Published Jun 04, 2013Success sort of crept up on singer Coco Maja Hastrup Karshøj (Coco O.) and musician/producer Robin Hannibal, collectively known as Quadron, but they're coping magnificently. The Danish duo ― the band name is a celebration of their respective one-quarter Black heritages ― stunned listeners with the simmering electronic "future-soul" of their 2009 self-titled effort. Having landed on a major and made the move to live in the US, the budgets and the expectations are bigger than ever. While each may have their own solo initiatives ― Coco worked with Tyler, the Creator and appeared on The Great Gatsby soundtrack while Hannibal has created attention with countless remixes and his recent Rhye collaboration) ― it's now Quadron's time.
Today (June 4), they release new LP Avalanche with the hope of collectively pushing towards even wider attention. The duo spoke with Exclaim! to talk about the new album and where they intend to take things from here.
So the publicity and promotional machine has started up again. How do you feel about that?
Hannibal: (Laughs.) Well, you know. This is part of it. It's the music that I love and it's something I love dearly and [that I'm] very passionate about. At least we get to talk about something that you're really into and you really like. That's cool.
O.: And there's more knowledge of each other now. The first album had the first songs that we ever wrote together and now that we've been working for a while now we know what we are capable of doing. I feel that Robin is pushing me a bit more.
What did you want or hope to achieve with Avalanche?
Hannibal: With this record, we wanted to make sure we developed a sound that developed us as people and as artists. The first album was very much about different things, hearing how it sounds, and stripping things down to really hear Coco's voice. On this one we thought it would be fun to have a little bit more detail and work more parts and melodies into the songs. We used some older albums as inspiration: some Off The Wall stuff, some Stevie Wonder. Not necessarily having to sound like that, but more just the musicianship and how detailed the songwriting and production are. We just wanted to step it up and add a little bit of everything. A little bit more groove. It's very much in the same world (of the first album) but we're using a little bit more colour and elements. We had a bit more budget to use more musicians and studios and we were able to record Coco better. It was an extension of what we were doing, but with more tools and more possibilities.
Is the level of comfort and chemistry stronger during the collaborative process? Is there a level of compromise involved?
O.: I feel like with all relationships, with time, you know each other better and know where you can go. There are not as many battles, as we know where the boundaries are, so can focus more on the music. I think that we're really more focused on creating, which is really amazing.
Hannibal: I feel it's a combination. Sometimes it's hard to say what comes first, but we usually sit down and come up with something together, be it chord progression or a vibe. Then we start trying to figure out a structure around it. It's a classical way of composing but the difference now is we're able to loop different sections or put someone on repeat to listen to it rather than having to play on piano over and over for hours. That's how we do it: we find different sections and put them together in writing and instrumental elements. Then once we feel there's structure, we dig into it, whether it's more production or writing a more structured or focused melody or lyrics. It's always about the song first.
What's the significance of the title Avalanche? What types of themes did you wish to touch on with this project?
O.: With the first album, it was more about small stories and wasn't that personal. I was immature as a songwriter. But with this one, we've been touring with the first album and I felt I wanted to be more personal and talk about things that were a part of my life. I think the title Avalanche… that song says a lot about change and us: [there is] a new major label, new people, different culture and new big city. Everything has been a bit overwhelming. It's more good than bad, but definitely overwhelming. So, we think it's a good title for the album, as this is what's been happening for the last four years. It's been about growing and evolving.
Hannibal: Even though an avalanche is about something falling, with that also something new comes.
How long did it take to create this album and how did it compare to the first record?
Hannibal: It's been very different in almost every sense. The first album, we only did the songs that were on the album but this one we wanted to dig a little deeper. We had more time and we also wanted to outdo the first album and only pick the best, so we completed a lot more songs and then picked the ones we wanted for the album. Also we had a budget so we could work in a very different way. This time we were able to get a lot more players to perform the parts, which was amazing because we could make it so much more musical. That obviously was what took a lot of time, as well as we were redoing the demos after we had them. We also really dug deep in terms of recording vocals. The first time around, we maybe didn't settle, but we didn't have anything to compare it to. We learned so much about each other from the last record and this time, it was about being able to dig deep into the music and get it down. So to answer it really shortly, (laughs,) it took about two years to really get things done.
So how did you decide what songs made the final cut?
O.: I think it was a surprisingly easy decision because we had so many songs that we really liked. So when it came down to it there were just some songs that really stood out and were better structured.
These days, you're working with artists like Tyler, the Creator, hanging out with people like Jay-Z and Pharrell, and featuring on major motion picture soundtracks. Has the current success and attention caught you off guard?
Hannibal: Oh yeah. This was literally just a dream only a couple of years ago. We are very privileged and fortunate, but we also are happy it's happening because of the music and not for any other reason. It seems that the music is carrying us and getting us to these places and people who we respect tremendously. That feels really good. It's about being honest and truthful and having that show in our music. We've met these people and work with these people because of what we've created. It feels really good.
What was the reasoning behind having "Hey Love" as the first single?
O.: For us, it's really hard to choose any track for a single, but there are some things that you obviously want to do and we felt that "Hey Love" was the best song to do that. It's edgy and catches people's attention. Tot that many people know about us, so we wanted to reach a broader audience. So it's a song that people hear and might want to dance to, and when they hear that, they might go online and check out the album to hear the rest of the material. I think it was about what made sense, and we think that "Hey Love" was the best fit. We love all our songs and they all will get out.
Who do you make music for?
Hannibal: Anybody who likes good music.
O.: We make music for everybody.
And how would you define that sound? Is it R&B? Soul? Pop?
O.: I think it gets harder and harder to categorize it. It's now less R&B and maybe sounds like pop music? We think about our music as soul music. The core of soul music is what we strive for: the emotional, heartfelt and physical music.
Hannibal: I think soul music is a feeling and not a genre. And that's how I would love our music to be categorized: as soulful, and that's it, period. [But] we're really inspired by a lot of different things and we're always open to try and play around with different genres to fuse them together.
The band name Quadron ― you've been quoted that it's a celebration of your racial (Black) heritage. Is racial identity a big deal to you, in terms of how you grew up and how it informs your musical sound?
O.: I think it is more something that's been a part of our lives. I mean, my whole life I was confronted with the idea that I look exotic. It's funny; now that I live in the States, for the first time in my life, it's like nobody cares. Nobody asks me where I'm from. Nobody gives a shit, you know? Everybody here is exotic or from somewhere else. It's funny because in Denmark, almost on a daily basis someone would ask me where I'm from. And when me and Robin started working together, [we noted] that we both kind of have the same background stories, at least from our Dads' side. We thought it was a fun thing to have in common. We are Danish but we also have different musical tastes and other things in our cultural background. It's the mixing of everything is what we found interesting.
So how will you define success for this record?
Hannibal: It's a hard question because you can't connect album sales with how many people are listening. You have so many different platforms now: there are people who only go to YouTube to listen to music, streaming services, iTunes, vinyl, and then obviously you have illegal downloading. So there are a lot of different worlds that you can be successful [in]. For us, it's just that we keep building and getting bigger and bigger in that more people know about us. And hopefully that will translate into being able to make biggest show, music videos and bigger and better albums every time.
O.: I think the first album we sold, like, 8,000 copies, which is nothing. But I feel like it was really successful. Of course I want to sell a lot of records, but I don't only think that way. I think you look at everything, and that means getting bigger and broader.