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Robyn and Röyksopp: ‘We Have Been Slightly Ahead of Our Time’

10 minute read

After taking a few years off from releasing new music, Norway’s legendary electronic duo Röyksopp and Sweden’s reigning pop star Robyn teamed up this past May for the collaborative effort, Do It Again. Not quite Robyn songs, but not quite Röyksopp songs, either, the record was something else entirely — a moody, five-song set that ran the gamut from chilled-out instrumentals to heart-pumping club-bangers (and, accordingly, deserved its own separate release). “We’ve talked a bit about how we have good chemistry and how everything comes naturally to us in our operation,” says Röyksopp’s Torbjørn Brundtland. “When we came together, there was no blueprint for what to do.”

TIME caught up with the trio the day before their Wednesday show at New York City’s Pier 97 to talk about dancing, collaborating and how to write music that’s timeless.

TIME: Do It Again includes hook-driven pop as well as some of the most avant-garde material of your careers. Is a song like “Monument” on the same dance music spectrum as “Do It Again,” or is it something else entirely?

Torbjørn Brundtland: It’s not really dance music — it’s not as if we strived to make a song that would be most suitable on the dance floor. But it’s part of what we do. We like that musicality in dance music and always have.

Svein Berge: Club music is where we hail from, with a hint of pop, obviously. So that’s where we have our background and that’s something we’ll not easily let go of, but it’s not as if we’re trying to make a main-room stomper. But it will be there, those elements.

Robyn: But then we actually made a stomper, too, but it wasn’t on purpose. I think that “Do It Again” was accidental. That’s how we described it, officially. We didn’t think about that when we started making it. We started making it with this pad — [hums the chords] — so it had nothing to do with the way it ended up at all.

SB: But it’s good to let the track take control and just tag along with it.

It’s interesting to hear you say you didn’t set out to make dance music because for you, Robyn, I can’t think of another artist who has more songs about dancing. Are you going to make more songs about dancing? Is the songs-about-dancing moment still in you?

R: I don’t know. You never know what’s going to happen in the future.

TB: How many songs has she made about dancing, though?

Well, Body Talk felt like it was so much about dancing.

R: Yeah, Body Talk was about body and dance and maybe club culture. “Indestructible,” “Dancing On My Own” and “Dancehall Queen.” But I think, definitely, there’s that on this album, too, but in a different way. It’s not about the actual act of dancing. But I think “Monument” is very much about the physicality, maybe that’s where it’s at.

SB: But you also have a lot of movement in you, if I can say so.

R: Yes, I do!

SB: And obviously, that is expressed when you perform live as well. It’s not something you do for the sake of doing it — you do it because that’s what you do.

Robyn, you’ve been playing new songs on the tour. Are they finished? Is that a taste of what’s to come?

R: Some of them are actually finished and mixed. But when we started this tour, I felt like the main reason for doing this was to go out on the road with Svein and Torbjørn and play the music that we just made. Part of why we made the album was so we could go back on tour together, because we’ve done it before and it’s been fun. But because we were doing our own sets as well, I felt like I wanted to play new material if I was going to play my own set, too.

I’ve been working on this EP with Markus [Jägerstedt], who’s in my band, and a producer by the name of Christian Falk, who is this Swedish guy that I worked with for many years, since I was like 15 — we worked on my first album, even. He tragically and very sadly passed away two weeks ago. He was sick for a while before he died, and that’s also one of the reasons I wanted to make sure that we got that material out there, before he actually disappeared from the face of this earth. So he was able to be a part of that a little bit before he went. It’s also changed the songs a little bit, me and Markus are still working on it. It’s going to be strange, but very healing, to finish the record without Christian. But it’s really nice to be able to play material that’s not finished, and I think that’s a lot of how it used to be back in the day. I was in the studio with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis a couple of months ago, and they told me that’s how a lot of the stuff they did with the Time happened. They played it live and they saw how people reacted to it, and they changed the set and stuff.

Röyksopp, your track “Only This Moment” [from 2005] still sounds so fresh — like it could be released today. How has your sound evolved over the years?

SB: Can I seize this opportunity to blow our own mutual horn for a second? We feel that we have been slightly ahead of our time when it comes to production. Is that okay to say?

R: Yeah! It’s feisty, but you can say that.

SB: I don’t mind being feisty. We strive in terms of production, in terms of the soundscapes that we create, to give it longevity so it doesn’t sound dated like, “April 2013! Just listen to the snap!” Obviously it’s tied to a certain time period, but you want it to have a long-lasting feel. This is something we strived for with this release as well. We always want to give it longevity and identity, which makes it standout with a unique expression.

R: I think that’s what’s so amazing about Svein and Torbjørn— I’m going to blow your horn as well — they have so many qualities, but I think their best quality is being able to make sounds and soundscapes that have lots of layers but still are very well thought-out. They are also open and playful. Without saying that you have not been appreciated the last years, I sometimes feel you’ve been a little looked over when it comes to the actual quality of the music.

Robyn, was there a switch for you when you started thinking about music the way they’re talking about it, or did you always approach it like that?

R: When I started making music, I made music in a very commercial space and I didn’t have room to really explore things on my own terms. It took me awhile to create a little bubble where I could explore other things, and new things. When I did that, my tools were songwriting and arranging. If you have the patience to really stay with your idea and push yourself beyond that first point where you’re inspired and have something to say, you get to this other point — where you become alive, in a way. There’s room for more than just that first, instant emotion that everyone can connect to. That’s in there, too. But it’s not going to be like an open book. You have to get into it.

SB: Obviously Robyn’s artistic sessions prior to doing things with us are clear evidence of the voice — not the singing voice, but the voice within. It’s Robyn to the bone. It’s all hers, not someone else’s voice.

R: My main skill is not making sounds, but I think I have the same way of looking at music as Svein and Torbjørn. You have to work through the layers. You have to do your homework in a way and be thorough. When you do that, things tend to last. You have to invest something. If you don’t risk something that really matters to you — like your integrity, or your pride, or your time, or your security, or your reputation — if you don’t risk yourself, you can hear it right away.

Scandinavia’s music scene seems so collaborative, like there’s a spirit of people working freely together there. Are there people you want to work with that you haven’t yet?

R: I think that we are very collaborative here in America as well. But I think what’s different is, in smaller countries, the music industry is not as big. It’s not where you go into the studio and say, “Yeah, let’s write a song! My fee is $25,000 a day.” Or, “You’ll get this beat, but you have to pay $50,000.” [In Sweden and Norway], you make music and see what happens. It’s not like people are charging each other for writing songs together. I think one of Max Martin’s first decisions when he started his career as a songwriter was to never work with established artists. I think that also goes for who you want to work with. It’s more about what you can create now, rather than working with someone who’s already created what you want to do.

Robyn, you mentioned getting into a creative bubble earlier. Did you struggle to find your way back to that after the success of Body Talk?

R: For me, it was an effort to just make music with Svein and Torbjørn because we had already said it would be nice to do it — to do it again! — to do more stuff together. You guys were also at the beginning of a record and figuring out what to do. It’s nice to not have a goal, to not have a set format. It’s very liberating to just get out of our comfort zones and be in a new space.

SB: And we felt the same way, having the insight to know that this is the time we should do this, and we just did it, without even deciding what it is. No plan, no nothing. Just make music.

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Write to Nolan Feeney at nolan.feeney@time.com