We Kicked It With Icona Pop, From FreeFest To NYC

icona2Photo: Courtesy of Record Company TEN.
There are some music artists who party, and others who cleverly weave a career out of it. Caroline Hjlet and Aino Jawo of Icona Pop fall into the latter. Since they burst their way onto the scene shouting about crashing cars, the self-proclaimed "'90s bitches" have carved themselves a little spot on the Top 40 charts. And, with the release of their much-hyped debut album, This Is...Icona Pop, they've successfully carried on the tradition of Sweden being the go-to music scene for genuine pop tunes.
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We were lucky enough to follow them from VirginMobile's FreeFest, where we and 50,000 other fans braved the stormy weather to share an hour with the duo, back to the Big Apple right as the album dropped. Alongside acts ranging from Robin Thicke, Vampire Weekend, and CHVRCHES, Icona Pop helped VirginMobile raise a whopping $1 million for its Re*Generation program (a total five years in the making), benefiting Baltimore's homeless youth (now that's what we call a community born from music). We caught 'em fundraising some more after the set, mixing drinks for fans. It's this drive to connect with their fans that sets them apart from the rest. They just want to have a good time, and who can argue with that?
We caught up with them again at the Arjan Writes #ArtistTalk series, and kicked it with Caroline Hjlet, the fiery redhead of the duo, before she and Aino flew off in their spaceship to some other city, on their ride to superstardom.
So, we loved you at FreeFest. Can you talk a little about that experience?
“Oh, we had so much fun! I don’t think we really knew what to expect. We went out and partied the night before we played in New York, and let’s just say it was a good party. Well, I woke up in my bunk to find I lost all my stuff: my stage shoes, my computer, everything. I didn't know what to do! So, we opened two beers, had some breakfast, and we went out on the stage. The crowd was so good! We were sharing a dressing room with Robin Thicke (who was great to meet). We also did some bartending for charity, which was a blast. The audience was amazing, though — one of the best crowds we've played for.”
Where else are you touring with this album? Where are you most excited to play?
“This is our first headlining tour in the U.S. This is the first time we really get to do it our way. I mean, you always do it your way, but you always think about having something more — like cool lights. FreeFest was more of a festival show, but no matter the kind of venue, we want to bring people into our world for one hour. It’s been such a great experience to be able to do that for the first time. All the beautiful fans know the lyrics even before we officially release the music because they’ve been checking it out on the internet. It shocks us; they’re too good to be true! I don’t think I can choose one place. The whole tour is my favorite.”
What's the essence of this world you've created?
“It’s like we steal everyone into a huge electronic heartbeat.”
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So, if it’s like a heartbeat, then the lyrics and fans are the lifeblood?
“Yes! We couldn’t do it without them. It’s always a collaboration with the fans. We sing songs with them. It’s so beautiful to feel what they feel because our goal has always been to make pop music that makes people feel something. They want to show us they feel. They’re singing to someone; they have someone special in their mind when they’re out there. It’s like you’re having a romance with the audience that night, and you want to keep them there. There’s this weird feeling of heartbreak at the end of a show because you have to leave your fans. You feel empty and totally hyped at the same time; you give so much, but you also get so much energy.”
Rumor has it you designed your own costumes for the show.
“Yeah! We have the best team who comes to everything. It used to be just me and Aino, but we can’t do it alone now. It’s always back-to-back events. When we were brainstorming our tour looks, we couldn’t find the right looks anywhere! We had costumes made. Before, they were Paco Rabanne inspired with plastic. We work with the stylist William Graper who’s so amazing.”
If we were to dress like an Icona Pop show, what would we have to wear?
“Well, you should look at Star Trek to find inspiration. Our style, in general, is playing around with the contrasts between the masculine and the feminine. We love suits. When it comes to stage pieces, you want to push the dramatics. We love space, and when we tried to create our world, we were pulling from retro Star Trek scenes.”
icona1Photo: Courtesy of VirginMobile.
Let’s return to something you said earlier about the fans knowing the music before you officially release the music. Does it frustrate you that they’re downloading the music before it’s available for purchase?
“I’m happy, really. I’m honored. That’s what music is about. They come our shows because they want more. They want the album, and will fight their way to get it. They aren't afraid to put themselves out there. It’s real, and it’s dedication.”
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Is there one song on the album that is most personal to you?
“I love ‘Just Another Night,’ and ‘Then We Kiss.’ It’s such a romantic, stumbling around, getting drunk song. For me, it’s a story: You follow someone on a beautiful night, things aren’t complicated, and it’s a little chase.”
A lot of your songs are party anthems. If you could, who would you invite to the ultimate Icona Pop party? What’s the vibe? What’s playing?
“We’d throw the party in the apartment where Aino and I met, only we’d move it to New York. I love our Pippi Longstocking apartment with the art in every room. Our friends, both Swedish and American, would be there — the one’s we feel most comfortable with. David Bowie and Prince would play, and we’d end the night with The Chemical Brothers. It would never end! And, of course, we’d have access to our rooftop so we can be under the stars, watch the sun go up, and have a nice breakfast party on the rooftop.”
Who would you want to be stuck in space with?
“Aino, of course. We’d make amazingly good music in space. We’d beam our sounds down from the stars.”
What’s next for you guys?
“Well, we just closed the iTunes Music Festival with Katy Perry. We were just nominated for three European Music Awards. Our European tour begins soon, and we haven’t been there is a while. Oh, and we’ll be going to Asia for a month! That’s all before Christmas.”
Speaking of touring and going around the globe, are you nervous at all for the fame? Are you prepared to have your private life become more public?
“We’ve actually been talking a lot about that. I think you have a choice: you either build up your walls or you decide to live as free as possible. I just saw a documentary with Elton John. He said something so simple as, ‘I need to go out and be able to drink my coffee. I choose to be free.’ Of course people will recognize you and come up, but it’s dangerous to be scared and sit inside. I’m flattered if people feel connected to our music and us. When it comes to private life, though, there’s something to be said about secrets. We’re normal human beings who have our good and our bad days, too. We’re just trying to surround ourselves with a very good, very trustworthy crew so I can cry without being judged.”