Karin Dreijer Andersson of the Knife and Fever Ray
Published Mar 30, 2009There's no denying Karin Dreijer Andersson is one eccentric character. As one half of the brother/sister act the Knife, the Swede has spent years behind a beaked mask, fetched a Grammis Award (the Swedish Grammys) via gorilla and even began work on a Darwinian opera, not to mention penned some of the creepiest avant-electro to ever haunt a play list. Still, Dreijer Andersson has never sounded as comfortable in her own private bizzaro world as she does now as Fever Ray. In this newly minted solo project, any rough edges that came with the Knife have been smoothed, trading the digital dance floor click-clack for warmer, starker, eerier slow-motion grooves.
Exclaim! caught up with Dreijer Andersson to discuss Fever Ray, as well as learn more about that upcoming opera she's writing with her bro.
This is a very obvious question, but why did you decide to do a solo record instead of another Knife album?
It's because [my brother] Olof [Dreijer] and I were both really tired of working together. In late 2006, we had been working very intensely for seven years and so we both really wanted to work on our own for a while. So I guess Fever Ray was just something natural.
With Fever Ray, do you see this as an extension of your real self or just a character your playing?
I think Fever Ray is more a collection of different mental characters, and some of them I have similarities to. I mean, this is a lot about just ideas, but a lot of about me as well.
Were you able to do things on your own that you maybe couldn't previously do when you were working with Olof?
How to spend time, that's been the biggest difference, in that I've been able to dig into certain things that he might not have been so into. Also, I don't have to spend much time trying out things he finds interesting but I don't.
I was curious if your two children have heard the record and what they thought of it?
Yes, they have heard it through the whole process and they are very tired of it. "If it's your music, I want to listen to something else," they say. They are not so impressed by what I've done actually. Deep down, though, I think they like to listen to it sometimes.
I ask because a lot of critics have been zeroing in on the fact that this record is maybe creepier or scarier than your other work. Do you see it in this way?
No, I don't think so. It's just a bit slower and maybe when the pitched vocals meet a slower tempo it has the possibility to get closer to you in a way, and maybe that comes across as a bit scarier.
Why do you love pitch-shifting your vocals so much?
I really see the vocals as an instrument, and I think it's very interesting to destroy the hierarchy in music, treating the voice as any other sound. I also still think it's very interesting to work with the voice in the way where you try to destroy the construction of gender. When you listen to something and you can't place if it's a man or woman singing, I think that's very interesting because you always get a little bit irritated if you can't figure out the gender.
What do you think then of all the hip-hop guys like Kanye West now using and abusing Auto-tune on their vocals?
I think it's really nice. I mean, they use it for other purposes but I really think hip-hop music is very progressive sound wise, and especially on vocals. I think it all sounds very beautiful actually.
Certain songs on the Fever Ray record have this very spiritual and almost aboriginal vibe to them, especially "Keep the Streets Empty for Me." Was that something you were consciously aiming for?
I think I really wanted to find something primitive. When I first started out I wanted to find out what my own ideas were about making music and it all became very primitive, with these clear, simple beats that are very monotone. And that I think you can find those sort of rhythms more in Native Indian music and in a lot of other kinds of primal cultures in the world. I did listen a lot to the Tomahawk record Anonymous when making this record, and that too was very inspired by Native Indian music.
With each album you do, either with the Knife or now with Fever Ray, you present a very specific visual element to go along with each record, where all your press shots and videos for each record seem to reflect a different mood or aesthetic. What do you think this strong visual side of your work adds to the overall project or album?
I think when you succeed with the visuals - in press photos, videos, artwork and live scenery - it has a turbo effect on the music, it maximizes the expression of the music. And that's very interesting when that happens, even though you never know what kind of visuals will make the music better.
Have you figured out what your Fever Ray live shows will be like?
I'm working with [director] Andreas Nilsson again, who did the "If I Had a Heart" video and also the Knife live show. He's been doing masks and costumes and a lot of stage set design. We will work in a very theatrical way as we did with the Knife, but from a more organic perspective and not as high-tech as the Knife. I also have a band and there will be five people performing.
Could you tell me what you have been doing with the Knife these days?
We've been working on the opera for a year now and it will premiere in September, so we have be ready quite soon.
Could you elaborate a bit on what we can expect from the opera?
It revolves around Charles Darwin and it was commissioned by this Danish theatre company Hotel Pro Forma, who asked us a year ago if we wanted to write music and lyrics for this. And we knew they had done very nice performances before. They have a very beautiful mix between visuals, music, text and theatre. So I think we both were very interested to work with them.
So how does Darwin figure into the opera?
It's very much based around The Origin of Species and I think the idea is to describe the process of making that work. He was a geologist at first and collecting samples of everything he found and filling tons of notebooks about his discoveries. And the company, they want us to work in the same way he did when making The Origin of Species, so it's very much focused on the working process. It's very interesting to be a part of this and to be part of a bigger group of people working together.
So since it's an an opera, I assume there are a lot of vocals involved in the project?
Yes, there are three singers: one classic, female metso soprano; one male, more electronic pop singer; and a female actress. There are also six dancers in the piece as well. It's more like an opera in the old sense, just a work with music and that means we are very free to do what we want to do.
Does this mean you personally are not performing vocals for the opera?
Maybe I will be there as a ghost. I will not perform and Olof will not perform. We are only composers.
There has been mention that Olof gathered samples from the Amazon for the opera. What can you tell me about this?
Yes, he has been travelling a lot and he was in the Amazon for three weeks recently on a field-recording journey. He got home with a lot of interesting sounds and some of them will be in the opera. He has recorded fish underneath water, which sounds very beautiful. There is so much sound underwater that you never think of, but if you have good microphones you can really hear what's going on down there. I think there will be more environmental sounds as well.
So with the opera, is this going to be something we can expect as an upcoming Knife album?
I don't know. It is commissioned music. But I think if it sounds good in the end, we'll probably release it.
Past the opera, do you have any plans for the Knife?
We have been talking about making a new Knife album and maybe we'll start it early next year. But we'll see.
Do now feel less pressure with doing a follow-up to Silent Shout now that you've done this Fever Ray record?
I think this has been very good. I have really found out what I like about music and what kind of things I want to work with. I think that is a really good thing for anything I do after Fever Ray.