Exclusive: PopBytes talks with Icona Pop

Icona Pop

Cocaine binges don’t end well for Hannah Horvath.

But in the third episode of the current and second season of HBO’s cultural phenomenon, Girls, Lena Dunham’s lead character goes on one for the sake of the experience. On a new adventure with her ex-boyfriend-turned-gay-roommate, Dunham’s protagonist finds herself in a Brooklyn nightclub snorting lines off of a public toilet and trading her shirt with a stranger’s. Yet before the episode’s inevitable conflict starts to neutralize her high, Hannah has a rare moment where she lets the loud and pulsing music around her take complete control of her typically guarded self. Concluding the blissful part of her maiden coke voyage, she loses herself in the club’s flashing lights while dancing in slow-motion and loudly shouting along to the words of the defiant electropop anthem thumping out of the speakers: Icona Pop’s “I Love It.”

It’s no surprise that shortly after the song’s placement on the hit sitcom, “I Love It” debuted on Billboard’s Hot 100 (last week at #69). Featuring British singer/songwriter Charli XCX, Icona Pop’s American breakout hit has been steadily building momentum since its release last fall. In addition to being featured on Girls, the track also serves as the opening credits song on MTV’s Jersey Shore spinoff show, Snooki and JWoww, and on the soundtrack for the video game, Need For Speed: Most Wanted.

Yet Icona Pop’s plans for global pop domination have only just begun. Comprised of Swedish duo Aino Jawo and Caroline Hjelt, Icona Pop has crafted an exciting signature sound that combines indie pop with elements of electro house music and hints of punk.

Currently on the road with Passion Pit and Matt & Kim, Icona Pop is slated to release their full-length U.S. debut this spring. I caught up with the charismatic ladies to talk about their tour, upcoming record, aspirations, Girls, and much more.

ALEX: Let me just preface this interview by saying that I really enjoy your album.

CAROLINE: Wow, thank you so much. We like you.

ALEX: How did you two meet?

AINO: Well, we met exactly four years ago. It was like February 2009 and I had just been dumped. After two weeks of lying in bed, one of our mutual friends was like, “you’re coming with me” and took me to a party. And Caroline was the one having the party.

CAROLINE: Oh yes, I was always having the best parties in town.

ALEX: I believe it!

CAROLINE: You know, dancing all my heartache and pain away. No, but … I throw a lot of parties. And Aino came to one of them and we felt that we had something special.  We were both kind of feeling at the bottom. So I think we were not afraid because we didn’t have anything to lose. Something in our bodies just said, “Please don’t let this go … just throw yourself out there!” The day after, Aino came to my place and we wrote our first song.

ALEX: Oh wow.

CAROLINE: Crazy, yeah! But I guess if you feel that it’s right, then you should just go with the flow.

AINO: Yeah, you shouldn’t fight it.

CAROLINE: And after that day, we’ve been hanging out like 24/7 and now it’s been four years! It just gets more fun.

AINO: We should celebrate four years.

ALEX: You totally should! How would you want to celebrate your anniversary?

CAROLINE: We should really do something special.

AINO: We should go on a nice dinner, just the two of us, and drink nice wine.

CAROLINE: Like have a little date.

ALEX: That sounds like a perfect anniversary. So where does the name Icona Pop come from?

AINO: Well, we were searching for a name for a long time because we wanted to have a name that could kind of tell what type of music we loved. And then Caroline’s mom went to this Italian dinner and they were talking about our project. And they were like, “Yes, so are they going to be the next pop icon?” And Caroline’s mom was like, “oh, that sounded cool!” So, she actually texted Caroline and then …

CAROLINE: Yes, because Icona Pop means “pop icon” in Italian.

AINO: So, it was all Caroline’s mom.

CAROLINE: Thank you, mom.

AINO: She’s very proud.

CAROLINE: Yes, she’s so proud that she’s taking all the credit for it!

ALEX: Can you each describe what unique qualities the other member brings to the band?

AINO: To be honest, that would have been easier to do four years ago. We’ve been on the road and living together, writing together, doing a lot of, like everything together for four years. So, you kind of grow together and I have a hard time separating that because now everything is so natural. You just do stuff and I just do stuff. It’s just great fun. I really think Icona Pop is a very good mix between our two personalities.

