Little Dragon have always approached making music with friendships in mind. They’ve been friends for almost 15 years and have been making music for just as long. Enigmatic lead singer Yukimi Nagano talks to Music Feeds about what it’s been like being in a band with your closest friends for so long, releasing their third record and an imminent appearance at the Parklife Festivals.
Music Feeds: Where are you at the moment? What have you been up to?
Yukimi Nagano: Well I’m in Cannes visiting a friend and the other guys are in Gothenburg. We’ve been playing a lot of festivals recently, Glastonbury and Melt Festival in Germany and Roskilde in Denmark. It’s been quite busy with all that touring and the preparation for the album coming out at the end of the week.
MF: Do you really love touring? The rest of 2011 is looking like it’s going to be a lot of time on the road.
YN: At this point I’m extremely used to it, I mean it’s been completely crazy since we were even last out in Australia, which wasn’t that long ago. It’s just been non-stop really. In preparing for the rest of the year it’s not like we really need to change anything because it’s just more of what we’ve already been doing. I actually sometimes get more stressed when I’m at home.
MF: You’ve all been together since high school; are you closer now than you were before? When you’re making music, is it business or do you muck around a lot?
YN: I mean it depends on what we’re doing, if it’s something we need to get done like export files or do a remix, anything with a time limit, then we obviously have to kind of get it done. Generally when we make music, even if it is how we earn money, it’s still about having a good time, that’s why we started doing it and why we’re addicted to making music. It would be a shame to lose that, you lose something if you take it too seriously and just stop trying stuff which is a part of having fun, taking risks that might not necessarily pay off straight away. It’s how we started and it’s how we’re still doing it.
MF: I think it was Eric that explained how Little Dragon is kind of like three little duos. Explain what you mean by this.
YN: Yeah, that’s right, everyone has their own setup and you know Eric, for example, will start with a beat as an idea, and then I’ll write something for it and sometimes we will share it with whoever’s there or maybe the others won’t hear it until a month later when someone decides it’s ready to share. Sometimes the responses are really good and sometimes they’re really bad! We’re really honest with each other so if we’re not feeling it then we won’t hide it. We know each other to the point where it can be like someone doesn’t say something when you show them a beat or something you’ve written that it’s their way of saying they don’t like it. So it all starts there and we gather up all the bits we all like and then things start to take form a little bit more. It will generally start on one persons’ computer and will be finished when we’ve all added our own elements to the songs.
MF: Did you guys record and mix this record yourselves?
YN: For this album we did it all ourselves but for Machine Dreams we actually did it at our friend’s studio in Malmö and I think we sort of realised because we record everything on the spot that there is not so much need to take it to a big studio. It’s all about capturing the right sounds when we write the songs and that can even mean adding an effect or a filter to the song rather than in the studio or in mixing the songs. I think our confidence levels in our own abilities have increased since the last record and that’s made us less afraid of doing it all ourselves. We really knew what we wanted for Ritual Union and maybe with a producer we would have been afraid to speak up and could risk losing the sound we were aiming for. Plus we really enjoy doing it ourselves and there’s enough support from each other to believe in it and doing it alone.
MF: You’ve talked about magic moments in music, what does it take for one of those to occur?
YN: Just being in the studio together and letting things happen naturally. You know, if I hear something one of the boys has done that grabs my attention I’ll just get straight in there and maybe add some vocals or go away and have a fiddle with some different sounds and bring it back. It might not work but that’s how you discover those magic moments. I mean, often a mistake can turn into one of those moments and really make a song.
MF: Tell me how Ritual Union was created. Where was the album conceived?
YN: The album was actually born in our studio and was written in between touring, you know getting slightly sick of playing the same songs so we really just felt like getting straight into jamming out. Before the Gorillaz tour last year we had most of the songs kind of set out and we mixed them and fiddled with them when we came back at the beginning of this year and it was good because we had enough time to just let it breathe and sit alone for a bit.
MF: Tell me how this record is different to Machine Dreams – from an initial listen it sounds a bit more sparse and like you’re experimenting a bit more – describe the sound you were going for.
YN: Cool! We were going for that more minimal feel. Machine Dreams had a bigger soundscape, they were very much bass and drums and some floating synths on top. Whereas this record is much more subtle.
MF: You were out in the country last year and played some shows of your own and played with Gorillaz on their massive tour. How was being involved in that and what can we expect of your live show when you play Parklife next month?
YN: Our last tour was obviously huge because we were playing with Gorillaz and got to travel around the country a lot and we loved it so much. Even our own shows were really good and we’re just really happy to come back. We’re not just saying that because we really mean that. Parklife has such an amazing line-up this year and there’s some Swedes on the line up too which is nice.