‘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
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