Fever Ray - Ray Of Light
The vocalist Karin Dreijer Andersson from cult Swedish electro band The Knife has hinted at retiring, but she’s not preparing to disappear just yet. Instead the ingenue is venturing out solo as Fever Ray. 3D’s Cyclone speaks to the ethereal vocalist about her self-titled debut album.
Before hooking up with brother Olof to form The Knife, Dreijer Andersson led the ’90s indie pop outfit Honey Is Cool, Sweden’s answer to Frente. The group generated interest at home, but never conquered the charts. (Oddly a cover of Rod Stewart’s Baby Jane proved popular.) Dreijer Andersson had already launched The Knife, countercultural electro pop, prior to the official dissolution of Honey Is Cool. They debuted with 2001’s eponymous album. Then came Deep Cuts. By 2006’s Silent Shout, The Knife were certified Pitchfork favourites.
The Knife have conventionally kept a distance from the media. They’re reluctant to be photographed, rejecting the music industry’s over-reliance on ‘image’. Typically, they wear masks. However, as huge David Lynch buffs, The Knife have embraced the video medium. Despite receiving multiple nominations for Silent Shout, they boycotted the Swedish music awards apparently to protest the male domination of the biz. Only after their third album did The Knife finally present a live show. Nevertheless, their music is too distinct, too kooky, to be anonymous.
Considering all this, Dreijer Andersson should be a tricky interviewee – a Scandinavian Alison Goldfrapp – but, though speaking in halting English, she’s warm and whimsical. If these days the Stockholm-based muso isn’t inclined to play the game, it’s as much to do with parenthood as principle. At 33, Dreijer Andersson has two young children.
Dreijer Andersson was able to explore things on Fever Ray that she couldn’t necessarily with The Knife. “It’s a matter of [having] time to really go into small details and areas and things – that’s maybe harder to do when you have somebody else around with their own ideas,” she says diffidently. “When I started [Fever Ray], I wanted to find out what my own ideas were about making music. That is something I couldn’t have done with somebody else around.”
Fever Ray is an intimate album, Dreijer Andersson cocooned in domesticity – and family life – during the writing. But the subject matter, drawn from another interior – the subconscious – is anything but blithe. Ambiguity, ambivalence, latent anxiety – this is the stuff of Dreijer Andersson’s world. The singer/songwriter dips into shoegaze pop, with Fever Ray more rock-edged than The Knife. Fever Ray is sometimes dreamy, occasionally hallucinatory. Dreijer Andersson’s MySpace profile classifies the music as “emo, psychedelic, ambient”. She has cited Jim Jarmusch’s postmodern western Dead Man as an influence, as well as Tomahawk’s Anonymous, comprising Native American songs. The single If I Had A Heart sets the tone.
Ask Dreijer Andersson if she enjoyed recording Fever Ray and she laughs. “Sometimes I enjoyed it, yes. Most of the time it’s hard making music, it’s very difficult, I think – it’s never easy.” What made Fever Ray demanding was that Dreijer Andersson sought to analyse her experience of motherhood. There is a long literary tradition of women expressing ambivalence about procreation (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has been construed as such in feminist critiques), but not within contemporary contexts, let alone pop music, as Dreijer Andersson does on the robotic Concrete Walls. “To make it meaningful, I want to work with subjects and issues that I want to find out more about. And, for this album, I think it was a lot about [offering] new perspectives on everything that happens when you become a parent. All the pink fluffy things you can already read about in women’s magazines, but the rest you have to deal with yourself – the things that happen when you don’t get any sleep and all the worrying and all the very frightening things. That’s not so easy to go into.”
What did she take away from Fever Ray- “The big surprise was that I managed to finalise the album – that I’m very happy about, that I continued, because I was thinking about quitting many times. I always do, but it’s nice when you’ve finished.” On I’m Not Done Dreijer Andersson contemplates retirement. It was the last number she composed for the LP. It’s not the first time that she’s had serious doubts. “I think you always do, you always question yourself, what you’re doing. It’s important that it feels meaningful to work with music – or work with art. You have to work with something that’s important. It’s always a big challenge to go into the studio and spend so much time on something that might just turn out very bad [laughs quietly].”
Ironically, Dreijer Andersson maintains that family life is conducive to music-making – and even working in the industry. She appreciates the grounding it affords. “Family is a good way to make it less crazy. It’s the best thing to have that you can always come home to. Nobody’s interested about what you have been doing at work and nobody listens to you and they don’t do what you tell them to do – that’s very good!” It helps that in Sweden, working mothers have supports that they don’t have in most Western states. “Me and my husband share responsibility for the family and household, which makes it work.”
Dreijer Andersson isn’t totally antagonistic towards the mainstream. The Knife, who preside over their own label, Rabid Records, licensed Silent Shout to Ministry of Sound in Australia, of all labels. (etcetc is handling Fever Ray.) Famously, Jose Gonzales’ acoustic version of Heartbeats was heard in a Sony BRAVIA ad. The Knife were integral to Robyn’s reinvention from RNB homegirl into indie electro rebel, producing her Who’s That Girl-. “That was a long time ago – it’s six years ago now since we worked with her for one track,” Dreijer Andersson downplays. “I know then, when we recorded [that], she was still at some major label. She had a lot of problems, I remember. Olof and I talked about all the possibilities and how great it was not to be signed to any label. I guess we talked her into it, in a way.”
Dreijer Andersson is committed to Fever Ray. She’s embarking on a massive European tour with a five-piece band. Old Knife affiliate Andreas Nilsson has conceived the visuals and costumes. Happily, Dreijer Andersson doesn’t rule out the prospect of heading down under.
Fever Ray doesn’t spell the end of The Knife. They’re on “hiatus”, with the techno-besotted Olof, who’s spent time in Berlin, concentrating on his DJing. The siblings have lined up a new project for this year. They’re writing a postmodern opera, Tomorrow, in a year, for the Danish theatre company Hotel Pro Forma (hotelproforma.dk), which will open in Copenhagen. “We actually did start to work together a year ago,” Dreijer Andersson reveals. “We’ve worked on the music for an opera about Charles Darwin, which was commissioned by a Danish theatre [company]. So we have been working for a year now – and that will have its premiere in September. After that, we will just see what happens.”
WHO: Fever Ray
WHAT: Fever Ray through etcetc / Universal
WHEN: Out now