Honey! An Interview with ROBYN!

photo by Heji Shin

“Some time this year honey” .. That was the only information Robyn gave us about the release of her next album back in February. Well, after giving us two singles, Missing U and Honey, we do know now that her 8th studio album Honey will be released on October 26. Eight years, that’s the time Robyn needed to get back with a new solo project. Of course she hasn’t been entirely quiet since “Body talk”, she’s worked on several collaborations, like the EPs she did: Do it again with Röyksopp, Love if Free with La Bagatelle Magique and Trust Me with Tophat; but also single tracks with Todd Rundgren, Metronomy and the Lonely Island. It was also the time she needed to re-discover herself. Her new album is once again a very rhythmic piece, with sonorities ranging from funky, to disco, to house music. So get ready to put on your dancing shoes because Honey will be this year’s soundtrack, that’s for sure.

KALTBLUT: It’s been a while… what took you so long to release a new solo project?

Robyn: Well, I started writing on this album in 2014 so I think my ambition was to start making a new album as soon as I got off tour. I really tried but I couldn’t, it wasn’t possible at the time for me. Even though I had started writing songs like Missing U and the beginning of Honey already. I was in a very undefined, very unstable place personally. I knew that I wanted to both grow as a person and make music in a different way. And I really didn’t know how. I didn’t have the tools that I needed so I kind of went exploring a little bit, making music with other people, doing this remix project for my old songs. I think those things informed me and together worked like therapy. And being very quiet and still for a few years I was able to get back into a place where it was fun and I felt like I knew what it was that I wanted to do. And that’s when I started really writing and recording again.

But then also spending a long period of time in the studio by myself learning new things like working with these drum machines I was interested in, learning new software and of course learning a lot of new things about myself in therapy, I kind of just felt that I had to be really quiet and still in order to hear myself a little bit better. Maybe my previous strategy of pushing through hard periods of my life didn’t really work because I was so sensitive and raw and sad. It was more about trying to heal myself and like calm down, so… it took some time!

KALTBLUT: You kind of answered my next question already, which was what did you do besides working on different projects like the remixes, your album… you took time for yourself.

Robyn: Yeah, I traveled a lot, I went to see my friends, I spent time in L.A., I spent time in Paris working with Joseph (ed. note: Joseph Mount of Metronomy), I spent just time at home reading, clubbing a bit… rediscovering everything, like what it was to be a human being.

photo by Heji Shin

KALTBLUT: Your new album is amazing and surprisingly diverse and rich sonically speaking. Did you have a general idea of what you wanted it to sound like or did it just happen?

Robyn: Yeah, I did have an idea. And that’s also why it took some time because it wasn’t like “I’ll just start and let whatever happens happen”. I really knew what I wanted to do and I knew that I couldn’t do it by myself and I also didn’t know how to do it with someone else either so I spent a lot of time talking about that with friends like Zhala who’s on the album as well and Mr Tophat and Adam from Kindness and they were like my sparring partners when it came to really talking about music.

I knew that I wanted to work with these really traditional rhythms and grooves that you find in house music and techno and disco, things that I think everyone who listens to club music understands. It’s a little bit like in blues, there’s certain rhythms and certain riffs that keep coming back. I think the same thing happens in dance music and I wanted to work with that and so I started more from that aspect of it rather than from melodies and lyrics which is how I started albums before. The lyrics came much later, it was more about grooves and how to write a pop song and something that is more repetitive like without maybe the typical arc of a pop song with the chorus and the release.

KALTBLUT: Because It’s In The Music is giving us very funky vibes. Could you tell us a little more about this song specifically?

Robyn: So one of the first things I did was get in touch with Joseph Mount because I really love and admire his way of making music, and his minimalist way of producing was something I was really interested in. He played me this demo he had, it was like a beat and we started writing together. It was one of the first things I did. We started the song Human Being and I had Missing U with me as a demo. Because It’s In The Music was one of the first things that we finished together and it was really quite simple. I was very sad when I wrote it. I had just broken up with my boyfriend and some things become really painful like places you visit or music that you’ve heard together with that person. That was just something that I was very aware of at the time. But I just really loved this rhythm that Joseph had created and then I was interested in trying to make it into some kind of disco song… and so we did!

photo by Mark Peckmezian

KALTBLUT: Speaking of collaborations, in your career you have a history of collaborating with a lot of artists. Does it come naturally to you? Do people come to you or do you reach out to them? Because it feels so genuine and easy!

Robyn: Well Klas and I have been working together for such a long time but with Joseph and Adam, they were both people that I reached out to because I was a fan and they were interested in collaborating so it was a dream come true for me.

