Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Turn the clock back 11 years, and a then-17-year-old Stockholm singer/songwriter Robyn was experiencing global mainstream success with her pop/R&B-flavoured debut album 'Robyn Is Here', while simultaneously being championed internationally as Sweden`s blonde`n`blue-eyed answer to US R&B teen-queens of-the-day Brandy, Monica and Aaliyah…

Return to the present day, meanwhile, and said Nordic songstress is back on the line to “B&S” from her native Scandinavia; her call coinciding with the release of “Who`s That Girl” - prestigiously the fifth single to be taken from her latest album, titled simply 'Robyn'. With said LP having last August spawned the UK Number One smash 'With Every Heartbeat', another significant difference this time around is that the self-titled album in question impressively last year also marked the first UK release on Robyn`s own, independent label Konichiwa Records. A company she initially started setting up just six months after controversially, and unexpectedly, buying herself out of her worldwide deal with Jive/BMG back in 2004.

”My first two albums were released on BMG”, begins a soft-voiced Robyn: “But, because I got disillusioned with the lack of artistic control I had there, after like a year of negotiations I left BMG in 2003 to sign with Jive - who had global superstars like Britney Spears and The Backstreet Boys. But then, six months after I signed, Jive was bought by BMG - so I was back where I started! Plus the deal itself made Jive very insecure as a label. A lot of people I worked with were fired, and my third album never got released - which pissed me off. And it was then I decided to buy myself off Jive, because I had no interest in staying with a label that was changing its whole structure and generally in a bad state. So basically Jive and I agreed to go our different ways, and I was able to get my record back from them, And because of that whole experience I didn`t feel particularly inspired to return to the major world and try to do another artist deal!”

Thus - inspired by the independent ethos and abstract futurist music of Swedish brother/sister duo The Knife - Robyn immediately set about forming her own label and bringing on board Stockholm writer/producer Klas Ahlund to help her create the hip hop-influenced electronic pop soundscape of her self-titled latest LP: ”The most important thing to me is to always have good songs that people wanna hear again and again”, she continues in impressively-good English: ”You know, sometimes I listen to very commercial music and sometimes I listen to music that doesn`t reach many people at all. And, for this album, I was very interested in reaching that point where those two opposites meet. Plus, with me having always listened to hip hop - which was the first music I got into when I started to buy my own records - I also love that classic rap concept of `I`m the best and the rest all suck`. You know, I do think it`s a very interesting theme - and it was definitely what inspired, for example, the attitude of the track “Konichiwa Bitches”.”

With its moods ranging from the boisterous sass of 'Cobrastyle' to the gentle heartfelt balladry of 'Eclipse', in some ways the polarised, extreme emotions expressed on 'Robyn' (which recently peaked at Number 11 in The UK) reflect the impact rap lyrics had on the singer while she was growing up: ”I think the biggest lyrical inspiration for this album was going back to when I was like 15 and on the subway listening to hip hop”, she recalls: “Back than, because I didn`t know many people in Sweden who knew about rap, it was like my own music world - where the lyrics were very direct. So I tried to return to that age when you`re so strong and self-confident, while acknowledging there`s also a part of being a teenager when you`re sometimes very insecure and feel very fragile. You know, at that age emotions are really big - and I feel those extreme feelings are what people of ALL ages want music to REPRESENT for them. With music being one of the only mediums where you can talk about simple things without sounding pretentious, you can really reach people in a very direct way.”

Born Robin Miriam Carlsson in Stockholm in 1979, Robyn spent the first seven years of her life touring with her director father and actress mother in their travelling theatre company. At the age of 13 she was discovered by Swedish pop singer Meja, while singing a sad, self-written song about her parents` divorce in a school workshop - and was immediately signed to BMG. A product of a then-thriving mid-Nineties Stockholm soul scene (which also boasted Titiyo, Blacknuss and Jennifer Brown), Robyn`s aforementioned, multi-million-selling debut album catapulted her to bona fide international stardom; the melodic urban pop of its singles 'Do You Know What It Takes' and 'Show Me Love' penetrating the US And UK Top Tens respectively.

While genuinely acknowledging her time during the mid-to-late Nineties as a transatlantic major-label hitmaker as “a great and priceless experience”, the Robyn of today - her current LP having already hit Number One in Sweden - is (while understandably having her music distributed in Britain through Universal/Island) nevertheless a fiercely independent spirit: “While there are some challenges to running your own label - you have to take time out and really discipline yourself to do both music and business at the same time - to me it is worth it. Because having control over my economic situation does give me the security to be able to relax. Plus I don`t have to worry about people doing things that I don`t want them to do with my music. And to me being independent is definitely the way forward, because - with major labels doing so very badly today - I don`t really feel there`s a place for them in the creative part of making records any more. I really do think that in four years time the only role they`ll be playing will be as DISTRIBUTORS of the music - which is one thing they`ve always been good at.”

The single 'Who`s That Girl' is released April 21. The album 'Robyn' is out now, both through Konichiwa Records

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