I first saw Little Dragon live at the LA Natural History Museum, where they played their hearts out in front of a wild bison diorama. Now two years (and three interviews) later, much has changed since that inspiring set. Their third album ‘Ritual Union,’ released in 2011, rose to fourth on the Billboard Dance/Electronic chart and as high as 22 in the UK, leading many critics’ Best Of lists that year.
They have since played every big festival you can think of and released widely hailed collaborations with The Gorillaz, DJ Shadow, SBTRKT and Big Boi. Currently, Yukimi Nagano, Fredrik Källgren Wallin, Erik Bodin, and Håkan Wirenstrand are deep into production in Gothenburg and Berlin on their next album. They stopped by Red Bull Studio in Santa Monica for a rehearsal session, and spoke to us briefly on how it’s all going.
You mentioned that you’re used to working in more modest abodes. This is a pretty badass studio here. What are you all working on, and what's your general creative process like in the studio?
Fredrik: Actually, just rehearsing.
Yukimi: Yeah, we just got in-ear monitors, so it will be a whole new experience for us on stage, so that’s why we are here -- not to record but to practice with the in-ears. But we have been working on our new album this last year, super excited.
Erik: Our creative process is always… we start somewhere and work together to make everyone like it.
Yukimi: Everyone in the band.
Before we had this down period it kind of felt unhealthy. Too much touring, too much of one thing. Now it feels healthy and it’s kind of nice to have found each other again.
Do you go off individually and come up with riffs, or demos and then come together and let the group hear?
Håkan: This album we have had more of different periods, free time, individual creative time and together time. We didn’t have to be all together to come up with different ideas, but when we did come together it was very important. I was late one day, and they got so mad!
Yukimi: Basically, everyone has their room, so it’s kind of like three individual studios and a rehearsing room, where you can record drums and stuff.
Erik: And a kitchen.
Yukimi: And a kitchen. So it’s kind of like we all start off on our own, but no matter where it starts off we come together in the rehearsal room for the end process.
And this is in Gothenburg?
Yukimi: And Berlin.
Gothenburg and Berlin both have very specific energies. Do you see the difference in your music when you record in different places? Does the character of the city ever creep into the music?
Fredrik: No, not really, I don’t think so. It’s more about creating a creative bubble of space inside whatever city we are in, to make that vibe always be there. Of course, you get inspired and affected by the surroundings. That’s inevitable. But we’ve always had a very regular workweek, Monday to Friday, 10 to 6. It’s our job, no matter where we are.
What sounds are inspiring you for this new record?
Yukimi: Much like our last record, this record has a very broad spectrum, as far as influences. So there are different worlds to dive into. There’s definitely elements of losing yourself, very dreamy, sonically romantic.
Erik: We have even brought in strings, real strings. It’s the first time we have had outside musicians on one of our albums. It was really cool.
You recently appeared on Big Boi's album ‘Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors.’ You have two tracks that you collaborated with him on there. What was that like to work with him and how did that collaboration come about?
Erik: It was really fun. We are huge Outkast fans. At first it felt a little unreal, like “Whoa, there he actually is. I’m talking to him, and wow, he’s talking back to me!” It kind of blows your mind, at first. But he’s really open. He has a psychedelic side that I really liked. He’s really into Parliament Funkadelic, far out there things.
Fredrik: Like Kate Bush.
Erik: Like Kate Bush, yeah. As far as recording, it was different than what we are used to. He has a huge studio compound, like Studio A, Studio B. He has guys everywhere at all hours making music on super-loud speakers, all with a really fat sound. It was a lot of people involved.
Yukimi: Also working very late nights. Their cycle was starting work at like 8 p.m. Then you go through the whole night. Pretty intense, especially if you are a little jet lagged. But we were actually in Atlanta for a while, hung out, had a great time.
Your last album ‘Ritual Union’ explored relationships and how they became ritual and part of society. You all have been hanging out since high school, making music since 1996. What’s the ritual union within Little Dragon these days?
Erik: Well, it wasn’t until 2006 that we released music and started touring, but yes, we have been friends since high school. What’s our ritual union? Well, honestly, before we had this down period it kind of felt unhealthy. Too much touring, too much of one thing. Now it feels healthy, and it’s kind of nice to have found each other again.
Yukimi: I don’t think that people realize how much time artist, especially new artist, have to put out without necessarily making any money, just to get that ball rolling. It’s a really tough time because you have to take all your chances to stay alive as a band, and sometimes it burns you out. But we have been lucky as a group in that we have actually grown and, like Erik said, have found a little more balance.
Håkan: We have always been able to see the light, at the end of the tunnel. And that’s so important as a band, to see what really matters and not get lost.