The PV Q&A: Niki & The Dove On Finding & Keeping That "Spark" in Music

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Interview by Tom Lanham

It wasn’t as if a dazzling beam of light shot down from the heavens, but there was definitely a moment of jaw-dropping illumination when Swedish keyboardist Gustaf Karlöf first saw vocalist Malin Dahlström in performance a few years ago. “A friend of mine had said ‘You have to hear this singer!' but I was like ‘Oh, alright, whatever,’” he recalls, chortling. “It was a concert where she was playing guitar with a piano player, and when I saw her, I was totally stunned. And I said to my friend ‘Who is this? I want to be that piano player — from now on, that is gonna be my goal!’ So I finally got my act together and had the guts to go up and talk to her.” He got his wish. After composing music for Swedish dance and theatre, the two teamed up as Niki & the Dove, a bubbly ABBA-meets-techno duo whose very first experiment, “DJ, Ease My Mind,” became a homeland hit. It’s featured on their brand-new full-length debut for Sub Pop, Instinct, alongside more potential dance-pop smashes like “The Drummer,” “Tomorrow,” and “Mother Protect.”
PureVolume: Is it true that Gustaf totally adores classical music?
Gustaf Karlöf: Yes, I do. I was just out running a few minutes ago, and classical is the perfect music to exercise to. Now I listen to Bach, actually, and it’s really good jogging music — I can recommend it because it’s got a lot of flow and a lot of mathematics, but at the same time, it’s very passionate. So it’s very good for when you're jogging, because I think jogging is quite mathematical and passionate. So I’ve been working out to Bach’s piano concertos. And I have to say, they were originally written on harpsichord, because there was no piano when Bach was alive. So the original versions are all with harpsichord, but it’s very popular to play the Bach concertos with a grand piano now.
PV: If we grabbed your iPod and scanned it, what would we find?
GK: A lot of different things. Both me and Malin, I think, are just inspired by…by the spark that you can find in music. And that spark is in every style of music. You can find it in a good pop song, you can find it in Miles Davis or John Coltrane or Bjork, and the spark is always the same. If you just keep your ears open, you can find so much beautiful music in every style. But I listen to a lot of pop music, of course, and I think pop music is an underrated art form. Because a good song for me, and for Malin also – that is true art. So you shouldn't be snobbish and posh about music.
PV: Every year that goes by, thousands of songs get copywritten, their chords set in stone. It’s not easy to write an original song these days.
GK: You’re absolutely right. You have to re-invent the wheel every time, in a way. So it’s a difficult thing – to find the spark. But it’s really important for us.

Malin Dahlström: I think that writing music is something that we consider to be one of the best things to do in life. And there is also so much joy in it – just sitting down with your instrument and making that beat or creating music. So that helps us to feel even more passionate about it. But you cannot just sit around and wait for the inspiration, although sometimes it happens to be there, once in a while, and you feel it at once in your body. And then you can’t stop – you just have to continue. And you love it, so you do continue, and you don’t eat and you forget to sleep. But you do it because there’s so much joy in it.
PV: As the story goes, Malin played her very first song on a recorder as a child in your parents’ garden. But by the time you raced in to play it for your mom, you’d forgotten it.
MD: And that was on of the most devastating moments in my life. And I remember the feeling very, very well – the sadness of that lost melody. Can you imagine that second? When I’m about to start to play, and there is nothing coming out of the recorder? Can you imagine that? It was devastating!

GK: I think that’s a good album title! “The Sadness of the Lost Melody!”
PV: What did you learn from the experience?
MD: To always press ‘Record’ like everybody else does! But to be serious, I actually learned that when you have found a melody, you have to memorize it. And that’s quite easy to do, if you just think very, very hard about the melody. I don’t even write it down. And nowadays, of course, I can record something or sing it into my cellphone, and sometimes I do that. But I’ve actually learned how to memorize melodies. So that was a hard lesson, that recorder incident. And that made me learn how to do it.
PV: So naturally Gustaf had some sort of symphonic background?
GK: No, I didn’t. I played in heavy metal and punk bands. I took some piano lessons for 20 minutes a week or something, and I hated it. I totally hated those piano lessons. And I remember, because I was so afraid of the teacher. And for one lesson, I had athletics in school the day before, and I fell on the gravel outside when we were playing football, and my whole knee was torn up and lots of blood was coming out. And all the teachers and pupils were like ‘Oh no! What happened? What happened?’ And the only thought going through my head was ‘Oh, thank God! Now I don’t have to go to that damned piano lesson tomorrow!’ I really hated going to those lessons in the beginning. So that’s how it all started. But my parents convinced me to continue, and then I got another teacher and he was so much better. But even then, I didn’t have any plan to do music – my plan was to study economics, and just make music in my free time.
PV: But “DJ, Ease My Mind” set you and Malin’s future in stone?
GK: Yeah. We’d been friends a long time by then, so in the beginning we just played music for fun. But it was just a couple of years ago when we sat down and decided to write music in a more serious way together. And Malin wrote “DJ, Ease My Mind” and she came to me and asked me if I wanted to produce it, and I said ‘Of course!’ So after that we started to write some songs, and after three or four of them, we realized that we actually had a band. So the music came before the band. And now, except for the lyrics, we do all the music together.

MD: I remember Gustaf and I were so happy about that song, we were like ‘We found something here – we like working together, and we think this song sounds so great, we just wanna listen to it, over and over again. Very loud!'

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