Niki & the Dove's Gustaf Karlöf: We get inspired taking a walk in a forest

Niki & the Dove's Gustaf Karlöf: We get inspired taking a walk in a forest
Photo by Elliot Hazel

It's no news that in recent years Scandinavia has set a competitive standard in the realm of hyper-addictive, synth-laden dance pop. They're great at it (see: The Knife, The Raveonettes or Private). What once existed on the fringe of obscurity is inching into a well-deserved spotlight in America. Just last week, Lena Dunham walked up to a nationally televised Golden Globe victory to the inarguable queen of this niche: Robyn.

Enter: Swedish duo Niki &the Dove. Comprised of Malin Dahlström (she wails the resounding, theatrical vocals) and Gustaf Karlöf (he builds the electro-production). These new members of the Sub Pop family have been creating waves in the blogosphere. No, they're not reinventing the dance-pop wheel and they'd hate to be chronicled in terms of other electro-pop outfits. But with their debut LP Instinct, the enigmatic pair offer a supreme level of depth, intelligence and storytelling to a formula that's in sharp focus. It's a promising place to be and just a handful of dates into their first headlining US tour, Gimme Noise talked shop with half of the magic, Gustaf Karlöf, in anticipation for their show at the Triple Rock this Saturday.

Gimme Noise: I've heard that you and Malin initially met doing music for theater. That made sense in a way.

Gustav Karlöf: You know we keep hearing this from people but it actually isn't true. We didn't meet doing theater. We became friends in Gothenburg when I lived there for five years. I met Malin and we played in different compilations with a lot of different people in Gothenburg. And as far as theater, Malin did that by herself and I did it by myself also. That wasn't how we met or became connected musically.

That's bizarre that media would get that so blatantly wrong. But then I guess it's not that bizarre at all.

Yeah exactly, it must say that somewhere or something. We made a lot of theater music but it was by ourselves. And it didn't influence our sound. No. I think Niki & the Dove would sound exactly the same way even if we didn't have a theater background. Making music for theater is something completely different than making pop music. In the theater you are much more, you know, a part of something very big, so you have to think about that when you write the music. When you're making music for a pop band it's all about the music. It's a big difference and I don't think we are influenced in a conscious way for Niki & the Dove. In a subconscious way maybe.

So how DID Niki & the Dove get rolling in Gothenburg then?

GK: Before this project both me and Malin used to write music by ourselves. We hadn't really made music with other people before so it was quite a big step to do that. It all started with a song Malin wrote called "DJ Ease My Mind." She asked me if I wanted to produce the song together with her. So me, Malin and a third guy produced this song. We were very happy with the result and then we decided to try and sit down and write music together because we could feel that we had the same vision about it in general. We didn't need to describe it in words, we could just feel that we thought in the same way and we had the same goal emotionally. That's why we decided to write some more together and when we did it was a really fun thing to do. We had a lot of fun doing it so really, it derived from just the pure joy of making music together. After five or six songs we noted that maybe we had a band here. The music came before the band, we usually say.

You make it seem like you had a sort of sixth sense about this work being special. Did you anticipate that it would gain the momentum that it has, that you'd be touring with names like Twin Shadow?

Oh not at all. When we started writing music we didn't even have a plan to make a whole album. Every step was only one step at a time. We made a single and people liked it so we were able to make an EP. Then people liked that so we decided to record an album. That's why the album is kind of a patchwork because these songs came from different directions for us and they came from different places. The album is almost more like a connection of fragments if you know what I mean.

You vocally express that you don't like talking about your own musical sound in terms of other music or influence. Why? Instead you acknowledge that inspiration comes from many other art forms. Will you talk about some of those specifically?

When I start to listen to other contemporary electronic pop music my brain starts working too much because I start thinking about how they did stuff, or made a certain sound. When I try to find inspiration its so much easier for me to go to other kinds of expression like paintings and books and movies. With Malin, she's really entranced by visual things and so we love going to museums. Meeting other people can be an inspiration for us too, taking a walk in a forest. It's so much easier to find in other forms than in electronic pop music. That's just how it works for us.

Sure. Now, every duo has a different type of artistic balance. What's the dynamic between you and Malin?

We are very equal. We inspire each other. Sometimes Malin comes up with a beat and I go with a bass line and then she takes over. Sometimes it's the other way around. We build off of each other. We contribute the same in the creative process, except for the lyrics. She writes all of the lyrics.

You were talking before about this mystical, unspoken understanding earlier.

Exactly. That's so important when we sit down and write. We have this non-verbal understanding of the music and it's really unique. We don't have to talk about it. We just feel it in our hearts. And that it's the right way to go.

Niki & the Dove play at the Triple Rock on Saturday with Vacationer and Royal Canoe at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $15.

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