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Nina

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The Cardigan member Nina was born and lives in Sweden. A young star on the world stage – who still thinks her success is due to luck and can only now call herself a singer. She mouths off about money, music, journalist lies, why she likes paying taxes and how she got death chocolate from Ozzy Osbourne!

Text: Fredrik Quistbergh 


The Triangle at twelve. All right, see you there.
 The Cardigans are home for Christmas in Malmö, Sweden. A short break before the world tour with their new album Gran Turismo. But in the music stores there are no giant posters of the band in the windows. It's even difficult to find the last album, which was released in October last year. And when we meet up in the snowy mud at the Triangle there are no hordes of fans brandishing autograph books, nope, nobody is even raising an eyebrow. Here world stars –five million copies sold worldwide, hence the epithet– in The Cardigans can remain totally anonymous.
 Nina is bigger in Tokyo and New York than in Malmö.
 Ironically when we meet they are in the news due to Magnus Svenningsson's decision not to join the group for the tour. The Swedish press talks about a Cardigans’ crisis.
 – Nonsense. He’s on leave, that’s all, Nina explains.
 – Right now he doesn’t feel strong enough to face months of
 touring and promotion, which the rest of us in the group fully respect. We have another one to jump into his place.

 Today Nina Persson is associated with Nina in The Cardigans. It’s kind of the same person, you see. She is one of the front figures in “The Swedish Musical Miracle”, which means Sweden is in third place in the world music export market (after the States and Britain). Ministers and business personages are delighted to smile next to the pop stars and speeches are arranged at prestigious musical fairs, TV-series are being produced and research made to figure out how to keep this trend going and, preferably, make it grow.
 But all this talk about export wonders is put aside to talk about what would have happened to Nina if there hadn’t been world success with The Cardigans?
 NINA: I have a suspicion it wouldn’t have been that different. One thing that is very important to me, regardless of what I’m doing, is to be acknowledged and seen because of what I’ve done. I make myself believe I’m not dependent on it, but if we decided to let The Cardigans die right now I’d probably be super depressed for not being honoured and good, better, the best. This whole success wouldn’t have come in the same way if I weren’t part of the group, I would have had to fight for it in another way.
 ETC: You mean you haven’t had to fight for it with The Cardigans?
 NINA: Yes, I have, but I’ve never had to fight for my rights. I’ve never had to fight for attention, it has come automatically. When we started there was only one single goal: to produce an album. That’s what we did and it just continued that way. It has gone quite smoothly and we have never given up everything to reach this position. Instead of that, we are happy for the breakthrough we got on top of the deal. The support has always been there as well, thanks to there being five in the group. I’ve never had to sit down and cry over creative agony, because in that case someone else can walk in and take over.
 ETC: How important is it to be acknowledged?
 NINA: Before starting to record Gran Turismo we had an eight-months break, and you got to know what it was like. Partly, because hardly anything was written about us, it was like we weren’t on the scene any longer. And partly because we didn’t work together as a group. I had a musical project of my own, which was more like a job. I rehearsed, wrote and wasn’t seen or heard much.
 ETC: Was it tough?
 NINA: No, because it was only for a limited period of time and I knew we’d come up with something again. The fact that I missed the rest of the band and working with them, was perhaps the hard part. At the same time it was extremely good for me to write on my own, and not having to work under stress as when The Cardigans are working.