CAROLINE: I think it’s weird that we hang out as much as we do and we never get tired of each other. I think we have to be a little bit weird to be able to do that.

AINO: We have huge respect for each other. We don’t fight. We’re not mean to each other. We just really respect and read each other very well. And I think that’s the key. No one forced us to live together or write together; we just decided we wanted to do it! So, it’s all been very natural.

ALEX: How many of the dangerous things that you sing about in “I Love It” have you actually done? Like have you really crashed your car into a bridge?

AINO: Almost!

CAROLINE: In our heads, we’ve done everything a couple of times.

AINO: Yeah, and now we’ve been singing about it every day for like a year. So I think that the next time someone tries to break our hearts, then that means …

CAROLINE: Fucking … Woo, don’t go there.

AINO: And I think also we’re going to have a lot of people on our side when that happens.

CAROLINE: Maybe it won’t even be us crashing his car. Maybe it’s going to be someone else. Like, “I’m being supportive, you know?”

AINO: Those are hardcore fans.

CAROLINE: Yeah, we should just tell a lot of fans, “Run after him! Hunt him down!”

ALEX: You can put a call to action on Twitter and see what happens.

CAROLINE: Yeah, like a picture of him. Like a “most wanted” picture.

ALEX: Having “I Love It” featured on the soundtrack to the HBO series Girls and as the opening credit song on MTV’s Snooki and JWoww has made the song a massive success for you. Do you personally relate more to the ladies on Girls or the ladies on Snooki and JWoww?

AINO: We’re definitely more Girls girls. But still, I mean, the song says, “I don’t care! I love it!” And I think Snooki and JWOWW don’t care about what anybody thinks about what they’re doing. And so, I think the song fits them as well.

ALEX: I agree. Your critically embraced debut EP, Iconic, was released last fall. Since then, you’ve released a full-length album overseas. Do you have plans to release this record in the US? And if so, how will it be different than the international release?

CAROLINE: We have been doing Icona Pop in Sweden for a long time now. We felt that it was time to release an album there, but we’re constantly writing new stuff. So, we’re gonna have a couple of songs from the Swedish album on the American album. We’re actually finishing that right now – that American one. There’ll be some new tracks because we always want to have our newest tracks on to express what we are going through right now. But something like “Manners” is gonna be on it because that’s a very important song for us.

AINO: And our American full-length will be out very soon.

CAROLINE: Mm-hmm.

AINO: We’re just wrapping it up, and to be honest, it feels crazy. It’s huge! I’m scared and I’m super excited. We’re really ready for it though. It’s our baby. So, it’s going to be interesting to see how it goes.

ALEX: Absolutely. Who are you working with on the new songs?

CAROLINE: We will always be working with Elof – our main producer.

AINO: Yeah, and our best friend.

CAROLINE: But it’s also going to be a lot of collaboration. There are a lot of people involved.

AINO: Yeah, it’s going to be a wide mix. And maybe some … I mean, some stuff we don’t want to jinx yet because you don’t know what’s going to end up on the album. But it will definitely be a great mix.

ALEX: That sounds awesome. I’m really excited for it.

AINO: Yay! We’re getting pretty excited too.

ALEX: You’re currently on tour with Matt & Kim and Passion Pit. And recently, you guys all played the legendary venue, Madison Square Garden, on the same day that snowstorm Nemo hit New York. Can you tell me a little bit about that experience? Were you worried that nobody would come to the show?

CAROLINE: Yeah. We mainly felt sorry for a lot of people, because we got a lot of tweets saying, “oh, we won’t be able to come.” And we felt so bad!

AINO: Still, I was surprised that there were so many people there when we played. We really had such a good vibe with the people in the front and the people who were dancing, you know, in the back. So, we couldn’t be happier. And for us to play there … it’s such an iconic venue.

CAROLINE: Yeah.

AINO: That was really something. For us, that felt huge. But we were worried for the audience because we didn’t know if they were gonna make it home or if they were going to be stuck in some weird place. But I think everything went kind of smoothly anyway.

