There’s a lot of magic coming out of Sweden. The small country of eight million has produced everything from the Coca Cola bottle to your parent’s favorite band, ABBA. They’ve given us IKEA and, by relation, the headaches that come with building their furniture. Yet, for all of these great inventions, one of the most exciting imports doesn’t come with abstract directions or a Frakta bag.
For Swedish electronic musician KISSEY, her songs come with three simple steps: lean in, listen, and learn. The multitalented singer/songwriter/producer/artist, whose career began with the help of a math teacher in a Stockholm classroom years ago, is back with a new album and new label. Released on Brooklyn’s Fools Gold, her Unplug the Delusional Monkey EP definitely takes the prize for the strangest album title of the year, but comes away with a fresh take on electronica and hip-hop.
Following her video for “Unplug," which had her dancing in the snow with an elegance we could never attain without being heavily intoxicated, the album signals a shift back towards the experimental and poetic sound she’s become known for. It’s also a punctuation on six years of living in New York that has led her from DJ sets at Milk Studios to music-mixing for Gucci and Givenchy shows, with a stop at Shanghai Fashion Week to walk the runway herself.
On the eve of her album release, we met the artist at a nondescript Williamsburg coffeeshop to talk about the Delusional Monkey EP, her start as Sweden’s hottest underage DJ, the individualism of America, and the key to creating a great mix (“Toxic” by Britney Spears is involved).
OUT: I read a story about when you were in school and your teacher taught you how to DJ...
KISSEY: So, I had to get some more points on my grades [and] my math teacher was a really prominent DJ in the Stockholm club scene...
That’s a very cool math teacher!
Yeah! So, he had a DJ course and I was, like let me grab that because I need some more points and I’ve always wanted to DJ. Then I started and was like whoa, what is this. This is amazing! He saw that I [was] very inspired and really wanted to understand it on a deeper level because I would stay after school and DJ.
I was underage so he and his friend—another DJ—snuck me in to DJ at these clubs. They gave me some opening slots for them and then they also snuck me in when big names came through. I remember seeing Frankie Knuckles for the first time. I was eighteen and was hysteric about what he was doing—I was just listening and staring. That shifted my life, that he did that for me.
As someone of mixed race, what was your experience growing up in such a homogenous country like Sweden?
Well, I had not experienced anything else. [Laughs] My mom is from the Caribbean and my dad is Swedish and I grew up in the 80s with all of the things that were going on in Europe—I really couldn’t understand why certain people were angry at immigrants. I did comprehend [that] we're the only mixed family in this environment, but that dawned on me in my late teens. I realized that there were more people like me and the world looks very different than the people who are standing up on top of the mountains screaming.
What has the contrast been between America and Sweden?
One big contrast is that, in America, it’s individual [and] very loud. In Sweden, we’re known for having this word called “laget om,” which translates to “around the team.” It shows the mentality of the Swedish people. You're not allowed to take too much, you're not allowed to relax too much, you have to work with each other.
It’s kind of like the expression, "It takes a village."
Yeah, that’s very prominent throughout Sweden—or maybe now it’s different. But when I was growing up, there wasn’t individuality.
Do you prefer one over the other?
I wish it could be a mix. It’s tough to live in an environment where you have to be very loud and take your space all the time and it’s also tough to be in an environment where you're not allowed to fully express who you are in all aspects.
It’s definitely a work in progress. Going back to music, do you have an artist that you really want to work with?
One person that I’m going to remix is Shantell Martin. I’m really excited about that because she started doing music and I was like please, please please, I need to remix this.
Her line drawings are so great. What’s your key to creating a great DJ mix?
I think the secret ingredient is: don’t be too good to play anything. Don’t be too good for music. Who wants to listen to a pretentious person trying to lecture X, Y, and Z? That’s not what it’s about.
Sometimes you’ve got to throw in some “Toxic” by Britney Spears.
You know what I’m saying? [Laughter] That’s real. And then, once you do that, then you reference this other track that's totally out there. It’s a trust factor.
What do you want people to take from your new EP?
I want them to expect and take from it that I’m being as honest as I can. I’m always working on my honesty and becoming a deeper and fuller expression of myself, so I think this is a good start. It’s about reflection and looking inwards—we need to start looking inwards now.
It sounds a little bit blasé because of everything that has been going on for the last six months but, if we look back thousands of years, as humans we plateaued. There’s something inside of us that we need to unlock. If you assume that all information that you have in your head that has always been given to you is right, straight up, then there’s a problem.