Interview: Rockin' Robyn
By Marcus Gilmer in Arts & Entertainment on May 6, 2008 3:00PM
Last week, we gushed about the State-side release (finally!) of Swedish pop star Robyn's self-titled record. A magnificent, intelligent slice of dance-pop heaven, the record has been garnering rave reviews, even three years after its release on her native continent of Europe. Now she's on a cross-country trek to continue her quest to capture our American hearts, minds, and ears. We caught up with her on the day after the record's release, as she was traversing between East Coast shows, to get her thoughts on the record's long path to U.S. release, how the internet has affected her popularity, having her own record label, and appearing on The Late Show with David Letterman.
Chicaogist: We're really glad to finally have the album stateside. It sounds fantastic.
Robyn: Thank you!
C: Three years to get it here. What took so long?
R: Well, it's so many things. I recorded the album in Sweden three years ago and my main focus was not to have an international career again. This album was like an experiment, starting up my own label and just making music because I wanted to. And, after a while, people started to talk about this album on the internet and it was encouraging to think there still might be an audience out there for me. So we started looking for people to work with outside of Scandinavia in 2006 and I started up Konichiwa Records in the U.K. in 2007. We released the album there and signed with Universal/Interscope in America.
When you do everything on your own, things take time. That's why you have these major labels, to get these albums released internationally, to get it distributed around the world. If I had had to do it on my own, I would have had to start up a Konichiwa Records in each country and that would have taken me about ten years (laughs). So this was actually the quicker way of doing it and being able to keep my independence.
I'm not signing away my life this time, I'm signing away my licensing, my masters. And it's not a deal where they buy all the rights and get to do what they want with the album. I'm still very involved and I wouldn't have been able to do that in 2005, just going out and looking for a deal with nothing to back it up. I had to build something on my own to be able to make and distribute my music in such a way that I was happy with.
C: With music, and specifically the previous versions of this album, so readily available over the internet, do you still worry about the interest in the record here in America and if fans will still go out and buy it?
R: There's still a lot of people out there, you know, who haven't heard the album at all. Of course, there are people who have had the music for a long time. I don't expect them to run out to the store and buy my album. I've put a lot of new material on the American version so maybe they will. But, for me, that part of my audience was why I was able to come back here. I played some shows and a lot of them already knew the words to the new songs and could sing along, which is really cool. And that's definitely worth something even though they won't buy the album again. Now what I'm trying to do this time [the U.S. tour] is trying to reach that bigger audience.
C: So performing in front of all these new fans here in the States must keep you invigorated, especially performing songs from an album that you've been supporting for three years now.
R: Yeah, you're totally right. I get that question a lot: "How can you keep promoting this album after such a long time?" It's still fun when people like to hear this new music and they're excited to see you and see what you're doing and that's what keeps it alive for me. I don't think I would be able to do this if I didn't have that kind of audience. But also, the album is good, you know (laughs). It's a really, really good album. It's not just one or two good songs. It's an album where every song is interesting and still relevant in my life, so that's also a big reason.
C: You span such a wide emotional range on the album. You go from a smack talking fly girl on "Konichiwa Bitches" to very vulnerable and broken-hearted on "Be Mine!" Is that transition hard for you to pull off live?
R: No, I don't think it is at all, for me. I grew up in a theater family and those contrasts are what drive me, it's what I was brought up around: a stage where people who were very close to me- I saw them perform all the time. I think the art of telling a story or communicating an emotion was something I really took with me from the way I grew up. And that's something I use on stage as well. Even though it's not theater and I'm not in character, it's definitely about telling stories and being in those different moods. I don't really set out having to try to connect with my audience, it may be a bit of the other way around. I think they know what they're getting themselves into when they come see my show.
C: Even though you had mainstream success here in America in the late 90's [with hit singles "Do You Know (What It Takes)" and "Show Me Love"], it seems a lot of the previously mentioned "internet buzz" and coverage has come from more indie-related news sites like Pitchfork and Stereogum. You also played the indie-heavy South by Southwest Festival this year and worked with The Knife, a band popular in indie circles. This makes sense given the fact you own an independent record label. But given that past success, it seems you're perfectly fine with this level of popularity.
R: Well, the whole idea of this album was to get back to a place where it was fun to make music again. And so there's no reason for me to feel like there's any kind of pressure on me. I don't feel any pressure and I don't feel that I'm supposed to achieve something...you know...I'm kind of going the way the music is going. If they want to hear the music, well I'm coming here now! (laughs) But of course, I wouldn't release it if I didn't have a plan of reaching more people than I've already reached with this album. There are a lot of people in this country that would like my music to do well, so I'm trying to keep the balance between doing things where I feel like I keep my integrity but at the same time being able to open up to this huge market that America has.
C: How have you enjoyed having the freedom associated with owning your own record label [Konichiwa Records]?
R: I'm enjoying it every day. Having my own record company, starting it up, was the best thing I've ever done. I like being in control over what I do. At the moment, I'm working a lot and I'm having to do a lot of these tasks that I'm used to handing over to other people. But that's cool, you know? I'm at a point where I can oversee the process and stay on top of all of the business and really work with good people on major labels that I trust but also my own team of people that are surrounding me, the core, the heart of my organization. And through them, I'm also able to pay attention to details and be very thorough with everything.
C: This is your first extended U.S. tour, besides a few single shows, and you're even making your debut on Letterman tomorrow night. Pretty exciting stuff?
R: Yeah, it's going to be amazing.
C: What else are you looking forward to about the tour?
R: I'm looking forward to all of it. Whether its the show in Portland or Letterman or my shows in New York, I think- this is my first tour here in America. I did South by Southwest and a couple of shows in L.A., New York, and San Francisco - and coming out to smaller cities with these amazing audiences is really important to me.
C: You've conquered Europe already, the album is out here in America to widespread acclaim, and you're on your first tour here, too. You've completed world domination. What's next?
R: (laughs) Well, I'll be supporting the record here in America, then over in the U.K. and Europe and I'm going back to Australia. And then we'll see. I'll be back in the studio before the year's over.
C: Sounds great. Congratulations, again, on the great record.
R: Thank you!
Picture of Robyn from her MySpace page