It’s been two years since NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION last spoke to Swedish pop singer KARIN PARK. That was in the aftermath or her joyful 2012 album Highwire Poetry. Plenty of things have changed in those two years and a lot did happen in the life of the ambitious artist. Most of it: the apocalypse did happen! The Apocalypse Pop, to be exact. In the wake of the release of her forthcoming new album by the same name (Out internationally on March 30) we met Mrs. PARK in London for an update on her life and inspiration in general.
Her KARIN PARK’s latest release has already received much of the critical acclaim afforded to her earlier work. Often called pop’s best kept secret, this brilliant Swedish artist talks to us about her devoted fans, as we all anticipate broad horizons for her music career.
What do you think is different about this album to the other ones?
I think this album is the end album in a trilogy. These last three records have been in the same environment. I wrote a lot of songs for this album, twice as many as I’ve written for any other album and I really wanted to explore the craft of writing songs. I feel like I really tried to become a better songwriter and go down to the essence of communicating emotions.
To a degree, I’ve succeeded to do what I set out to do. I like to feel I’ve done my very best because then, when you get reviews, it doesn’t matter as much what they’re like because you know you couldn’t have done any better. But now, actually, we’ve been getting some great reviews coming in and that feels really nice; because it does matter, when you release an album, what other people think as well… unfortunately!
Some songs in this album, such as ‘Human Beings,’ are extremely personal. Do your listeners need to know the back-story to the songs in order to appreciate them properly or do you think they can find their own way in to your work?
KP: I think they can find their own ‘thing’ in it. It is [the moment] when it becomes something that the public wants to listen to, if you can get it across somehow. It’s not easy because it can get too private or can be not that understandable. But, for me, as an artist, that’s my thing to put into words. Everyone goes through difficult times but not everyone writes about them; so it’s an interesting thing to try and put it into something understandable.
‘Apocalypse Pop’ is compiled in a really interesting way, with peaks and troughs in emotional intensity. Was this an intentional move in structuring the album?
KP: When you put together an album, you go into it and it’s like a landscape and then it needs to open up. I think of it more from an artistic point of view. It’s not ‘Oh we’ve got to have this song first because that’s the single’. But you always want something powerful to open with, so Look What You’ve Done was a good kick-start but, then, it needs to be a journey.
Do you think your work in the fashion industry, giving you a perspective on a different form of art, has influenced your latest album?
KP: No, I don’t think so. It’s influenced my view on how important the clothes can be to communicate what kind of music you’re doing. And it’s important to visually show people. I’ve become much more aware of the ‘dressing’ side of things but I don’t think it’s changed my music at all. I think, rather, the music has changed my way of dressing.
You were really well known in Nordic countries for a while before you gained a larger audience. How has it been to expand your audience so internationally?
KP: It’s really nice to come to a new country and suddenly there are loads of people at your gig and you’re thinking: where do all these people come from? I think that’s an amazing thing about being an artist; having the fortune to travel to new countries and people know who you are.
KP: But also, as I gradually become more successful, more professional people want to work with me, and then I get to work with some really talented people. When you work with good people you become better yourself and it just builds up like that.
I really enjoyed your video for ‘Shine.’ As it was shot in your home, do you want to bring that personal element into all aspects of your work?
KP: It is a bit weird, actually. But I live in an old church in the countryside and it is an amazing place for doing all sorts of things. If I stayed in a two-room apartment I don’t think I would have the same ability to do that. But it’s huge, almost 500sqm, so it’s perfect for making stuff there. When we bought the church, me and my boyfriend, we wanted it to be a creative place where you can come and produce things. I think we just have to realise that we live public lives; and then we can have our bedroom to ourselves.
One thing becomes quite clear: KARIN PARK is still hungry and more ambitious than before. She’s constantly ready to push her own limits and the ones of her art. And she’s open to work with everyone from LANA DEL REY to photographer Ellen Rogers. ‘I love her, but she just does fashion work,’ the singer explains, adding with a smile: ‘She’s got that written specifically on her website.’ Her forthcoming European tour will see her playing a lot of her favourite venues from all over the continent, from Berlin’s Berghain to the Paradiso in Amsterdam. But before that the new album is about to get unleashed. And of course, you can’t talk about it without mentioning its title.
The term ‘Apocalypse Pop’ is brilliantly paradoxical. Was this intentional, to throw people off the scent as to what to expect? Why did you pick it?
