Nina Persson is trying to make a kale salad with the least amount of noise possible. Just last week, the 39-year-old did some phone interviews while cleaning out the fridge and got complaints about the amount of racket she was making. Just talking on the phone while not doing anything else is frustrating for Persson, hence the salad-making. Of course, Persson is no stranger to multi-tasking these days. As the frontwoman of Swedish pop band The Cardigans and lead singer of her solo side project, A Camp, Persson also balances her 20+ years in the business with being a wife and mom—she shares a three-year-old son, Nils, with husband Nathan Larson—and is now making her first foray as a solo artist with her debut album, Animal Heart.
Boxx contributor Lily Moayeri caught up with Persson to talk about the transition of going solo after 20 years and really doing it all.
Lily Moayeri: What were you able to accomplish as a solo artist that you didn’t with the Cardigans, A Camp, or any of the other projects over the years?
Nina Persson: I had a kid, so I would get frustrated because things would take a lot of time when there were many people involved. Even though I’ve always loved that throughout my career, it’s just different now. It’s nice to be flexible since I’m the lowest common denominator. I’m the only one who ultimately needs to make decisions, and it works really well in my life. For the next couple of years, that’s the business model for me.
LM: Is it more of a structural change rather than a musical one?
NP: It’s always a musical change every time you make a record. The only pure difference in how I worked before is that it’s a smaller project where I don’t have to feel like I’m making people wait because I’m also taking care of my life.
LM: It doesn’t quite work the same when a female musician has a child than when a male has one, does it?
NP: Through many records with The Cardigans, the guys in the band would have several babies, and they’d continue to go on tour. I noticed they had ladies who could put up with that, and when it was my turn, it just couldn’t be the same. We would have substitutes for the guys when they had little babies and went home for a couple of weeks before rejoining us. But if I would do that, nothing would happen with The Cardigans. I can’t necessarily have a substitute. I have a very good man whom I can leave my son with. In fact, our son is more attached to my husband at this point; but when they’re small, it’s impossible to leave.
I couldn’t imagine not working for a couple of more years, so doing this record has been great because I’m the only one doing it and everything is more efficient. It’s crass to think of it that way, but it’s more practical. I was away in Sweden for three weeks—and I know that my husband is totally fine with it—but I can’t shake the feeling of being a terrible mom for leaving for that long.
LM: In a recent interview I read, you mentioned you needed to find a way to do music that is not uncomfortable. Can you elaborate on that?
NP: Previously when I was writing music, it’s always been with people and that’s really joyful. But I’ve always taken it on myself to write and to finish the lyrics. I’ve always procrastinated, and a week before recording, I’m sweating, drinking too much wine—thinking that’s going to help—and feeling like I suck. There’s been a lot of anxiety for me in the past.
That’s another thing that’s easier for me now. I simply haven’t had the time to sit around like that at night. I haven’t had the time to be hung over. For this record, I said, “I’m going to write this, it’s going to take me two or three hours, and that’s going to be it.” It might change down the line when I sing it. Working with your gut and instinct can be good. It’s a thing of its own…the inspiration to see what comes out of the top of your head. I’m not just saying that to defend what I’ve written, but it’s been fun because what’s come out has been a little bit crazier and a little less explanatory. As long as I know what I see in a song, then I’m happy. I’m going to assume that if I get it, other people will, too.
LM: Even though you haven’t released music with The Cardigans or A Camp recently, you haven’t been completely quiet. You’ve been working work on other projects, like Citizens Band, right?
NP: They’re not heavily publicized things, so people think you’ve been doing nothing. When I’m done doing the touring and the promo for a record, I’m usually excited because then I can easily say yes to fun, weird projects that are not necessarily pushing my face into other people’s faces. That’s when I feel like I develop a lot because I’m linked up with new folks, and that’s when music is really like a party. You do little shows together and little recordings, and it’s super fun and amazing. Your persona doesn’t matter and you’re a team player and you’re there to boost the common effort.
LM: You’ve always been good in the collaborative setting. You tend to leave your ego out of the situation, especially with The Cardigans where the public may have wanted to separate you from the band.
NP: Collaboration is something I have learned and loved from being in a band. That’s why I was uncomfortable about doing a solo record because there was nothing romantic about solo to me before. Back in the day, [The Cardigans] were putting together a record the same time as No Doubt, and I always wanted to talk to [Gwen Stefani] and see what it’s like for her. I’ve been compared to her, just because of the frontwoman thing. I’ve always been curious about how that affected them, the way the world pulled her aside.
LM: Are there female musicians or creative people you admire and get inspiration from?
NP: There’s a Swedish artist—she’s been around for a while—Jenny Wilson. She just put out a new record— her fourth—and it’s absolutely amazing. It’s by far the best she’s ever done. It took me a while to listen to it because I knew that when I listened to it, I was going to be freaked out, and I was. It was the same feeling I had when I first heard PJ Harvey’s To Bring you My Love. That was a huge moment for me, and I felt the same way. It changes things.
LM: Was there music you discovered while working on Animal Heart?
NP: Not so much new stuff, but I worked with this guy Eric Johnson, who is really awesome and he has very generous taste in music. I have had a tendency to be snobby, which is counterproductive. He brought things that I would have never thought to listen to like Hall & Oates and INXS.
LM: Would you not consider listening to artists like that before?
NP: I remember liking INXS at the time, but I guess I was thinking it was too dated for me to be affected by it now. Or I wasn’t exposed enough because I remember Hall & Oates, but I remember the radio hits and that’s what reached me. So I was exposed in the wrong way, which you are when you consume music from the radio. You get what other people have selected. Even [with] my own music, usually the singles are my least favorite on the record. If you use the mediums, the music comes through—you’re going to miss the rest. There can be so much fashion and so many rules for music consumption sometimes, which is sad.
LM: What’s the story with the Animal Heart illustration done by the artist Jennie Eckstrom?
NP: We hung out when we were teenagers, but we fell out of touch. I saw she was illustrating and I love her drawings so much I got in touch with her, just to tell her that she was really good, and we kept talking.
I think it’s interesting to spread the creativity when you are working on a record. So I asked her if she would want to make a piece of art inspired by my record, just listening to the songs before it was finished and see what appealed to her. She did one called “Ocean.” She painted another one that she said was too weird and she didn’t want to show it to me, which if it’s weird and strange, of course she has to show it to me. And there was another one called “Animal Heart” that was even cooler than the first one.
LM: There have been major changes in the musical landscape, on every level, since the time you got started. Do you think of things differently?
NP: We were signed to a major label early on, and we were super successful, so we were a prioritized band on a major label. We were working really hard, touring, doing the press and going back into the studio. We had people making the deals for us. We had people making the schedules for us and just giving us a pile of paper that were our tickets and our itinerary and we just went. We didn’t do much ourselves. That changed drastically 10 years ago. We were raised in ‘90s major label environment, so we were shell-shocked when it happened. You could say we were spoiled, which is true to a certain degree. We really had to figure out how to navigate the new ways, whereas a band who started within the last 10 years would start in that new climate and been way more savvy. I’m slowly learning and understanding what needs to be done now, but every day I’m reminded that I’m not very savvy.
Photos by Jörgen Ringstrand