2010 was a big year for the Swedish pop singer Robyn—to put it mildly. In June she released Body Talk Pt. 1. In September she released Body Talk Pt. 2. And then, two short months later, she resurfaced with a full-length LP that included the best of the Body Talk bunch... plus five new tracks. All told, Robyn put out more than 20 songs in 2010, including four stone-cold classics (“Dancing on My Own,” “Call Your Girlfriend,” “Indestructible,” and “Hang With Me”). For her Herculean efforts, she was rewarded with four Grammy nominations, hundreds of thousands of records sold, and a spot (or two) on almost every year-end Top Ten list in the land.
But since her Body Talk tour ended a few years ago, Robyn has been pretty much out of commission. She endured a big breakup. She felt lonely. She worried about whether she could ever really follow up Body Talk.
And then she had an idea. The time had come to join a band.
Or, more accurately, to create one. So she called her friends Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland of the legendary Norwegian electronic duo Röyksopp. The three of them had already worked together on a Röyksopp track (“The Girl and the Robot,” from 2009’s Junior) and a Robyn track (“None of Dem,” from Body Talk). But they had never collaborated “from scratch,” as Brundtland puts it—and Röyksopp was also feeling a bit burned out, both creatively and personally. So they began to meet up at Röyksopp’s studio in Bergen, Norway for loose, low-key weekend recording sessions—just to “play around,” according to Robyn.
The result, out this week, is Do It Again: a self-described five-song “mini-album” that is both a testament to the power of creative collaboration and a brilliant summertime soundtrack. From the pulsing, monolithic “Monument" to the ecstatically melancholy title track, Do It Again doesn’t sound like Robyn or Röyksopp, but rather Robyn and Röyksopp. The whole is greater, in many ways, than the sum of its parts.
To find out how they produced such a fantastic record, The Daily Beast tracked down Robyn and the Röyksopp boys in their various corners of Scandinavia. Despite some technical difficulties—Robyn’s line kept beeping in and out—the Do It Again crew was gracious enough to take a break from preparing for their upcoming joint tour to tell us the story behind the new songs. Excerpts:
So why do you guys call Do It Again a “mini-album” instead of an EP?
Robyn: I call it an EP! [Robyn’s line immediately cuts out]
Svein: You call it an EP. I call it mini-album. I think it has to do with the fact that “EP” sounds like a selection of tracks, whereas “mini-album” sounds like a cohesive whole.
With Do It Again, is that cohesion musical, sonic, or thematic? Or all of the above?
Svein: To be very big on things, bordering on the pretentious, I see it as all of those things. The themes are definitely there. But also the production style—there’s a cohesive texture to it. [Robyn’s line reconnects.] There’s Robyn again!
Robyn: I’m sorry.
Svein: It’s freaky. What kind of mind tricks are you playing?
Robyn: I said, “I don't call it an EP” and then I hung up.
Robyn: No, no. I’m clumsy.
So you’re back now?
Robyn: Yes, I’m back. Just in time for Svein to stop talking.
Tell me about the moment that you knew you were going to be making this music together.
Robyn: We met each other in Bergen the first time that we were going to record “The Girl and the Robot” for Body Talk. Röyksopp had asked me if I wanted to work with them, and they sent me lots of music. I added some things to their music, but “The Girl and the Robot” was the first thing we worked on when we were in the same room. And we just got along really well right away.
Torbjørn: But this time around was very different than what we’d done previously, with “The Girl and the Robot.” That was a Röyksopp track. “None of Dem” was a Robyn track. But Robyn said that she wanted to work with us from scratch—on something where we basically start at zero.
All of a sudden, she was singing one tone—like, “oooooo”—for a few seconds, and we stretched it out to several billion years.
Robyn: I thought it would be interesting. In the beginning we just decided to make music. No one said, “We should make music for this album” or “We should make music for that album.” Then I had this idea where, you know, maybe we can create something together. I had no real wish to start recording an album right away. I’d just gotten off tour. I wanted to just play around and do stuff and collaborate. Secretly in my mind I wanted us to be a band, but I didn’t think it seriously. Then we turned into a band. Carrying the weight together is something that I think changes the music.
