Empowerment Of The Negative: NoNoNo Interviewed
, April 9th, 2013 08:19
John Freeman catches up with Stockholm trio NoNoNo to find out how saying 'no' became their gateway to making near-perfect pop
Every once in a while a song hurtles through the stratosphere, fully-formed, that gladdens even the most cynical of ears. 'Like The Wind', the debut single by Stockholm trio NoNoNo, is one of those songs. A clank of a beat, a sliver of guitar and a neat line in vocal ululations surge towards a warm, yet distant, chorus. It's elegance par excellence, a pop song for 2013.
And 'Like The Wind' isn't an outlier. The other available NoNoNo tracks prove to be equally as enthralling. 'Human Being' follows a similar narrative; scythes of guitar and laser-guided beats flecked with deft flicks of percussion allow singer Stina Wäppling's rich tones to flood the track with a sensuous glow, while the Scandinavian release, 'Pumpin Blood', is an upbeat shuffler full of bleeps and sighs. A YouTube clip of the piano-led 'Down Under' is even better – Wäppling takes centre stage on a dark, grown-up ballad.
Suitably beguiled and seduced, the challenge is on to discover more about the makers of these pristine snippets of joy. Ahead of my interview with NoNoNo, I'm distinctly short on information about the band, save that they are Swedish and their line-up comprises of singer-songwriter Wäppling and production duo Tobias 'Astma' Jimson and Michel Rocwell, who've previously worked with fellow country-folk Icona Pop and Dorset rave chanteuse Bebe Black.
When we speak, NoNoNo are about to perform their sixth ever gig – at what Wäppling describes as a "gala" within Stockholm's Globe complex – but there seems to be little sign of pre-gig nerves via our Skype video link. Stina and Michel do most of the talking, while Tobias sits in the background amid the general hubbub of the backstage space.
As NoNoNo are relatively unknown and I have few leads to go on, the obvious questions come first. How did the production duo discover Wäppling? "We met through a mutual friend who thought our sound would really fit Stina's voice, so we thought we'd try it," Rocwell recalls. "We loved her voice and her songwriting style. So, we decided to make a session. She came over to the studio and we hit it off straight away."
This all sounds lovely, but it becomes apparent that the fledgling collaboration was also a creative epiphany and potential career-saver for Wäppling herself. "I had done two years of just writing with different producers and there was pressure to always be writing something that could be a hit, or for an American audience, and there were a lot of strict ways of how songs should sound," she tells me. "It took the fun out of it. It made me really sad and made me think I didn't want to be a songwriter. But, these guys just encouraged creativity and for the songs not having to be a certain way - as long as you feel it and it feels good. I felt like they worked with me and not against me – they made me be more creative instead of knocking things down. That's the way music should be."
The group's sound didn't happen by chance. Stina has been working with Jimson and Rocwell for over two years, flitting between Stockholm and Brighton, where she had been studying psychology. "We have been working together for quite a while but it has been sporadic," Stina say, taking on the story. "I was in England but every time I would come home for a break we would meet. It was two years before NoNoNo was formed. During that time we were writing music for no purpose other than we liked it. When we decided to be a band, the songs started coming quite quickly."
While three people meeting through a mutual friend, hitting it off and making sweet music is a common enough, if fortuitous, occurrence, here the circumstances don't quite account for the nigh-on flawless balance of the NoNoNo sound. I hate to do the 'influences' question, so ask each member about the first album they ever bought.
The answers are – unsurprisingly – illuminating. Wäppling has to think hard: "This sounds ignorant but I listen to so little music. I love music but I don't actively listen to it that much. I hear songs on the radio and ask my sister to make a playlist for me. But I really loved Martha Wainwright's first album – I would listen to it on repeat for about a month."
Rocwell is more forthcoming. "I was a big consumer of music as a kid," he recalls. "My first love was UK stuff by bands like Depeche Mode and The Cure. My first album was Disintegration."
As for Jimson, the question draws out the only words he utters during our interview. "Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)."
The NoNoNo sound, I suggest, does seem to triangulate a point not a million miles from those three references. "It's a good mix," agrees Michel, politely. "It would sound pretty good."
With regards to songwriting, explains Wäppling, "the beats [come from] the guys. I have a really bad sense of rhythm. I cannot keep time at all." She claps out a beat, as if to demonstrate some particularly dreadful inner metronome. Isn't being able to keep a rhythm quite important for a musician? "Yeah," replies Rocwell, with a large and wry smile.
"I try and compensate with the feeling of a song," Wäppling continues, amid a roomful of background giggling. "When I first record stuff, no one should see me. I even close the blinds and go into my own bubble. I don't plan when, or if, I should write a song. It's more like a mood when I feel something really strongly."
With a psychology degree burning a hole in her back pocket, I wonder out loud as to whether Wäppling's lyrics are influenced by her educational exploits. "No, I'm not thinking like a psychologist. I'm not thinking at all when I write music," she says. "It's so much more emotional and not planned at all. But studying really helped me with the English language, so that was a good thing."
From an outside perspective Stockholm seems to be in fine musical form - one of those places teeming with musicians making fascinating sounds. Not that this has been of great use to the trio. "People don't tend to help each other," Rocwell reveals, bursting my bubble. "It's not a huge family of musicians. Stockholm is good but it takes time to get to know people and become part of the community."
"You have to remember that Swedish people are picky," Wäppling adds, after the other two have left to set up onstage. "They are not like some big hippy family. If you play in Sweden people will be standing with their arms crossed and be kind of critical. It takes a lot to be accepted."
With show time approaching, there's a final question to ask: why did NoNoNo choose their name? It's a bit, well, negative. "The name came from the guys, but now I'm the one who is really feeling it's important as it is my motto in life," Wäppling says, diplomatically, as if the question isn't a banal one. "It's about saying 'no' to things in order to be able to do the things you really want to do. For me, and this may sound cheesy, I think it is really important in life to take active choices. For a lot of people that is saying 'yes' to things like a new job or agreeing to be someone's girlfriend, but saying 'no' is as important, if not even more important."
"It's very hard to say 'no' as that can make people disappointed," she continues, "but, for example, in saying 'no' to a job you are completely free to start something else. I think it is really important to make active choices and 'no' is a really important thing to be able to say. So, while NoNoNo may sound really negative, to us it is a really positive name."
Just say no. Zammo was right all along.
'Like The Wind' is out in May via Best Fit Recordings