It’s human nature to compare things that are new to things that are familiar. It’s our way of understanding the changing world around us. Nevertheless, making comparisons between music acts can lead to a delayed reaction to genius. Swedish-based electronic soul band, Little Dragon, can’t validly be compared to anything we’ve ever heard. Headed by Swedish-Japanese singer and songwriter, Yukimi Nagano, Little Dragon has a sound that’s so soothing you’d have to hear it to believe it.
Currently on tour in support of their second studio album, Machine Dreams, which was released in September 2009 on the indie label Peacefrog, Little Dragon continues to burst forward with a passion and soul that we haven’t seen in years.
I caught up with the lead singer of the four-piece, Yukimi Nagano, for a phone interview while she was in her hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden. There was a lot background noise.
Ferrari Sheppard: Hey, what are you doing?
Yukimi Nagano: Riding my bike home. [Sounds like a truck is attacking her bike]
FS: You don’t drive?
YN: No, I ride my bike everywhere. I live in a small city, so it’s like the easiest way to get around. Also, I don’t have a driver’s license.
FS: Why don’t you have a driver’s license?
YN: Oh… [Laughing] I don’t need one.
FS: How has your day been?
YN: It’s been good. I just finished a show. It was kind of weird because I was a guest artist.
FS: What’s life like for you when you’re not performing, or Little Dragon isn’t on tour or in the studio?
YN: Ohhh, there’s not so much of that [Laughing]. I’m either at home, in the studio, or on tour. I guess, after I come home from the studio, I usually like to do yoga or something [Laughing] or watch movies or read—just chill out.
FS: Do you have any pets?
YN: No, I’m allergic to furry animals.
FS: What inspired you to name your band Little Dragon?
YN: It’s actually a nickname that the guys in the band used to call me. Eric [Bodin, drummer] came up with the idea of using it for the band’s name. We all liked the name, so we kept it.
FS: The four of you, Eric Bodin, Fredrik Wallin (bass), and Håkan Wirenstrand (keyboards) have been friends since high school. How did you meet?
YN: I met Eric when I was 14; I met the other guys shortly after. We started playing music together after school, and have been doing it ever since. We feel really comfortable around each other. We’re family.
FS: How do you feel about being the only woman in the band?
YN: I’m used to it. Unfortunately there aren’t many female musicians, I mean there are, but the majority are male. I end up hanging out with guys all the time. I don’t feel bad about it, I’m just really used to it. It feels a bit awkward when I’m on tour and there’s another female. I’m like, “Wow, we can talk about how my necklace looks!”
FS: In the past, we’ve had bands like No Doubt whose male members publicly expressed their displeasure with the fact that their female lead singer, Gwen Stefani, was capturing all of the attention. Has this been an issue for Little Dragon?
YN: Ummm… No, I don’t think so. We all feel comfortable in our roles in the band. There’s no jealousy going on or anything like that.
FS: Let’s talk about your life growing up. What kind of upbringing did you have?
YN: Growing up, I felt like a ball that was being thrown around the world. My parents divorced when I was four, and my mom and I moved to Japan. Then we moved to the United States, then Sweden. My family is very spread out. My upbringing was being on airplanes and flying long distances. When I started touring, it was very familiar to me.
FS: Where did you live in the U.S.?
YN: I lived with my grandparents in Orange County, California. I lived in Sendai, Japan. The majority of the time, I lived in Gothenburg, Sweden.
FS: Did you ever want to be anything other than a singer?
YN: I noticed when I was a kid that I liked getting a lot of attention—I’d put on fake theatrical performances for my parents. When I became a teenager, I made up my mind that music was what I wanted to do. When I was 13, I focused on music and nothing else. I was passionate, and everything was very stormy and dramatic.
FS: Your music has a jazzy, soulful element to it. Who were some of your musical influences growing up?
YN: I listened to a lot of Prince. I also listened to a lot of synth music, like Depeche Mode. I was really into them in my early teens; I had a whole Gothic period. I listened to a wide range of music. Anything from Prince to Chaka Khan—all the good stuff.
FS: In 2007, you released your self-titled debut album, Little Dragon. Take us back to the energy surrounding that album, and what you’d say you’ve learned about yourself going into your 2009 effort, Machine Dreams?
YN: With the first album, Little Dragon, we had a lot of difficulties with our label. I think that when it comes to the music business part, which we are pretty horrible at…we learned a lot. I don’t think we’re very good at promoting ourselves. Certain artists are much better at having control of the music and the creative part, and also steering the business part. We just want to be in the studio and play live. We don’t really know how to plan all of the… what to do first, and how to do it… and what’s most effective. For the first album, we were naive. We were so excited to release an album, it was such a big deal, but when we released it, we had all of these issues with our label, and we were fighting with them. It’s just kind of a classic situation I think. This time we are more prepared.
FS: Where are your lyrics derived from?
YN: I guess it depends on my life situation. I think the songs are very emotionally-based because my emotions are kind of up and down and all around. At the same, I try not to be too obvious about that. I like to somehow tell a story and leave it up for interpretation. My songs are about experiences, and dramatic things happening in my life.
FS: At this point in your career, what are your ambitions?
YN: Part of me is really happy to be able to make more music, grow with the band, and keep releasing albums. Of course, when we get on another level, I have all of these ideas of how I want our backdrops to look, and our dancers… when we have more money.
FS: If you had to have one song playing softly in your head for the rest of your life, what would it be?
YN: [Laughing] Oh that’s horrible! Oh, that’s so difficult [More laughing]. Umm, ahhh… aw that’s so difficult. There is a guy who’s unknown, his name is Washed Out [Ernest Greene]; he’s from South Carolina. He makes really romantic, dreamy music. Then again, his voice might annoy me after a while. Oh! Okay, I have it! I would say “Enjoy the Silence” by Depeche Mode.
FS: Simply put, who is Yukimi Nagano?
YN[Laughing] Oh my god! I think I better keep it simple: A woman who loves music so much that when she’s on stage, she feels like her heart is going to burst. I love what I do so entirely, and I feel so blessed.
Watch Little Dragon – Twice