Svein: Robyn, you know that we can read your mind.
Svein: You cannot conceal anything. That’s why you love us.
Robyn: Yes I do! I love you!
Robyn, you said the idea of a band was attractive to you. Why?
Robyn: Because I feel like for me—I don’t know about Svein and Torbjørn—I feel like you do these collaborations with other people (and I collaborate all the time with different producers and songwriters) but it’s a different thing when you have to front it together. When you both put your name on it. You invest more and I think you have sacrifice more. It just becomes more serious. [Laughs] Which I like.
You've said before that when you came off the Body Talk tour you were “hungover.” What were you going through at that time in your life?
Robyn: You know the thing where you have a deadline, and you need a deadline, then you finish the project and you feel really empty and kind depressed and you don’t know why? After awhile you realize you're coming down from an intense period, and I had that kind of period after Body Talk. I was coming down from two years of touring and a lot of personal things that happened. [Ed: In 2011, Robyn and her longtime fiancé broke up.] I was not enjoying myself very much. [Laughs]
So this idea of immersing yourself in a band was a refuge of sorts.
Robyn: It was. And also the idea of doing it with Svein and Torbjørn. You can’t do it with just anyone. It has to feel right.
Svein: I think sometimes the simplest explanation trumps it all. We just wanted to hang out, have fun, make music together. That’s the core idea of this project.
Was there a moment in the recording process, though, when you knew that this wasn’t just you guys hanging out—that it was actually a “mini-album”? Or an EP...
Torbjørn: [Laughs] I have to say that the track “Monument” is doing quite a lot in that respect. The creation of it and also what it means thematically. There’s such scope to it. It’s really like an opening scene in a movie. We just felt that “this needs to be part of something. It can’t just be this one track."
Svein, You've said things were “perhaps a bit bleak” at that point for Röyksopp as well. What did you mean by that?
Svein: Without going into any detail and leaving my own personal life as an open wound out in the media... It’s just too close. I'm not sure that we are completely out of the wilderness quite yet. I’ll send you a copy of my memos in 20 years time when I’m hopefully in a better place.
But it’s fair to say you were going through some difficulties as well.
Svein: Yes, and almost certainly that helped—for the three of us to sit together and be not necessarily in the same place, but to have some of the same issues maybe. And there are other things we have in common, too. That’s part of the reason why we’ve connected with Robyn—she has a bit of the same...to put it really plainly, one could suggest that neither of us likes being told what to do and I think we are all very protective of whatever we think is right for us. On every level, whether it’s musical or personal.
I want to give readers a sense of your creative process—how these songs were actually made. Tell me the story behind “Monument.”
Torbjørn: If I remember correctly, we were in this state that we’ve described now. Svein told you about the emotional side, and we’ve said we just had this feeling about doing something together. And “Monument” is a perfect example of that, because we were just playing around with our time-stretch program. There was a new algorithm that allows you to stretch sound out indefinitely. We were playing with Robyn’s vocals in there, and all of a sudden, she was singing one tone—like, “oooooo"—for a few seconds, and we stretched it out to several billion years.
Torbjørn: If we pressed play and let the computer run, and there was no power failure, and it was maintained, that sound would take billions of years to play from beginning to end. I think Robyn really liked that idea.
Robyn: Yeah. We talked about space and time. I had seen these sculptures [by artist Juliana Cerqueira Leite] and I got this feeling of how time was created by action—that it might not be a linear thing. For me, these sculptures were almost like a physical version of what it is to define yourself: your insides, who you are as a person. They gave me a physical sensation of what that can be. And so we talked about life—how you go through life, what you are. Easy, little things like that. [Laughs]
How were those easy, little concepts translated into the track itself?
