Music

The L-Words: An Interview with the Cardigans

It was two years of hard work (both on and away from the music), but the Cardigans still made an album to last.


The Cardigans

Super Extra Gravity

Label: Nettwerk
US Release Date: 2006-09-19
UK Release Date: 2005-10-17
Amazon
iTunes

I've counted every entry in the Oxford English Dictionary, and I can tell you quite categorically that if you were to look precisely halfway between "languid" and "luxuriant", you'd find the word "lovely". "Lovelorn", of course, would be nearby.

The sound of the Cardigans has always been best described with L-words.

The rich and effortless beauty of Nina Persson's voice, complimented perfectly by the pop tones of her bandmates, has been one of the most recognisable sounds in pop music for fully a dozen years. And one of the most appealing. Yet Super Extra Gravity, the Cardigan's very worthy follow-up to the outstanding Long Gone Before Daylight, has languished in limbo, unable to find an American label, for almost a year after its European release. Guitarist and lead Cardigan Peter Svensson candidly explained the problem as we talked on a transatlantic telephone line.

"Frankly, quite frankly, this all goes back a few years to when we agreed our current deal with Universal.

"I don't know if you remember when Universal merged with Polygram, which was our record company at the time? But it all took place during the release of our fourth album Gran Turismo. And we had such a bad experience, especially in the United States, with this merger that it became really important for us that we find people who really wanted to work with us, and that we could trust, in the United States.

"So, while we were signed to Universal itself in Europe, we were able to strike a deal with the company that gave us the ability to pick our own label for each album in the United States. All within the Universal empire, of course.

"But then what happened was ... we made records that ... or the industry changed ... and then we weren't selling as many records as both we and Universal had probably expected. So our deal turned against us until it actually became them, the labels, who could say, 'Well, we don't want to release you.'

"So that's what has been delaying everything, Trying to find a label within Universal where both the label believed in the band, and the band wanted to work with the label."

The Cardigan's new label in the USA is Nettwerk America. Long Gone Before Daylight was released by Koch Records. As far as I can tell, both Nettwerk and Koch are entirely independent of the immense Vivendi Universal conglomerate. So we can perhaps draw our own conclusions about the Cardigan's Great Label Hunt and the aesthetics of Universal's corporate decision-making.

Here at PopTowers, however, we have quite the finest taste, and we're all very much enamoured of Super Extra Gravity. But it must be very odd for Peter to be promoting and discussing a record that, from his perspective, came out a year ago.

"Of course, it's a little bit strange. But if we had talked about the album a year ago, my answers would have been different to any questions regarding the album. Because, I guess, time changes your views. So it's OK for me, it's still an interesting experience.

"For example, I've changed my opinions on some of the songs. There's a couple of songs I like more today than when we actually recorded them, or at least at the time of the release. And maybe the other way around, there's songs I liked a lot when we were recording them, but now, when time has passed, I feel like maybe they shouldn't have been on the album at all.

"But I guess that's all perfectly natural when we've done something like 70 shows since the release. And, of course, that has an effect on your feelings as well, the touring."

I guess it's the same sort of effect that a fan would undergo?

"Yes, that's probably what I'm experiencing. When you buy an album you find certain songs immediately catchy, the singles, or whatever. But after a while that changes and you end up with other songs as favourites. Ones that weren't so obvious at first. And I guess that's the same for us in the band. Or for any musician.

The Cardigans -- Don't Blame Your Daughter

"My favourite song is actually "Don't Blame Your Daughter", but I think that's been my favourite throughout the whole process. There's one song on the album, though, that I don't like too much now. And if we had the chance to do it again, I'd probably rewrite it, or re-record it, or maybe try to avoid having it on the album at all. That's the song called "Holy Love". But I have to tell you that this is probably Nina's favourite song so I really shouldn't say bad things about it. It's just that after we've been playing it live every night while touring, it just hasn't lasted for me."

Super Extra Gravity is filled with great songs. From Persson's positively Jagger-esque performance on the rocktastic single "I Need Some Fine Wine and You, You Need to Be Nicer" to the raw emotional confessions of "And Then You Kissed Me II", and then some; but "Don't Blame Your Daughter (Diamonds)" and "Holy Love" are clearly its two finest moments.

The former starts with a picked guitar line, adds a simple brushed beat and Nina's angry-sad vocals, and then builds up into a lush hook-laden arrangement as the story progresses through verse after verse of traditionally idiosyncratic lyrics.

Don't blame your mom,

For all that you've done wrong.

Your dad is not guilty.

You came out a little faulty

And the factory closed

So you can't hold them liable

A lachrymose musical letter, it would seem, to an ex of some description or other, "Don't Blame Your Daughter (Diamonds)" is lyrically almost the diametric opposite of "Holy Love".

You can really make anyone you want of me.

Anyone you need tonight, I'll be.

Whether you want empathy, animosity,

An enemy or company, call me.

