It’s a sunny Wednesday afternoon in Austin, TX and Meg and Laura make their way to the Moonshine Grill on Red River Street to sit down for lunch with one of SXSW’s must-see acts, the Swedish Synth Pop duo Icona Pop.
Mary Morgan Craig: So how has SXSW been treating you so far?
Caroline Hjelt: Great! It couldn’t be better!
Aino Jawo: It’s really been good.
CH: Everyone warned us that it would be crazy and we can totally feel the vibe and the craziness.
MMC: But a good kind of crazy, right?
AJ: Yes, definitely!
CH: It’s all about the positive chaos!
Gauraa Shekhar: Totally! How was your show last night?
AJ: Our show was amazing! Well, at least the first one we did. The second would have been amazing but we blew the sound system out so we couldn’t go through. We just played one song. Our lovely fans that were standing there for hours were so disappointed so we were like, “we’re so going to make it up to you tonight.”
CH: We have four more gigs to go and we’re so excited!
GS: Well I know everyone asks you this question, and there are so many different versions of this story, but how exactly did you guys meet?
AJ: We met in 2009, and I was heartbroken. We have this amazing mutual friend called Emily and she would call me everyday for two weeks and she was like, “you have to get out of bed” and then one day she just came over and forced me out of bed and she took me to an amazing party. This woman here, Caroline, she was the one hosting the party. She used to throw a lot of good parties those days.
CH: My apartment was like the center of the party and everybody was welcome. We were having a lot of fun.
AJ: Basically the hippie collectives, really.
CH: But yeah, I met Aino there and it was love at first sight. We definitely felt like we had this special connection immediately. We went out dancing the whole night. When I woke up the next morning, I was a little bit nervous that it was just the wine talking. I really wanted it to work out because we started talking about how we should do something together but Aino called me the day after and she was like, “Hey, I’m on my way to your place with a computer and a bottle of wine” and we just started over a drum, writing our first song, and since that day we decided that, “Okay, we’re a band”. A lot of our friends were definitely laughing at us but we knew that “Yeah, this is great”.
AJ: When you think about it now, it’s kind of sick how I can kind of just laugh at all of the situations we put ourselves in because both me and Caroline are people who do stuff and then we think and sometimes it’s good but sometimes it’s really bad. But I guess that’s how we kind of put ourselves in chaotic situations and kind of rise out of it. I feel like you two are kind of the same!
GS: Yes, definitely. Story of our lives!
CH: I mean, if we don’t have enough chaos in our lives, we create it. That makes us so creative also!
AJ: Yeah, we’re two girls from Sweden sitting in a sofa riffing this song we wrote four years ago and now we’re just cruising around in America!
GS: And now you’re one of the must-see acts of SXSW. That’s amazing!
CH: Yeah, that’s crazy! It’s a little bit unreal and I have to pitch myself once a day.
MMC: So how’s the transition been from Sweden to the U.S?
CH: It’s been a major difference, of course. Sweden is a very small country, you know. But really, we don’t even have a home anymore. My home is wherever this beautiful lady is (points at Aino). That’s the thing that keeps me going. I feel very home and safe wherever we go because we’re always hanging out and we have each other.
AJ: We’re good at creating homes. We’re like snails, carrying everything within ourselves.
CH: For us to come over here and not just be in New York and L.A., but to actually go to places like Milwaukee and meet people who’ve been listening to our songs on the radio; it’s crazy. It means so much to us to be able to share that connection with our fans. We really do love our fans, they’re the best. They’re such rebels. They stand with their fist in the air and dance their asses off every night too.
MMC: Yeah, I mean, back at Syracuse, “I Love It” is the biggest pre-game song.
GS: Actually, we opened our radio show this semester with your song! It’s actually incredible to be sitting here a couple months down the line and actually be interviewing you. I mean when you talk about crossing boundaries, it’s amazing because Morgan’s from Boston and I’m from Jakarta, Indonesia and we’re in Syracuse listening to a Spanish DJ remix your song and here we are discussing it Austin.
AJ: Wow! I feel so honored! Thank you! That means so much to us. You go, girls. A friend of ours goes to school in Syracuse. We must definitely perform there sometime soon. She’s a fashion design major.
MMC: Speaking of style, who inspires you fashion wise?
CH: I think we’re all about feeling, you know. Especially when it comes to performing on stage. We wanna express how we feel when we sing that song. We want something that extends our movements, you know. Dramatic stuff. But if you’re thinking about icons, we love Prince, David Bowie, Patti Smith…
AJ: …and PJ Harvey, of course. With the leather pants, leather jacket, in white. Ah, she’s so cool. I love it. Not to mention the red lipstick. But we don’t really follow any trends, we’re really bad when it comes to that. In the beginning, we would kind of sewing our own stuff. The first time we were in Paris, Air France lost our luggage and then we ended up cutting and sewing our own stuff after that. We love the side of fashion when it comes from an arty perspective.
CH: When it comes to expressing ourselves, we’ve been to a lot of fashion weeks and we love it. Just the energy and the clothes, you know. Some people spend a whole year working on it and it’s cool because it’s chaos backstage but when they go out there everything is perfect. It’s so beautiful and well put together. We’re actually really bad at following trends though.
