I feel like a small child when I stand next to Icona Pop‘s Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo. “It’s the shoes!” Jawo tells me, pointing out the near-platform-style thickness of her and Hjelt’s footwear. It might be the shoes, but maybe it’s also their excited way of talking and gesticulating that makes them seem grander. Or maybe it’s the fact that these are the women behind one of the best songs of 2012 that makes them appear larger than life.
That ubiquitous banger is “I Love It,” a song written by Charli XCX and revamped by this Swedish duo of twenty-somethings. The song came out as a single this May, and since then, it’s rocketed the group on a never-ending tour, which has now brought Hjelt and Jawo to New York where they’ll play Terminal 5 with Marina And The Diamonds the next night. “We usually say that we’re like snails, because we carry our home with us everywhere we go,” Hjelt says. They don’t have a place of their own right now, but they plan on settling into New York soon. “Early next year, we want to find a nice apartment where we can have our clothes, our gear,” Hjelt says. A toothbrush? “Yes. Maybe a picture on the wall.” Read on for more of Icona Pop’s big aspirations for 2013.
How long have you guys been living out of suitcases?
Caroline Hjelt: We’ve been living in the bags now for two months, three months.
I don’t even know how you pack for that long.
CH: We try to pack it nice, but the thing is, you find new stuff.
Aino Jawo: And we’re really good hustlers when it comes to hand luggage. We put a lot of stuff on, and then we have two bags, but you try to hide the one. Caroline distracts, and I play cute.
CH: Team work.
How long have you guys known each other?
AJ: It’s almost four years now. I think it was February.
So your anniversary is coming up.
AJ: We should do something. We should celebrate and go on a long holiday. Like a honeymoon.
You guys met at a party at Caroline’s apartment. Was there a specific type of music you started bonding over immediately?
AJ: I remember two songs when we went out dancing. We went to this club where they usually play a lot of house music, like dubstep music. But that night, they had this DJ that played Hot Chip with “Over And Over” and then Robyn’s “Show Me Love.”
CH: I remember we danced to that so much.
AJ: When I hear that song, I always think about the night we met.
What was the first song you guys wrote together?
CH: That was the day after we met. We wrote our first song. “Sheriff Came To Town On A Big Black Horse.”
AJ: The first lyric was “Sheriff came to town on a big black horse.” It was very, like, sexual frustration. I don’t know how because we didn’t talk about it.
CH: We didn’t have anything to lose because both of us were at the bottom at that time. We really just threw ourselves out there, and I think that’s why the song was so dramatic and overwhelming in a way.
Did you record it?
AJ: Yeah, we recorded it. We were producing everything ourselves.
CH: It was mad. [Laughs] AJ: I think it actually sounded pretty good.
CH: I like that song. We should release it someday.
AJ: It sounded a little bit like it could be in a Tarantino movie with that dirty guitar.
CH: That’s why we called ourselves Death Pop in the beginning.
How did you get from doing your own recordings in Stockholm to moving to London?
CH: The first thing that happened is we met our management, Artist Company Ten, that we started working with. And they had studios, so we could record our songs, and we are working with them today, and they’re our family. And then Gildas [Loaëc, one of the founders of French electronic label Kitsuné] contacted us.
AJ: And he wanted to release our “Manners” song, which was on Myspace, on one of his compilations. So we started to go to Paris and play at big parties at all of these cool places. We were such rookies. They also had parties in London, so we went over there. We started to work with people in London, and we felt that there was a buzz going on there. And we were very interested when it came to the dancier music, the underground stuff. It’s only two hours away from Stockholm, so to move to London is not a big thing. Everyone does it.
CH: We always felt like we wanted to be where we had the most to do. So we were just like, “We’re gonna move! We’re just gonna do it.” And we did. And we lived there for a year.
What part were you in?
AJ: I think we ended up in Notting Hill in this small apartment with seven persons.
CH: It was a townhouse.