I can even be nothing if you ask.

I'll turn invisible for you.

I'm the bird on your shoulder

Singing psalms through the night

Of holy love.

An apparently absolute statement of unconditional love enunciated with typical precision above guitars, a harpsichord(ish), and all the usual rock trappings, "Holy Love" is musically down, so lavishly so that you're tempted to start looking for some of that famous Scandanavian irony in the lyrics. Regardless, with a shared sense of constancy, these are the two songs that most effectively link Super Extra Gravity back to its predecessor, Long Gone Before Daylight. As a big fan of both records, I'm not quite sure which is better, but they're certainly both very strong records. Arguably, they constitute the best rock/pop output from any band this millennium.

Listening to the Cardigans' six albums to date, the word that leaps immediately to mind is evolution. The five Swedes have progressed from twee lounge pop with lashings of irony (Emmerdale, Life) through an increasingly dark and complex middle period (First Band on the Moon, Gran Turismo) and out into an era of perfectly conceived grown-up pop music. It's been a curious, and curiously satisfying journey.

"This is one of the things I value most about being in this band," says Peter. "That we allow ourselves to change direction, and that we're not afraid of stepping away from formulas or sounds just because they were successful. Maybe that was stupid, I don't know. But I'm really proud that once we had success with something, even if it was really popular, that if we didn't feel like doing it that way again, then we were never going to do it. I really enjoy that.

"It's hard, though, to comment on the whole process. And I can't really say I hear a straight line running through all the records taking us towards a certain place. I think it's a bit more complicated than that."

Perhaps there was an element of having to grow up in public? After all, Peter and Nina were both only 18 when they formed the Cardigans, and just 20 when they released Emmerdale.

"I think ... yes ... we've always been ...we weren't aware or prepared for what was going to happen ... and yet suddenly people start to judge your band or your work, and what you've said and what you didn't say. And we weren't prepared for that. At all. So I think that whenever we got a label, we wanted to get rid of it. And I think perhaps that's why we always make sure we don't end up with a new album that sounds exactly like the previous one."

While Super Extra Gravity certainly doesn't sound exactly like Long Gone Before Daylight, there is more consistency between this pair than previously. One possibility, of course, is that the band has finally reached a natural equilibrium. One that may have come from a change in the group dynamic.

"Lately I think, on the two last albums, the band has been working more and more together on the actual arrangements. I think we've spent more time in the rehearsal room before recording a song that we actually ever used to.

"To explain, a record like Gran Tourismo was very much just me coming into the studio with the songs pretty much completed, and we would just experiment with those songs in the studio, with no rehearsals at all. But now, we've become maybe more traditional in the sense that we prepare ourselves like a proper band before recording.

"Historically, you see, I wrote all the music pretty much on my own, including all the vocal melodies, chorus, and the core of the whole thing. Sometimes a song would come with a full arrangement and full production ideas, and sometimes it was just an acoustic guitar and me humming a melody line or a vocal line. But now there's much more opportunity for the members of the band to really have an input."

And Nina writes the lyrics, yes?

"Yes. Lyrically, I bring a few words or sentences here or there, like a chorus line, or the first line of each verse ... or something like that ... or maybe just a title, and then Nina would take it from there to write the lyrics ... while holding on to what I gave her ... if she liked it and if it made sense to her, I guess."

Although Super Extra Gravity has finally been released in North America, the Cardigans are unlikely to be touring to promote it. While Nina Persson has been quoted as saying that the band themselves cancelled the tour for family reasons, there was also a good deal of talk about the band's dissatisfaction with the budget for the tour. Peter is deliberately non-specific on the subject.

"Yes, the tour was ... um ... postponed. And I actually don't know of any new dates. But Nina's already in New York, I believe. She's married to an American (composer and musician Nathan Larson), and they were planning on spending some time there. So I'm going over to see her there, and there's talk of us doing some promotion and playing together acoustically, maybe at the CMJ in October or whenever that is."

The Cardigans came close to breaking up after Gran Turismo, taking several years off and pursuing a number of solo projects. Since they began recording together again, they've made their two finest records to date. Now, despite Nina's marriage and all the distractions it must offer, and despite her interest in acting, it seems that the Cardigans will be making at least one more album together. Eventually.

"Yes, we've talked about it. But we've just got back from playing in Brazil ... and it's been almost exactly two years of work on this album ... and we didn't really have much of a break after Long Gone, which was three years of work because we had a really long recording process. But we're planning to get together before Christmas to talk about it, to try some new songs, and to try to make a plan.

"I think we'll probably start recording sometime after New Year. But we're going to take it quite easily, take our time and make sure we don't rush. Because whenever you start the ball rolling in this game, it automatically means another two years out of your life. So we want to make sure we're really prepared before we tell the record company we're ready to go to work again."

Lovely.

This feature was brought to you by the letter L and the numbers 5 and 6.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less
Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image