It was the pure fun of Melody A.M. that placed Röyksopp on the map. It was The Understanding that brought them depth with its darker, ethereal moods. And after eight years, Röyksopp now finds a balance with Junior, the first of two planned 2009 releases (Senior being the other) displaying both now-muted sides. Electronica has always been their game and the cooperative vocals are more prevalent than ever, with Robyn and Lykke Li making appearances among others.
We recently spoke with Svein Berge, one half of the Norwegian electropop duo along with Torbjørn Brundtland, to hear the full story behind the busy year, what it means to be stay curious and why they choose the specific vocalists that they do.
SSv: Much has been made about the balance that Junior brings compared to the extreme moods of the first two albums. I definitely seen that and I’m wondering if that was that the vision going into Junior?
Svein Berge: Yeah, I would say so. I feel that when we set out to make Junior, we obviously had done Melody A.M. and The Understanding prior to this. We felt that we wanted to mix those two universes to get to one thing. I think it’s fair to say that after the success that we experienced with Melody, we didn’t want to recreate that for the second album. We wanted a different direction. The music that you make is so much a testament of what you’re thinking and going through at the time that you make that music.
So after we were done with Melody A.M., things were nice and lighthearted. So we wanted to move into something a tad more serious perhaps and also venturing into more traditional songwriting with emphasis on lyrics and vocals and so on. So when you mix those two albums together and after we’re finished with both, now you get Junior.
SSv: You say that the music is a testament to what’s going on at the time, so how is that true of Junior?
Svein: Again, if you compare Junior to The Understanding, you find that The Understanding has lots of questioning and longing, uncertainty and doubt. Junior is more in touch with a positive and direct energy, which is what we felt when making it. We felt more at ease and it was more about fun, I think. Some of the tension was also taken away, because again, after the success of Melody A.M., although we constantly deny it and we really didn’t feel it to such an extent, there is a level of anticipation with the second record. That tension was transferred into The Understanding.
SSv: So did you go in more relaxed this time around?
Svein: Um, I’d say so. Yes. It was more about having a good time. I would definitely say it was more confident.
SSv: For a lot of artists, that tension leads to some beautiful art. But you mention not having that tension. So how do you push yourselves to create something beautiful without becoming lackadaisical?
Svein: As with so many other things in life, there’s a balance naturally. People are different. There are those who can create the best music when suffering – the likes of Robert Smith of The Cure. The best in their music becomes the way that it does because of his ability to adapt to his insecurities and feeling alone, that kind of thing. But I don’t think that’s necessarily the driving force in what we do. I think there has to be some element of wondering and tension, but the main driving force for us is curiosity and the willingness to explore more than anything. We just want to move on to some new direction.
SSv: I love that line and wonder what that curiosity tangibly looks like?
Svein: Curiosity is something that’s within us as human beings. It’s saying, ‘Okay, here’s a drink for you. Do you want to try it even though you haven’t tried it before?’ Obviously, we go for it, just to have the experience. It’s always been like that with us. I’ve never tried to jump through a ring of fire, but I’d really like to have a go at it to have the experience. Then I can judge whether I like it or not. I think that’s something we bring into the way that we perceive music as well. When we started out with music as kids, we basically were just a cover band playing our keyboards. As we would go on, we’ve definitely expanded our horizons.
We were quite dogmatic as kids. We would only listen to electronic music and anything that had a hint of vocals or especially acoustic instruments like guitars, we would just despise it completely. As we’ve grown older, we’ve gotten away from those dogmatic ideals and now we’re willing to include anything just because we want to see whether it works or not. I think that’s the best way that I can explain it. I haven’t really given it much though, so obviously I have to confront myself and ask, ‘What have you really been doing?’
SSv: I want to discuss this Junior/Senior concept and I’m wondering if you could tell us more about that whole project?
Svein: We have a Senior album in the sleeve which we started off simultaneously as we were making Junior. They are different outlets in terms of the feel of our music. On one side, we have the more, dare I say it, pop-oriented thing which is very much present on Junior. At the same time, we have a more atmospheric and ambient side which is represented on the Senior side. As it stands now, the Senior side is completely instrumental and it’s more of an album for the traditional album listener. It’s for someone who would still sit down and listen for a full 45 minutes of music. It’s something we just had to do because we had a lot of ideas at that point and it’s so natural to do it like this.
SSv: I was going to ask if the two albums was a matter of having so many songs ready to go?
Svein: I think that’s partly the reason – having so many ideas. But the kind of song you’re making is very representative of how you feel at a given time. Again, we feel very much at ease. We also had to find some time to make this instrumental album, and we had both that type of energy and the time.
SSv: When it comes to vocalists, are there things you’ve learned to look for? What makes you choose a vocalist to work with?
Svein: We really have three main criteria when we look for people to cooperate with. The first thing is the sound of the voice, because putting sounds together is very much what we do. We try to find matching sounds and soundscapes that make sense, for us at least. So finding distinct voices with identity is the first thing on the question. Number two would be trying to find people who are creative in their own right, so that they don’t just provide a voice, but they have creative input to offer which is the case with everyone we’ve worked with on the album. The last thing is that we connect with these people on some level – that we can laugh at the same jokes and get along somehow. That’s also been the case with everyone. So those are the main three criteria. Apart from that, anything goes.
SSv: When it comes to the different vocalists, I’m wondering what it’s like to work with Robyn or with Lykke Li or others?
Svein: Yeah, sure. Anneli [Drecker] from Norway and Karin [Dreijer Andersson of The Knife], we obviously knew beforehand because we’d worked with them in the past. To us, Karin has a very distinct voice. She was someone we want to use when we want to bring in a darker, more mysterious energy. She has that quality in her voice. It’s very hard for me to expand, but it’s the feeling I get when I hear her sing. There’s this almost brutal, primal quality there. It’s very honest in many ways. She doesn’t care too much about being utterly in tune or having the right diction when she sings so it’s proper English. You can easily hear she’s not from an English-speaking country – like Björk, if I had to compare it to somebody. So that’s something we like, because it gives it that mysterious and enigmatic touch.
As far as Robyn and Lykke goes, we worked with Lykke prior to her success and debut album from her MySpace page. We found her voice very intriguing and seductive even. That’s the word I would use. So if you compare Lykke to Karen, I think Lykke’s voice is very much the opposite. It’s more hidden and whispery and sweet and girlish. We thought that her voice would fit into a song that has that feel – a sweet youthful song.
Robyn has that classic pop voice that’s so distinct that it cuts through anything. Working with her was pure joy – as was the others, by the way. But she’s a great person to work with. We just met her yesterday in Oslo and did stuff together. So they are all great to work with – great artists with great voices that are very easy to work with. All great. [Laughs]
SSv: Otherwise you wouldn’t work with them…
Svein: Well, we have yet to be put into a situation where we call someone and invite them to cooperate and then realize that it’s a complete disaster. Knock on wood, by the way. [Laughs]
SSv: [Laughs] That’s quite fortunate.
Svein: It is quite fortunate, indeed. Again, we’ll have to keep our fingers crossed and trust our gut feeling which when it comes to cooperation is what it’s all about.
SSv: What are the tangible plans for the album moving forward?
Svein: Well, we will take Junior on the road, as it were. And we think that will be lots of fun, since we will have material from three albums to choose from. That makes it more entertaining for us and not be forced to play the same 12 tracks. So we’ll be touring with that package mainly in Europe and also a bit in Asia and I assume we will come to the States at some point, maybe not this summer but more toward autumn, I guess.