Who's That Girl? An Interview with Robyn
Mon, 09 Apr 2007 18:03:53
Swedish singer Robyn Carlsson was just 14 when she made her
chart debut with the bouncy R&B song "Show Me Love." Now—10 years,
a few million record sales, and a string of hits later—she's back,
but in a very different guise.
Leaving the majors behind to found her own label, Konichiwa Records, Robyn's latest eponymous release is a dazzling exploration of the boundaries of pop. Having spent her youth working with writers such as Max Martin and Dr. Luke (later to become the production titans behind Britney Spears, *NSYNC, and Kelly Clarkson), Robyn is now applying her lyrical skills and quiet ambition to nothing less than music world domination.
ARTISTdirect met her for tea in London to talk about taking control, anti-pop attitudes, and the science of great songwriting.
I guess we'll get started with Konichiwa Records. What was in your mind when you decided to start the label?
It felt as if I didn't have a choice. To me, starting the record label was necessary. I was at the point where I felt I wanted to quit music.
When was this? A couple of years ago?
And what had happened to make you feel like that?
It wasn't really a whole tragedy in my life, but it was definitely at a breaking point. I wasn't really having fun anymore. I looked back over the last couple of years of my career, and I felt like I wasn't really going anywhere. I needed to make a change. I thought about it for awhile, and it seemed reasonable that starting a record company would enable me to have more control. I didn't know anyone who had done that before, so I started gathering information and trying to get in touch with people who could help me out—to figure out how to do it the best way. I knew people in Sweden who I had worked with before: marketing people, types like that. So I gathered a group of people I really liked working with, and we started putting the label together. It took about a year, working out all the financial stuff and everything. But then I had a record company!
How does it feel to be the one making all the decisions—the buck stops with you now?
At the beginning, it was kind of scary. It's a totally different world, and I had a lot of new tasks to get my head around. I didn't know if I was going to be good at it or not. But I enjoyed myself... I mean, now, the creative part and the business part are coming together: the distances between them are getting shorter and shorter. It's easier than it was. Before, if I had to have a business meeting in the morning, I would get to the studio later on and be all "Bleugh." But I think that was only because it was a new thing: I didn't know it yet. When you learn something new, it always takes time. And now, they're kind of feeding each other. Because I'm a person who knows all about my business stuff, I can be more creative because I don't have to worry so much. And I can make better business decisions, because I have a place where I know I can make the kind of music that I really want to. It's great. Thumbs up for everything!
On the creative side, when you started your career, you were working with Choiron—Max Martin, Dr Luke (the songwriting/production team behind *NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, and newer material from Kelly Clarkson). It must have been an amazing apprenticeship.
Yes, definitely. That's a good way to look at it. So much of the time I get, you know, "How did you feel working with (lowers voice) Max Martin?" (laughs)
But he's written so many great songs!
Yes, exactly! I've made those records, and I don't want to make them again, but that doesn't mean I regret them at all. I've learned so much. I think the biggest misconception about writing the kind of songs that Martin writes is that it's easy.
If anything, it seems harder because they're so precise. Writing great pop songs is one of the hardest things to do.
Yes! If you were to compare songwriting to science, then writing pop songs would be rocket science. Because everything has to work, and when you're up there, you don't have anything to fall back on. Everything has to be perfect. So it's been a great school. And overall, I think that Sweden has a unique way of looking at melodies.
Like the cello refrain on "Be Mine!"—how it sounds immediately familiar, because of the melody and arrangement.
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