As one of Sweden’s biggest pop stars over the past decade, Nina Persson, known internationally as the iconic lead vocalist of the seminal pop-rock band The Cardigans, who took over the world in the late nineties with the smash hit ‘Lovefool’ (which reached the coveted No. 1 spot in both the UK and US goingon to sell in excess of 2.5 million copies worldwide), has forever been an artist who dared to push the creative envelope, successfully scaling new heights in the process.
In 2001, following several years of touring with The Cardigans and the release of the group’s fourth studio album, Gran Turismo, Persson formed – A Camp, a project that birthed two critically acclaimed albums (A Camp in 2001 and Colonia in 2009).
It has been almost five years since A Camp’s most recent album, and The Cardigans have not made new music since 2005. During that time however, Persson has kept very busy collaborating with a wide variety of renowned artists including Manic Street Preachers, Sparklehorse, Danger Mouse, The Cake Sale Collective (a community of artists that includes Australian musician Nick Seymour of Crowded House), performed with a cabaret act in New York – The Citizens Band, and made her big screen debut as a Finnish tango singer in the 2006 film, God Willing by Amir Chamdin.
So who is Nina Persson today, and who is the artist we meet on her first solo album? For ‘Animal Heart,’ she has written everything with husband Nathan Larson (A Camp, Shudder To Think), also a noted film composer, and Eric D. Johnson (The Shins, Fruit Bats), but with a new approach. Nina and Eric became friends when the ex-Shins member worked on film music along with Nathan at the Persson/Larson couple’s residence. Meanwhile, Nina was at home with a new baby and the three clicked immediately. Then came the idea to do a solo album with both of them contributing as songwriters.
In many ways on this album, it is a new Nina we meet. At the same time, she takes a couple of clear steps forward in her development with tracks that land somewhere between the melancholy of A Camp and blue-eyed soul. Several tracks also contain soundscapes reminiscent of one of her first musical roots – 80’s pop! Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Nina Perrson to discuss the creation of ‘Animal Heart,’ the challenges she faced along the way and much more!
How did music come into your life and what made your follow your passion as a career?
I have always loved music but I never really thought about making musical professional when I was young. Then I started to do some music with a friend of mine. The two of us eventually joined The Cardigans together. That is how it started. I had a very usual start to my career. We just started making music and everything went really well for us from the beginning! [laughs] After two years, it was my job and I lived on it.
How have served as some of your biggest influences through the years?
They have been different throughout the years. When I started I was really into the British band, The Sundays. That was something I really thought was inspiring because she sang in a different way. There have never been a lot of women in music; you only had a handful to identify yourself with but The Sundays were an early influence for me. There have been so many others through the years. I think, for the same reason I didn’t really strive to be a musician in the first place, I also haven’t really looked to other musicians for inspiration. I listen to a lot of music but I never thought of it like that.
We are connecting today to talk about your new album, “Animal Heart.” What made now the time to do a solo record?
I had done another project called A Camp. I did two records. That was, especially the first one, was kind of a solo record but I just didn’t want to call it my own name. I have always glorified bands in that format. I also really love being in bands. I just thought it seemed cooler! [laughs] This time around, things have changed a little bit in my life. I realized I just didn’t work the same way that I did before, so I decided to go solo all together and be more flexible. I decided it was easier if I just made the decisions this time. [06:28]
Did you find the transition from band member to solo artist a difficult one to make?
No! It wasn’t! I guess that was because now I was ready for it. I guess I wondered if it was going to be lonely or frustrating not having band mates to share the work with but it hasn’t been that bad. I am still working with people I like and I have a band with me. It is very similar and not a lot scarier than putting out a record with your band. It has been great and I love it so far!
When you set out to make this record, did you have any particular goals or expectations for it?
Not really. I know that you can never expect anything. There are a lot of factors that go into how everything goes. I just wanted to do it! For me, it was also a matter of moving on because I had a kid and that is a new thing. I just wanted to keep working.
What can you tell us about the songwriting process for this record and how it took shape?
I had met Eric D. Johnson, who is a great musician from Portland. I had become great friends with him, so I asked if he would be up for helping me write this record, which he did. He would come out to New York, maybe once a month for six months or so. We would work for a couple of days, write and make simple recordings in my house. Eventually, we booked a studio. We worked in Brooklyn, New York and Sweden in the summer. We also did a little bit of mixing in Portland. We were very determined for sure but we also took our time as we had other things going on as well. We worked very organically when we could.
What did Eric D. Johnson and your husband, Nathan Larson, bring to this project?
I have worked with Nathan lot, so I knew his capabilities and they are great. Eric was a new acquaintance. He is a very enthusiastic person. It was a really nice environment to work with him. He also has particular sense of melody. He is also a singer, so it was fun for me to work with someone who writes from a singer’s standpoint. That really made a difference because I had mostly written with guitar players before. Eric has a very generous taste in music, which was fun. There is nothing snobbish about him, so it was really fun to just be very wide open to what we were making.
