Some artists stress lyrics in their compositions, others, melody. But Swedish techno-pop duo Niki & The Dove, who play The City this week, focuses on something else: an elusive, ephemeral element that sets their work apart.
“It’s a difficult thing — how to find that spark — but it’s really important for us,” says keyboardist Gustaf Karlöf of his modus operandi with singer Malin Dahlström.
“But the core of a song can consist of many different things — it can be a bassline, a beat, a sound. This spark can be a tiny little thing, and when we write, we are always very cautious about keeping that spark all the way through the production.”
Even the team’s first successful collaboration — the thumping, Banshees-brassy single “DJ, Ease my Mind,” featured on “Instinct,” its debut CD — was a tentative, spark-conscious affair.
They met while they were both writing music for theater and dance productions. Once friends, Dahlström timidly revealed her “DJ” to Karlöf and asked him to produce it.
Listening to playback of the results, Dahlström was stunned.
“We were like, ‘We found something here!’” she says. “We thought it sounded so great that we wanted to just listen to it, over and over again. Very, very loud.”
At that time, two years ago, there was no plan for a Niki & The Dove. “We didn’t know we’d ever do this full time — we were very much in the flow, and just having fun,” says Dahlström, who now co-pens everything with her bandmate. “But at the same time, I must say, to have so much fun doesn’t mean that you’re not being serious about something. When we work on our music? Me and Gustaf are dead serious.”
It’s an unlikely pairing. Karlöf despised his piano lessons as a child, but wound up touring the world in punk and heavy metal bands. Dahlström, meanwhile, was haunted by a childhood memory of forgetting the first song she had written on a recorder, so she learned to instantly memorize melodies.
Once Karlöf heard her sing, he had to meet her. Post-“DJ,” they began writing more material, like “The Drummer” and “Mother Protect,” and then realized they had formed a band.
Now, concerts from Niki & The Dove (not a Prince reference) include exotic costumes and backup dancers.
But everything still boomerangs back to the song: “We try to keep a distance from the material and take a step back to see if it still has the spark that it began with,” Karlöf says. “And if it doesn’t? We have to start all over again.”