AJ: It sounds better than it was. It was cold, it was freezing, and we had rats.
CH: We shared a mattress on the floor, and we had rats.
AJ: That’s London. But we had such a good time in London. It was a hard time also because we kind of started to work with people, and we stopped working with people. It was kind of chaotic, and we learned what we liked and how to say no to what we didn’t like. I think it was a really good adventure for us to learn who we were. And then we released “I Love It” in Sweden. I mean, we’d released a lot of songs at that time, especially in Sweden. And then we released “I Love It.”
CH: Since then, it’s been chaos. It feels like we’ve been on tour since then. We haven’t been in the same place more than a maximum three days. But it’s been great.
How was your CMJ?
CH: CMJ was crazy. We were just in this chaos, stumbling between shows.
AJ: I think we played like six shows.
CH: At the same time, we were never low on energy because you never had the time to relax. So afterwards, we died, but meanwhile, it was great. It was crazy. And the Brooklyn Bowl thing was an amazing show.
AJ: Our gear stopped working. We have a lot of electronic stuff, and the power just went [claps hands]. And we were like, “What happened?” So we had to find a new way to play stuff. We started to loop the songs and the vocals. And then the audience would come and be like, “You can make it!” and helping us out. Then the gear started to work, but we made almost a whole song with just loops.
You guys only have the EP out here. Is it hard to build a set with just that material?
AJ: As a warmup act, you have about 30 minutes, so you can’t really build ups and downs.
CH: So you do like this [makes increasingly loud revving noise as she slowly raises her hand].
AJ: I’m looking forward to going on a headlining tour and really having one-and-a-half hours. We’ll take it down, play some acoustic songs with guitar and piano—we have a lot of stuff we want to do.
CH: We have visions.
Charli XCX wrote “I Love It,” and you guys heard her demo of it when you were in the studio. What did you think when you first heard it?
CH: We were in the studio recording “Good For You” with Patrik Berger, and he’d worked with Charli before.
AJ: We’d met her a couple of times before.
CH: And we heard the song. He showed us just a very rough—
AJ: It was kind of cute.
CH: It was her singing over a cute beat. And we were like, “Wait, wait, wait, wait. What’s that?” We were going through some love drama, and we could really relate to the lyric. It was a weird feeling because usually you’re writing the songs together with someone or we write the song, and you always have an idea when you start writing a song or a feeling that you put in. But we just connected to it and were like, “We want to have this one. We want to adopt this song.” We wanted to make it our song. We took it to Style Of Eye and told him, “This is the feeling that we want on it. We want the punkiness. We want the ‘fuck it’ feeling. We want everything that we felt when we were singing it.” So it came out totally different.
AJ: It feels like we wrote it, otherwise we wouldn’t have recorded it. In the beginning, it sounded really different, so it’s weird how you can just imagine the Icona Pop chorus and then the shouting. We were like, “This is our song.” And Charli thought this was a fun thing.
When artists sing about heartbreak, it’s like you have two options: get small and subdued or get angry and loud. You guys seem to go for the latter. Why is that?
CH: I think we’re all or nothing all the time. On the album, you will definitely hear times when we express that quietly as well. But when we give, we want to give it all. And together we feel very strong a lot of times, and we feel kind of invincible. So I think that’s why it turned out that way. That’s why it’s going to be so fun to release the album: It’s going to be a lot of sides of Icona Pop that people haven’t seen yet. I’m very excited about showing more of who we are. But yeah, we just pour our hearts out, and we feel, and we want everybody else to feel what we’re feeling when we’re singing that.
AJ: Also it’s a little bit of anger sometimes. It’s like, you made me go through something no person should ever have to go through: a heartache. And I’m not going to stay quiet because of that. I’m just so happy that the guys who actually did break my heart have heard that song thousands of times in Sweden.
CH: And they don’t say anything! But you can see it in their eyes that they know exactly what you’re singing about.
AJ: And you’re like, “Thank you for breaking my heart…fucker!”