Full feature published on Il Mucchio Selvaggio n. 763 / February 2018 (print and digital)
GZ: Plunge is going to have its physical release in February, fourth months after its surprise digital release. Considering how well-received it was and that you’re soon embarking on a tour, I was wondering: has it ‘grown’ on you in new ways in the past few months?
Karin Dreijer: I finished the album last summer, so for me, I have known about it for a long time! It’s the stories I’ve been thinking about and finished a while ago, but it has taken new shapes as I’m now working on the live shows… Also we are continuing making new videos, so the music keeps taking different shapes.
GZ: Speaking of the music on Plunge. There’s a certain restlessness, even frenzy in most of the tracks, which is reflected in the harsh tones of the synth lines and the beats. I am curious to know if you approached the writing of the songs with a clear idea in mind of the energy they were going to convey or if Plunge is the result of a process of revision.
KD: I definitely think it’s been a long process. After we came home from the last show of The Knife in Reykjavik, more than three years ago, that’s when I started to work on this. I didn’t really know back then what I was going to do. I just felt that it would have been nice to be alone in the studio. It’s a lot of ideas that I had been collecting for some time before, but also during the couple of years it took to actually make it.
GZ: For the album you worked with a few producers, some of which you collaborated with in the past, others for the first time. Were there instances where you felt like their contribution took you in directions… you would have not entirely predicted or even out of your comfort zone?
KD: All collaborations are experiments, you never really know. With some producers that I hadn’t worked with before – you have to find a way to communicate and to think how you would like the process to be. It’s different things: I mean, with Paula Temple she lives in Berlin and I like to be in Berlin so I was there a lot. Later she also came to Stockholm and we worked together on many occasions. But for example, with Deena Abdelwahed and NÍDIA we’ve just been sending each other files back and forth, so it’s been different kinds of collaborations. And I think I like all those ways. Sometimes it’s really nice not having to meet, actually. [Laughs] Just sending files, I think that can be really nice sometimes, but other times it’s nice to hang out and talk about ideas in person.
GZ: Plunge majorly celebrates queer desire. Although many have underlined some of the most explicit content on it, to me the record is more characterized by a sense of anticipation for the sex yet to come, rather than the sex being had or already explored. Would you say that Plunge celebrates sex-as-curiosity rather than sex per se?
KD: Absolutely, I think it’s about curiosity and yes, as you say, the anticipation. But it’s also the curiosity of… “Anything can happen now” “What can possibly happen?” But also “What is sex? What is this great thing that we are going around and waiting for?” or “What is this love that that everybody is talking about, that can happen, that can strike you?”, “How does it feel?” and “Will it happen to me?” [Laughs] It’s a lot of questions. I think it’s also about those moments when you’re about to fall in love or you’re interested in somebody and you start having all these ideas and thoughts about all the amazing stuff that you could do together. I think sometimes that moment in a new relationship can be very very specific.
GZ: In IDK About You, you hint at your experience on dating apps and you have mentioned Tinder elsewhere. I like that the character in the song, not knowing whether to give a chance or not to the person on the other side, in a way disrupts the rather rigid ‘swipe left/right’ dichotomy set in place by the app. Was that the idea?
KD: Yes, it could be! I mean, I think it’s impossible to look at a picture and find out anything or feel anything about [the person]. It’s crazy. I think dating apps should be more about like… it would be interesting to programme something where you can find out a person’s energy or how they smell – I think that is very important – and the sound of their voice. I think there are so many more important things than just a picture. And there’s also the fact that you have to do it so fast – right, right, left, left left – you have to make up your mind and you have to pay a lot of money to go back, its’ crazy!
GZ: In the piece you penned with Hannah Black to accompany the album, one thing that caught my attention was how you articulate the connection between love and pain. In certain places it almost feels like music is coming to the rescue, in order to make sense of the most inexplicable aspects of desire. Like when you say: “Sex is work, love is work, work is sex, work is love, the magical conversion of ‘is’ given impossible power by its delivery in music”. Can you tell me a bit more about the role played by music in your ‘manifesto’?
KD: With this collaboration with Hannah Black, who wrote the piece… I told her that I had really liked her previous work and she writes very poetically and beautifully about things that I find very interesting. So I sent her my music, my lyrics and some video clips, film stuff that we had been doing and she sent me this text. I think she captured that very well. I am thinking about that a lot – what music really is, what its qualities are, what it is so good about it. And I think for me… I am not done yet with that thinking, but I think for me, it helps me to fill the gaps, to understand where the emotions disappear or when I lack emotions or I don’t really know how to deal with that. When things are too complicated to feel, when you get stuck in something, I think music can really help you. And It works by itself, you don’t have to think and things will happen with your body. That is pretty amazing.
