Questions: Peter Robinson
Answers: Robyn (obviously)
Robyn’s got an album out soon. In fact she’s got three albums out soon, and for the first interview of what promises to be a fairly busy twelve months we met up with Robyn in a London hotel room for a run-through of how the whole thing will work, what it’s all about, and how she’ll always feel like an outsider.
So to get this straight: you’re releasing two short albums then the best bits of those, plus some new stuff, is going on a third. Is that right?
I think all of it’s going on the last album. I don’t know. I was thinking of a way to have a different work routine to fit my way of working rather than the release schedules the industry has. I don’t want to be away from the studio as much as I have been – I haven’t been in the studio properly since 2005, really. It’s been a long time since I actually made a record! And I was thinking of how to shorten that time down and Eric, my manager, came up with the idea of what if I just start releasing songs, then I can tour them, then I can make some more songs. We started working like that. I think once it starts it will make more sense – you can just keep releasing stuff without the long breaks.
It also means that everything worth releasing gets released – presumably if you were to be releasing one traditional album this coming November, some of the tracks on this first one wouldn’t make the tracklisting for one reason or another?
Exactly! (Thinks) Actually they would all make the cut because they’re all awesome.
But a conventional 12 track album wouldn’t have had room for all the songs you’ve made.
Yes. And what also would have happened is that these songs… Well, you release singles and by the time you’re at your third single everybody who’s bought the album already knows that song. It’s not something new, it doesn’t feel fresh. With this way of doing something you don’t have the feeling that songs are cannibalising each other, and they’re not fighting for space.
You mentioned that could ‘keep releasing stuff’ – is that to say that while you’ve only announced three albums for 2010, you could in fact keep going and have another one out in March 2011?
Yes! Yes I could!
Do you have the material now to do that?
Not right now – but I do have a lot of material.
Do you know the tracklisting of the third album?
So effectively you’ve started writing a story without knowing how it ends.
Yes, exactly! Well, most of the songs are written for the third album, or they’re demoed in some way, so I do feel like I have an idea of what’s to come, but you’re right that there is no end to it really. It’s not like I’m doing less or more, I’m just shortening the distance between making it and the release.
Will all that ‘Body Talk’ albums have different personalities? Are they really three separate albums?
They maybe will, but it’s not going to be on purpose because the songs that are on the first album are simply the first ones that were finished.
So it’s pretty random?
Yes, there’s no thought behind the three parts. It’s just three parts of the same album.
It’s interesting how much time bands spend thinking about ‘the body of work’ and whether track two of their new album makes sense in relation to track seven and so on, and you’re just chucking stuff out in any order.
Well once I knew what was going to be on the album I listened to the songs and made the order of them out of how I wanted the journey to be, but no. There’s nothing like ‘this is the body’, ‘this is the talk’. It’s just songs. And they’re all connected to me because I’m in this state of mind at the moment, touring, listening to music, spending a lot of time in clubs. And that’s what’s affected this album – the three parts – a lot.
Tracks like ‘None Of Dem’ and ‘Dancing On My Own’ are quite brilliantly teenage in their sense of unbearable crisis and melodrama – hating the town you live in, crying at the discotheque and so on… It feels like quite a young record.
I think I’m just juvenile in my head! I’m always going to be writing about those issues, it’s what I’m fascinated by but I also think there’s something about the state of mind you find yourself in a lot when you’re younger, and you just want to get out of somewhere. You just want to do something. Feel things!
When you put it like that it seems just as much like an emotion someone can feel, perhaps even more strongly, in their 30s or 40s.
Exactly! And I feel that most people are becoming their own editors at the moment. You have to edit your surroundings – you have everything thrown at you, and all these options, and sometimes you’re not satisfied by any of it. That’s what ‘Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do’ is about, and ‘None Of Dem’ as well. I think the album, to me, talks a lot about technology versus humanity. Not in a view of some dystopian or utopian future, but in terms of now. We’re already there: we’re already integrated with technology and we’re already communicating with each other in these amazing ways, and it’s about asking how we deal with this new perspective on ourselves.
