Aside from a handful of hit-making standouts—like Phil Spector, George Martin, and Quincy Jones, to name three—music producers never used to be stars in their own right. That all changed in the 1990s, when beat scientists like Dr. Dre and Puff Daddy started rapping on their own records, on the tracks they made for others, and appearing in the videos for all of the above. Ever since, artists ranging from Timbaland to Pharrell Williams to Lil Jon have ushered in the era of the producer-as-celebrity, no matter how limited their vocal abilities.
As the brains behind one of the decade’s defining radio staples—Britney Spears’s “Toxic”—Swedish producers Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg (who work under the name Bloodshy & Avant) have spent the better part of the last 10 years forging their own brand name, churning out twisted electronic pop for clients including Madonna, Jennifer Lopez, and Kylie Minogue. Earlier this year, though, the Swedes changed course, joining forces with an American singer named Andrew Wyatt—himself an in-house producer for Downtown Records—to form Miike Snow, an outfit whose self-titled debut is one of the year’s most enjoyable pop records.
Reaching the Straight via a conference call from Stockholm and New York, respectively, Winnberg and Wyatt are keen to talk about the joys of making music on their own terms.
“When we do stuff on our own,” says Winnberg, “it’s a different universe than writing for other people. I like it way more.”
“When you’re doing your own thing, the goal is really the expression of your soul,” chimes in Wyatt, “And when you’re doing something for someone else, the objective is to write something that’s delightful for a lot of people and serves that person’s needs as an artist.”
While Miike Snow isn’t likely to launch its makers to Kanye West–like notoriety, it does deliver its thrills with ruthless efficiency, every sugar-dipped hook cut with just enough malice to keep things from getting too precious. That’s particularly true of “Burial” and “Silvia”, a pair of pretty electronic ballads that evoke the blissful groove of ’90s-era piano-led house, but which first find Wyatt telling off a lover, then lamenting her. However pristinely recorded these tracks are, what’s most impressive is how finely they blend those bittersweet flavours.
“We’re all producers but we’re songwriters, first and foremost,” insists Wyatt. “We wanted this album to sound good, but above all we wanted it to be song-driven, and to have those various shades.” The singer adds that Miike Snow is truly a group in the best sense, not just a one-off side project from a bunch of mercenaries. That’s a point Winnberg is eager to emphasize.
“With the other productions we’d been doing, the Bloodshy & Avant thing—we’ve kind of left that for now and maybe forever; we don’t really know,” he says. “This group is definitely our main focus now.”
Miike Snow plays Venue on Tuesday (September 29).