Six Questions for ... Miike Snow
(By special contributor Fritz Hahn)
Who is Miike Snow? The trio headlining the Rock and Roll Hotel tonight is a behind-the-scenes supergroup of sorts. Two of the three members are Pontus Winnberg and Christian Karlsson, better known as the Grammy-winning production team Bloodshy and Avant, who produced and co-wrote Britney Spears' "Toxic," and have also done songs for Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Jordin Sparks and Jennifer Lopez. Singer Andrew Wyatt has been in some New York-based rock bands, including The A.M. He's also an in-house producer for the New York label Downtown Records, home to Gnarls Barkley, Spank Rock and Art Brut. And he's done songwriting and production work for artists like Amanda Blank, Just Jack and Daniel Merriweather. (D.C. connection: Wyatt co-wrote Merriweather's "Change," which features Wale.)
Miike Snow's music is what you'd expect from such talented veterans -- lush, electronic pop with big hooks, dense layers of loops and shimmering keys, and beats that will get even the most jaded hipster dancing. I spoke with Wyatt from New York, where the band was kicking off its tour with two sold-out shows at the Mercury Lounge.
You've played in rock bands in New York, they're two of the biggest producers of dance music in Sweden. How did you guys meet?
We met in a studio in New York -- in the penthouse of the Studio 54 building on 54th street. I was on my way out of a session. I was playing my last song when [Christian Pontus] came in. He liked my last song and I liked his first song and we liked each other as people, so we stayed in touch over iChat, which I suppose would be Gchat these days. A couple years later, I was in Stockholm playing with my band the A.M., and he reached out to me and talked about collaborating on some music. That was probably in 2005, and we didn't start until November 2007.
(More after the jump.)
When the Miike Snow record came out, it was fairly anonymous -- didn't mention Avant and Bloodshy, didn't mention your previous work. It was kind of "Who are these guys?" which isn't the case now. What was the reason for downplaying your identities?
I feel like we were falsely accused of being anonymous. I fail to see where we tried to conceal our identities. Just the fact that we have a symbol that we like [a giant jackalope], and we wanted to use, and have a lot of people wearing T-shirts with our symbol on it. We never hid who we were. People are trying to say we were trying to play anonymous -- some of us have done very high-profile things in the past, but that's not connected to what we are doing, really. It felt like we were doing something different. If it was any other band that didn't have some people who'd written some really big songs in it, there wouldn't be an issue about anonymity.
There's always been a photo of us on our MySpace, and we've always said that we are Pontus Winnberg, Christian Karlsson and Andrew Wyatt.
This is your first big headlining tour, and much is being made of the fact that you guys don't use backing tracks when you perform. What are you looking forward to, and do you have any apprehensions about playing what's essentially electronic music on stage?
I'm glad that we have a lot of people interested in hearing us play live, and we look forward to those experiences -- the intimacy of the crowd and difficulties of playing live. Because of the nature of our setup, we don't know what's going to happen from night to night. A lot of the electronic equipment is quite delicately interconnected and every electrical current is going through a multitude of different manipulation on its way to the speakers, and there's something could go wrong at every phase, and often does. That's the daunting side of it.
But I think that we all enjoy playing together a lot, and the opportunity to become better at doing that, and the opportunity to have some sort of telekinesis between the band members is exciting.
You all have written and produced songs for other people, but you're also musicians, and now you're back concentrating on your own work instead of someone else's, and playing your own songs live. Was there a reason for wanting to perform your own material now instead of working on someone else's?
I've always been doing bands and writing for other people on the side, and those guys were in bands and getting asked to write things for other people. And then for whatever reason -- and who knows why these things happen, honestly -- their stuff started becoming very in demand, to a place where they couldn't say no. I mean, if Madonna called me today, I probably would say, "Yeah, let's do some songs together."
I don't think being producers was something that they had planned on or wanted. I think it just happened. I don't think it's something they didn't want. They weren't actively pursuing being the world's biggest producers. Their songs that became huge were like anomalies for those artists; if you look at the precedent for what these artists were doing, it's obvious that [Bloodshy and Avant's] songs were coming from a different place. That has to do with the fact that being producers was a dada-ish pursuit that reached out and grabbed them.
But I feel like this is something we've all always wanted to do and we like doing it. We like playing songs, and now we're doing it as people who go onstage and play songs themselves.
What have you taken away from all the other work that you guys have done with those big names?
A lot. First of all, you shouldn't be afraid of a little work. A lot of people think they're esoteric and their music has to descend to them on a tray from some seraphim. But we like to get in and roll our sleeves up and work, and I don't think we're afraid of any act of the process. It's something that we richly enjoy. I think there can be a certain wishy washyness when you have to do stuff on a deadline for someone else. I'm not trying to put us on the same platform by any means, but it's the same principal as Bach having to write something every Sunday, so he did. It forces you to realize what you have to offer, and I think that dimension of our jobs helped us know how to do certain things. We have a facility with the tools that one uses to make music.
You guys have had a number of remixes of "Burial" and "Animal" done for you, and you've remixed bands like Vampire Weekend yourselves. Who do you think are the ideal producers to remix Miike Snow?
Who we'd like to have remix us? Huh. As far as minimal trance music, we'd love Trentemoller. He's one of our favorites. Then there is some interesting new electronic music coming out of New York like Silk Flowers, Cold Cave, Blank Dogs, and Soft Circle, which is the drummer from the Black Dice's new electronic band. And then there are some great Swedish electronic bands that I can't pronounce, so I won't even try.
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