Little Dragon

Dreaming Under the Northern Lights

Little Dragon Marco van Ri copy

The three founding members of Little Dragon—drummer Erik Bodin, keyboard and bass player Fred Källgren Wallin and front woman Yukimi Nagano—have been making music together since they met in high school in 1996. Despite growing up in Gothenburg, Sweden, they were drawn together by their love of De La Soul and the electro-soul of Prince and Janet Jackson, but they also listened to a lot of vintage American rock, R&B, jazz, pop and soul. When they started playing together, they were determined to make music without limits, mashing up genres into a dance friendly sound that was immediately recognizable—but hard to categorize.

“I don’t think categories will be that long lasting in the overall history of music,” Erik Bodin says. “Music is too much of a natural instinct to be bound to a genre. At the end of the day, people just wanna dance to a rhythm or melody and forget about their everyday struggles. We never think of genres when we’re making an album. We make music with no restrictions or borders. We’re always trying to break out of our limitations and go in new directions.”

The band is true to their word on Nabuma Rubberband, their latest album and first international release. They’ve made their biggest waves with a combination of club-friendly dance tracks and smoldering ballads featuring Nagano’s simmering vocals, but this time they take a smoother approach. “Paris” and “Klapp Klapp” bounce along with a sound that brings to mind the brittle, new wave club music of the 80s, but most of the songs are wistful, surrealistic soundscapes steeped in the melancholy that comes in the wake of a serious romantic breakup. “The approach was to space out and try to make something that we haven’t heard before,” Fred Wallin explains. “We start out by writing by ourselves, then we invite each other to add to what we have. We write and produce as we go along, looking for sounds that make us want to move. I think this album is a bit less wanky and more refined.”

The band’s strong melodies are married to lyrics that tend to be elusive, expressing moods and emotions rather than actual events, adding to the album’s enigmatic feel. “I try to tell my stories with imagery,” Nagano says. “When the subject is very personal, it feels good to be vague so people can be free to interpret the meaning. I do [also] like artists who can write straightforward lyrics and I attempt to that too.”
The band named the collection in honor of a friend, the woman who inspired one of the record’s most cryptic tracks. Nabuma Rubberband is a tense, jittery ode to alienation that compliments Nagano’s mysterious, whispered vocal, with a soundscape full of grim kaleidoscopic images: frosty synthesized strings and sci-fi sound effects suggest the chaos in the hearts of the lost souls that prowl the midnight darkened city streets in search of a connection they doubt they’ll ever find.

“‘Nabuma Rubberband’ sounds intriguing,” Bodin says. “Nabuma is a girl’s name in Uganda and we have a friend called Nabuma. Rubberband is the rubberband you would put around a stack of bills, a slang expression for having a lot of money. The two where put together by accident, but we thought it sounded like an epic person with special powers.”
Although the band has seen more widespread success in the United States and the rest of world than they have in Sweden, they have no immediate plans to move away from their hometown. They don’t spend much time with other Swedish musicians, preferring to mainly socialize with their families or in their studio, working on music. “Gothenburg has given us our playful childhood, frustrated teenhood, confused young adulthood and now even settled parenthood,” Bodin says. “We love Gothenburg deeply, but can’t wait to leave it for somewhere else and go on tour for a while. When we’re at home and we have to face the windy, wet harshness of the weather we sometimes get over here, nothing beats going inside our studio to disappear into a lovely melody.”

In recent years songs written or produced by Swedes have dominated the American Top 10. Little Dragon doesn’t identify with the Swedish Invasion, but they do have a few ideas about the phenomenon. “It could have something to do with the climate and lack of light in the winter,” Wallen says. “That and the combination of being exposed to British and American culture since the birth of TV and radio. Then add in a social democratic vision of educating kids in the arts and music and providing free practice spaces and instruments. Or maybe it’s just something in the water?”


Text by J. Poet
Photography by Marco Van Rijt