ROBYN at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), Monday (May 5), 7 pm doors. $16.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Before the interview even starts, a publicist jumps on the line. Robyn’s been doing phoners all day from London ahead of her first full North American tour, and things are running behind schedule. People on this side of the pond are finally catching on to the reinvented Swedish future-pop darling; her latest album, Robyn (Konichiwa), is getting a proper release here after much hype and blog love from the likes of Perez Hilton and hipster music sites like Pitchforkmedia.
With little time to talk, I’m lucky – there’s only one question everybody’s asking: what’s taken her so long?
“When I released this album in Sweden, I’d gotten rid of the idea of having an international career again,” she says when she finally comes on the line. “Then, when different music sites started to write about the album, it gave me the courage to believe that there still might be an audience out there for me.
“From my experience, I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to do it with a major company, so starting my own company was more like a survival instinct. I wanted to get back to a place where it was fun to make music again, where it wasn’t just looked upon as commercial product. I always wanted to make pop music, and that’s still what I do, but I wanted to do it on my own terms.”
This may be coming out of left field for those who don’t remember the singer’s first foray into North America. In the mid-90s, Robyn had a hit here with the R&B-meets-sugary-pop jam Show Me Love. Although her stay in the spotlight was brief, she’s been plugging away ever since in Europe.
After several releases that failed to catch on internationally, there’s a reason why her latest, self-titled record is generating such a buzz: it’s a huge departure for the singer, who enlisted the help of, among others, fellow Swedes the Knife.
Smart and forward-sounding, with a blend of everything from piano ballads about robot boys to hip-hop-laced club tracks, the disc is as catchy as all hell and highly danceable. Robyn is exactly what mainstream pop lacks, and the singer knows it.
“I think this album is the best pop album that’s been made in a really long time,” she says, sounding more confidant than cocky. “It doesn’t sound like anything else.”
She plans to get back into the studio before the year’s end, but right now Robyn is focused on making sure her live show is worth seeing. That’s something she’s had to work at, though, logistically speaking, since Robyn was such a studio album, crammed full of beats and synths.
“I was really uninspired by the idea of bringing an all-acoustic band onstage. It’s about giving people an experience that’s as good as the album.
“I have two drummers and a keyboard player, and we have a lot of synthesizers and computers and stuff. The whole idea behind it was to do something really simple where my voice, the melodies, the beats and the real spirit of the album come across and isn’t lost in these huge productions that pop music normally has. So that’s what I’ve done live. It’s a small band, but we make a lot of noise, and it’s a club show, so it’s mainly designed to make people dance.”