In celebration of their third album, Miike Snow are about to go out on the festival circuit in the UK, their first visits of the year. They will cover three festivals in three days – including Lovebox and Latitude – bringing the album III to converts and newcomers alike.
The band have something of a cult status, but they also function within pop music as busy individual songwriters. Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg, for instance, functioned as the better known Bloodshy & Avant – under whose moniker they wrote Toxic for Britney Spears and worked with Madonna, Kylie Minogue and Katy Perry. Soon they were joined by singer Andrew Wyatt, who himself was writing for pop acts – and who has subsequently worked with Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars. Among his recent songwriting credits is the recent Beck single Dreams.
Wyatt it is who musicOMH turn to for confirmation of how the band formed. “Miike Snow really happened in a studio in New York City, at a place called Axis Studios on 54th Street,” he recounts. “It’s right close to where Studio 54 is. We were renting it out to work on different tracks on the same record, and I got to meet Christian there. We stayed in touch, with Pontus as well, and Miike Snow got together from then on.”
Was it beneficial having the three year break between finishing album number two – Happy For You – and starting the sessions for III? “I think so,” he replies. “We all had a shared language from the world of making songs for singers from the start, writing for those not much involved in writing themselves. It was a shared lexicon that got stronger as we went on, and something that has always been part of Miike Snow.”
The third record packs more emotion than its predecessors, and – as Wyatt agrees – more soul. “I think so. It is more a combination of a responses to the world around you and what is happening. Ironically it is a lot more reflective of what I was doing around 20 years ago, and in a sense invoking a sort of 20 year cycle in music, where the same things come around again. My influences are more relevant now than they were when Miike Snow started in 2007, so now we are using much more primary influences. The song My Trigger (the opening track to III) sounds almost exactly like something from my first album in 1993, when I was signed to Capitol Records. That record didn’t ever get released, as I was dealing with trying to beat an addiction to drugs. Maybe one day it’ll come out…”
“I grew up in a family where jazz music was greatly appreciated, and my dad wrote several books on it. But I do think there is quite a bit of classical at work in our music as well…”
– Andrew Wyatt
Miike Snow’s pop music certainly has its darker side, clearer in early songs such as Burial. Is this where some of that undercurrent can be attributed? “Yeah, on the first album especially. When we made the first album I had not fully resolved all these issues, and on the song Black & Blue I sing of how I had not fully kicked the drugs, but there is still this commercial element to it. I think the fact we made it through with this has a lot to do with luck, with being in the right place at the right time. Yet the mundanity of the music business and its production was something important to me at least.”
Wyatt’s musical education involved some classical training, which would seem to account for the more oblique and less obvious twists and turns the harmonies and melodies of Miike Snow enjoy. “That’s probably true,” he agreed, “and it’s also one of my primary influences. I came into the business as somebody trying to be Stevie Wonder, but as well as studying classical music I had always studied jazz, while also really loving bands like Earth Wind & Fire. They are a huge influence on me. I grew up in a family where jazz music was greatly appreciated, and my dad wrote several books on it. But I do think there is quite a bit of classical at work in our music as well as others, where people take their cues from composers like Debussy, Ravel and Erik Satie.”
Miike Snow have a very strong live reputation, their songs transferring energetically to the stage. “I think we have a good synergy in terms of our personalities,” says Wyatt. “We are all intense in different ways, and that intensity is on display on stage in a way that might feel good to people. I think most good bands are emotionally intense. It can really make people’s aggression come out, and that can only add to the excitement of a live performance. It is a musical thing too, though – if you’re seeing Leonard Cohen live, for instance, the intensity is still there but it is not so athletic. He is a philosophically intense person. When you’re younger you want an element of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome going on, you might want to see someone get injured! Speaking of that, I’m wishing Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream a speedy recovery. We were supposed to play with them as part of the Beat-Herder festival, but they’ve had to pull out as he has broken a few vertebrae. He’s a great guy.”
If a past gig at Brixton Academy is anything to go by, the band have a devoted following in the UK. “We do have a good response. I think with the gig we played at Brixton Academy that definitely had a Beyond Thunderdome feel to it, a feeling of impending violence – but not in a detrimental sense!”
Perhaps inevitably talk moves from the UK to the European Union – or the possibly impending lack of, following the UK referendum decision to ‘Brexit’. Wyatt’s response is a passionate one. “I have been keeping up with developments to a point. The disconcerting thing to me is not so much to do with the European Union. I don’t have much of an opinion on that. The more important thing is the Euro group that makes the decision.”
“We have a lot of power in a good way, I think. You can just put yourself up on YouTube like Justin Bieber did, and you’ve made 15 million people happy just like that….”
– Andrew Wyatt
He has bigger fish to fry. “I don’t think it’s as big a deal as everyone’s making it out to be. The big thing is the impact on what you call the working class. What we call the middle class in America, that’s been gouged out in every society, and the people responsible for that are the bankers. It’s not a conspiracy theory that I’m telling you – that’s how it works, and there is a load of stuff to back that up. The (former) Greek Minister of Finance Yanis Varoufakis talked about it, and when he spoke to the German finance minister and asked, ‘Would you sign this agreement’, he said: ‘I wouldn’t – but you have to’…”
Clearly this is a line of thought Wyatt has been down a lot lately, as he warms to his task. “That’s the whole problem with society. It’s not the politicians, it’s the people behind the politicians, the ones who don’t have faces, the ones people don’t know. Politicians are very malleable, and the influences on them are not coming from social groups but from capital groups, large corporations. None of those people can take the blame because they’re not the face of the problem. The sad thing about the ‘Brexit’ vote is the side effects of xenophobia and racism that you witness, and that comes about when the average working person has to look for a culprit. They have to look somewhere, but the people responsible are behind closed doors and are hiding behind non-disclosure agreements with the politicians themselves! And of course it goes without saying that the news is controlled by these people too. I think the word is getting out now though, and I genuinely think society is going to fall apart at the seams. The chickens are coming home to roost, and I don’t think it’s going to be pretty.”
I suggest that in times like this we are fortunate to be able to turn to music, and that in this sort of climate creative people thrive ever more greatly. Wyatt concurs wholeheartedly. “I do. The Great Depression gave us some of the greatest music, when people needed something to feel fucking good about life! And that is where we have a lot of power in a good way I think. You can just put yourself up on YouTube like Justin Bieber did, and you’ve made 15 million people happy just like that.”
Miike Snow play at the Beat-Herder festival in Ribble Valley on Friday 15 July 2016, then move on to London’s Lovebox Festival on Saturday 16 July. Completing their three date tour is a set at Latitude on Sunday 17 July. More details at the band’s website.