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Little Dragon plays the Natural History Musuem, Echoplex this weekend: An interview with Yukimi Nagano

January 7, 2011 |  8:59 am

Press6 Little Dragon is one of those bands that inspires friends with whom you haven't spoken in six months to send you random text messages involving lavish approbation and a half-dozen exclamation marks.

Little Dragon formed as teenagers in Gothenburg, Sweden. Last year's "Machine Dream" fused '80s synth pop, late '90s R&B, '90s hip-hop and influences that alternately recall Blonde Redhead, Kraftwek, and Bjork.

But playing the connect-the-dots influences game does little justice to the quartet's originality. Eschewing guitars (save for Fredrik Wallin's funky bass lines), they craft something intensely modern, lively drums that mimic machines, synths that shimmer like a fata morgana, and a hip-hop intensity without sounding remotely rap-like.

Accordingly, they've been adopted by their chameleonic cognate Damon Albarn, who enlisted the band for a pair of tracks on last year's excellent "Plastic Beach." The collaborations led to Albarn's recruiting them to open for him on a recent tour of the United States.

In advance of Friday's show at the Natural History Museum's First Fridays series and Saturday's Echoplex performance, lead singer Yukimi Nagano spoke to Pop & Hiss about working with Albarn, their new record, and their love of the Pharcyde.

-- Jeff Weiss

Question: I imagine that the band isn't really the New Year's resolution type, but are there any goals that you hope to achieve this year?

Answer: Just to have a blast. Enjoy the shows we have booked up and release our third album without any trouble. Try to not fight and be happy. ... We have a lot of dreams, like it would be nice to be able to afford to bring dancers or like a private masseuse on the road one day, but it doesn't have to happen this year.

What was it like touring with the Gorillaz? Was it challenging for the band to fit into the scheme of the larger show at hand, did you have to change your approach to performance, or was it fairly natural?

It's always a challenge to be a opener, so we had to change our set around and think of something short but sweet. The stages and venues were so huge, which was another aspect that was different from what we were used to. After being on the road with the Gorillaz for a few weeks, everyone got to know each other and the vibe was good, and we always felt welcome and a part of the whole thing.

What's the strangest/funniest/most interesting story that came off the tour? Bonus points for anything involving Lou Reed or De La.

Oh ... um ... Lou Reed just appeared on the show in NYC and L.A. We got a chance to say hi -- he seemed like a character. De La Soul are just fun people, and we love those guys. We've been inspired by them since high school. They are hilarious onstage and will pick random people out of the crowd and put them on the spot. It's hard to explain. You just have to see them live.

What's the progress on the new record? Is there a title yet? How does it differ/stand out from past efforts?

I think it will feel different. It's a bit less electronic but a bit experimental, yet there are still pop songs with a soulful side. It's like a rainbow smoothie.

Little Dragon has spent a significant amount of time in L.A. What is it about the city that you guys like? Any favorite restaurants, places or things that keep bringing you back beyond the performances?

We love L.A. It was one of the first cities that embraced our music. Our first sold-out show was in L.A. It has always been good to us. We have a thai food joint that we always go to; plus, we have a lot of close friends here.

In interviews, the group has described itself as a "no guitar band." Is this a matter of the limitations of the instrument, or is this a wrong and arbitrary distinction and the new album is more rock-oriented?

We have some guitars in our studio, but we're not that tempted, partly because nobody can play it very well. Also, partly because there are so many guitar-based bands out there already. We're not guitar racist, but synths are just more fun for us.

The group has earned a significant fanbase within the hip-hop and R&B communities? Why do you think this is?

Maybe because our music has a soulful element to it. We love a lot of hip-hop and R&B music, so it's nice to know that we're liked in a scene that influenced us.

What were your favorite records/films of 2010?

I love Big Boi's new record. I'm hooked on the "Be Still" song with Janelle Monae -- I play that tune over and over. Love the Caribou album. We like stupid films like "The Other Guys" and "Hot Tub Time Machine."

You guys just tweeted at the Pharcyde. Is there a collaboration in the works? What's your favorite Pharcyde song?

"She Said" is a favorite -- there are many we love. We met Booty Brown on the Gorillaz tour, and he's a sweetheart and we share ideas.

The theme of the Natural Museum First Fridays this year is "The Nostradamus Edition," and it's about predicting where we're going? If you could make a few predictions about the future, what would they be?

I'm optimistic about technology and our future. I think we are learning more about who we are as human beings these days, and how we work. Hopefully, we can design a world that will bring out the best in us people and create less suffering.

Photo: Little Dragon. Credit: Seek

MP3: Little Dragon-"Never Never"