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Name: Adam Bernard
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About Me: Entertainment journalist with 20 years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, and B-movies. Part time ninja. Kicked cancer’s ass. My memoir, ChemBro, is out now!
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Nina Persson Displays Her ‘Heart’ On Solo Debut
Wednesday, April 16, 2014

As lead singer of The Cardigans, Nina Persson became Swedish pop royalty. Buoyed by the success of songs like “Lovefool” and “My Favourite Game,” the group was a worldwide sensation. Fifteen million albums sold later, Persson has embarked on a solo career.

Persson’s official solo debut, Animal Heart, was released in February of this year. A musical departure from some of the more band oriented work of her previous efforts with The Cardigans, and A Camp, two constants remain – Persson’s songwriting, and vocals, both of which have a warm familiarity for longtime listeners.

With her tour of the Northeast wrapping up on April 16th, I caught up with Persson to find out more about her musical shift, as well as how she dealt with instantaneous fame in the 90s, some of which involved ducking dictators, and climbing holy mountains.

Adam Bernard: The cover image for Animal Heart really intrigues me. You aren’t smiling, you aren’t frowning, what emotion are you giving us, and how do you feel it represents the album?

Nina Persson: I wanted to look a little bit... strict. I wanted to look serious. I thought that was important. Serious, and not at all threatening. I just wanted the whole the image to kinda be no bullshit. In general, I wish I was an artist who could get through with my record companies to put anything else on my records than myself, but after fighting with them for like 15 years I’m like OK, I’m gonna have to change it at some point anyways, so I’m gonna accept a big fucking picture of myself, but I’m gonna look like I mean business.

Adam Bernard: So really, the image has less to do with the music, and more to your concept of what you’d rather your album cover be.

Nina Persson: Yeah. I don’t think a lot of albums can be pictured with the portrait of a person. It can be pictured in an artwork of some kind, I feel. That’s my struggle. I like that more, usually, but I know people like to have a picture of an artist sometimes when they listen to a record, and I guess I do too, kind of, it’s just that if I could choose I would not put myself on them. I also wanted it to be a picture where I’m not beautifying myself too much. It’s natural that people want to put on makeup, and we want to look very intriguing, and attractive. I didn’t want to look ugly, but I also felt like I wanted it to be a pretty stark picture

Adam Bernard: Moving to the music, what was going on in your life that inspired the lyrical content of Animal Heart?

Nina Persson: What was going on in my life was that I had made my first record in a long time, and after having just dealt with life for a couple of years, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to write like I used to, but I happily found myself transported straight back to my old self, straight into my creative self. I tend to wallow on the same subjects. It’s about relationships, and it’s about feeling a little alienated, and it’s about just dealing with... I’m speaking in super broad strokes here, but it’s dealing with communication with the world, people, and giving in and taking out information. Things like that.

Adam Bernard: As a fan of The Cardigans’ Gran Turismo album, I know you’re not afraid of musical experimentation. With that in mind, what did you want to do with Animal Heart, musically, that you hadn’t done before?

Nina Persson: With Gran Turismo, that’s when Pro-Tools was brand new, and we totally, without knowing anything about it, dove into it, and used it, but The Cardigans, and also A Camp, have always been very guitar driven. Since this time I’m not in that way attached to a band, I wanted to leave guitars behind a little bit and really dive into a world of keyboards. We have a pretty nice collection of analog synthesizers, and 80s and 70s stuff, so that was a fun thing. In my aesthetic world I wanted it to sound modern, but it’s really 80s sounding. It’s less folk-y, kind of, and even brings in some programmed drums, and things like that. Maybe it was just to sort of let go a little bit of the traditional recording of a band.

Adam Bernard: You mentioned you have these 70s and 80s keyboards. Do you have a very busy room of musical equipment in your home?

Nina Persson: Yup, and six months ago my husband tried to clean it out. I think he halved the amount of shit that’s in there, and it’s still crowded, so I don’t how we were doing it before. There's a lot of stuff here, and we have a rehearsal space in Brooklyn where there’s even more stuff, so we figured we’d better use it since it’s taking up our real estate.

