort of always want to be remembered somehow. But they’re often very intriguing and I often don’t understand them. But whether it’s a good feeling or a scary feeling or whatever, they often have lots of nooks and doors. They’re huge or there are many rooms. Or there are many I’ve never been to. Or they’re shared. I just tend to remember them. And they kind of play a sort of function.
MM: Have you started the Animal Heart tour yet?
NP: Yes, I have! I just got back from the European part of it, which was three weeks. What I have yet to do is the U.S., which I’m doing 4 dates in April on the East Coast. I’m just trying to figure out if it doesn’t really add up for me to do the west coast. One of my new dogmas in life is that I refuse to pay to work. I would like to sometimes make money from working. Which is getting to be a weird mess in this job for me. In the U.S., it’s pretty much my own fault because I tend to crawl under a rock for years in between records. I really destroy my own market between concerts. It’s so hard for me to sell tickets. I think I definitely have people who’d come to see me. It’s just hard to get going every time, sort of funding your own job. It’s complicated because there’s nothing I want to do more than making music and touring but I’ve also been thinking about how if you work hard, why can’t you expect to come home with a paycheck?
MM: It’s definitely understandable that you need to support yourself. Will you be performing all of the songs from the Animal Heart album live?
NP: Yeah, I guess we do pretty much all of them. Because my solo career is really short. So, we’re playing songs from A Camp records, too, and adding in some other songs as well to just make it a juicy show.
MM: Who’s opening for you?
NP: It’s going to be White Prism. It’s a band that Johanna Cranitch, who also plays keyboards with me, has. It’s really good. She’s a singer/songwriter who does really beautiful… Kind of, actually, electronic pop. (laughs) It’s great. There might be somebody else, too, but it’s not clear yet.
MM: I actually have White Prism’s self-titled EP, which I really quite like.
NP: Yeah. She’s just about to put out something new. It’s awesome. And it also just feels really nice that she’s opening up bridges [for her career].
MM: Did you perform any of the songs from Animal Heart live before you made the album to test them out or anything?
NP: No, I didn’t. I usually just write songs in order to put on a very specific record. So, I don’t really have extra songs. Songs never get to lie around for me exactly. I write songs until I have enough, until I have a record. Which is a problem because it’s always good to have some little stash. But I still think very much in [terms of] records because I like doing them and all of that. And also because I’ve been involved with all these different projects with Cardigans and A Camp and now my solo record. To me, it’s very different music in a way. I always need to know what a song is for when I write it.
MM: Last summer you toured with The Cardigans. What were the vibes like? Do you think there will be a new album by The Cardigans at some point?
NP: I don’t know. The vibes are really great. We’re enjoying playing together more than we ever have, actually. We toyed with the idea, that it would be really fun to make a record again for tons of reasons, but it’s just a crazy logistical issue to get it to happen because we’re very spread out. I’m in New York. One guy is in L.A. And the rest of the guys are in Sweden. It feels like people really want it – people ask the question but I still can’t say that I think we’re gonna make an album. But at least we’d be really excited at this point. We’re having a good rapport together. But it’s been good for us to tour and play without doing the same old grind with supporting a record and doing it along with the record industry. It’s just been nice to do it on our own account and aim at getting to play better live. And getting to indulge in the songs that we hadn’t. We’ve underestimated that. Or were never given a chance to do it. But, of course, we also don’t want to be a greatest hits kind of band forever. So, if we continue, we will want to make a record for sure. We’re just all having different jobs right now.
MM: I found you on Spotify recently. I quite liked your Nina Persson’s Finest playlist that you did on there. Because a lot of the songs are artists that I was aware of but they’re not the most widely known songs. So, it was interesting to see the choices there. Definitely some songs I hadn’t heard before. So, I was wondering, is it safe to assume you’re one of those artists who’s in favor of Spotify then?
NP: No, that’s not safe to assume. Because I really quite dislike Spotify. I don’t use it much. I like the functions of Spotify. I don’t listen to Spotify, but I did really get into making that playlist, for example. But I really think they’re jackasses to the artists. I have a complicated relationship with them. It’s hard. They are one of the biggest outlets for artists but it’s so tragic that the record companies have just hijacked the format. And they’re fucking fine, but the artists are not.
MM: They seem to have a very weird formula in terms of how they pay the artists. I just don’t quite understand how they determine that.
NP: Somebody tried to explain it to me. In Sweden, I am on Universal and they pretty much own Spotify there. Plus, they have also signed all of the successful artists in Sweden. So, it’s a crazy monopoly situation, in Sweden especially. I think it’s the same thing here, that the majors have a huge interest in Spotify. It’s really extra clear to me. Because you need to really suck up to Spotify and give them stuff. And while you know that the more clicks I get on Spotify, the share the record companies keep is so huge.
MM: So, it seems to help the record companies more than the artists.
NP: Yeah. I’m happy that the record companies are back on their feet. But there could be splits that would be more in favor of the creators.
MM: Who directed the “Animal Heart” video?
NP: It’s a guy named… Josh something. I found him and I thought he was fun. He had done a video with Fran Healy from Travis and they were just in a car in New York city at night. And having little budgets to play with, I thought that that’s one of the few things you can do to make something that’s exciting to watch. Knowing that we did a one take video, at least people are gonna be psyched to watch it because they’re gonna be psyched to see all the little weird things that happen within it. And it’s refreshing, maybe, for people to see something that’s not strictly edited and really clean.
MM: Are there plans to make more videos from the album?
NP: Yes, there is. I’m talking about it. I’m not sure that everybody has agreed on the song. But there is gonna be another one. I’m planning at the moment.
MM: What new albums are you most looking forward to this year?
NP: I have no idea. Sometimes I’m like, oh, wow, cool, I’m listening to a new record and I realize it’s two years old. I know some of my friends, who I think are really great, are making records. That makes me happy. But I don’t read music press. I actually have no idea [what’s coming out]. But I like it. I’m enjoying being a passive music consumer.
Read our in-depth review of Animal Heart here: https://loveispop.com/reviews/albumoftheday-review-nina-persson-animal-heart/