While we are living in an extremely challenging chapter of global history, music can be a catalyst for hope and peace during. One of the best releases to date for 2020 is Little Dragon's sixth studio album titled New Me, Same Us out now on Ninja Tune. Little Dragon brilliantly explores the theme of never ending growth and discovery in relationships; in particular theirs as bandmates. Entirely self-produced and recorded at their home-built studio in Gothenburg, New Me, Same Us is the next chapter of Little Dragon.
Shying away from obvious commercial success in favor of making music that they could powerfully stay behind, Little Dragon has nonetheless garnered considerable critical praise and respect across the music industry. Catapulted into the spotlight after releasing Ritual in 2011, the band then received a Grammy-nomination for their 2014 album release Nabuma Rubberband. Throughout the past decade, Little Dragon has also been provided the opportunity to work with revered artists such as Gorillaz, SBTRKT, Flying Lotus, Flume, ODESZA, Kaytranada, DJ Shadow, Tinashe, Mac Miller, and Future.
The four-piece band is composed of captivating and beloved vocalist, Yukimi Nagano, multi-instrumentalists Håkan Wirenstarnd and Fredrik Wallin on keyboards and bass respectively, and drummer and percussionist, Erik Bodin. Little Dragon was first formed while they were high school students in their hometown of Gothenburg (where most of the bandmates still reside) nearly 25 years ago. New Me, Same Us radiantly displays the band going back to basics and falling back in love with their instruments all over again while exploring new realms of creative expression.
With tracks like “Another Lover,” “Every Rain,” and the lead single “Hold On,” Little Dragon captivates listeners with their hypnotic pop-based melodies, Yukimi’s sultry and poetic vocals, celestial synths, and funky bass lines. The result is potentially the best album of the band’s already incredibly impressive career. Incorporating genres such as R&B, disco, soul, electro pop, deep house, neo-soul, and hip-hop, New Me, Same Us showcases the depth of Little Dragon’s sheer musical genius.
I recently had a chance to catch up with drummer and percussionist Erik Bodin about New Me, Same Us, the evolution of Little Dragon throughout the years, and more.
SB: How has Little Dragon changed since the band first started almost 25 years ago?
EB: We have grown physically, emotionally, and spiritually. When you hang out for such a long time you really become a part of each other’s lives. When I met Fred who played the bass in school, we would jam out and skip classes. It felt like we were traveling into the universe of music and that was such a good time. With Yukimi and Hawken the main goal of our friendship in the beginning was just to go as deep as possible into the history of music. Music kind of becomes the language you use when you talk to each other. We didn’t really need to talk that much - we just played... But now 25 years later, of course, we have learned how to talk to each other in a regular way, express our feelings and thoughts with words. I would say that is something that really made us grow as a band.
We were lucky because we started a band and it took off and consumed most of our time. It became our profession, so we were kind of swept along by this band we created... it definitely feels more and more like this band is for us. We don’t have to do this. We are more doing this out of pure joy. It’s like a love affair that grows richer and richer. Everybody has qualities that we don’t get to know about unless we dare to dig in and search. That’s what this album is somehow about. It’s the same us, but we feel like we are new because there are always new things to discover about your friends and yourself.
SB: As friends before the band first broke, how has success changed your friendship?
EB: Now we’re in a very good place. It’s easy to get anxious. We started off having fun and then got successful. People around you, labels started to see the potential. There was a whole idea that perhaps we could become even more successful. With that sort of mentality it’s easy to get anxious because there is no true answer to what success basically is.
That is a question we have been dealing with. Is success money or that you are still friends and are true to yourself? Having a bit of success definitely forced us to search within to what is meaningful. Plus of course when you get close to forty you reflect on what is the purpose of your time on this planet. Should we spread love or get really good at being anxious and try to write the best pop song ever? It’s up and down but for now we are very excited about being in the band. We are very good friends. Better than ever.
SB: What did you think of drumming before you joined the band and what do you think of drumming now?
