The PV Q&A: Icona Pop's Caroline Hjelt—"We're Living Our Dream, But We're Doing It Together"

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BY Tom Lanham

Swedish diva Caroline Hjelt has heard the old maxim: Wherever I lay my hat, that’s my home. And she understands it all too well. Now that she and her singing/songwriting partner Aino Jawo—as Icona Pop—have scored a worldwide hit with “I Love It,” their thumping single with the cut’s composer, Charli XCX, the duo no longer resides in Stockholm. But in truth, she sighs, “We don’t really live anywhere—we’re based in New York, technically, but we basically live in our bags, and right now we live in our tour bus. So we haven’t actually had a home for, like, two years.” But these hummingbirds will have to rest their weary wings somewhere over the next few weeks: They had to postpone their current American tour on doctor’s orders, until an ailing Jawo gets well. And by then, their new debut This Is…Icona Pop should have taken over the charts, thanks to an irresistible new "Thelma and Louise”-sh single/video, “Girlfriend,” an ode to the girls’ unbreakable bond, a friendship that’s lasted for four years, through thick and thin. Hjelt re-traced their stardom-bound steps for PureVolume.

PureVolume: When you and Aino first met four years ago, you’ve said that things were going badly for you. How badly?
Caroline Hjelt: Well, I mean, not very good. Because Aino was just dumped by her boyfriend, and she was basically just lying in a bed, and she was very sure that she was not going to b able to smile ever again. And I was just frustrated, because nothing was working out with my music. I was trying so many different things, But I felt like no one really understood what I wanted to do. And then nothing was working out with my love life, so I was just having a very good time dancing the pain away with my friends in my very awesome apartment. And that’s where I met Aino.

What had you been trying to accomplish with your music?
Both me and Aino were working with music a long time before we met. Aino had a band with six guys, and she was singing and playing cowbell. And I actually saw them live once at a bar in Stockholm. It was really, really cool, and I thought that she was cool. So I didn’t know her—I knew of her. And we had a lot of mutual friends. And I was writing with so many different people, I was performing, and I even went to New York. I was really trying to find something that was creatively out there. And when I was in New York, I met a lot of cool people, and I wanted to go back. But then another story happened, and I couldn’t. I actually was in an accident, I had to stay at the hospital back in Sweden for a while. I was jumping on a trampoline after beer pong.
So, obviously, you were losing pretty badly at beer pong…
Yeah. And then I got pulled up by two friends on this big trampoline. And we jumped, and I injured my leg. So I had to have a brace on for a very long time, like one full year. So I couldn’t go back to New York when I wanted to. So I was like a robot in my brace. But now I’m happy about it, because I think stuff happens for a reason. If that wouldn’t have happened, I wouldn’t have been home, I wouldn’t have been feeling down, so I wouldn’t have met Aino. So I’m happy now. But I was very unhappy then.
But I’ll bet you actually went dancing in that brace anyway.
I did! In a very short skirt and high heels! I went out clubbing in Stockholm.
What attracted you to Aino at first?
I think you meet a few people during your lifetime, where you can’t really put your finger on what it is, but it just feels like you have a special connection with each other. I mean, I was pretty sure I wanted to be a solo artist, and Aino was pretty sure of that, as well. I didn’t want the drama of being in a girl group or a band. But when we met, it was just so clear to me that we should be in a band. And the day after we met, we wrote our first song, and we just decided that we were a band. It was that easy. And now today, people are like, ‘Oh, but you probably fight so much because you hang out all the time when you’re working.’ But the thing is, we have so much fun. And I think the key to that, as well—why it works so good—is that we have a huge respect for each other. We’re living our dream, but we’re doing it together, which is such a luxury. So I would not be able to do this with anyone else in the world, I think. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to meet the right person to do the right thing with.
The first song you wrote was “Sheriff Came to Town on a Big Black Horse.” What were you getting out of your system with that?
Ha! I think it was a lot of sexual frustration. It was kind of a dark song, a bit of a spaghetti Western, Sugababes-goes-Tarantino kind of song. And with a little bit of humor, but a dark message. We love the bittersweet songs. We love to disguise the darker things in happier melodies, or the opposite, as well. I think it’s important to not just shut away those feelings. To let them out and see what happens.

And you call yourselves ‘90s girls. Quite proudly, in fact.
Yeah! I mean, we became human beings in the ‘90s. So that’s when we decided what clothes we wanted to wear and what kind of music we liked. I had an inflatable backpack and I was listening to all the boy and girl bands. But also the grunge was huge. There was just so much stuff going on during the ‘90s.
And you have an unusual fascination with The X-Files, in general, and Agent Mulder, in particular?
Oh, yeah. If I could marry David Duchovny, I would. But we both love him, so maybe that would be the first man in the world that we would share!
And now the fashion world has discovered Icona Pop, right?
Yeah! We’ve already been involved in a lot of fashion weeks, and we love clothes. We love shoes, we love bags. We might not be the best ones for following trends, but we love to express ourselves through clothes. So I will always look back at the time we had living in London as such an important time for us, because we didn’t have anything. And you get so creative from times like that. I mean, if you can go buy the coolest, hippest dress or shoes? That’s not very creative. But when you don’t have anything, and you still manage to feel like you have something new on once in a while, and you borrow each others stuff, and you cut and sew, no matter what you do, it becomes creative. And I like that. I think that’s fun. I love watching people on the street, just owning what they’re wearing.
And you and Aino know how to design your own stage and street wear?
Yes. I can assure you that the clothes that we have in our bags have been worn so many times and in every possible way, and in every possible combination. And also, when it comes to stage clothes, we like stuff that makes our movements look bigger and more dramatic. And I think that some clothes that you have, have got super powers. Like, my leather jacket gives me super powers. I’ve been having so many good nights in that one, and I just feel a bit cooler and a bit stronger when I put on my leather jacket.

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