I don’t think you have to be sad to make music but I do think you have to be open and in touch with your feelings.

KALTBLUT: This new album sounds very like you in the way that it’s very energetic and it makes you want to dance, especially the sad songs. Do you get more creative when you’re sad? Is it easier for you to talk about sad things through lyrics?

Robyn: When I was the saddest that’s when I couldn’t write. I felt like everything I wrote became very pretentious and boring and complicated. And then I kept writing, making beats and doing other things that weren’t so much about how I was feeling, and then there was a tipping point where I was still really depressed but I started understanding how I was supposed to take care of myself better and heal myself. And that’s when I started to make good music again.

So I think it’s the other way around actually. I don’t think you have to be sad to make music but I do think you have to be open and in touch with your feelings. I felt very close to my emotions during this time and maybe that’s also something I really miss about being really sad. Even though it was really painful I also felt very connected to myself but I don’t think that it was until I turned it around and started healing myself, even though I was still sad, that I could really understand what it was that I wanted to say.

KALTBLUT: All the songs on the album are really long compared to classic pop songs, was it your intention to push things a bit further than usual?

Robyn: Yeah definitely. The way you listen to dance music is just so different from listening to a song with a chorus because there’s no reward in dance music in that way, you kind of like have to be in the moment and get into the groove and not really think about where it’s going. I learned so much from that, letting go of control and not trying to understand exactly what it was that was happening in the music but kind of relying on how it felt. And I’ve always loved dancing ever since I was a kid, coming home from school I used to put on my favorite music, shut the doors and just dance in the living room by myself, no pun intended. That feeling… it was just so much joy for me, like a trick that I could just put out at any point even if I was super sad or unhappy or angry or whatever. That is one of my favorite things to do. It is such a big part of how I experience music that it felt weird to me that I hadn’t given it that more space in my own music because even though I make dance music I think on my previous albums it’s much more “Chorus! Release!” Very intense rhythms. I love that but I felt the need to be softer, more rocking than kind of marching.

KALTBLUT: Will you go on tour for this album?

Robyn: I’m gonna tour for sure, but I won’t do it until next year. Early next year. So I’m gonna start rehearsing soon. I’m really looking forward to playing Honey live.

KALTBLUT: Why do you think the queer community connects so strongly with your music, your art, your lyrics?

Robyn: What do you think? I mean I don’t think that I can speak for the queer community. I think it’s up to you and everyone else to define what it is. No matter your sexuality or gender, I feel very connected to people who are able to see things from a different perspective. And I think that queer people have to naturally question conventions maybe sometimes earlier on in their lives than other people have to because they’re considered different so it makes them see through society in a different way. You have to be critical about something that doesn’t accept you for who you are. And that’s how I was brought up to think about things as well even though I’m not gay. My mom was very radical, very critical and she made me think about my role as a woman and what it is that defines me. Whenever there is a box and someone tries to put anything in it, I just have this urge to stick my fingers in there, it’s my natural instinct. I can’t control myself and I don’t even know if it’s always necessary but it’s just something that’s in me.

 

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KALTBLUT: As an androgynous, gender-bending female artist who has recorded in Europe and in the US, do you feel that the industry can be a difficult place to navigate when you can’t be put into a box?

Robyn: Yeah definitely. I remember when I did the Handle Me video, I had these big eyebrows and my American label didn’t want me to release it because they thought that it was somehow gonna be off-putting and not feminine enough and I was just like oh my God! It was 2010, things were quite different at that time. And then of course the big trend was big eyebrows, a couple of years later everyone was doing it. Even little things like that tell you how much things have changed. But I still think that the wider public is not as exposed to things as we are. If you live in the city, in Berlin or in Stockholm you are exposed to things in a totally different way than if you live in a small town in America.

Now I’m in a very good place where I really can do whatever I want and I’ve learned by doing and trying things in the last few years that it doesn’t make any sense to try and please other people because that’s just gonna get you totally lost. So for me it’s just about reminding myself to follow my instinct at all times and to talk to people that I respect, not to talk to people who are scared and listening to others but to always come back to what it is that I believe in and to work with people who understand what that is.

You send out a message and it has to stay clear to be understood. If you keep changing it, it’s never gonna reach anyone but if you send out something that you believe in there’s always gonna be someone who sees it. I think about that a lot. When I was doing shows and the audience wasn’t into it, like when I was opening for Madonna and I didn’t know if people knew my music, I always said to myself there’s gonna be someone in the audience who gets it and I’m gonna think about that person and forget about all the others.

photo by photo by Heji Shin

Honey’ the new album available to pre order now : rbn.lnk.to/HONEYALBUMYD

KALTBLUT: Your fashion sense is another thing that makes you stand out as an artist. Do you have a silhouette, a specific look in mind or are you first looking for something that’s comfortable?