Robyn: Torbjørn and Svein had this idea of recording vocals and stretching them and I just loved the way it sounded. We started talking about what could be the world around this and sounds started popping up. Then something happened which is hard to explain—you just follow your gut feeling. That’s what we did.
Svein: Sitting in a room with Robyn, who's a great vocalist and visionary, that gave us the ability to play around with what we refer to as “stutter edits”—chopping up vocals and trying to find little melodies and interesting turns. Then we talked about them. And shouted. And cried. And laughed. It all turned out quite interesting in the end. That's when you know it’s been good—if it's been a great journey.
Robyn: And it all happened in a day!
Let's move on to “Sayit.”
Svein: Very often we find that capturing that specific moment when you get the idea—that’s what it's all about. Trying to maintain that idea and polish it until it becomes as good as it can be. That’s what we did with “Monument,” and I think we kind of did the same thing with “Sayit.”
Svien: Obviously it’s the dirtiest song on the record, both in terms of production and concept. It’s grimy and sexual, but it’s also quite funny and bordering on the stupid. But good stupid.
“Good stupid”—that’s perfect.
Svein: I’m a big fan of that. The open hi-hat in the beginning—that’s “good stupid.” The song is a bit of an homage to the good old days of clubbing, and it’s also a nod to anyone who’s into robotic voices. The voices on the track are not synthetic. They’re done the old-school way, with circuitry and bit rhythms and whatnot. Those are the kind of things we like to nerd out on. It’s always fun to drag Robyn into that. [Laughs] So she can bring her dirtiness to it. Is that the right word?
Robyn: How about “my intelligence and wit”?
“Do It Again” is shaping up to be the EP’s big pop single. Was that your goal?
Robyn: For me—and people don’t necessarily hear it this way—“Do It Again” is kind of connected to “Monument” in that it started out in this dreamy state and then turned into something totally different. It became a very powerful pop song. We just wanted to see how far we could take it, you know? And it took on this quality where it’s going overboard all of the time, with the production as well. The trance sound in the background. The lyrics. The long, long section in the middle with these really sad words...and then it keeps going and going. We just followed the lead of the melody.
Svein: But we also chose not go the obvious route. We could have made the production a bit more 2010s by steering it in a more generic direction. Instead, what we’ve done is more a nod towards Euro dance of the 1990s and rave. Stuff like that. As opposed to current EDM.
Svein: It also has something to do with the melodies, which we felt were so strong. Today’s pop music tends to have really dense melodies with small steps between the notes. It’s more like [rapidly] “oh-uh-uh-oh.” Nursery rhymes. We didn’t do that. Our melody is more 1990s to me.
Robyn: “Do It Again” is quite hysterical. It takes on everything that's happened the last couple of years in dance music with a smile. It goes further. It’s a song that's saying, “Yeah, you thought that was tough? Look at this! Watch me now!”
Robyn, I know you jumped into the collaboration with Röyksopp after Body Talk in part because you weren’t ready to do another solo album. Has Do It Again gotten you over that hump? Are you ready now?
Robyn: I don’t know what’s next. I’m working with other people, too [including Kindness’s Adam Bainbridge and Swedish producer Christian Falk]. It can get really lonely when you’re out front all the time by yourself. I love collaborating like this and I want to do more of it. But it’s not something I do now. It has to come from a real place. Anyway, I have ideas for a new album. I had some when I started working with Svein and Torbjørn. But I didn’t feel like it was...I know that I can make a better album if I just wait awhile. It has to come when it’s ready. So I don’t know when.
Will we see another Robyn and Röyksopp release someday? Did you record more tracks together, or just these five?
Robyn: This is what we had time to finish before summer came. We wanted to tour.
Torbjørn: Actually, we made a lot of other songs. We have 20 songs, but they are only 10 seconds long, each of them.
That’s the real mini-album, isn’t it?
Torbjørn: Yes! Everything was miniature. We played mini drum-kits and mini guitars. We have a mini computer. It has, like, 5KB of memory. And we will release it on Mini-Discs, obviously.