As the Swedish band announce their fifth album Season High, singer Yukimi Nagano talks musical escapism, why they’ve stopped chasing trends and their spiritually surreal new video
Little Dragon are back. Today, the Swedish quartet announce the release of their fifth album Season High, the follow-up to 2014’s Grammy-nominated Nabuma Rubberband. Back in February the group previewed the album with the then-standalone single “High”, accompanied by director Ossian Melin’s video in which the group perform the sensual song through a rich and psychedelic lens. In announcing the album, Little Dragon has reconnected with Melin again for the video of their new single “Sweet”, which premieres below.
Over the phone earlier this week, Dazed spoke to lead singer and songwriter Yukimi Nagano as the group finished a day of rehearsals in preparation for upcoming festival spots and tour dates this spring and summer. From her home, Nagano spoke at length about working with producers James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Foals) and Patrik Berger (Charli XCX, Lana Del Rey), the politics of a modern day band, and their hope for what Season High will bring for their fans.
What can you tell us about the ‘Sweet’ video?
Yukimi Nagano: The song is a pretty straightforward dance track, so it felt obvious to bring in some dancers for the video. For me, it feels more like a club track, something that you want to put on to get in the mood to dance. That’s the direction we gave to the director (Ossian Melin) and (then asked him) to put his personal twist on it. He’s a pretty surreal character, and in his artistic expression he made it his vibe through our idea of a dance video, but it became something completely different.
Does it releate to the ‘High’ video at all?
Yukimi Nagano: It’s more that he (Ossian) is from the same city as us, so there’s a personal connection in that sense. He’s a tortured soul of an artist and fun to be around. I think we just clicked. We weren’t that familiar with his previous work, but we liked him as a person, so that was the main reason why we wanted to work with him more.
“There are four strong wills (in the band)... sometimes everyone’s brains are about to explode while trying to come to a conclusion about something” – Yukimi Nagano, Little Dragon
For this album, you worked with James Ford and Patrik Berger. It’s the first time Little Dragon has worked on production with anyone outside the group – what influenced that decision?
Yukimi Nagano: With James Ford, we met in Australia when on tour. We buddied up with him and love his work too, so when we talked about people to work with, he came up immediately. The reason as to why we decided to work with him was partly because really, it’s kind of struggle for us to work together as a band. There are four strong wills, and a lot of compromising, so sometimes everyone’s brains are about to explode while trying to come to a conclusion about something. Bringing in someone else was helpful in finishing the songs and dealing with the mixing of the tracks. It was fun to work with someone we met that we could connect with. Patrik Berger was someone that was suggested to us, and so we decided to give it a try with ‘Sweet’ because we had one million different versions and opinions between us, so needed an outsider who didn’t know us personally to give us some advice.
How was it a struggle?
Yukimi Nagano: We’ve known each other for a long time, and sometimes the relationship can get weirder. Sometimes you feel like you’ve known each other forever and sometimes you don’t feel like you know each other at all because we’ve all changed. But at the same time, we have our history. We’ve all evolved, but at the same time, we have this band together. Sometimes it gets complicated, layered and distorted between us, but we always try to find a way. It’s always been a bit of a struggle, but I guess it gets harder on many levels creatively when trying to get back to the playful vibe we had at the start. We get there, but it’s definitely a long process.
Despite what you’ve said, it seems as though you’ve taken it as a positive experience and learnt a lesson. The album sounds like you’re giving that back in the music.
Yukimi Nagano: It feels that way. I think we’ve been through phases where we’ve tried to change but it hasn’t always been to our benefit. Every phase has been important, but we’ve admittedly been affected by pop norms. For this album, we tried to not give a fuck about anything and not conform like we may have sometimes done to fit into that mould of being a commercial band but not actually being a commercial band. It gets confusing to us, and we’re very affected by it. We concentrated on artistic expression and having a personal touch and being all of ourselves while recognising the imperfections that we have. I think we’ve done it in an honest way and we weren’t feeling confused about where we were with the music or paranoid about what’s good or bad. Sometimes that builds too many walls around your creativity – especially when you’re a couple of albums in and trying to achieve something.
Do you think the crossover success of Ritual Union influenced the direction and focus of Nabuma Rubberband?
Yukimi Nagano: After Ritual Union, a British magazine said: ‘Little Dragon are the band that almost made it.’ We found it quite charming and laugh about it when we bring it up because sometimes that’s how we feel. There was a big leap from where we first started. Despite it being self-made, there were a lot of expectations for that album. But everything’s relative – and people have different opinions – but we definitely went a little more experimental (with Nabuma Rubberband) and were affected by a lot of different aspects. Season High feels more focused. There was a lot of joy in making it, and we wanted to make sure we felt like we regained our focus. I think we were a little bit shattered and lost in our hang-ups of being a perfect imperfection. But, if you’re trying to be perfect all the time then there’s a lot of anxiety with that. Somehow you feel warm when you write it, and that brings out the joy in the music.
“We’re suckers for escapism and how you can make the grey, mundane everyday a little bit magical by listening to music” – Yukimi Nagano, Little Dragon
Did working with Flume, De La Soul, Kaytranada, and Mac Miller in the past year bring anything that perhaps previous collaborations didn’t present?
Yukimi Nagano: I think we are selective of what we wanted to do, but there’s always a wide range of people that want us to be part of their project. It’s pretty simple: we work with people we like and keep it very clear that nothing else should be part of their incentive. Working with other people is fun, but it always makes us more focused on our work because otherwise, we’ll always be ‘that band that always does collaborations.’ We’ve had interviews in the past asking us about who we’ve been working with when we’re working on our album.
What else can you tell us about the new album?
Yukimi Nagano: Something that has connected us as a band is listening to music that gives you the feeling of escapism. That’s our personal high. Whether you’re listening to music on your headphones on a train or in the club, you get that feeling and feel so good. We as a band have that in common – and the high is what we’re addicted to, which is why we decided to call the album Season High. It’s something we feel we need in our lives and hope that our music achieves that. We’re suckers for escapism and how you can make the grey, mundane everyday a little bit magical by listening to music.