Appetizers, chandeliers, marble columns in a grand ambassador environment with conversations to match. A couple of nervous girls shake hands with the pop stars, and an elderly man with a bow tie explains how “great” his staff had found the concert and “how lucky” his daughters were to have been able to get tickets for tonight’s The Cardigans’ concert. He himself is not going to be there and everybody joins in with a forced laugh.
 This is a short clip – taken at a reception at the Swedish Consulate in New York – from the film “The Cardigans – the story about a big group from a small country”. The clip gives the impression of a culture confrontation in which the members of The Cardigans would rather be somewhere else.
 NINA: We’ve always had a bad attitude to the business saying: Come on, hold your hat! It’s often ridiculous, but we’ve learnt to take it for what it is and be able to enjoy it in a different way now. At the beginning we were so against the whole business that it made us feel sick almost all the time. We thought everything was embarrassing, and felt ashamed to appear in the newspaper or the gossip paper. You just have to keep in mind how changeable and unimportant this circus around you really is. Take, for example, the visit to the consulate. Of course, it was pretty nice and an honour to be invited and it was thrilling. But at the same time you know that it’s all about marketing. They think it’s fancy to be seen with the successful Swedish music business.
 ETC: What do these environments do to you, is it a role you play or...?
 NINA: It doesn’t have anything to do with role playing. I think it’s thrilling as a visit, and wouldn’t let my life depend on whether or not I am accepted in those circles. Sometimes it’s damn fun just because there’s something unreal about it, that I’m actually dedicated to the rock-’n’-roll life, it’s crazy sometimes.
 ETC: In what way?
 NINA: If we play somewhere and then you glance at the guest list you find out the entire rock elite figures on it. The simple fact that Ozzy Osbourne comes to see us, together with other things, makes you exclaim: Oh, shit! I’ve never really had any rock idols of my own nor actually given a damn about music until I became a member of the group. I’ve never mimed in front of the mirror nor had any romantic image of rock stars. I think that point of view has saved me in many ways. If you receive much pressure you can always get away with the words: this world is insane and I can quit whenever I feel like it.
 ETC: But isn’t there any pressure from the record company and the rest behind you?
 NINA: We’ve been very lucky as we mostly work with our Swedish record company. It’s rather the Americans who don’t understand, for example, how we could take a break for eight months. They said: You know you’re risking your career, don’t you. Well, that’s the way it is then, we responded. Or they think we’re crazy when we turn down a TV programme because we want to rehearse instead. Then they call our managers to tell them we’re spoiled kids, but I feel good being tough on that point because it’s determining everything. But our Swedish record company knows us very well. We have been working together even when we were tiny. They know it’s impossible for us to come up with results if we’re not able to do it voluntarily. We need to feel we’re the kings of the decisions.

With big selling successes comes money. Their biggest hit Lovefool has been on the American radio over a million times and the single alone has sold 1.5 million copies around the world. Different contracts ensure Nina gets paid every time a song is played or a record sold. But in spite of her growing fortune she’s never, like other pop or sports stars, considered leaving Sweden for a tax haven.
 NINA: I feel quite comfortable paying taxes, it’s like you’re doing something good. And I have my home in Malmö, almost all of my friends, my dentist and so on. But if I hadn’t travelled that much, perhaps I wouldn’t have lived here. Now I get my fill of these kinds of sensations and new cities when we’re touring or on promotion.
 ETC: Especially because of that, would it matter that much where your home is?
 NINA: No, as a matter of fact no, but I don’t feel strange paying taxes, have never looked upon it as half of my money disappearing. I wouldn’t ever change my life to earn money. At present I have a boyfriend in New York which means I partly live there as well. It’s the first time I’ve left Sweden to a certain extent. But that’s only because he’s there, I think Sweden will always be home for me.
 ETC: What does money mean to you?
 NINA: Living the life I like to live I’ve never depended much on money. Of course it’s a hell of a fun to waste money on cameras or to buy a ticket to the States whenever you feel like it. But none of us in the group lives extremely extravagantly. My friends haven’t got that much money, and therefore it isn’t fun having lots of money if you have to do all the cool things alone. The advantages are that, on one hand, in the future I can work with things that don’t necessarily bring in a monthly salary, that I can dedicate myself to a non money-spinning musical project. And for the group it’s an important freedom as well. We feel we don’t necessarily have to produce an album full of lovefools, we’ve already produced one, and that gives us free hands to produce an album we simply find extraordinary.