Robyn: I look for silhouettes, I always do. But I think maybe as I’m getting older I’m getting a bit softer. I really enjoy softer, more sensual looks now. I’m also getting much more comfortable with showing my body, which I wasn’t when I was younger because I was really scared of being misinterpreted. I didn’t feel like I could express my sexuality. In the more commercial part of the music industry that I was in as a teenager, I really didn’t feel like I could find that space. But now as I’m getting older I’m letting it all hang out. I’m really enjoying the sensuality of this album and I’m trying to express that in the visuals as well.

KALTBLUT: Are you in a better place emotionally right now?

Robyn: Yes, I feel really good, I’m in a much better place now. I also think that those experiences, like being really out of it and sad can be so trippy. I learned a lot about myself and it actually made me understand people better. It’s like a bad trip. You always learn something from it, you come out on the other side knowing something new about yourself. And you learn to put things into perspective like “that wasn’t so scary, I don’t have to be scared of that”. And I think that if you haven’t been depressed it’s really hard to understand other people when they’re going through it. It’s like a very real part of being a human being is stigmatized. Some people are lucky and they find a way to deal with it, other people are lucky because they never have to feel like that but if you do, what’s good about it is that you can share your experience and be more accepting of other people when they go through it. Ultimately it made my life better, it made me richer as a person, I was able to access more of my emotions and lead a much better life.

And that’s what is so amazing with music, dance or visual arts. When I grew up listening to artists that I was into and they would describe an emotion that I had felt myself but didn’t know how to explain, like when Kate Bush was talking about something and I knew exactly what that felt like but I had never been able to put it into words like that. It’s almost like she was this adventurer, traveling out into space, going places where I hadn’t gone and bringing back these beautiful things that she was sharing with me. It’s an amazing thing to be able to connect with yourself through other people, it’s important to have someone hold up a mirror. You realize that you’re not alone or crazy because someone else has felt this way.

KALTBLUT: You talked about visual arts earlier, and visuals happen to be an integral part of you are as an artist. You’re very involved in the making of your videos. Do you know from the start how your album is going to translate visually, both in your videos and on stage?

Robyn: That came very early on, when I started writing Honey, when I was past the tipping point and started to feel better and enjoying making music, feeling raw but really excited about the things I was able to do in the studio. But that also came while I was watching documentaries about artists that I love, looking at pictures of people that I admire. I was also reading a lot and from all those things I kind of built my own “spirit animal world” of things that I’m into. Working on the visuals of an album is trying to visualize the feeling of music, to create a character or visualize a part of yourself that represents the music you just created.

KALTBLUT: In your experience, is starting a project as difficult as it is to finish it?

Robyn: Yes! I mean I’m still thinking about things that I would change. But I have to let it go now and I’m really happy to be done and ready to do other things. It feels great to release it and to share it with people. And I also miss being in the studio, so once the tour is up and running I’m gonna try and find time for that again. But I’m definitely not good with deadlines. I like to work on things as much as I can, and maybe some people call that being a control freak but I don’t think that’s an adequate way of describing it. I like things to be nuanced and have layers and be detailed and have quality and that just takes time, it really does, there’s just no way around it. There’s no point in doing it otherwise.

photo by Mark Peckmezian

KALTBLUT: Another track that made me go crazy is Between The Lines… the voice, the music it’s a wonderful song! It feels like you’re having so much fun! Could you tell us a bit more?

Robyn: Oh thank you! At one point I really started to be like “I wanna go out dancing again, and flirt and be in love!” The song just came from me playing around with this riff that I had in my head and it really started from there. And then me and Klas built the track and I was just like free styling on the microphone over this beat and that’s how we wrote it. It really was a freestyle, and I think you can hear that in the melody, that it’s not a typical song and that it’s just me free styling.

That was very early on so I really couldn’t push through, I didn’t have the energy, I was so raw, the only thing I could do was be all loose and sing really softly. The way I’m singing on this album is very different from the way I’ve sung my music before. And the ad libs in the end that was me and Klas drinking champagne and goofing around.

Retranscription by Bénédicte Lelong

‘Honey’ the new single available now : rbn.lnk.to/HONEYSINGLEYD
Honey’ the new album available to pre order now : rbn.lnk.to/HONEYALBUMYD

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