In the Scandinavian fairy tale popularized by Hans Christian Andersen called The Snow Queen, a brother and sister begin seeing everything in horrorvision after demons bearing an ugliness-reflecting mirror from Hell shatter the looking glass, sending splinters of blight into the eyes and hearts of the children.
Based in Stockholm, Sweden, the Knife is brother and sister Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer Andersson, and the ominous lyrics embedded in the duo's cool but bouncy synth-pop reflect a caustic, violent, rather dismal view of the world. The Knife conjures more recent traditions as well, particularly those founded by Depeche Mode, the enduring Eighties icon that couched searing social indictments within the pop rhythms of songs such as "Everything Counts" and "Get the Balance Right."
Silent Shout, the Knife's second album released in the U.S. and a followup to 2004's Deep Cuts, came out at the end of July to favorable, if overly analytical, reviews. Whereas Deep Cuts concerned itself primarily with feminist sociopolitical issues, Silent Shout is more abstract; both discs, though, are essentially Europop, albeit a stellar example of the genre, with crisp, chilly production; peerless keyboard work; and seamless song-to-song transitions.
When the notoriously shy duo (like Gnarls Barkley, Dreijer and Andersson are always photographed in costume) announced a small series of live London performances their first featuring elaborate stage productions, the shows sold out in a few hours. Live, the Knife is a mashup of Noh theater and rock concert. With audiovisuals and set design by their collaborative partner, artist and director Andreas Nilsson (who also shot the duo's "Silent Shout" and "Heartbeats" videos), the Knife can safely hide amid projection screens, live puppetry, and costumed dancers.
New Times recently spoke via telephone with both members of the Knife, who explained in predictably cryptic fashion a little about their artistic vision.
How do you reconcile being so painfully averse to public attention and recognition with being emerging pop stars?
Olof Dreijer: Well there are just a couple of music magazines who've profiled us and a couple of the radio stations here play our music, and we keep a low profile. I wouldn't call us introverted, but we try to do as least press as possible. We try to keep focused on the personal issues our music addresses instead of ourselves as persons. It's too much about people in society nowadays. The music industry in particular is very much focused on how you should look and act and live as a person.
Karin Dreijer Andersson: In terms of appearance, we really want people to look at as well as hear the music. I think it's very good, especially when you're a woman, to direct the focus away from how you look, to deliberately not put a message of vanity across.
How is it working together as brother and sister? How long have you been collaborating?
OD: A guy I worked with on and off for a while on computer compositions wanted to try some ideas with a female vocalist ... so I called my sister. This was about five years ago, and right after that we formed the Knife.
KDA: I was in a previous band and found I didn't have the freedom to make this type of music, so I joined my brother. I had already moved from home when we started the Knife. We are both in our twenties, but our age difference is about six years.
How are the great success of Silent Shout and the subsequent sellout live shows affecting you?
KDA: When we began, we didn't expect to be able to live off our music. I was very surprised and I never take it for granted. We still don't think this is our career. This is what we do at the moment, but you never know what will happen next year. If we are not selling our records, we'll have to find something else to do.
OD: It's actually very boring to work with a record label, but our recent success makes it better, because now we have total control. We get to decide everything about how the record should be released. It's really possible to beat down the label. The music business moves so slowly. We can accelerate the process now.
Silent Shout is a kind of austere, minimalistic-sounding record. How did you come up with the over-the-top, theatrical components of the live show?
OD: We just chose the artist and gave him lots of freedom about the content. It took us like seven years to do something live. Andreas Nilsson has been making a lot of our videos. We asked him if he could come up with a visual idea for our show. He inspired us to do it, really. Now we have got a performance, with surround-sound projections, costumes, lights, other instrumentalists....
KDA: We have only been to London, Berlin, Barcelona, and a few other European cities. We only did five shows; I thought if we only had a few, it would feel more personal.
Deep Cuts dealt very specifically with women's issues. Silent Shout seems less focused yet even darker. Is there an overarching political or environmental idea driving the album?
OD: The new album is much more focused on moods and fictions because Deep Cuts was really our deeply political album. For Silent Shout we just wanted something more ambient, vague, and open to interpretation. Deep Cuts was also more about packaging the music in a poppy way. It was more conceptual.
KDA: On Silent Shout, that's the big difference ... we are focused on having sounds that were democratic, music that anyone could either make or relate to. Deep Cuts was an external reaction to society; Silent Shout is much more about how society affects you on the inside. I think it's very important not to tell too much; it's very important to leave a lot to the listener. It's more about telling stories people can create for themselves.
What kind of music do you listen to yourselves?
KDA: I've been very into an African pop duo called Amadou and Mariam especially because they are very expressionistic. I listen to a lot of [Richie Hawtin side project] Plastikman, and also a lot of Fleetwood Mac.... I love Tango in the Night. I think that album is very dark-colored while at the same time being very poppy. Music was very much more experimental in the Eighties.
OD: I'm a DJ, so I tend to only listen to Brazilian pop music!
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