Gran Turismo differs from The Cardigans’ earlier productions. Before, their music was cooler, jazzier, slower and with more instruments, both flute, wind instruments and triangle. I think it was called Indie pop. But I can’t stop myself from associating several of the songs to signature songs from some American, early 70’s talk show. One of those where the programme host is featured riding in a car, jogging, greeting passers-by, walking the dog, feeding the ducks and popping down to the bank in a ten second long vignette. That music was in back then, and a couple of years ago, I suppose.
 But now it’s rock that counts, the sound is more naked and the flute has been thrown away. In the new videos you see car crashes and guitars being broken instead of water-combed hair and visits to the hairdressers. Nina has taken control of the lyrics - writing herself, or together with Magnus and Peter - on Gran Turismo. For me, though, The Cardigans still mean homemade pop, in spite of some change in style. But, according to Nina, this is closer to where they once started.
 NINA: In terms of attitude we’ve taken a step backwards. After the break we came back as a new group. All five of us had grown both personally and as musicians. I maintained a high creative tempo after the Camp solo project, produced music and, all of a sudden, was more interested in being part of the whole process. It was exiting being together again and it felt just like when we did our first album. Furthermore, we rearranged things and came to a conclusion regarding what we would have to do to make everything more simple and funnier. For example, regarding the promotion work and the touring which can be quite dull.
 ETC: Do you always do whatever you feel like in The Cardigans?
 NINA: More or less, yes. A lot of people got disappointed over the fact that there was no super hit on the new album. And everybody wants us to participate in bingo and lottery programmes on TV in other countries. Sometimes we accept just because of ignorance and afterwards we exclaim: Never again! We have the feeling we do what we feel like.
 ETC: Why do you need the side projects, like Camp, then?
 NINA: When I write lyrics for The Cardigans, they are highly adapted to the fact that it’s a group with five members who must be able to like them and be proud of them. The Cardigans is the five of us together, and in a project that belongs to only us there is no room for personal pranks.
 ETC: Do you think of who, except The Cardigans, you’re writing the songs for?
 NINA: Never of the listeners, I think. I never think I want to get a special message through, or the song to have a touch of me or us. I believe I’m quite classical on that, the song lyrics don’t have to turn the inside out. It doesn’t take Bob Dylan to make good song lyrics, but light songs can also be splendid. I don’t see writing songs as an art, they are more things to be consumed than anything else. You’re absolutely no poet when you’re writing, as it has to fit in with the style and the music.
 ETC: Would you like to write more political or engaging songs?
 NINA: To be able to write good political songs I think you have to be a brilliant poet and extremely engaged. I suppose I’ll never be that political in my songs even though I feel quite political as a person. At the same time I’m a bit afraid of making cock-sure statements as I want to be able to change my mind. I’m not sure I can defend a song I write today, for ever. On the last album there are some, anyway. But, what the hell, it’s so damn obscure that nobody will get it anyway. But I felt I released some statements, a lot more than before.
 ETC: What statements?
 NINA: For example erase/rewind is about how frustrating it can be to be seen as a one dimensional person. The media needs to write down everything and describe a person on an A4 sheet. I always feel a bit decapitated and always to be quoted can be tough. When I read articles about myself I hardly recognize me as a person, there’s no room for nuances.

I read through different music magazines portrays a strange image of Nina and The Cardigans. The British heavyweight Melody Maker paid a recent three day visit to Malmö splashing Nina on the frontpage: “Nina, Nina! Call the police, it’s...
 THE CARDIGANS
 Sex, porn and death: the ultimate Swedish experience!”.
 In the article they focus on what Nina tells them about a closed down whorehouse just outside the cafe where they’re having a cup of coffee. And that Peter learnt a great joke from his girlfriend about fucking (but of course the journalists don’t use the word fuck, but f*** instead) and popcorn.
 NINA: Considering it’s English pop journalism, the article was surprisingly good. That says quite a bit about the standard. And yes, it gets worse.
 Britmag Loaded shocks their readers in the November issue by publishing topless pictures of Nina. In an article entitled “Lesbian pop nun?” they begin: “Macho lesb, master lesb, lipstick lesb, there’re already an amount of names for girls who like girls. Thanks to Nina Persson you can add another one: Deaf lesb, or to be more precise, temporarily deaf lesbs”.
 There is also a photo with Nina sucking an ice-cream. The words “No, you stupid” have been put at stomach height.
 This is sensational stuff as she has never agreed to pose topless nor stated she’s a lesbian.
 But behind the stage there was an ugly game going on.
 NINA: This is one of the worst things that has ever happened to me. First of all Loaded wanted only me, but I refused. Then all of a sudden they wanted the whole group and we accepted. But at the shoot the photographer and I understood the pictures wouldn’t turn out well and wouldn’t be published. When the issue was released I found out that these very pictures had been chosen and, on top of that, they’d cut everybody else out. The photographer put the blame on his agency saying they hadn’t got what it was all about. The reality behind the ice-cream photos is that Lasse went to the bathroom and meanwhile I held his ice-cream, and, of course, they turned out a bit kinky. And when we were interviewed by the journalists I told them an anecdote, which actually is true, about a hearing defect I have related to tinnitus, which I read in an article. It says research shows that it’s one of the few medical common factors found in lesbians. He got hooked on that and it later turned into “lesbian pop nun”.