GZ: Almost like an extension of your body…
KD: Yes, yes, or like a little mind piece!
GZ: Another bit of the ‘manifesto’ I really wanted to talk to you about is when you write: “There are no simple binaries, and I don’t only mean gender, that’s old news”. In Italy there’s been a huge wave of resistance towards gender and queer theory, or what many conservatives have dubbed ‘the ideology of gender’. It almost feels as if these important theoretical achievements were discovered and rebuked by conservatives well… behind the schedule. Why is it important to consider it “old news”, something we should have at least grasped by now?
KD: Yes, I really think we should be there already. I am very aware that is very utopian, it’s something to strive for and it’s a wish to end up there, but it is of course not like that in most parts of the world. When I talk to people a lot of them say: “Oh, but you are from Sweden and it’s so equal and feminist [there]”. But, I mean, we have so many backlashes, all the time. It happens now like back then, the questioning of gender or anti-feminist backlashes where conservatives think that women should stay at home, watching the kids and so on. It is an ongoing struggle, it’s not done yet! But it’s nice when it’s taking a few steps forward here and there. It’s a slow revolution.
GZ: One thing I see in Plunge is this sense of: “Fuck off, I’m not going back to that. I’m moving forward”. I’m also thinking of [the song] Falling, where there’s this figure who tries to shame the narrator for their desire and you sing: “She makes me feel dirty again/That old feeling of shame”…
KD: I think that is a good description! I think most queer people that I have met carry shame in some way. At some point you have felt shame over yourself and your queerness. That is something that is very important to heal from. You have to try and forgive yourself for this feeling to be able to move on, but of course it can make you very angry: “Why do I have to feel this way? It’s nothing that I can do anything about”.
GZ: You’ve said in the past that your engagement with feminism started when you were as young as 15. Plunge has been widely regarded as your most political record, so I was wondering: how have you come to understand the link between art and politics in relation to your own work? Do you think that you’ve grown a certain confidence in merging the two over time or was it just a matter of ‘good timing’?
KD: I think it just happened. I have been doing music for a very long time now and I think that [as an artist] you have to allow yourself to grow personally and continue to be curious: I think I’ve had many years now of trying out new things. I don’t think you’re supposed to stand still, you have to try out all these different combinations of your interests. I am very interested in politics and I am also a woman and I am a mother and I am a queer person and I think finally everything just came together! [Laughs] It felt very natural and I am happy because it made for a very good combination at this point [in my life]. It’s difficult to understand what it is that happens… Also, the album has a lot of metal influences, I have been listening to a lot of metal, which is not generally seen as something good, or ‘good fine culture’, but I think it has great potential [to express] the angry aspect of yourself as a human. So I think that has helped a lot in the process.
GZ: Without necessarily making comparisons between the two records, but I recall that during the promotional cycle of [The Knife album] Shaking The Habitual you said that with that record you were questioning conventions “on a structural level rather than a psychological level.” Do you think that focusing on intimacy but also on broader issues – the song The Country, for instance, deals with aspects that can be certainly regarded as structural… Plunge somehow merges the two?
KD: Yes, that one [The Country] is very theoretical as well… I think sex is super political, how people have sex is a very very important political matter – how people are allowed to be intimate with each other. You can say that it’s very personal because it’s a lot about intimacy, but to me that is a very political matter.
GZ: There’s a lot of excitement about your upcoming tour. I got lost reading comments online and there was this one that caught my attention, somebody wrote: “Based on the recent videos I’m fully expecting to see her show up on stage dressed head to toe in latex, wearing a strap-on and wielding a microphone in one hand and a vibrator in the other”…
KD: Uh huh! [Giggles]
GZ: I know you like to play with the expectations of your audience, so my question is whether you are plotting to translate or transform the universe of Plunge in your live shows.
KD: Yes [Laughs]. I mean, the artwork and the videos for the album so far I made with Martin Falck and we are also making the live shows together, so it will be a continuation of the stories you will see in the videos. The next video is out in one week, I think, and then the stories from the videos will continue in the live show. Yes, that’s…
GZ: …as much as you can say?
GZ: Speaking of audience expectations, the last The Knife tour was a very peculiar experiment in performance. Now that a few years have passed and the tour has been documented with a video and album release, I wanted to ask: what do you think was the best achievement of that tour when you look back on it?
KD: Oh, it’s different things! But one thing is surely to hold and keep a group of twenty-five people together for such a long time. That was a new thing and it was crazy. But also I learnt how to dance, Olof too, we didn’t dance before. I think we kind of talked about it before we made it along the lines of: “Oh this should be our version of a Las Vegas show!” and I think it is! That I am very happy about.