Karin Park

We chat to the black sheep of pop about her new album...

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 4 Apr 2014
  • min read
Karin Park calls herself the black sheep of pop, which is a pretty spot-on description for a songwriter whose output is both confrontational and enticing.

The Swedish songwriter-producer creates the sort of precise electronica that northern Europeans seem to excel at, enslaving trancey basslines to industrial beats and ambiguous lyrics.

Her last album, Highwire Poetry, was agitated and demanding, bursting at the seams with nervous energy and shards of wonky pop.

The set echoed the eccentricity of The Knife, Fever Ray and Little Dragon, a sound enhanced by Christoffer Berg, who has also worked with all three. He co-produced and mixed the album, helping Karin to combine dark synth-pop sensibilities with her unique vocal imprint.

Since that album, Karin’s worked with Maya Jane Coles, Joe Goddard, Zero7 and, more recently, Dave McCracken (Ian Brown, Sister Sisters, Beyonce).

We caught up with the electro-pop auteur when she was half way through writing her follow-up album to uncover her singer-songwriter roots and learn how she's been working through her inner chaos...

Listen to Shine, a taste of what to expect from her forthcoming album, below.

It’s been different during different periods of my life. I moved away from home when I was 15 and started making music in my apartment. The only thing I had was an acoustic guitar so I started to play some chords and made melodies over that. It was singer songwriter stuff. I made my first record like that. On the second record I played piano – but that was quite similar because I was still playing chords and coming up with melodies.

After a while I got a bit bored making music like that. I’m not really good at doing two things at once. I wanted to make music in a computer so I could lay down some chords and beats or whatever and then, independent of that, I could record the vocals. I started with GarageBand, then I went to Logic and Xpress. Now I work with the full version of Logic.

A song can start from all sorts of different things - someone hoovering in the next door apartment or a random flapping sound that triggers my imagination. Nowadays I hear sounds which give me images I can get an idea from. I get most inspiration out of pictures, either ones I see or those I imagine in my head.

When do the lyrics come?
I always start with a melody and write the lyrics right at the end. Some people I work with ask me if I have something I want to write about. I often do but for me it’s more about what the song wants to be about. So it all comes very much from the melody and the pictures it paints.

Now that you’ve changed your songwriting process, do you think you’ve become more of a producer as well as a songwriter? Have those two things merged into one for you?
I’ve become more of a producer now but I work with different producers too. Sometimes, if I want to write a lot of things and concentrate on the melodies, it’s nice to hand over the production to someone else. But when I’m in my studio I produce all the music. I’ve definitely become more of a producer. I think when you learn computer programming and explore that world you automatically learn how to be a producer. I developed my sense for sound, which was nice because it gave me freedom.

When I’m in the studio, I just want to stay there and write stuff all day. But when I feel like I’ve done something really cool I always imagine myself singing it on stage. So I think I enjoy writing songs because I’m going to perform them one day. I really do love to play live. I’ve done it all my life and find I’m in my element when I’m on stage. It’s where I feel I can create otherwordly moments and I feel like I’m in control of my own abilities.

You’ve been collaborating a lot lately and finishing off your new album. How has all that been going?
I’ve worked a bit with Zero7 and a guy called Dave McCracken, which I really liked. It’s been interesting. Because of the last album I’ve been able to work with more experienced and talented producers and songwriters on a level I wasn’t able to before. I get much better when I can write with people who are really good. I work a lot at home myself and used to do a lot of work with producers remotely. Now I work more in the same room with people, which is much more interesting, but also very scary.

Your last album was really well received and everyone is interested to hear what’s next from you. How have you been finding the follow-up process?
I think the new one definitely has elements of the last album but it’s a bit less aggressive because I’m more relaxed now. When I wrote Highwire Poetry I was in a period of inner chaos. It’s not been so tense for me this time although it’s still the same sort of sound. It’s hard to talk about it when I’m in the middle of the process but I feel it’s going to have even better songs, but in the same soundscape.

What have you learned from your collaborations?
Sometimes you hear a melody and get a lyric immediately. Sometimes it takes 10 minutes and you should trust your instincts. That’s what I learned from working with Maya Jane Coles on Everything. It doesn’t always happen that way. It can take ages. You can think about it for two whole days then when you go to loo it’s suddenly there. It’s when you stop thinking that things happen. Feelings are more important than ears a lot of the time.

Are there any songwriters you really admire?
I love Leonard Cohen’s lyrics. I also really love PJ Harvey and Captain Beefheart. PJ Harvey sounds like her songs come straight from the heart – she doesn’t seem to think about it too much. And if you listen to Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart you wonder how those songs came about. It must be from his dick or something, not from his brain! It’s really original songwriting and the more you listen the more it opens up. I like any songwriters who take me somewhere.