Adam Bernard: So you had it before you knew you were going to use it. Are you a thrift store person who goes through one of those stores and just picks up the equipment?

Nina Persson: No. Well, I am, but not for instruments. My husband’s a film composer, so he uses them a lot in his work, and he collects. He’s the one who collects those really.

Adam Bernard: You’re a solo artist basically for the first time. What kind of emotions do you have about being new again?

Nina Persson: So far it’s been not very different, because I tour with a band, like I always have been, and I always work with people, but I actually just, in the last few days, had a couple of things happen where, for the first time, I felt something that I feared it would be. I felt a little lonely, and it’s because I had to make a decision. I realized I couldn’t afford to have the American musicians play with me for the European festivals in the summer, so I had to let them know this. I had talked to them about this before, but I had to deliver the news the other day, and it felt really really horrible, and then I felt like an asshole, and I realized how comfy it’s been to be in bands before, to share that kind of responsibility. Even though that I’m solo, the band, the people I play with, you want to create a feeling that you’re all doing it together. I do that right away, try to bring it into that feeling. So this was the first time when I was like, I don’t like to be solo.

Adam Bernard: That’s definitely a new aspect for you.

Nina Persson: Yeah, but it’s also something that it’s good to learn, I think, as I’m sure the other side of the coin is that you lean a lot on... you can get a little bit too comfortable.

Adam Bernard: Going back to when The Cardigans hit it big, “Lovefool” was the gigantic single. It was off of your third album, and it really thrust all of you into the spotlight. Were there aspects of fame you were unprepared for?

Nina Persson: I think so. Yes, for sure, because I had never thought that being famous would be something that I... that was never a dream of mine, at all. It was hardly a dream of mine to be a musician, or a singer, so to then, on top of that, suddenly be well known, there were certain aspects of that I... I just couldn’t take it seriously. I felt embarrassed about it. I had that kind of complication with it in the beginning. I’ve learned to just be like well, it’s a fruit of my work, enjoy it, and deal with it.

Adam Bernard: Was there ever a time you didn’t want to perform that song?

Nina Persson: Oh yeah. With “Lovefool,” yes, for sure. I think that’s a natural reaction. We were maybe not so fed up with the song, we were fed up with only being connected to that one song. We so desperately wanted people to understand that we had three records behind us, and hopefully a lot ahead of us. Now we play it again, and I think now we’re just more mature about it, and we can actually enjoy the feeling of playing something to people that they badly want to hear, and not deprive them, but for a while we were just very tired of it, (and) the feeling that’s all people wanted for us.

Adam Bernard: I know Radiohead refuses to play “Creep” to this day.

Nina Persson: Yeah, I heard some interview with Thom Yorke when he talked about it, and it’s unfortunate, because you move on. “Creep” was also, even then, a bit of a freak song, like “Lovefool” is not super representative of a lot of our catalog, so it’s that irony, too, that you do one thing that feels like something that would be a fun thing on a record, and then that becomes your totem pole.

Adam Bernard: Like with Sugar Ray, they were a metal band, and then “Fly” came out and they were like, I guess we’re gonna do songs in this style now.

Nina Persson: Yeah! So it’s a blessing and a curse, but in retrospect I can kind of only see it as a blessing, and I actually get really happy when... I was in a store a couple of weeks ago, and they played “Lovefool,” and the girl who was working in the shop, it was an American Apparel, was singing along. So now I really feel very truly fond (of the song).

Adam Bernard: Moving from in-store singalongs to something significantly more serious, you beat cancer back in 2008. What was the scariest part of that process?

Nina Persson: My cancer was gynecological, so the scariest part for me, and I think this is common, too, I spent my whole life thinking oh, I guess there will be a time when I have a kid. Not particularly really craving it, but suddenly I had decided that it was time, and we were psyched, and then it was really frightening. It was more likely that I couldn't have a kid after cancer, than I could. The dying part, or the cancer spreading, was so abstract to me, because that’s not something you think a lot about, whether you’re gonna live or die, if that’s gonna happen to you, but getting a kid was so central at that point, so that was really frightening.

Adam Bernard: The story has a double happy ending because not only did you beat cancer, you ended up having a child.

