She sat down with Kindness at MoMA to discuss her life and career yesterday
Robyn had quite a night last night (May 21). She finished it by doing a surprise DJ set at a Robyn-themed club night at Brooklyn Bowl, which also included her and Maluca performing La Bagatelle Magique‘s ‘Love Is Free’, and a ‘Call Your Girlfriend’ dance-off. But it started with her in the much more refined settings of MoMA, discussing her life and career with Adam Bainbridge (aka Kindness) in front of a rapt audience. Here are the major things we learned from her Red Bull Music Festival talk.
One of her first memories sounds like a great formative moment
Talking about the music she listened to as a child, Robyn revealed she first discovered her favourite artists through her parents and their friends while on tour with their theatre group. “One of the first memories I have was ‘Heroes’ by David Bowie on headphones, driving on some road somewhere in Europe,” she said. “It was my way of making time pass by. It was boring being in the tourbus with grown-ups and no one to play with.”
The first song she wrote was called ‘In My Heart’
The Swedish superstar wrote her first song when was 11 years old and watching her parents get a divorce. ‘In My Heart’ was inspired by that experience. “It’s a huge thing for a kid when your parents decide to split up or separate in some way,” she said.
‘Who’s That Girl’ was the song that made her want to leave her traditional label set-up
Robyn wrote the 2005 track with The Knife, but while it was a Top 40 hit in the UK and Sweden, BMG – her label at the time – weren’t fans. “I played it to the label and they didn’t like it,” she explained. “That just did it for me. ‘I love this and you don’t like it at all. How am I supposed to work with this?'” About starting her own label Konichiwa, she added: “For me, it was about finding the courage of really following my instinct.”
Psychoanalysis has made her new music “softer”
Robyn was in psychoanalysis for seven years and says that journey has helped her embrace a softness in herself. “The whole process of making this album was been very, very different from anything I’ve done before,” she said. “I felt very raw when I started making this album.” The new record began life with just the musician working alone rather than with collaborators and she says that gave her space to “get in touch with a sensuality and a softness” that she’s wanted to explore.
The album is almost done, by the way
“It’s not finished yet, but it’s almost there,” she shared with the crowd. She also said she would be touring again soon, so that’s two things to look forward to.
Clubbing inspires her the most
“What informs me the most is clubbing and what happens to a person when you start letting go and stop judging your own behaviour,” she said while discussing the ‘Call Your Girlfriend’ choreography. Maybe she picked up some new moves or found some new inspiration at the after-party…
And when a song she’s working on is going well she always sings one song over the top of it
During the conversation, Kindness revealed that whenever Robyn is feeling a track she’s working on she starts singing Sheila E’s ‘A Love Bizarre’ over the top of it. “It’s a kind of melody that I feel is timeless,” she explained of the move. “It’s not connected to a trend or a rhythm that’s happening right there and then, it’s something else. It’s like French fries – it’s always gonna be amazing.”
Her career would be different if she was a teenager now
Asked by Kindness if she had access to programmes like Logic and Ableton as a teenager whether her music would have been different, Robyn replied: “For sure. Your musical taste and identity is always there, but technology helps you to bring it out. The big thing for people who aren’t exposed to technology early on in their careers or their lives, you have this unhealthy respect for it or you think its difficult. A part of this break that I had was going more into that aspect and learning more about the stuff that I always had been using a little bit, but didn’t know and it helped me be much more detailed and specific about what I wanted to do.”
Robyn seems to work well with rock musicians, even though she “can’t do” guitar
Kindness pointed out a theme throughout the conversation – that Robyn tends to work well with more rock-oriented musicians. She’s written with Max Martin, who came from a heavy metal background. She wrote ‘Dancing On My Own’ with Patrick Berger, who she says is “in punk bands usually”, while she described her long-term collaborator Klas Åhlund as “a rock guy”. Speaking about the original, guitar-heavy demo of ‘Be Mine’, Robyn explained: “The only guitar I’ve listened to intensely has been Prince’s guitar. I was like, ‘I can’t do this guitar thing.'” That explains why the finished version uses strings instead.
She tries to write songs one particular artist would approve of
While discussing ‘Dancing On My Own’, Robyn revealed one specific trick she uses when songwriting to do her best – think about Prince. “I always try to write a song I feel like maybe Prince could like,” she said to huge laughter. “I feel like he could have liked ‘I keep dancing on my own’! That’s how I get myself in shape – I think about him.”
‘Honey’ has taken so long to arrive for one good reason
After playing a snippet of a demo version of ‘Honey’, the musician explained why she’s left fans waiting for so long for a finished version. One incarnation of the song appeared on an episode of Girls, but the full thing has yet to arrive (although Robyn did later play it in full for the first time at the after party). “You know when get excited about new music, and then I got a question from Lena Dunham about if I had anything she could play in the show cos ‘Dancing On My Own’ had a moment in the first season in an amazing part of the third episode,” she said. “I was really flattered and I just sent her some demos, and that’s what she picked. I finished a version for her that I wasn’t happy with, but people seem to like it so it’s been out there for a while.” Here’s to hoping ‘Honey’ gets a proper release soon.