ALEX: That’s good to hear! You also recently finished opening for Marina and the Diamonds. What were some of the highlights of that tour?

AINO: That was our girl power tour.

CAROLINE: Every night was amazing. All the fans were wearing that little black heart that Marina has on her cheek, and she was painting that on us every night. It was crazy! And there were a lot of heartbreaking stories going on. She’s an amazing artist.

AINO: We met so many great fans on that tour. It was really a very good first tour here in the States. We felt so welcome. And I mean, we love Marina. We played with her in London a long time ago and it really felt like a girl power tour.

ALEX: That sounds like it was really fun! Switching gears a little bit, it seems like a lot of interesting pop music these days is coming out of Sweden (i.e. Robyn, Loreen). Being Swedish yourselves, what do you think it is about your homeland that inspires these various performers, producers, and writers? 

CAROLINE: We always joke that there’s something in the water … but I guess there must be something in the water! It’s also … we have summers three months out of the year and then the rest is just dark. So I don’t know if that maybe affects people’s minds or something like that.

AINO: Maybe it’s that it’s a very small country and people are very sensitive when it comes to different kind of arts and stuff. I think if you’re good at something and if you’re working really hard, people will start noticing. And if that happens in a small place, you will end up having a chance to work with other great people.

ALEX: What other pop albums are you most excited about coming out this year?

CAROLINE: Is the Rihanna album out yet? ‘Cause in Sweden it’s not out.

AINO: Yeah, I’m excited to hear it.

CAROLINE: I’m also excited about Daft Punk. But that’s not pop. I don’t know who’s going to release something new. Beyonce, hopefully?

AINO: Yeah, and I can’t wait for Justin Timberlake’s album. He really is someone iconic.

CAROLINE: I think there are gonna be a lot of good albums this year. 2013 is going to be an amazing pop year.

ALEX: Yeah, I think so too. I mean, everyone from Britney to Justin to Lady Gaga – it’s gonna be big.

AINO: Oh! It’s gonna be fun to hear Gaga’s new stuff!

CAROLINE: That’s gonna be awesome.

AINO: Have you heard anything?

ALEX: No, I haven’t heard anything yet but I think it’ll be interesting. Ok, for these next few questions, just answer with whatever word(s) first comes to mind. Don’t think too hard about it. Ready? Your favorite song of 2012. Go.

AINO: It’s an old song but Talking Heads’ “This Must Be The Place.”

ALEX: I love Talking Heads! Favorite remix of your own songs?

CAROLINE: Style of Eye’s remix of “I Love It.”

AINO: Yeah, Style of Eye.

ALEX: That’s a good one!

AINO: And also Captain Cuts’ remix of “Manners”. You should listen to it. It’s really, really good.

ALEX: Will do! Cake or carrots?

AINO: Cake and carrots.

CAROLINE: Yeah, carrot cake!

AINO: Oooh!

ALEX:  Good answer!

AINO: Yeah, actually, that’s one of my favorites.

ALEX: Frank Ocean or Chris Brown?

CAROLINE: Definitely Frank Ocean.

AINO: Frank Ocean, big time.

ALEX: I’m so happy to hear that. So to wrap up, where do you ideally see Icona Pop being one year from now?

CAROLINE: We have huge plans for that.

AINO: We’re dreamers and we’re dreaming big.

CAROLINE: I hope we’ll be on our own headlining tour.

AINO: With a full production.

CAROLINE: Yeah and touring the whole world and just doing everything on a bigger scale.

AINO: We have so much strength in our live show so that’s a really important thing for us. We’ve got huge visions. So, I guess that’s the dream: to tour the whole world, headline, and of course that our album goes very well.

ALEX: I’m crossing my fingers for you!

Icona Pop’s Iconic EP is available now on iTunes.

Icona Pop - Iconic

Alex Nagorski About Alex Nagorski

Alex has been writing for PopBytes since 2011. After growing up in Warsaw, Moscow and Berlin, Alex now resides in New York City. A freelance arts blogger, he also works in Program Advertising at HBO. To read more from Alex, check out his blog, Headphone Infatuation, and follow him on Twitter @AlexNagorski.

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