Band to Watch: Little Dragon Charms With Dreamy Electro-Pop

Swedish four-piece have already made fans of Gorillaz and Erykah Badu

June 28, 2011 5:40 PM ET
Band to Watch: Little Dragon Charms With Dreamy Electro-Pop
Courtesy of Life or Death

Click here to listen to Little Dragon's "Ritual Union" and "Nightlight"

Who: Swedish electro-soul foursome led by Japanese-Swedish singer Yukimi Nagano, whose effortlessly slinky R&B inflections make Little Dragon's difficult-to-categorize sound instantly recognizable. On the Gotheburg band's upcoming third album, Ritual Union (out July 26th), they home in on the sweet spot they've been circling since their 2007 debut – richly textured and highly vibe-y electronic music that could soundtrack both the dance party ("Night Light," "Little Man") and the chill-out room ("Crystalfilm," "When I Go Out"). "It has always been kind of hard for us, because people try to put us in different boxes," says drummer Erik Bodin. "Of course, we are a pop band, but we've also always been into beat music and things with a psychedelic dreamy element. We've just never really found a good name for it."

Old School: Though keyboard player Håkan Wirenstrand joined a bit later, the other three have been playing together since high school, when Bodin and bassist Fredrik Källgren Wallin invited a shy, 14-year-old Nagano to join their band. "They were two years older than me and I was just flattered they even asked me," she says. "Like, 'the cool guys in their last year asked me to sing with THEM.' They described their sound as drum & bass, electro, experimental – every genre you could think of, in one band. Sounds terrible, right?" Adds Bodin, with a laugh: "Sounds like us."

Nose to the Grindstone: The band played together for several years before giving the project a name; they christened themselves Little Dragon after a friend offered to put out a seven-inch single in 2006. Things haven't slowed down since. "Twice," one of that single's two A-sides, popped up in an episode of Grey's Anatomy in 2008 and became the band's early calling card. In the years since, they've earned fans in Gorillaz (whose 2010 LP Plastic Beach includes two songs written and performed with Little Dragon), Raphael Saadiq (who invited Nagano to sing on his new Stone Rollin' album) and Erykah Badu (who calls the band "one of my favorites").

Building Blocks: Since they've been playing together for almost half their lives, the members of Little Dragon have at this point refined a songwriting process perfectly suited to their schizophonic tendencies. Bodin, Wallin and Wirenstrand will each work on their own initial song ideas with Nagano, and then continue building the rest of the track together. "Three little duos," Bodin calls them. "I think it's helped us push each other to grow as songwriters – all of us," he says. "And that can only really happen if you have been playing together a long time." Adds Nagano: "If someone would give me 10 songs that have a mixture of beats from Hakan and Erik and Fred, I think it would be very easy for me to guess who did which thing. After the base of the idea is there and we start building on it, it gets more interesting, it gets better and feels more unified."

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