Miike Snow is an accidental supergroup. In 2007 Swedes Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg, better known as the production duo Bloodshy & Avant, started the randomly-named band with American singer/songwriter Andrew Wyatt. Bloodshy & Avant were working with pop and R&B acts, scooping a Grammy (“Best Dance Recording”) for Britney Spears’ Toxic.
Meanwhile, Wyatt had been involved in successive music projects – including, early on, Funkraphiliacs with Greg Kurstin. Miike Snow issued 2009’s eponymous debut with no expectations. Yet they quickly won hearts, minds and feet with their pristine indie electro-pop (cue the enduring Animal).
Now, four years after Happy To You, they’re back with their third album, iii, containing the snappy singles Heart Is Full, Genghis Khan and The Heart Of Me. Miike Snow’s members didn’t slack off in downtime, however. Notably, Karlsson launched the dance combo Galantis, who headlined 2015’s Stereosonic. Since the advent of Miike Snow, Wyatt, based between New York, Los Angeles and Stockholm, has established himself as a composer-for-hire.
He had a hand in Bruno Mars’ hit Grenade and is credited on Mark Ronson’s last two albums (duetting with Boy George on the sublime Afro-soul Somebody To Love Me). He recorded 2013’s niche solo album, Descender, with an orchestra. Plus Wyatt cut Some Minds with Flume… He was in Australia last winter with Ronson’s live revue. In fact, all this activity meant that iii nearly didn’t happen.
Some two years in the making, iii has a latent hip-hop influence – there’s even a cred Run The Jewels remix of Heart… – with splashes of ’90s R&B and ’70s soft rock. The one guest is Charli XCX. Indeed, iii is pop 2016.
Most pop artists today censor themselves in interviews. But not Wyatt, who spikes the conversation with missives at the music industry and American society. He can be acerbically funny, too, as when the conference call is intermittently interrupted by beeps. “I’ll just have to pretend it’s 1958!,” Wyatt quips irritatedly.
Music Feeds: After time away from Miike Snow, you have a new album with the band. How have all the things you did between albums fed into this project?
Andrew Wyatt: Well, I think it’s hard to say in certain terms what the uptake of all that stuff was. Through Mark I’ve been able to work with some of the best people, so it sort of changes the way you see the music and maybe gives you confidence or something – but I don’t know if it’s anything specific that I could point to that changed about it.
But I think that, when you’re working with Mark, you tend to be surrounded by the best people – whether it’s Kevin Parker or George Clinton or Stevie Wonder. So, when you’re just in that kinda company and things don’t go disastrously, it can only help build your confidence – even though you realise that you’re a lesser [musician]… You get to work with a lotta people who are better than you, let’s put it that way. But, if you don’t screw up, then it gives you confidence that you can maybe make some kind of a contribution.
MF: Mark seems to look at you in that way – working with someone who’s got this incredible skill set…
AW: He’s wrong!
MF: Did the dynamic change in Miike Snow in coming back?
AW: Yeah, look, the dynamic’s always gonna change in bands, depending on everyone’s personality and where they are in life. The interceding years have been pretty good to me – but they’ve been good to all of us. I think Miike Snow was maybe not the biggest band in the world, but it was well respected in a lot of spheres and, because of that, it’s allowed us to all continue to branch out and do stuff.
So, especially for this album, the dynamic maybe was not one wherein we were making Miike Snow because we were desperate to do a band or because we had to create a new project for ourselves, but because we really wanted to – we saw value in it. We thought that we had done some stuff that we could be proud of and that we would wanna add to – because I think what’s happened in the last few years has made it so none of us really have to do Miike Snow, but we can, and we choose to do it.
MF: It’s really hard to fix Miike Snow sonically – beyond calling it ‘pop’. How do you see your own stylistic evolution as a band?
AF: Hmm. I feel like honestly Miike Snow is a place in our lives where we really try to suspend any type of preordained objectives. We just try to go in and use our instincts for pop music and for making catchy music. That’s really kinda what we figured out – why we should, the three of us, make music together. I think we did that a little bit more on the first record – we also had some other objectives. It was an interesting time in 2009 – it was a time when the pop world seemed to be falling apart because of the death of album sales.
It’s sort of recovered itself now. [But] I think, when we did Miike Snow, it’s like we realised that we wanted to be a touring band, since we needed that way to make a living – by being out there playing music. I think there’s been some restoration of the revenue back into recorded music. However, it’s still criminally being captured by certain stakeholders – and it’s not YouTube and Spotify, it’s basically the same traditional entity that are kinda bullguarding the money, if you will.
But the truth is we [developed] Miike Snow as a place where we don’t have to have any objective and we just wanna make pop music – we just wanna make music that feels fun and catchy. But we also don’t wanna deal with any of the political bullshit that goes on in making a pop record for any number of huge artists – because you have to write a great song, and you have to be really talented, but then there has to be a lot of other chess pieces that get moved in order for your song to be on that album.
