Miike Snow is – are – in a playful mood. The second, somewhat orchatronic, album by the three-headed-band with the one-man-name and mysterious Jackalope symbol is called Happy To You. Why?
“It’s a sign in the studio,” shrugs tattooed Swedish producer Christian Karlsson. “An old mis-spelt phrase postcard from Thailand. Nothing to do with any of the songs…but it sort of stuck.”
The band that should never have worked have turned a new corner, and turned myriad new tricks. Miike Snow’s second album is a triumph of tunes, set to burn up airwaves and dancefloors and festival-fields through 2012 and beyond.
“Before this album, we were an idea,” reflects Pontus Winnberg. “This time we were a band. And this time, we had paid our dues – we’d toured in 27 countries for 18 months. When we came in to make Happy To You, we came in as a unit, and emotionally for us that makes a huge difference. And hopefully you can hear it.”
“Miike Snow is kinda like this playground,” says long-haired American singer-songwriter Andrew Wyatt. “I don’t think Miike Snow functions inside of a genre. A few people wanted us to be more properly in the dance world, but I don’t think this record is. Even our ‘dance’ songs aren’t really clubby…”
So how do they define the follow-up to 2009’s 200,000-selling self-titled debut?
“Fun-da-mental,” suggests Wyatt with an arched eyebrow. “ ‘Cause it’s da mental.” (Not pictured: hip hop hand gesture.)
Breaking from a secret session designing the new live show, band member, producer and keys player Pontus Winnberg commented... “It’s like much of our stuff – we don’t really wanna tell people what the titles are about, or the lyrics, or what our thoughts are about. We’d prefer them to put them in their head and their lives and make their own interpretation. It’s nice to keep a little bit of mystery.”
Happy To You and happy to be here: Miike Snow are back with a big, bold, bright, colourful album bristling with tunes and (break)beats and ideas and more tunes – yes, that is an orchestra, and fo’ sure, that is a marching band – and it’s not so long since they were last here. They had started the band as an ad hoc side-project between other jobs – Wyatt had been working with Mark Ronson; as producer-writers Bloodshy & Avant, Winnberg and Karlsson had been cranking out the dancefloor hits such as Britney Spears’ ‘Piece Of Me’ and ‘Toxic.’ They ended up with an album that was synced over 200 times in Hollywood and beyond.
But the out-of-the-box success of the ubiquitous ‘Animal,’ ‘Black & Blue’ and ‘Silvia’ – still playing on a radio or computer game or film soundtrack near you now – kinda took them by surprise. They toured the world for 18 eye-watering months in support of the album, their global performance schedule stretching endlessly before them, a yellow-brick-road of adventure, as the Jackalope galloped away with them. Miike Snow did some 260 shows, initially lugging their own gear into a shitty van but eventually gliding round the world with crates of cutting-edge gear in a shiny hover-bus with wings (or something).
The trio went from the dizzy foothills of Later… With Jools Holland. “The first time on the show we played with Smokey Robinson,” recalls Wyatt, “and you can’t get higher up on the mountain than Smokey. Then there was Yoko Ono, Eric Clapton, The Dead Weather, Basement Jaxx. Now that was competition.
They scaled the giddy heights of 3000 capacity clubs in Columbia and Chile, “hundreds of people singing along to every song,” remembers Karlsson. “And that was before the record was even out!”
And they crested the peaks of some of the world’s greatest festivals, from Coachella to Glastonbury.
But finally, Miike Snow came off the road last spring, and went straight into the studio in Stockholm. They thought it would take a year. They didn’t care.
“We were starving to be in the studio again,” says Karlsson, “because before Miike Snow we were in the studio every day for ten years. So being on the road was very new to us.”
“The studio is kinda like our home,” adds Winnberg. “Prior to touring with Miike Snow, from about 15 years old I think I was in the studio pretty much every day – more than I was at home. So it’s a little bit of a safety zone. And also, after touring with the band, it felt we had so many ideas about how to move on musically. So we had that added urge to begin fucking around with that.”
The writing and recording of their debut had taken place in fits and starts. Wyatt would fly back and forth between Stockholm and New York for a few snatched weeks at a time. “Nobody really had any expectations with the first album,” admits Wyatt. “We knew we wanted to make a record but we didn’t know anything beyond that. We didn’t know if we would find anyone who would want to manage us as a band or put our record out.”
But this time, buoyed by the success of that accidental album, things would be different. Wyatt relocated to Stockholm. The move made sense musically, and also personally.
Bunkered in their own studio – named Robot Mountain, and housed in the stables of a hundred-year-old former fire station – Miike Snow were fired by the spirit of inventiveness. The songs came thick and fast. They worked together, and alone, and in rotation.
“We passed the torch in a different way this time,” says Karlsson. “We were working on more than one song at a time, and working together on everything. I liked that – then you’re able to experiment when no one else is around. I’d get there in the morning and Andrew had been there all night, and I could continue. Then when I leave he comes back… It definitely changed the dynamic of the songs and the songwriting.”
Says Winnberg: “For all three of us, it’s a very vague difference between songwriting to production to mixing to recording – everything is just happening in a big blur. So there was definitely action going on all around the clock.”
Another factor adding to the carnival whirl of inventiveness: Miike Snow actually had three recording studios on which to work, including an old place used by ABBA in the Seventies. Winnberg: “It was full of old recording equipment, and we recorded the drums and acoustic instruments in there. It added a kind of classic environment to the whole album. And it was vibey; we hung out there a lot.”
The wee-hours after-party vibe of all those months on tour fed into the rippling Italo-house piano of two giant tracks. The punchy, dramatic ‘Devil’s Work’ was aired by Zane Lowe on Radio 1 in early December, and instantly shot to Number One on the Hype Machine chart. The infectious, shouty ‘Paddling Out,’ set to be the first single, from Happy To You, is, according to Winnberg, an homage to a kind of dancefloor disco-inferno he’s not heard in too long. Similarly, the early Nineties breakbeat of ‘Pretender’ was a nod to the music Karlsson grew up with.
They called in strings and brass and woodwind, and they called in a marching band – the mighty ‘Devil’s Work’ might also be called “orchtronica”, ‘Bavarian#1’ has an irresistible percussive pound, and ‘God Help This Divorce’ possesses a rich classical sweep to match a devastating lyric. “It talks about what actually happens when a couple split,” says Wyatt of a song that marks the closest Miike Snow have ever come to a ballad. “It’s the slowest song we’ve ever done.”
A notch up the bpm scale is ‘Vase,’ a quietly epic techno-soul singalong. There’s more inventiveness in ‘Black Tin Box,’ a burst of songwriting brilliance so robust it effortlessly marshals dark, throbbing beats, steel drums, ghost-in-the-machine singing from Wyatt and a “witchy” guest vocal from Swedish pop-sorceress Lykke Li.
“We know how to do a lot of different things, so why do the things that you’ve already done?” says Wyatt, explaining the ceaseless sense of adventure on Happy To You – organic meets electronic, whistling meets raving, and no guitars allowed. “I think sometimes you can gain from taking away options… And it’s nice to try do some weird things – juxtapose things that shouldn’t work on paper.”
Maybe not. But Miike Snow’s “song” songs are epically, tunefully wonderful. The jackalope is back, with extra horns (and strings and trumpets and glockenspiels and the rest).