The divergence between how much people are typically willing to pay for music and what they're willing to shell out for the full festival experience is never clearer than at Outside Lands, which seems to get fancier and fancier every year. (Just try to make it through the weekend without spending the equivalent of five albums on food and drink.)
Or so it would seem. Andrew Wyatt, vocalist and songwriter for indie pop trio Miike Snow, believes that narrative is incorrectly framed. The labels have figured out monetization, he believes, but we're not yet there in terms of how to compensate artists properly.
“The writing was always on the wall, even in the Napster days,” he says of the current era of streaming. “It was an obvious solution, but people were really reluctant to give up the solution that they had, which was really profitable and also quite ingrained in the minds of people in society. We used to stream stuff on Real Player back in the late '90s.”
“I could go on for literally hours,” he adds (although I hear the sounds of a commuter train in the background). “But I don't think that the problem is that people are unwilling to pay for music. That has not been the case. They're unwilling to go down to a store and buy a CD when they could just push a button and get it.”
But the New York-born Wyatt and his Swedish bandmates — Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg — have never been solely reliant on album sales to generate a living. Together or apart, they've written songs for Britney Spears and Bruno Mars, remixed Vampire Weekend and Depeche Mode, and started a largely Scandinavian label called INGRID. As insiders who formed a band relatively late in their careers, they've been able to navigate the industry's shifting sands better than most.
“I'm reluctant to use the word brand,” Wyatt says of his success. “A lot of it was adaptability, and some of it was luck.”
It probably doesn't hurt that Swedish pop music has an enduring cohesiveness. Take acts like Icona Pop, Lykke Li, Peter Bjorn & John, and Little Dragon. There is a through-line among them — as Wyatt puts it, “Sweden is a very specific culture” — and although he admits he can still only understand about half the Swedish he hears, Wyatt says “the time I've spent there and the relationships have left an indelible mark on the music that I make.” Miike Snow would likely play Stockholm, CA, the all-Swedish festival partly subsidized by the country's government that will be held in Los Angeles this October, but they couldn't make the scheduling work.
Still, the band's cerebral yet catchy underpinnings that one hears in songs like “Animal” and “Genghis Khan” — to say nothing of the '90s R&B samples, or the odes to vintage soul — indicate that a lot more thought has gone into their songwriting than just cleverer-than-average guys sticking their thumbs in the wind, weathervane-style.
When I bring up a provocative question about decontexualization in art that Wyatt posed to uber-gallerist Jeffrey Deitch this spring in Interview magazine, and which Deitch more or less dodged, Wyatt answers it in full, touching on Kanye West, Jackson Pollock, and the triumph of marketing. But not before taking a deep breath and laughing.
“Oh wow, I sound really intelligent,” he says. “I would date me based on that question.”