KP: When we mixed the album, I was listening to all the tracks and thinking this sounds like something is coming to an end. I felt, very much, at the time, like I was standing at the end of something. So I just came up with the title, while we mixed the album, having listened to all the songs in a row and I felt that this is, actually, Apocalypse Pop.
Why don’t we just call it, my little branch of pop music? Because it’s not, maybe, what people would think of pop music in general but it is definitely pop music to me.
Do you think sometimes people want to dismiss pop music as a genre?
KP: Yes, people want to dismiss it. But I think there are so many varieties of pop music. And I do want to be as mainstream as I can, in a way. I want to create the music as I do it, but I want it to be for people; I don’t want a specialist audience necessarily. I prefer songs that are a bit more intricate, but I try to let people in. I think I’ve tried as hard as I can, on this album, to let people in; but it’s not the easiest thing for me.
KARIN PARK: ‘I don’t really like pop culture’
Do you want your audience to work to understand your music?
KP: I think that it’s important to get people to think for themselves. I don’t really like pop culture because I think it is about the masses of people doing the same thing, not thinking individual thoughts. Even though I do pop melodies, I don’t want to be a part of Pop Culture in that sense. It should be a little bit of hard work to listen to music, but you get much more out of it when you do that work. And, when I’m on stage, also, I want to work with the audience.
Why do you choose to perform in English? Is it a creative decision?
KP: I have always written in English. From an early stage, it was easier to find the words in English that sound poetic to sing. When I started to write, I didn’t feel comfortable singing my own words in Swedish. I think, since English is a second language, you can put together weird combinations that an English person wouldn’t think about; and sometimes that’s a good thing, and sometimes it’s a bad thing! It’s easier to look at the language from a distance and see the connections. The Swedish language is too close for me to be able to write.
You perform with your brother; is it easy to have both an artistic and a sibling relationship? Do you fight at all?
KP: Yeah, we do fight. We’ve played together for ten years now, and it goes in waves. Sometimes we get really sick of each other; I can be a little bit like a tyrant sometimes! But now we’ve just got Juno into the band, it’s really exciting now to be three – after just being the two of us for ten years. It’s refreshing.
Will having three people in the band change the dynamic in your performances?
KP: I think the dynamic will change; I think it should change. But she’s a gem, totally. I think she fits really well with us.
You’ve been more active on Social Media in the last couple of years. Do you think that sort of publicity is a necessary evil, or do you begin to enjoy that interaction with your fans?
KP: I like the interaction, but I find it takes away time from actually creating music. It takes a lot of energy to be on social media. But I really do like to be able to talk to my fans, who I’ve found out are very creative fans. That’s really cool. I did a mix tape and said that anyone who emails me can have the mix tape on a link. Then a lot of the people who came back to me, wanting the tape, were amazing people.
You can’t talk to everyone, obviously, but when I talk to my fans after gigs, I feel that they’re giving me something back. They’re very intelligent and talk about interesting things, which is great. I’m not saying I didn’t expect that, but it flatters me that people like that are fans of my music.
KARIN PARK: ‘There’s always a glimpse of hope’
When you start writing, do you think about the end product being an album? Or do you just begin with the writing?
KP: I think that I’m going to make an album one day, I do. But now, that might be three years into the future. So I know I’m going to make an album and that’s good because then I feel like I’m writing for a purpose; but when the creative process starts, I’m just writing, not thinking what the song is going to be like. I’m just trying to catch all the ideas and then build from there. Sometimes I can see the whole song immediately, and sometimes it’s like trying to find something in the dark. That’s a really exciting process as well.
Do you always write in the same environment?
No, many different environments. But I have the same feeling … after five albums, now, I feel when the creativity is coming. It’s like a car that is coming behind me. I can’t see the car, or hear it, but I can see the lights in the corner of my eye. And then, when I get that feeling, I know the car is going to come and I just have to hit it when it goes past me! It’s a weird feeling, but that’s how it starts.
In our last chat from 2013 you described yourself as a manifestation of ‘hope and ‘passion.’ Is that still the case?
KP: Yes. Yesterday, [at the album launch event] there was almost a little bit too much passion because I was trying to control my body, but it just seeped out of me. And I still think there’s always a glimpse of hope in my songs, even if the album is called Apocalypse Pop! Especially after this year, with my boyfriend being really ill, I’ve had a lot of hope in my mind all the time. When your life is pushed to the extremes, it’s nice to feel that there’s some hope and no bitterness at all.