In October, Robyn released her first album in eight years -Honey. The Swedish singer likes to do things on her own terms, deciding on her schedule and working with a wide range of artists, from successful chart-pop producer Max Martin to rap icon Snoop Dogg.
From Lorde to Charli XCX, she has become a role model for strong female recording artists. Katy Perry famously called her “the epitome of effortless cool”. And in 2017, Lena Dunham, the creator and star of the TV series Girls, asked her to premiere her new songHoneyin the final season of the show.
Now 39, Robyn tells The Red Bulletin why independence is crucial to every career – and how slowing down can help get you up to speed.
You’re known to be one of pop music’s most versatile collaborators, but for this album, you decided to enter the studio alone. Why change your working method?
Usually, I have ideas for the songs but mostly leave the production to other people. But this time I was more certain about how I wanted the album to sound, so it was really important for me to explore that by myself first. Collaborating is such an important process for me, but it leaves very little space to hear yourself. This time, I just really knew what I wanted.
What were the benefits of working on the new songs by yourself?
I needed to get to that space where I was doing things instinctively; to have time by myself and not be affected by other things. It was very lonely at times. Enjoying being on my own, getting really nerdy about things like working with new software, going to my dance studio and practising… that was a learning process. It felt like being a student again.
Do you feel that, in today’s tech-heavy world, we tend to forget to take time for ourselves and cultivate our skills?
Yes, definitely. There are so many opportunities that happen when you work with other people, but there’s another quality that comes from letting something take its time. Sometimes you need to dig where you’re standing, instead of reaching outwards, to galvanise the energy within you.
But isn’t that the exact opposite of what every music industry expert would tell you? Today’s artists drop new tunes every month to keep their name in the public eye…
Probably, but when I went through a separation and I lost a very good friend [long-time collaborator Christian Falk] to cancer, it was a natural decision for me to take some time out. I started therapy, which was really intense, and I didn’t want to interrupt the process by doing other things.
What kind of therapy?
Psychoanalysis, three to four times a week for five years. Basically, you build up a relationship with your therapist and you go through the things you might not have worked through earlier in your life. The therapist is there to follow you through the different phases. Some of it is great, some of it frustrating. It’s all about letting things roll out in their own time and not interrupting it. It’s like healing.
What effect did it have on your everyday life?
I slowed down. I’ve never been that calm in my whole life, and I did very little. Now, all of a sudden, there’s a lot more information in everything I do.
What do you mean?
When you work a lot, you have a different kind of speed: you’re rushing through things and forcing more into your schedule, but you’re not really present. With psychoanalysis, I started to just appreciate being, and when you’re in that space it’s really difficult to power through things. It didn’t feel good to rush. I felt the need to allow myself to be in the present.
How do you maintain that calmness now you’re back in the spotlight with the new album?
Since everything has started to speed back up again, I’ve realised that meditation is a really good tool: it helps you to centre yourself and return to your feelings. Another thing I do is try to have a virtual discussion in my head with my therapist; I think about what she would say. In therapy, you learn how to have a discussion with yourself about your emotions, and you can imagine that even when you’re no longer in therapy. It’s all about making time for your thoughts; you can just sit down in a park somewhere and be with yourself.
When you felt trapped in the industry 13 years ago, you decided to turn your back on major record labels and release the album Robyn yourself. Does it feel like you’re at a similar point now, rebooting your career after eight years of personal difficulties?
I feel much calmer about what I’m doing. I really made the album that I wanted to make. I think I did in 2005 as well, but I didn’t know as much about myself then.
How did it feel back then, basically ditching the safety net of a big label?
I was really scared. I had sleepless nights, because at the time it seemed almost impossible to be an artist without a record company. It was a big risk, but I felt like I had nothing to lose.
Not even your career?
I didn’t see it going anywhere. I didn’t know anyone in the industry – or, at least, the part that I was working in – who felt the way I did about music, so I really didn’t have much of a choice. But at the same time, the other option – to do something on my own – wasn’t clear-cut, either. It was a free-fall, but I think that’s another thing I’m still enjoying: not knowing exactly where things are going.
Robyn was a big success, so your decision paid off. But a lot of people would have chosen the safer option. How did you overcome the temptation to take an easier route to success?
In my case, the fear of stagnating was bigger than that of not succeeding. And in music, if you don’t risk something that really matters to you – like your integrity, or your pride, or your time, or your security, or your reputation – you can hear it in the music right away.
Do you have any tips for getting out of your comfort zone and making a new start?
Having a routine is really important when starting something new, because if you’re destabilising yourself it’s essential to have your own routines and your own process you can trust. Also, allow yourself time to explore, and give yourself space – don’t rush into new things. And, lastly, talk to people you trust. Play them your music, or have them read something you’ve written, whatever it is. Find your balance between a more isolated and a more shared space. Having both of those things really was key for me when I started working on the new album.