EB: I grew up with musicians in my family. My uncles were professional musicians, one was a drummer and one was a keyboard player. When I was growing up, I saw becoming a musician as something realistic. And then you have these two musicians... I remember it so clearly how I connected so well to them, and they really stood out. I don’t think I understood it then, but they were so youthful like kids it was easy for me to connect to them. They were so joyful, laughing fifty times more than everybody else.
I always felt like music was joy. You get to have fun. If you do music, you will have fun. I was into that. I started playing piano at seven and drums at ten or eleven. There were no iPads in the early nineties, so I was purely drumming for three or four hours a day. I just liked it. I was listening to music like Jimi Hendrix. I was drawn into that and hip-hop as well. I don’t really know what I felt but drums are very powerful I feel. They are both very primitive, but they sort of go deeper. You don’t need melodies. All you need is noise and rhythms. There is something that sucks you in I suppose. I think that’s what I still enjoy. As I grew up, I took drumming more seriously.
As you go into the world of schools for drumming, at least in Sweden, you either go classical or you go jazz. For a while there I was determined I’d be a jazz drummer - I loved playing jazz, and I was very technically driven. But as I finished school and started a band with the guys in Little Dragon my take on it was I take big pride in just keeping the beat and being a slave to the rhythm. If you just keep doing it all the melodies and things will come together.
I’ve been drumming for so long it’s a religion somehow - it’s my religion. I might not appear as the front figure but I know that I have the most powerful instrument in the group. I must not follow everything by going too much into my ego. I think drumming is about lifting others up. I think most instruments are about lifting others up.
SB: What inspires and motivates you and Little Dragon creatively?
EB: Music. We all unite under the flag of music, but we also have our different personalities, you know. Hawken, our keyboard player and Yukimi and probably me and Fred as well. We are all soloists in a way but Hawken and Yukimi especially. Hawken grew up listening to all these 80s solo synth persons like Sean Michele Shard and Van Jelli. That’s what I admire and adore. He’s so deep into that thing that he can be very inspirational. He can be so ambient or the complete opposite - disturbing almost or most annoying. That’s very inspirational - you never know what you’re gonna get.
You have Yukimi who’s very deep into poetry and melodies. I sometimes feel she’s living in another world. She’s so into the lyrics. That’s the very inspiration musically for us, the clash of our personal nerdy personalities. To be honest we miss listening to all kinds of music from all over the world but somehow when it’s time for us to make music that’s when the true inspiration comes when everybody draws their own special superpowers to the table.
SB: What’s your writing process like?
EB: It’s different from time to time but usually 95% of the time the song starts with the music. Many times it will be me, Fred or Hawken alone making a beat or some sort of instrumental music. Yukimi is like one of those hyped up rappers with ADD where lyrics come like a volcano out of their heads, and they’re like, “come on, give me a beat.” We’re very fortunate that we’re three very slow people with one very quick one. She would write melodies and lyrics to a lot of instrumentals we have lying around like a guitar or a synth experiment or drums or a bassline.
With this record we changed it up a bit. On this record there’s a lot of live bass. It’s so rich and hopeful. It’s just talking to me. Now when we write songs we concentrate on the bass. I feel like it’s so fun to sort of get rid of the sentimental elements to the demos and not to be afraid to give it a new facelift on the journey.
SB: Where did you get the name for the album?
EB: It’s the journey of us as a band and friends. We keep on changing, but we’re all the same. Also, it’s a take on the whole thing that we have bigger perspective as organisms made up of a set of particles. When me, as Eric, leaves this life, all of my particles will still be here. It’s a hint of how psychedelic the universe is and how we are all made out of the same stuff, but we take shape as different things. We’re all the same, but we become new things all the time and keep on transforming.
SB: What has the experience been like working with Ninja Tune?
EB: It’s been very good. I feel like they have been very humble. It’s always nice when you feel like the label is being so helpful and supportive. When you feel that type of generosity, you can’t help but reciprocate the love.
Listen to me New Me, Same Us below.
Little Dragon recently livestreamed an enchanting set on YouTube on March 27th. Check it out below.