Andrew Wyatt, and Swedish producers Christian Karlsoon, and Pontus Winnberg (Bloodshy & Avant) have made the world a better place with their band Miike Snow.
Their 2009 self-titled debut album changed the way people approach production in pop. They wanted to test whether they could make left-leaning pop music that combines clear, sparse songwriting and hook-laden, muscular mainstream production - and carved a unique sound that’s set the precedent for people to follow.
Now on the week of the release of their third album, iii, they've astounded yet again. In the words of Winnberg: “It’s the original Miike Snow sound, but taken to the next level.”
There’s some exceptional musical collaborations outside of Miike Snow that has helped them get to this top level. Bloodshy & Avant have done production work for all the most successful pop stars, including: Madonna, Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez,and Kylie Minogue and they have more alternative projects on the go all the time. Meanwhile, Wyatt has written for Bruno Mars, Mark Ronson, Flume, Carl Barat and is now currently working on a band he’s started with Lykke Li. To say they’re sought after is something of an understatement.
Singer/songwriter Wyatt is the only member who can be here at Warners HQ in Kensington for the interview today. Looking like a bit of a biker, he’s dressed in a leather jacket with weather beaten long hair and arrives straight off the back of an interview with 6music. He nurses a latte to continue his day as I turn down the volume on iii which I’ve been blasting, and get to know the man behind the record.
Have Miike Snow changed the way other people approach pop?
"I kind of do think we have. I didn’t really realise it but a lot of my friends started saying it to me and then a lot of young people I would work with in the studio were like yeah the first Miike Snow album had a huge influence on like how people approached pop now. I can see that now, yeah."
Between the three of you, there must have been big money offers to write for others but you dedicated a significant amount of time to Miike Snow. Is one a work of love or the other work more of a day job?
"Well when you’re producing other people, you always try to do something that feels great so it’s great in its own way. The thing about the pop music thing is it's a very low percentage gain. To have one song that's a great worldwide smash that feels significant. Writing for other people, it's cool, but if it doesn't actually catch on it doesn't have the same gratification as doing your own song if your own song doesn't catch on. So even though it might seem like a dumb move and not the most lucrative move to do that. But you have to understand when you're writing pop songs for other people you're spending a lot of that time writing songs where nothing happens with and that's kind of depressing in its own way. It takes a lot of stamina."
Do you think differently when you’re writing for other people compared to yourself?
"When you're writing songs that you picture being for big artists, it's important to write from a universal perspective. There's certain things that tie us all in together. It's just a fact that certain things symbolise something meaningful for everybody. And I think you try to swim in those waters when you’re writing a big pop song. You try to write things that everybody can relate to which are usually affairs of the heart. That's why so many pop songs are about affairs of the heart or sex, things that are extremely universal that can connect everyone. I think there's something honorable about doing that well in a way that's like classy, or is not cheap. There’s even a good way of doing something cheap, you know do it with a tongue-in-cheek or a grain of salt."
Apart from pop music, one of the names you've worked with that stood out was Carl Barat, he’s indie rock 'n roll - kind of a different vibe.
"I tend to wear a lot of hats and I've been doing this for a long time as well - it’s one of the thing I can do is switch up and be comfortable in a lot of different scenarios."
What brought you to work with him?
"He reached out. I think he liked the first Miike Snow record and Dave Bianchi, his manager, also put it together. I think it was Carl’s own idea and then we did a few songs on his album. I was more writing with him that I was producing. We had Leo Abrahams, Brian Eno’s right hand man producing."
Going back to the early days of getting signed, you were 19 and got signed to Capitol. I read you were going through some difficulties and didn’t manage to get the album out immediately and went to University.
"First I went to the nut house and then I went to the university."
Was that related to the record deal or was it something independent of that?
"It was all a lot of things and it was also steroid psychosis. I was taking steroids for a bronchial infection and I had. I was also coming off drugs at the time too. So the psychic trauma of that plus the psychosis from the steroids, plus the pressure of the album, and I was so young, I was 21. So I totally crashed and thought you know after Kurt Cobain killed himself I'm going to go the same route unless I stop this.
"So I stopped the career and I was going to be an opera singer or a teacher or something. I even thought about being a carpenter actually. Then I slowly got my confidence back and I wasn’t going to go crazy again and I wasn’t going to kill myself. After that, I started working with Jeff Buckley’s band. Basically, when I went to the hospital my band became Jeff Buckley’s band. My drummer started to perform in the band with Jeff and then while I was getting my shit together Jeff died and then I came back to NY straight after Jeff died and I started working with his band which used to be my band, partially."
Did you know Jeff Buckley growing up?
"I didn’t know him growing up but we played a show together in NY right before I had my difficulties, and right was he was on his ascendance. And then he passed away and I came back to NY and Jeff and his ex-girlfriend were in this band Black Beetle and I joined Black Beetle. And then Black Beetle broke up and me and Michael Tighe formed The A.M. That’s where I first worked with Bloodshy & Avant was I was also writing songs for other people at the same time I was in The A.M. and I was here on tour and I stopped over in Sweden because it’s only a couple hours flight."
The live Miike Snow experience is very adrenalised and hypnotic one. What is that experience like for you?
"It’s the best. I mean having songs and having more anarchic space that people can trip out and do their own thing is what I always like the best about any show.. Whether it was Radiohead or the Greatful Dead or Panther Du Prince or anything – I want to hear things that I can catch on to that I know and I also want to have time to trip out."
Where does the album take your sound?
"We have more of an overt R&B influence. When our first record came out it was thought of to do something that was R&B influenced but if you were the guys who had been Bloodshy & Avant and you came and made something that’s like Justin Timberlake it wouldn’t have been as intriguing I think. You kind of want to throw an unexpected element into what you’re doing I think. If it would have been a boy band sounding record I don’t think it would have been compelling to people. I don’t think we would have real fans. I think now is a good time to do something like that but do it in our own way. It is an R&B thing , we have some chords like that, but it doesn’t sound like James Blake – it’s not getting on that band wagon, it's doing it in its own kind of way."
"What they say about the 20 year rule is really funny. I’ve actually been doing this now for 20 years. ‘My Trigger’ which is the first song on the album. That song is sort of exactly what I was doing when I first got signed. That song and to some extent the song ‘Genghus Khan’ sound like exactly the music when I signed to Capital in the 90s. So it’s an interesting thing. All the influences I had back then are back again like Stevie Wonder and all that stuff are there."
Since you were singed to Capitol in the ‘90s and The Dandy Warhols were too, did you ever hang out with them?
I used to see him in the office. Do you remember the band Blind Melon? They were in the same neo psychedelic genre as Dandy’s but they had a big hit song in America. And then the guy actually died of a heroin overdose. And he was part of the reason I knew was going to go the way I was going to go, I was going to die so that’s why I took seven years off."
Why do you think you were vulnerable?
"We don’t have time to get into all that. It’s sort of like you know when you , I guess if you have a certain sensitivity to you it’s easy to take thing s in the wrong way and process tihngs wrong. And when your’e young you havent/ really figured out. Lot of pople don’t if you have a talent that can take you into the realm of people who have their shit together you can really feel out of place. You can feel very isolated by that because lot of other people have worked out a system how to package reality. Break it down into manageable chunks. A lot of the time as a kid you haven’t done that."
iii by Miike Snow is out now via Atlantic Records.