Clue’s in the name: Icona Pop’s new album, Club Romantech, is made for the club. The Swedish duo – Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo – are best known for the now decade-old belter, I Love It, which also launched the career of Charli XCX. But since then, they have relocated to LA, played countless parties, partied countless times, returned to Stockholm, and become mothers. They are now industry veterans, self-releasing their album. But they’re nowhere near over.
Some songs on Club Romantech, like Faster, feel made for late night into early morning raves; but many songs remind me of 2010s British house, epitomised by the collaboration with Joel Corry on Desire. How did that sound come about?
Caroline: We’ve definitely made a club album, and it wasn't intentional. It was more ‘Let's write an album and not have any rules.’ We started experimenting, and the more we started having fun and playing around and pulling up references, we realised, like, we missed the clubs – and that's what Club Romantech is. We started to create our own little sweet escape. That was the perfect club for us.
How did you end up collaborating with Corry?
Aino: Actually, we went to the UK. We had a couple of sessions and wrote the top line for Desire. And then we just didn't know what to do with that song because we didn't know what direction the album was going in. But we always loved that song, so we kind of put it on the shelf. But it always came up in every single session we did.
C: We were like, ‘Maybe that song needs to find another home.’ Because we love it but we don’t know how to finish it and close it out.
A: We wrote with Joel a couple of years back as well, and it came up that we would like him to do it. And now we’re so happy with it.
You returned to Sweden when Covid forced almost everyone in the world to isolate themselves, but you had been living in America until then. Are you still in Sweden, or are you going to return to the USA?
A: I think we're going to be in Sweden now. I mean, that's our home, but we travel quite a lot. I'm going back to LA for a couple of months, but I would say Sweden is the base.
C: We’re just going to be constantly touring! I hear myself thinking, ‘We’re going to have our base in Sweden’, but – what kind of base, when you’re not even going to be there? I feel like we’re just going to be all over the place. Wherever we need to be.
Since you’ve come back, have you found that LA has had a residual influence on you?
C: Because we lived in LA for so many years, I love it. And I really miss it. But it made me appreciate writing music in Sweden again, because when we came back during COVID we had a really nice moment musically. We connected with people in a way where it was like, ‘Oh, this is where we’re from?’ And also the dance music in Sweden: it's very different from the dance music in the US. So I loved living the lives that we had, and living in LA and having the nature – and I miss our friends. But creatively, it was very, very healthy and good for us to go to Sweden.
A: Definitely! But also the fact that there was a pandemic played a huge role, because we couldn't do anything. If you weren't home, you were in the studio; and for us to stay sane, we everyday went into the studio. We had so much time – and we never have time. We just got to dive deep into the music in a way we haven't had the time to do before, and also figure it out: who are Icona Pop 2023?
C: And also just us talking. About what we’ve been through together, as friends, as co-workers, where we want to go; we talk about the world, life – you know, everything. Because we had the time.
How is the dance music in Sweden different from the music in the USA?
C: Dance music feels like it’s been around in another way in Sweden and Europe in general. And it’s been influenced by other stuff.
A: Raves in the woods have been super popular for many years in Stockholm, and there's this cool underground dance scene. It feels like sometimes it takes a while for the US to catch up with dance music that's been popular in Sweden or the UK.
C:  It might also be because the club life is different. Like in Sweden, you're out until like 6 in the morning because the clubs are open that late, but in LA they close early and then you go to a house party. I just think that affects how you use dance music, if that makes sense.
Even though it’s party music, you both wrote this album during pregnancy and after giving birth. How did you get in the club mindset while doing something that does not sound partylike at all?
C: We were club kids from the beginning. That's where we met all of our friends; we cried on the dance floor if we were heartbroken. But during this time, the world was upside down, and also we were creating lives inside of us. It was so much that was so different from what it used to be. We were dreaming of hanging out with our friends again.
A: You're packed with hormones and things, and you're so sensitive. We were so emotional. I don't know what it was, but our love for dance music was (and still is) so extreme, even though it has nothing to do with partying.
C: That’s why I said earlier it was a sweet escape. When I listen to dance music I can almost see myself walking up a mountain. It's very spiritual – it's not always seeing myself at a club at 4 AM.
How did people around you react to you making an album while pregnant?
C: They were just like, ‘Oh my God. That's amazing!’ First of all, everyone was jealous of us being pregnant at the same time. It was incredible to be able to go through the same things and share them with your friend. But people thought it was great that we made an album.  All of our friends knew that we had wanted to make an album for such a long time before COVID – it was just too much travelling and other stuff. Now finally we had the time that we needed.
No one was dismissive or had a negative reaction?
A: Almost the opposite. It's been so healthy for the project, because you prioritise differently when you have a baby. In the beginning, we were afraid, because a couple of years ago if you were an artist or a female DJ with a baby, it just disappeared, and it was almost like –
C: and then you came back with a six-pack. You didn’t talk about or even acknowledge to the world that you had a baby. And that's fine – it's your choice. It’s not right or wrong.
A: But it's cool to see now how a lot of big female artists are showing their bumps behind the DJ decks. It's very beautiful to be a part of this change in the music industry as well: that you can be a cool, attractive woman with a child.
How has motherhood changed the experience of touring?
C: It's amazing. We just have to plan better, and we’ll bring the kids sometimes. But it's the best of two worlds to be able to do what we love, and then get home and open the door to this little love lump. You go out in the park, and you hang out and you play with sand and you're thinking, ‘12 hours ago, I was at a club DJing or singing live or whatever.’ The contrast is amazing.
A: Before, when you came back from travelling on tour, you got sad because it didn’t feel like you had a home. When you get a baby, you don't have time to even reflect – you just jump straight into motherhood. And as an artist, a lot of people treat you like a big baby, so for you, it's a good ego check. It's not about you anymore. It's about this toddler you’re taking care of.
C: And when it comes to touring, I can't wait to show my baby the world. Just going to places and seeing it through their eyes. It's not just like, ‘Oh, let's go to the hotel room.’ Actually, I need to find cool stuff to do.
When Icona Pop took the world by storm with I Love It, very few people knew who Charli XCX was, and PC Music hadn’t released any music. Last month, PC Music announced that 2023 would be the last year of new releases. How does it feel to have experienced all this as Icona Pop? What has changed about being Icona Pop since then?
C: Wow… We just – I can't believe it's been 10 years. That song, to me, is just an energy that still works today. When we play it live, people go crazy. I just have a really hard time believing it's 10 years, but I know it is.
I was a teenager. I was, like, 14 when that song came out.
A: It’s crazy, right? And if you look at when we started, there were no streaming platforms. People were still buying CDs. I remember at that time, Spotify started to blow up and people were laughing at us when we said that it was going to be the future.
C: We also had our first gig at the Spotify office back home in Stockholm.
A: That part of the music industry has changed, but so has how much social media is affecting a lot of musicians' careers. Like, you don't have to be signed on a major label to make it.
C: I mean, we just started our own label, and that's when you realise how long you've been in the business. We wouldn't have been ready to start a label in the beginning, because we didn't know anything. But during these years, we've been learning a lot.
A: It's so beautiful – a lot of people grew up with I Love It, and people are still playing it at clubs. It's crazy to be making such a stamp in music history. But it’s also weird because no one believed in it: we got dropped off a label because they thought that song was too Swedish. We worked on that song for two years in the States before it became that big, so it’s not just that it made a huge part of our career, but we also worked on it so hard.
I don't know – it's probably going to outlive all of us.
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