The tracks you selected are very diverse. Was there anything that didn’t quite make it on the album?
There were two songs that we didn’t have time to finish. Those didn’t make it on the record but otherwise we had to squeeze everything in there.
That is a good problem to have, I suppose!
Yeah. [laughs] The only problem is that we don’t have any spare songs really but that is life!
For people who might not have heard the album yet, how would you describe it sonically? How does it compare to you other work?
It is more electronic than what I have done before. It has a lot of vintage synthesizers all over it. I think it is less folky than the way I have done my A Camp records.
The title of the album and the lead track is “Animal Heart.” What does that title mean to you personally?
I think the words Animal Heart are ones I think of a lot when I am writing now and with what I have always written about throughout my career. It could have been the title of any of the records I have been involved in. This time is was the name of a song as well. It is hard to explain exactly why but I felt it painted the right shade.
What do you consider the biggest challenge in bringing this album to life?
The hardest thing was just getting started, actually. I am a terrible procrastinator! I always end up writing lyrics the same day I am going to sing them! [laughs] That is a drag and something I am struggling with but it works! Now, I am just happily over that hump and I am done with it!
What did you learn about yourself personally while creating this album?
I can say I learned that I can work without it being painful! [laughs] I have always thought writing is wonderful but also very draining. This time I couldn’t stay up all night to write which is something I used to do a lot. I had to work during the daytime when my kid was in school. I learned it can be such a much more enjoyable process than I thought it could be.
You have been out on tour for the album at this point. How have you found the songs evolving, if at all, in the live setting?
I feel like they have evolved already. I heard the recording of the song “Animal Heart” the other day in a radio station. I thought “This is how it sounds on the record?” When you start to practice the song for the live setting, it immediately starts evolving. I can’t really say how but they just do. They become totally better. This time I didn’t’ rehearse them with a band a lot before we recorded them and now these songs are in the hands of great musicians, so they have had good things happen to them.
Do you have any plans for a North American tour at this point?
Yes. I have a tiny East Coast run at the end of April. I am hoping to make it over to the West Coast as well but this time it didn’t really work out. Perhaps it will happen at the end of summer or during summer.
As we mentioned early on, you are best known for your work with The Cardigans. What is the status of the band and where do you hope to see it progress in the future?
At the moment, we are quite dormant. We did a little tour in November of last year. It was a lot of fun but we haven’t made a record in a long time. I guess if we intend to keep doing it, we need to do that record because we just can’t keep playing old songs forever. I just don’t know. It is a big project to get started because we are quite spread out but it would be fun. That is about as much as I know. We are still a band; even though we are slow! [laughs]
Do you feel there are any misconceptions about yourself at this point in your career?
No, I don’t think there are many misconceptions. I will say, now that I have had a kid, I am annoyed by the way people talk about you because you have a kid. There is a lot of “Who is taking care of your kid?” There are a lot of stereotypes about women; the classic working mom thing. They ask me all the time how you combine motherhood and working. It is an ancient question. That isn’t a misconception about me but a strange way of approaching parenthood. Now that I have done this for so many years, I have shown so much of myself by now that it isn’t that easy to come to the wrong conclusion. I have been able to explain myself over time, so it is getting better and better, I feel.
You are pretty open and honest with your lyrics. Was putting yourself out there in that form ever an issue for you?
Yes and sometimes you can’t control these things. Some days you just don’t want to be reminded that people know these things about you. In the beginning, when you make one record, people make assumptions based on that. That, of course, is just one part of you and you make another record and add something to the spectrum. I think I am fine with it. I have never really had any bad consequences from having shared things from the world; which I am happy about! [laughs]
What do you consider some of your biggest musical milestones?
I think The Cardigans record, ‘Long Gone Before Daylight,” is a milestone in many ways. I also feel my first A Camp record was a really big deal for me because it was the first time I had done something outside of The Cardigans. This record of course is also important because it is the first of something else, yet again!
Many young performers can look to you as an inspiration. What is the best advice you can pass along to people looking to make their career in music in today’s climate?
I once got a great piece of advice from Debbie Harry. She told me to look after my money! [laughs] I really wish I had followed her on that one! [laughs] It is tough to say. I would say for you people who want a career in music, not to fall into that ‘American Idol’ or ‘X-Factor’ stuff that once produces the same kind of artist over and over again. It doesn’t really encourage individuality at all. I think finding your individuality is really important! Do what you do best. Copying and stealing within that is fine but don’t fall into the image of how you are suppose to look, sing or move through these outlets!
Thank you so much for your time today! We are very excited about the album and look forward to whatever you have in store for us in the years to come!
Thank you, Jason! Thank you so much!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.