The Swedish press also published the manipulated topless photos of Nina promoting a supplement as: “The Cardigan Nina Persson the way we’ve never seen her before”. One photo is of Nina topless, leaning forward, looking straight into the camera and covering her breasts with her hands. The caption reads: “I’m a bad girl”. But the quotation can’t be found in the text.
 NINA: I got furious when I read and saw what they’d done. Partly, it seemed rather mean as we’d decided together with the photographer not to publish the pictures and, partly, because the text is so damn nasty. But, of course, they had to buy those pictures to sell extra copies. You get angry at how they exagerate about our partying. Of course we could go out and shout, rage and deny. But probably that would make the whole thing even funnier for them, the gossip press always hunger for that.
 ETC: Who pushes it?
 NINA: The media exclusively. They dress you up and want the picture. You either have to be ugly and angry or sexy and provocative. It doesn’t matter how much you talk, they get on the sex-track anyway. They only have space for one dimension.
 ETC: But why did you agree to the photo session for Loaded?
 NINA: That was pure stupidity. It was so damn idiotic in the first place to take my sweater off, I should have understood what they’d do with it. In fact the only thing you can do is to forget about the whole thing and not give a damn about those kind of magazines from the very beginning.

Nina has always said she’s a feminist. After the manipulated photos were published, a Swedish women’s paper questioned if it’s OK to be a feminist and at the same time take your clothes off for the media.
 NINA: I got disappointed with that debate. It’s a statement that always has to be defended. I have it in my spine and I stand for it entirely. Sure it’s politics, but it’s also about a worldwide image and I’m even more convinced after seeing, very closely, the witch-hunt of casting all girls in the same mold. In the same way that I’m against racism in all shapes, it’s natural for me to be a feminist, it’s part of my political conviction.
 ETC: What else is part of your political conviction?
 NINA: I’ve always been red to one extent or other. For me it’s about humanism, I’ve serious problems with respecting people who believe in the conservatives as they include a lot that isn’t congenial.
 ETC: Like what?
 NINA: To gain at the expense of others, unwillingness to share and nonsense about maintaining the greatness of Sweden. In a way I’m a bit of a fascist in the sense I easily judge people, but most of the people I respect have, more or less, the same opinion as I have. Regarding the question of how to change the image of women, I think the answers are on a political level, with legislation and decisions. The feminist discussion sometimes gets pathetically snowed up saying vanity is a women’s trap. I don’t think any woman sees it as something to be ashamed of, something inferior. Because women are incredibly beautiful and vanity can feel great. Then sex is something central in everyone’s life, it’s tough to get your feminism questioned on a matter like this one.

Nina’s mobile phone rings sharply. She answers immediately, the tour manager and crew are driving down for a meeting. There is another week or so before the touring starts seriously. The touring life soon gets boring.
 NINA: All wasted time is quite tearing (sic), we travel by bus during the night, more transportation during the day, then the sound check and finally the playing. Only two of the 24 hours of the day are active, the rest is waiting.
 ETC: What do you do when you’re not on the bus?
 NINA: Strolling, exercising or trying to create something.
 ETC: Is there no glamour to the touring life?
 NINA: I don’t know what to include in the picture of glamour. You feel ridiculous in those circumstances.
 ETC: Do The Cardigans go out partying on their own then?
 NINA: We don’t party that much, the gossip about getting drunk when touring is exaggerated. Normally I’m quite tired and what I want to do is go to bed inside the bus. We are not trying to hide that we party, but we normally end up watching a video and drinking a couple of beers absent-mindedly. You don’t fill yourself up with alcohol to get drunk.
 ETC: Do you consider that you are a model for many people?
 NINA: I’ve had difficulty to imagine myself in that situation. I don’t want young girls to look up to the world of pop or the media to find models. On the other hand, I believe and hope there is something positive in my doing what I want.
 

