After three years of silence following their Charles Darwin-based opera, ‘Tomorrow, In A Year’, Swedish experimental duo The Knife arrived back on the scene earlier in 2013 with their 90-minutes-plus fourth studio album, ‘Shaking The Habitual’ (Clash review).
Clash takes a closer look at Karin Dreijer Andersson, one half of the gruesome twosome, to learn more about the dark corners of her life.
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Giving birth to her two children gave Andersson inspiration for the themes explored in The Knife: parenthood has provided a closer perspective on life and death. Andersson detests the traditional expectations of women in society and her feminist ideals have produced strong motifs for her musical explorations. She has also been influenced by the thoughts and ideas of her eldest daughter.
When Andersson was 10 she started playing guitar, forming her own band a few years later. At 15 she became interested in gender and power structures in society. Although these ideas have developed throughout her life, she has nearly always been obsessed with them. The inability to distinguish gender in a vocal line is something she loves. To Andersson, the voice is an instrument, a tool to make music with, and it should be without gender.
Andersson manipulates the pitch of her voice and clouds her real self under the guise of Fever Ray. “I think Fever Ray is more a collection of different mental characters, and some of them I have similarities to,” she revealed in an interview with exclaim.ca. Hiding underneath masks, costumes, smoke, lighting effects and theatrics in their stage performances, identity is a central theme for The Knife. They aren’t hiding as such; rather, they create a blank canvas so their listeners won’t have any pre-conceptions. This acts as an initial catalyst for intrigue. (Read a live review here.)
The Knife have given money to support a particular feminist party in Sweden, which helped to raise its profile. Andersson is not part of a political party but speaking to feminist activists has been significant to her. This seems to translate through her music.
Eleven years ago Andersson was a web designer. Today, writing music is a serious job. She admits that the state of the music industry is murky and there are many problems that need sorting. She explains to The Red Alert that “more and more artists are being forced to do other things than write music”.
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‘A Tooth For An Eye’, from ‘Shaking The Habitual’
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Before the release of ‘Shaking The Habitual’, The Knife siblings – Karin is joined by brother Olof Dreijer in the band – discussed how to fuse strong political messages with sound. Their fascination with gender was explored further, and before experimenting in the studio they thoroughly researched the most compelling political arguments. Their findings allowed them to analyse the boundaries between the acoustic and the synthetic. Analysing harmony, they unravelled the reasons why certain scales sound more appealing than others. This knowledge was then applied to alter familiar sounds into the dark, stark and the bizarre.
The band loves to challenge perceptions. Included on ‘Shaking The Habitual’ is the 19-minute long drone track ‘Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realized’, a harsh and testing listen. “It’s nice to play with people’s time these days,” Andersson told Pitchfork earlier in March, referring to both the track and the double-disc-spanning album.
The Knife considered changing their name when they delved into extreme politics with ‘Shaking The Habitual’. Yet, they realised it was more significant to state these views as a continuation of The Knife. The views expressed in the new album are merely a progression of the subjects and questions raised from The Knife’s conception.
Visual elements are extremely important to The Knife. The music needs to embody images, and both are interconnected. The grotesque, dark masks and satirical tailored suits stem back to Andersson’s childhood. Trying to conform with the high-class appearance, Andersson’s mother failed to dress Andersson and her sister up in white shirts and kilts. “So these characters on stage, they capture that kind of anxiety, the terrible people. You don’t know anything about someone who’s wearing a suit. And a tie…” she divulges in a Loud and Quiet interview.
Andersson is enchanted by the work of David Lynch. When visiting Los Angeles, Andersson didn't think of great American singers to come from the city, but thought instead of light. This influence comes from reading his book ‘Catching The Big Fish’, where Lynch talks of Los Angeles being the best place to film movies because of the extraordinary natural light. She tells The Vine: “He said the best place to live was in Los Angeles, because of the light. (In Sweden) it’s very dark, so it’s very different.”
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‘Full Of Fire’, from ‘Shaking The Habitual’
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‘Shaking The Habitual’ is out now, and reviewed here
Find The Knife online here
Words: Sarah McRuvie
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