So in a sense, the medium is the message, or at least your own response to information overload and changing environments is to be changing the way you’re putting your music out? So you ask a question but the way you ask it is also an answer.
Yeah, yeah it is in a way. [Editor's note: Robyn is probably just being polite here] I think those teenage lyrics and that mood is, to me, also this thing that I sometimes feel no matter how old I get. I’m always going to feel like this person on the outside looking in. And I think it’s an important subject and it’s one that I’m always going to be interested in because it’s the driving force behind what a lot of people do. ‘Nobody understands me, I’ve got to tell them how I feel’ – that emotion is amazing to me.
Obviously the problem with this is the problem experienced by anyone who writes from that sort of perspective: if you become successful by communicating that emotion, you find that you’re not by yourself or isolated any more, and that perspective becomes unconvincing. You find that your feeling of ‘nobody understands me, I’m an outsider’ makes you very popular, and you’re not an outsider any more. You have fans, people find you quite ‘cool’ whatever that means, you’ve got your major label deal, everything’s not really that much of a disaster.
Yes! (Laughs) No, the thing is I don’t look at it that way. I mean I do recognise that I’m in a great situation in that sense, but at the same time that doesn’t stop me feeling like an outsider, and I feel that’s always who I’m going to be. I’m always going to feel like an outsider, I’m always going to identify myself as that person I was when I was fifteen.
It’s quite a gloomy message to send out, isn’t it. “If you’re fifteen and unhappy, you’ll be unhappy when you’re 30, even if things are going quite well.”
Yes, but I get energy from that. That’s where I get my confidence from, too.
From reacting against something, having something to push against?
Yeah I guess – again, very juvenile! (Laughs)
Will there be a solid visual theme across the three album releases, or will each release have its own identity?
It’s going to be one long thing. They’re going to be different from each other but they’ll be three parts of one thing. They’ll be a continuation of the last album, I think, I mean both visually and musically. Musically because the last album was so important for me, and creatively I’d got to a point I wanted to be at, so I didn’t want to change anything. But hopefully there’s something new so people don’t get bored!
The proper single from this first album is ‘Dancing On My Own’ – what’s the video going to be like? There were points in the last campaign, like the ‘Handle Me’ video, which seemed perhaps self-consciously quite ‘anti-popstar’.
I’m always going to be drawn to things that are maybe a bit uncomfortable for the mainstream pop world but to me it’s not something I do to prove a point, it’s just something I do because I think it’s fun. There’s definitely still going to be that element. The video hasn’t even been planned for ‘Dancing On My Own’, we’re so late with it! But being on tour, and the performance side of it, will be really important to the campaign this time round. Because I grew up in a theatre family and feel so comfortable performing it was so satisfying last time when I was promoting and touring to be able to play live and meet people afterwards. It’s important that people know it’s a real person, and that it doesn’t feel cold. Without talking about what other people do, I think the pop climate at the moment can be cold and very visual. It’s very experimental again which it wasn’t in the 90s, but it’s also become something where it’s about topping each other rather than showing who you actually are. I remember growing up I had Neneh Cherry and she was just the coolest girl on the block – she was like me and my friends, just cooler. And I always felt that artists who talked to me in that way were really inspirational.
On paper the idea that you’ve got three albums coming out suggests that you’ve had a very creative time of late, but when has it been difficult?
Well there have been more difficult times than times when it was actually working! I’d been on tour since 2007 and I didn’t write one single song while I was on tour. I wrote ‘The Girl & The Robot’ when I had some time off, but I just can’t write when I’m touring. And because of that I’ve decided to start learning Logic so I’m setting myself up to be able to record ideas when I have them. But back then, when I came home at the end of 2008, I felt totally drained and I felt like I wasn’t going to be able to write another song for the rest of my life. I went back home, I had lots of Christmas food with my family. I tried for six months at the start of last year and I couldn’t write a single word or melody.
