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(Sorta) Close to Home
Little Dragon may be from Sweden, but OC has strong family ties for their singer
When Yukimi Nagamo, singer for the soulfully electronic act Little Dragon, is asked if her Costa Mesa-resident mom will be coming to the group’s appearance at the Detroit Bar on Friday, she answers with pride, “She will come out for the show. . . . And my grandma, who is 84, might even come!”
This might seem like just a bit of familial loyalty except that Little Dragon are far from a local band—in fact, when they perform here, they’ll be almost 4,000 miles from home.
Nagamo and her band mates—drummer Erik Bodin, bassist Fredrick Källgren and keyboardist Håkan Wirenstrand—all met in high school in Gothenburg, Sweden, the country’s second-largest city after Stockholm. The band’s ear for sharp, crisp rhythms and Nagamo’s strong, deep vocal hooks have already gained them plenty of attention, even among the near-gales of hype for contemporary Swedish acts such as the Knife and Jens Lekman.
Little Dragon’s beautifully moody piano/strings-led 2006 single “Twice” scored much praise in the U.K. following a label deal there the following year, and from there, the quartet have steadily built their reputation through wider touring and a handy TV placement or two.
The upshot has been the current U.S. tour in anticipation of the release of their second album, Machine Dreams—including some dates opening for TV On the Radio, as good a seal of approval as one could ask for.
“They are really a bunch of sweet people,” says Bodin (like Nagamo, reached via e-mail on the road). “Their crowds are showing us a lot of love, so it feels very good, the whole thing.”
Meantime, they’re already looking forward to the reaction to Machine Dreams. Even if it was a classic sophomore struggle, Nagamo notes it’s a hurdle that has already been jumped.
“In a sense, we have already faced a lot of challenges that come with writing,” she says. “We are happy with the album, but it’s challenging to wait for the release, wait for deals to be settled and stuff like that. Since we will be releasing Machine Dreams in August, it made sense to do this tour and play some new songs.”
“We already have some stuff going on for the third album,” adds Bodin. “We always have something going on, actually!”
One thing that the band have already been noted for is the strong combination of Nagamo’s singing and Bodin’s often stark, driving beats, perhaps best heard on the compelling “Test,” with Kallgren’s near-dub-level bass and Wirenstrand’s playful interjections providing essential shading to the bold punch of the song.
“The music really hits you harder if there are only drums and bass and the magic of Yukimi and Håkan floating on top of it,” says Bodin, describing the group’s power.
“We love a simple beat!” adds Nagamo. “Sometimes, we like when songs feel spontaneous and light, but I guess it’s our taste. We don’t usually analyze it while we are recording, so in a way, it’s not so conscious.”
Besides Little Dragon, each of the band members has a variety of side projects and other collaborative work they pursue, though Nagamo explains that this doesn’t impact their own collective work so much as other things:
“Erik and I always have a great time on tour with [noted Swedish indie-folk singer] José Gonzalez when we accompany him,” Nagamo says, “but it’s completely different playing your own music. I guess the hard part is mostly practical issues, touring with little sleep and such.”
Both Nagamo and Bodin already have plenty of good live memories to draw on to keep their spirits up, mentioning a previous show in LA as a highlight.
Bodin has another personal favorite: “We were invited to play at a club in Vilnius, Lithuania,” he says. “We flew there for one show, and the place was packed, and everyone knew the lyrics. At that time, nobody knew any lyrics wherever we went, and all of a sudden, a whole crowd knows everything!”
But not everything goes as planned. “We had one show in Stockholm where we played support for a heavy rock band that basically closed the curtains on us while [we were] playing,” Nagamo recalls. “That felt brutal!”
Little chance that’ll happen at Detroit Bar—or else mom and grandma will have something to say about it.
Little Dragon at Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-0600; www.detroitbar.com. Fri., 9 p.m. $15. 21+.