Nina Persson: We had to do a lot of crazy maneuvers, but it worked. I had to lie down for most of my pregnancy, and doctors still tell me that it’s really crazy that it worked.

Adam Bernard: Have you told, or are you ever going to tell, your child that he’s kind of a miracle baby?

Nina Persson: Oh yeah. He knows that he’s a miracle, but of course I’m totally going to tell him. I think it’s good to know these things.

Adam Bernard: Switching to a less serious subject, tell me a story about a time you, or the band, did something a little crazy, or something a little rock n roll, something most people would think is completely out of character for you.

Nina Persson: One crazy thing we did is we went on an illegal night walk on a holy Japanese mountain once, which is not rock n roll, but is absolutely crazy. I sometimes tell that story to people, and as I tell it they find it so unbelievable they have to call somebody who was there to verify that it happened. That’s crazy. It’s not super rock n roll.

Adam Bernard: It’s awesome is what it is. You walked up a holy mountain in Japan!

Nina Persson: Yeah, we made friends with a Canadian archaeologist dude who told us about it. He was doing some excavation up on that mountain, and he said that he’d had the craziest things happen. It’s told that it’s very haunted. We were like, no way. He was like, yes way, come along and you’ll see. So we went there at night and it ended with us running down the mountain totally totally terrified with police dogs after us.

Adam Bernard: What year was this?

Nina Persson: This might have been ’96, perhaps. ’95-’96 maybe.

Adam Bernard: So you were just on the verge of blowing up as a band and you could have been arrested for being on a holy mountain in Japan after hours.

Nina Persson: Yeah. You know Budokan in Tokyo? It’s their big venue. We were playing there the night after.

Adam Bernard: At any point were you like, yeah, this guy’s not an archaeologist, he’s just a crazy person?

Nina Persson: I don’t know. I think he was nice, because afterwards we were so freaked out, and he lived nearby, so we sat in his tiny student’s apartment to decompress a little bit.

Adam Bernard: He was still in college?

Nina Persson: I guess so. He was like our age.

Adam Bernard: Wow, you guys are trusting souls.

Nina Persson: Yeah, I do remember that I was with my ex-boyfriend then, and he was part of the excursion, cuz he really really badly wanted to go, and I thought it sounded super crazy and stupid knowing that it’s illegal, and also it’s holy in Japan. Nature, in general, is sacred in Japan, so I just thought it was a really dumb thing to do no matter how exciting. Plus it sounded scary. I tried to stop him from going, but he refused, so I figured I’d better come instead of them having them go on their own.

Adam Bernard: Yeah, you don’t want to lose you significant other on a mountain.

Nina Persson: In retrospect, I sort of wish I had, because he was a terrible boyfriend, but that’s another story.

Adam Bernard: You could have told the guy, "Don’t tell him when we turn around."

Nina Persson: Yeah, leave him to the dogs. Otherwise, when it comes to crazy things, it’s more we’ve been in crazy situations, (like) when we had to dodge Lukashenko, the still Belorussian dictator, because he wanted to have a picture shaking hands with us. We’ve had those kind of amazing weird things happening, but they’re not very rock n roll, they’re just like amazing things that happen to you when you travel.

Adam Bernard: I don’t know. I’ve traveled, and I’ve never had to dodge the dictator of Belarus.

Nina Persson: These are the things I remember. These are the kinds of stories I have.

Adam Bernard: So he wanted a picture, and you were like, no thanks dictator, we’re out of here.

Nina Persson: Yeah, and we were also hanging out with the Swedish ambassador to Belarus, who’s now been ousted out of Belarus, and that man said if you let that (picture) happen it’s gonna totally ruin your career, and it’s such a terrible message, so we have to figure it out somehow. I think, like we always do, we had to blame me, like say I was sick or something to get out there.

Adam Bernard: How many fake illnesses have you had over the years?

Nina Persson: For as many cancelled shows we’ve had, and times that. Our manager would make up these things without telling me exactly what I was suffering from, so I’ve heard afterwards like, “So sorry about that horrible allergic reaction to a bee sting you had.” Things like that. So I’ve been very fragile, health wise, throughout our career, officially.

Interview originally ran on Arena.com.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 4:21 PM  
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