Branded as Miike Snow, though, in 2009, the trio delivered a fan-friendly self-titled debut album full of pop-dance cuts with insightful lyrics. Their ever-changing live shows feature a perverse amount of digital equipment smothering everything in heavy delay and synth.
All three are well-seasoned pop-inclined producer-songwriters with loaded résumés. Wyatt was the in-house producer for Downtown Records for years and part of bands The A.M., Fires of Rome and Black Beetle. Karlsson and Winnberg, under the guise of Bloodshy & Avant, have written and produced for Madonna, Kylie Minogue and Britney Spears; they’re responsible for Spears’ Grammy-winning “Toxic.” In the flippant fashion that Miike Snow has become known for, Winnberg claimed in one interview he keeps the award in a box in his attic.
After the trio met through a friend, they hit it off because of a shared snarky humor as well as musical inclinations, and they began recording together in 2007. Success has come easily for them since, partly because of their collective track record and partly because they take advantage of what comes their way.
For one thing, there was never a lengthy discourse to choose their band name. It came via an e-mail from a guy named Miike Snow—easy enough. As they released their first single, “Animal,” in March 2009, they wanted an image to stand behind, allowing the music to stand on its own— being recognizable pop stars is their worst fear. They asked Winnberg’s tattoo artist for help, and she almost instantly decided on the mythical jackalope. They quickly agreed and used it as their professional facade, not revealing their true identities until June 2009.
Jackalopes are said to only breed during electrical storms—fitting for a band that’s so hard-wired and techsavvy. However, their approach to songwriting is more like rolling thunder than lightning bolts. There’s no pop psychology, no magic formula for success. “Our music isn’t very calculated. We just play around and whatever comes up, we go with,” says Winnberg by phone from the road. Miike Snow pulls from various music traditions, but is irreverent toward them overall: sonically dissonant yet poppy, lyrically abstract yet hook-filled; mainly, it’s a compilation of happy accidents.
In the studio, sessions are loose and have a revolving door with bandmates coming and going. Whether making original songs or remixing cuts from Vampire Weekend or Passion Pit, the only stipulation is making something unique and fresh. “We like stuff that doesn’t sound like anything else, (as if) maybe someone is falling on the keyboard,” Winnberg says with a laugh, noting his own affinity for hardware and gear. “The weirder the gadget, the better. We use our gear in a completely different way than the original purpose.” He says he and his bandmates are total music nerds— geeky to the point of obsessive—which comes across in the music’s pristine production values, despite the laissez-faire approach to recording.
They bring that same musical awareness to their live shows. Unlike many up-and-coming dance-pop acts that might sing along to tracks on a computer or iPod, Miike Snow play real instruments. “If we are going to play 200 shows or more (a year), we’d be fed up if we just had to push a ‘play’ button,” Winnberg says. However, they can’t perform like a typical rock band because of the intricate soundscapes they produce. Essentially, they had to invent their own way, with miles of wires coming from dozens of machines. And, at times, the system fails.
“There are a lot of happy accidents. When a machine drops out—and that happens a lot because there is so much that can break down—someone has to fill that spot, and it might be cooler than the original recording,” says Winnberg. “[The music] constantly changes. We want it to be as organic as possible.” An open structure and no set length to each song creates something new every time they play “Animal” or “Plastic Jungle.” While Miike Snow aren’t as tangential as Phish or Miles Davis, Winnberg says there are influences of jazz and improvisation when the songs are played live.
Adding to the performances this tour, they hired a former Thievery Corporation light engineer to create a psychedelic ambiance. As our phone conversation ended, Winnberg hinted that big improvements were in store for their upcoming fall tour. “It will be pretty crazy, something that hasn’t been done before. It will be pretty mind-blowing.”
The Urban Lounge
241 S. 500 East
Saturday, April 10
9 p.m., $12 advance/$15 at the door