‘The story of my life is do­ing things I wouldn’t choose to do’

Nina Pers­son was only ever a re­luc­tant pop star, she re­veals as The Cardi­gans pre­pare to cel­e­brate their finest work

The Herald Magazine - - Arts MUSIC - TEDDY JAMIESON

HOW much can change in 20 years? Maybe ev­ery­thing. Maybe noth­ing at all. In 1998 the Swedish band The Cardi­gans were at their height. On the back of their world­wide hit Love­fool, they had made Gran Turismo, an al­bum that ev­ery­one loved and yielded three hit sin­gles (most no­tably My Favourite Game), while front­woman Nina Pers­son was an in­die pin-up by virtue of her blon­de­ness, her cool­ness, her Swedish­ness.

It is now 20 years since Gran Turismo was re­leased, 19 since Pers­son duet­ted with Tom Jones on a ver­sion of Burn­ing Down the House, three since she and her hus­band Nathan Lar­son de­cided to move back to Swe­den from the US and 22 since Love­fool ap­peared on the sound­track to Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. Pers­son is sit­ting at her desk in her home in Swe­den, blow­ing her nose and talk­ing about mu­sic and frus­tra­tion and think­ing back to the woman she was back then and talk­ing about the woman she is now.

In Malmo this af­ter­noon it’s damp, over­cast and there’s a chill in the air. “It’s the kind of weather that can creep in­side your coat and grab you by the spine,” Pers­son ad­mits.

The band, all Malmo res­i­dents, have been re­hears­ing. Soon they will be trav­el­ling the 670-odd miles to Glas­gow to per­form. The Cardi­gans are spend­ing De­cem­ber tour­ing that 1998 al­bum Gran Turismo in full from start to fin­ish.

Does Gran Turismo feel a long time ago? “Well, it does and it doesn’t. Now that we’re work­ing with it again it feels like it’s not that long ago. It’s the first record we made where all the songs still feel rel­e­vant. We did a good job. It also has a time­less qual­ity to it. I feel I can still sing those lyrics and feel like I’m ex­press­ing some­thing that is real.

“We have some songs which we don’t play be­cause it feels like we’re do­ing cov­ers of our­selves. They’re just from an­other part of our lives.”

Not Gran Turismo though. “I think it’s a good one.”

The al­bum cer­tainly marked the mo­ment when the band be­gan to take con­trol of their im­age and mu­sic and pushed back against the sug­ari­ness that Love­fool, which ap­peared on their third al­bum First Band on the Moon, coated them in.

“We were su­per frus­trated about the im­pact of the song Love­fool. It was so big. Peo­ple have at­tached this im­age on to us that we couldn’t iden­tify with. Yes, we did make that song and, yes, we like that kind of mu­sic and we’re ca­pa­ble of it. But that song was not even rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the record it was on. So [with Gran Turismo] we did feel like we needed to pay more at­ten­tion and the choices we made.”

Their fourth al­bum re­booted their pop aes­thetic, adding a metal­lic glit­ter and a rougher tex­ture to their sound. The lyrics, too, took a darker turn.

“It was true ex­per­i­men­ta­tion,” Pers­son re­calls. “It was the first time we used com­put­ers to record. We lit­er­ally had a truck with com­put­ers back up to the stu­dio. And we had no idea how to use them so the whole pro­duc­tion idea for the record in ret­ro­spect was abuse of Pro Tools.

“It was re­ally fun, we were ex­cited to sit there and not just be work­ing with gui­tars and vin­tage in­stru­ments.”

“Re­ally fun.” To be hon­est, this is not what I ex­pected. In the past Pers­son has talked about where her head was at dur­ing the mak­ing of the al­bum. It wasn’t a good place. “I was very f ***** -up through­out the en­tire record­ing,” she said back in 2009.

I had as­sumed, I tell her, that fun would have been the last word that came to mind when talk­ing about the al­bum.

“I had a great time,” she cor­rects me. “But I was not happy. I think those are two dif­fer­ent things. In a way it was the best thing I could do at the time be­cause I wasn’t su­per well. I was sad and lonely. Cer­tain things weren’t func­tion­ing within the band. In some ways we shouldn’t have gone on to make the record so quickly after wrap­ping up First Band on the Moon, be­cause that was drain­ing.

“But the art that came out of it was still good.”

The thing is, Pers­son says, that be­ing in a band was not a life she had par­tic­u­larly wanted to lead. “I think the story of my life is do­ing things which I wouldn’t choose. That’s the cause of my sad­ness or frus­tra­tion or de­pres­sion. That’s who I was then. I can’t say I was

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