I was just tired from touring and flying constantly, just drained. In my head I was like, ‘I’ve got to keep doing this thing’, but as it turned out I needed time to start collecting together memories and things to start writing about. I got back into the studio with Klas [Ahlund] in July and we wrote, like, half this whole three-part album in a couple of months. It was a big, big hill but I started writing again. And it was so much fun!
So these three albums have all been written since last summer?
Yes! I mean I’d love to say I’d been writing all these amazing songs while I was on tour, but no, it’s all since last year.
You mention the idea of collecting together memories, but is there anything on ‘Body Talk PT 1′ or any of the other albums that would tell us what’s been going on in your life since last July? Did you write any songs about events while you were actually experiencing them?
Totally, I mean ‘Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do’ is about not having a life. (Laughs) I mean I HATE the ‘complaining artist’ situation but it’s about not having time to call your mom, or dealing with how a video should look to work ‘in all territories’, or how you can be on Twitter for three hours then realise you’ve done nothing all day. I think it’s a very common feeling these days that you’re busy all the time, and you’re doing lots of things, but you’re not being productive.
Well Twitter is the perfect example, really, in that you can somehow absorb world events and everything of interest to everyone around you but in such a way that feels completely meaningless.
Yes. Well I love to get my Twitters from NASA. That’s information for me! And I love hearing about things through Twitter all the time. But you have to discipline yourself with it.
Where did ‘Dancing On My Own’ come from?
I think ‘Dancing On My Own’ is totally from me just being in clubs and going out and dancing a lot, and seeing people and thinking, ‘what are they doing here?’. All these people with their hopes and their dreams about their big nights out, ‘look at me I’m dressed up and dancing’. There are so many hopes that people have when they go out. I’m fascinated by club culture at the moment. My boyfriend used to be a doorman so I’ll hear stories about how people act when they’re insecure, or how they act when they’re drunk. Clubs are like the new church for people – it’s where you go to feel a part of something bigger than yourself. With ‘Cry When You Get Older’ those lyrics were totally just taken out of the air and then when they came together they started meaning something – I think what they mean is that sometimes I wish I could go back to when I was 22 and just say, ‘don’t be so worried about everything. Do what you LIKE. It’s going to be okay!’. You get to a point – I’ve just turned thirty – where you realise ‘I’m not as afraid any more’. And I wish I could go back and tell myself that when I was younger. But it’s impossible.
Do you think by Christmas, when you’ve released the last of these three albums and this campaign is pretty much over, you will have any new fans, or any different fans?
I. Don’t. Know. I think it would be awesome, and it’s what I was thinking about when I made this record. I thought about… Well, not about selling records, but how to do what I did on the last record but better. There are certain songs on the last record where I feel there’s stuff for me to explore, things I’m still curious about. ‘With Every Heartbeat’ started something in me where I felt like a found a place for my voice and my ‘sad person’, where it could take on a different shape and not be depressing or pretentious. It became something that gave people energy. I wanted to do more of that, so that’s how we came up with ‘Dancing On My Own’ and ‘Hang With Me’, and ‘Indestructible’. ‘Konichiwa Bitches’ was another important song because it gave me the kick-ass, fun-person voice I’ve always had but never been able to communicate. And that’s something else I’ve been doing on this new record, too. So the idea has been to take those elements of those songs, but do it on steroids, to take it even further. To answer your question, I hope that’s going to result in a record that won’t exclude people, and is more accessible but not in a commercial sense, just in a way that it invites people to feel stuff.
What sort of person won’t like the album?
I think there’s lots of people who won’t like it. Lots of people in America dismiss dance music as something kitsch. It’s ‘bad music’.
Do you think you’ve made a dance album?
No, but people will interpret four-to-the-floor beats that way, I think, and think it’s lightweight.
Because it is electronic and therefore ‘not authentic’.
Exactly. So people like that might not like it. I think there will be lots of thoughts about what this album is but I can’t really put words on it. I think people will always be suspicious because it’s pop music.
Perhaps people are right to be suspicious of pop music, a genre that misleads and lies more than any other. Perhaps it’s right that people should try to test it.
The idea being that good pop music will pass the test.
Exactly. That’s exactly the thing. Good pop music always passes the test.