GS: It doesn’t even matter because you guys set them, really.
AJ: Aw, thank you!
GS: Well, you guys have an amazing stage presence. Is there any specific routine that you guys follow before you go on stage to pump yourselves up?
AJ: Oh, yeah. We call it the band tattoo. It’s kind of like a horn. We stand in a ring and choose one person that stands in the ring and we stand around the person, doing…well, it’s actually really embarrassing.
CH: Yeah, it’s really embarrassing. We do this rock pose and we scream, “YEAH!”. And you can feel the energy when you’re doing it. It’s really amazing! It’s kind of liberating!
AJ: It’s liberating and yet at the same time you feel like the biggest geek on Earth. But you do it because you can’t be any more geeky anyway. And really, whenever we don’t follow through with this routine, it turns into the worst show ever.
MMC: Yeah, definitely keep doing that! Do you ever get nervous before you take the stage? And if you do, how do you deal with it?
CH: Oh yes. When it comes to lifestyles, we want to keep it interesting for ourselves all the time so we can also keep it interesting for the people in the audience. I mean, I’m always nervous when I go onstage because we always keep on adding stuff so I’m like, “Shit, the synthesizer and the vocals should be different, etc…” I mean it’s a lot of stuff to think about but when you’re out there you don’t end up thinking so much, you just become one with the whole thing.
MMC: Yeah, I bet. So how did you start learning to DJ?
AJ: Well, we just threw ourselves out there and we couldn’t even insert a CD when we started. It started out with the fact that we had a lot of parties. We decided to move in together and we had a lot of parties at our apartment, so much so that the neighbors started to complain so we had to take the party to another place; I mean, we’ve been club kids since we were sixteen years old so we knew everyone and were like, “Please, can we have a club?” and the club owner was like, “Yeah, I know you’re gonna draw a lot of people there” so we started having clubs and we didn’t even know how to DJ so that was a problem. We got so much energy out of it. In the beginning we didn’t see ourselves as DJs, we saw ourselves as just changing songs but then we saw an interest growing out and we started to love it. It was a way of expressing ourselves.
CH: Yeah, I think it’s very important to start somewhere.
AJ: Yes, you have to dare to make mistakes. A lot of mistakes. Just learn from them. I mean, no one’s going to judge you for that, it’s very important to start somewhere. Worst comes worst, the crowd will be angry for messing up the song. But that’s the worst scenario. You just have to go to a club and practice. It’s crucial. You just have to do it so if you just play music that you love and have fun, it doesn’t matter if you make a few mistakes.
MMC: That’s great advice! Have you ever had people give you a lot of attitude?
AJ: Most definitely. We’ve been through a lot of shitty situations. Times when we would come into clubs and would try to play music and people would be like, “Who the hell are you”? It’s been terrible sometimes and I think that makes you become a stronger person. I mean, there are so many times when we went to clubs and guys have been DJing. So many guys DJing before us have been like, “So girls, this is the button you push to play a song and this is where you eject a CD”. I don’t think they mean to be condescending but they just don’t know better and I think we’re here to change it.
CH: Yes, and instead of trying to work against each other, girls should realize the power of supporting each other and building each other up. You have a lot to learn from each other and it would be so much better for everyone to understand that. That’s really important to remember. Sometimes you might feel like someone’s trying to pull you down but then you have to remember that that person is probably insecure. You should know better to do it back.
MMC: Solid advice.
GS: Who were your musical heroes growing up and what’s getting most play on your iPods right now?
AJ: Well, we love Daft Punk, Chemical Brothers, David Bowie, Patti Smith, PJ Harvey, Destiny’s Child. Also, the one hit wonders and the boy and girl bands. But I think there’s a lot of women like Tina Turner and Beyoncé that we really love. The most played song on our iPod–that’s tough.
MMC: What about recently added?
CH: We love the producer that we worked from the start, he produced the Rihanna single, “Stay”. We love that one a lot, we’ve been listening a lot to that. The Knife is great, too. A lot of Swedish bands, too, ha.
GS: Do you think it is true that you need music the most when you’re falling in and out of love?
AJ: Yes. It’s a good way to escape. Sometimes when you’re really sad, you just listen to a song and it helps. When you’re talking about love, either you feel more or you feel less. It’s very important to listen to the right kind of music.
CH: If you’re hurt, it’s important to let yourself cry. When you’re sad, you just need to take your time but it’s also important to have those pick-up songs that really make you feel a little bit warmer inside and a little bit stronger.
MMC: We couldn’t agree more.
GS: Yeah, “I Love It” was that pick-up song for us, ha.
AJ: Thank you! It makes us very happy to hear you say that!
MMC: Well, you have already given us some very good advice and our final question for you is if you have something to share with us for aspiring females in the music industry?
AJ: Yeah, most importantly, don’t be afraid of making mistakes. That’s what you learn from. You learn from them so much more than you learn from people telling you what to do.
CH: If you just take a direction and go with it, the worst thing that could happen is you have to change the direction and move another way but if you never dare to do anything, you’ll be walking around in circles wondering what it would be like if you tried it. Just don’t be scared. Surround yourself with people you love and who love you.