I think the one thing that’s so nice about Miike Snow is that we just write these songs and then they can be on these albums and get out there in the world and then people can decide if they’re a hit – not like an A&R guy or something, you know? So that’s one really nice thing about being where we are now – that we already have a bunch of fans and so now we can just make the music that we think is really cool.
MF: There seems to be a yearning for the album now – or, at least, albums attract a lot of attention. What Kanye West has done with The Life Of Pablo, turning it into an event – it’s interesting. How do you see the future of the album and these sort of experiments with the format and presentation?
AW: Well, I think that Kanye was basically using his music to bring attention to his fashion label, don’t you? More than anything, he wants to have his own clothing label and so it was in line with his ambition to say, ‘This is the greatest album ever’, so that everyone would tune in to see his show – and, in fact, everyone did! I was definitely in a situation of feeling like I was really a luddite if I didn’t look into what he was doing musically. So just by that fact – and the fact it was very hard to find [the album] anywhere except for on the TIDAL website and you had to watch the whole fashion show – really helped him bring his fashion vision to life.
It’s actually really smart. I can’t believe people haven’t done it before. I mean, Roc-A-Fella did it – and I think [West] actually learned a lot from Jay Z and saw how, through clothing, Jay Z was really able to achieve a lot more societal influence… Kanye cares way more about fashion than Jay Z, but I think Kanye saw how Jay Z would probably have 20 or 30 million dollars if he just did music and, since he had a label and a clothing label, he’s a billionaire.
On addition to being genuinely a fashion addict and really into it, and I feel like he wants to make social statements, [with] the whole thing about Rwanda in the fashion show and stuff, he also really wants to be a super-successful entrepreneur in the fashion world.
I think he was using the album, and the scarcity of the album experience, to try to create something which instead of bringing attention to just him as being a musician… And I’ve talked to him about this – like he doesn’t want to just be pigeonholed as a musician. He’s said it in many interviews as well. But he wants to be a cultural influencer on a scale of a Steve Jobs or something like that – and he’s using his music to do that… So it’s an interesting new world. But people are gonna use the album to put other features of their careers into the spotlight like Kanye has just done.
MF: Kanye wants to be an uber multimedia artist – and even you have done music for installations and a ballet that maybe some people don’t know about. You also did that ambitious solo album. What would you like to do long-term, even if you’re not planing to do something on a Yeezy scale? You seem to be a more low-key guy.
AW: I am! I think just by nature I’m not really destined to have that level of public visibility. But I do wanna keep working very hard to be an influential producer and songwriter and write music for a lot of different types of things, as I have done in the past and will continue to do. I’m more of a doctor – I like to do the work myself. I’m not as much of a hiring person – having lots of people work for me and then pick their best work. I just like the actual hands-on work of it. I hopefully will be able to do that. I’ve been able to do it for a while and I hopefully will be able to continue to do it.
MF: You recorded Some Minds with Flume. Will you do more stuff together?
AW: Yeah, we have done a bunch of songs together since then. I don’t know which of them or [if] any of them or what parts of them will be on his new record [Skin]. But he’s certainly a guy I’ve learned a lot from working with. And, according to what he’s been saying, I guess he felt like he got something out of working with me.
He’s actually a good friend now – kinda the son I wish I had had when I was 20, ’cause he’s 20 years younger than me! But I feel like maybe there will be more stuff that we can do in the future together. It was certainly just really cool to be part of his career at that stage, ’cause I think he’s gonna be a guy who’s definitely around for many years to come as well – so that’s just a really good thing to be part of.
MF: I was always fascinated by how you ended up working in Stockholm in the first place. What did you get from that cross-cultural exchange, because Sweden and America are quite distinct. How did that change your life?
AW: I’ve spent so much time here [in Sweden] – you know, if you connect all the time I’ve spent here, it probably adds up to more than two-and-a-half years. I’ve been coming here on a regular basis for 10 or 12 years. So it’s hard to say – it’s just become a part of who I am almost at this point. Some of the deepest experiences I’ve had have been connected to this place, both musically and romantically. It’s been a wonderful thing to observe their culture and see how they do things here.
I do understand what [US Democratic Presidential contender] Bernie Sanders is getting at when he holds up the Scandinavian system as a benchmark for the rest of the world. I actually do think that in America we need to push ourselves down that road, rather than the road that we seem to be going down now, which is like the rich getting richer and the poor just having less and less.
MF: Miike Snow are going back on the road, appearing at Coachella. Is there any chance of you touring Australia again?
AW: I think there is. If people are enthusiastic enough about the album, then we’ll be able to make it work. But we bring a lot of people on the road with us, so it takes a lot for us to be able to come down there. Hopefully there will be enough public support for us to be able to make it down there. But, of course, we love our Australian fans – no doubt about that. I really do – I’ve had some of the most wonderful experiences playing for Aussie audiences. So I really hope we can.