Perhaps The Cardigans and Black Sabbath don’t spring to mind as a musical combination. But the fact is The Cardigans have covered Sabbath songs on two of their albums. And the old Black Sabbath singer Ozzy Osbourne has requited this love.
 NINA: He turned up at one of the gigs with a huge bouquet of roses, it was an incredible experience. With the roses came a box of chocolates, and once in the hotel room after a show in Los Angeles, while I was watching some TV, I thought of that box of chocolates. I went and got a couple of pieces, and it was really good. But afterwards I got a terrible stomach-ache and I thought: Imagine the chocolate is poisoned. Of course it wasn’t, but way beyond the use-by date. But, what a way to die, chocolate poisoned by Ozzy Osbourne, something to have been proud of.

The mobile phone rings again, now she is in a hurry, they had arrived and were waiting for her.
 Nina’s diary is full until May, after that come the summer festivals, and after that probably more touring. Almost a year all told, and after that?
 NINA: Hopefully some vacation. But perhaps we enjoy ourselves so much we decide to produce another album. In comparison with the touring it can be quite relaxing going into the studio to record. Right now I’m concentrating on the schedule up to May, it’s enough for now.
 The Cardigans have chosen to go their own way and avoid selling out to reach success. Imagine if more people got the chance to develop at their own pace. Groups with the courage to change and renew themselves have a greater chance to survive in the long run. Probably there’ll be another album from The Cardigans. Another - not too wild - guess is that some editor or another will feel tempted to pick a titbit from this interview. Therefore, we offer a ready-made suggestion:
OZZY OSBOURNE
 tried to
 POISON
 NINA FROM THE CARDIGANS
 WITH CHOCOLATE
 There you are.

 

THE QUICK GUIDE TO THE CARDIGANS

1992: The Cardigans formed in the month of October. All the members then living in Jönköping having just finished at college. The base player Magnus Svenningsson and the guitarist and composer Peter Svensson are the nucleus of the group. They recruit the drummer Bengt Lagerberg and the guitarist/keyboard player Lasse Johansson. Then they search for a singer, Nina Persson.

1993: Two demo-tapes are recorded. They begin a collaboration with the producer Tore Johansson, “the fifth cardigan”. Their first show is as a support group.

1994: The whole group move to a five room flat in Malmö and the first album “Emmerdale” is released. They are known as “The group playing pop from the 60's in tweed jackets”. Emmerdale goes on to sell 200 000 copies, being also released in Japan. Nina: “It would be a dream come true to go to Japan to play. After that The Cardigans could be dissolved”. June 29th 1994 they played Japan but that isn’t the end of The Cardigans.

1995: Nina moves out of The Cardigan-collective. Life, The Cardigans’ second album is released on the international market and goes on to sell 1.5 million copies. The singles are often heard on college radio in the States, which is the entrance to the American market. All of the group members start playing full-time and the time of unemployment – and studying grants are history. The single Carnival becomes number one in Japan, Iceland and Mexico. Festival summer and once again into the studios to record a new album.

1996: First band on the Moon is The Cardigans’ third album and the song Lovefool is the ticket to future success. The album sells 2.5 million copies and the single Lovefool 1,5 million. The concert bookers are queuing. World tour!

1997: The world tour continues and so does all the promotion. After all the summer festivals the group takes a break for an unlimited period – as seen from the outside, anyway. Nina starts a solo project Camp. Peter produces other albums.

1998: The side projects continue and the recording of Gran Turismo begins. Before the release of the new album, Nina says: “I believe that what I’m doing – and this may sound pretentious – is examining the blackness inside of me. No matter what I’m doing, painting, photographing or composing – it’s there. I’ve always been fascinated by people’s incapacity of getting things done”. The single My Favourite game starts climbing the charts.

1999: The album Gran Turismo has sold 850,000 copies up to February and the single My Favourite game 300,000 copies. World touring. Festival summer, more touring and a possible release of the Camp project’s musical result.

2000: Musical gods on the pop firmament? Or musicians on leave?


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