Music Interviews
2:22 am
Sun June 2, 2013

Quadron: For Love Of The Slow Jam

Originally published on Thu June 27, 2013 7:33 am

It started with two young Danes growing up in Copenhagen, with a somewhat unorthodox love for 1970s soul music.

"It's not part of the culture and the history," Coco O., the singing half of the duo Quadron, explains. "Soul music was kind of a cute thing, but not serious. Rock music was serious."

Coco O. and producer Robin Hannibal (now part of another down-tempo duo, Rhye) made their first album as Quadron in 2009; their popularity has exploded since then. Coco's vocals have been compared to those of of Amy Winehouse and Mary J. Blige, and Jay-Z produced her recent cameo on the Great Gatsby soundtrack album. As she explains, the creation of that impressive voice owes a lot to to what her Danish upbringing lacked.

"I think a lot of soul music in America, a lot of soul artists, they learn how to sing or play in church," she says. "They learn how to really, really sing, with a lot of power and a lot of phrasings. And that's what I wanted growing up.

"I was so sad that I didn't have, like, a real church where I could learn how to really sing. But I think, because I didn't do that, I'm more sparse in my vocals. And I think that's a Danish thing — to just have what is necessary."

Quadron's new album, Avalanche, is out this week. Coco. O spoke about it with NPR's Rachel Martin; click the audio link to hear more of their conversation.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It started with two young Danes growing up in Copenhagen with a somewhat unorthodox love for 1970s soul music, especially early Michael Jackson.

COCO O.: In Denmark, it's not like a part of the culture in the history. So, music was kind of like a cute thing but not serious. Rock music was serious.

MARTIN: That's Coco O. She and producer Robin Hannibal make up the duo Quadron.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

QUADRON: (Singing) He has no doubt that he's been doing it right. Though other people only see they look alike.

MARTIN: Coco's voice has been compared to the likes of Amy Winehouse and Mary J. Blige. Jay-Z produced her recent cameo on the "Great Gatsby" soundtrack. It has been a crazy couple of years since she and Robin Hannibal made their first album in a basement in Denmark. They're hoping to build on that success with their second album. It's called "Avalanche," and that 1970s soul music that they grew up with is front and center.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

QUADRON: (Singing) What about your staying, always someone there...

MARTIN: When and how did Robin Hannibal enter your life?

O.: We met when I was 16 or 17. I think it was more like a matter of time before we would get to meet because it's so small. And, like I said earlier, there wasn't so much soul music in the city and we were both into that genre. So, a mutual friend introduced us and I'm super happy that we met.

MARTIN: Is there - I mean, there must be part of the music that you make reflects who you are and where you come from. What part of your sound can you identify and point to and say, yeah, that's Danish right there?

O.: It's hard to kind generalize a country. But I think a lot of soul music in America, a lot of soul artists, they learn how to sing or play in church. That's just what I think. I don't know but that's what I experience.

MARTIN: I think that's fair, yeah.

O.: I think, like, in church, they learn how to really, really sing, you know, with a lot of power and a lot of phrasings. And that's what I wanted growing up. I was so sad that I didn't have, like, a real church where I could learn how to really sing. But I think because I didn't do that I'm more like sparse in my vocals. I think that's a Danish thing to have what is necessary and not overdo the vocals or the production. Like maybe a track like "Befriend."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEFRIEND")

QUADRON: (Singing) Pretend they're strong, befriend me along, become like dust, but just feel (unintelligible)...

MARTIN: What does Quadron mean?

O.: We wanted something that meant something to us. And we've known each other for, like, I think, a year or two before we discovered that we both were a quarter. I'm a quarter African and Robin is a quarter African-American and that is something that I was confronted with a lot growing up in Denmark. Like, I couldn't walk into, like, a pizza restaurant without them asking where I was from and they all claim that I was from their country because I looked, you know, different than a regular Danish girl. And Robin looked so Danish, so it was really fun for me to discover that he was a quarter African-American. And then the word quadron is kind of the same in Danish. It's just (Foreign language spoken). And at that point we didn't know, like, if we were going to release music. And then we didn't have anything. So, we didn't know where it was going to take us. And I think we also thought about a quarter, like, soul, a quarter of Scandinavian music, a quarter disco, a quarter, you know, just mixing stuff. I think we found that interesting.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEY LOVE")

QUADRON: (Singing) Hey love, what's going on in here? You're ruthless like a storm. Hey love, why you seem to care?

MARTIN: This one is called "Hey Love."

O.: I was actually thinking about church when we wrote this one. Just I could imagine, like, the (hums) just being, like, you know, deep in the South, like some guy singing that and a little tambourine maybe.

MARTIN: Kind of like a little call and response.

O.: Exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEY LOVE")

QUADRON: (Singing) Through the lies my soul, promise the best is yet to come, well, pleased to meet the truth. Well, will the two of us be one, or pleased to meet the truth?

MARTIN: So, I imagine it has been a bit of a whirlwind. I mean, you've got Jay-Z knocking on your door asking you to do a song for the "Great Gatsby" movie. How does it change, or has it changed, your expectations for what you want?

O.: When I was really young, my expectations were super high, career-wise. I knew what I wanted to do.

MARTIN: What does that mean? What did that look like?

O.: Well, I mean, I had a picture of me in my head standing on a stadium and people, like, faint because they were so excited to see me. So, that's a really high goal.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: And very specific. I don't want them just standing there screaming. I want them fainting.

O.: Yeah, exactly. I felt that I couldn't die happy if I didn't experience that. So, I was putting myself to stay there. But as I started working, like, in the business, it changes, of course. Now, it's about the actual music than the fans fainting.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LFT")

MARTIN: Let's play another song. This one is called "LFT." Stands for looking for trouble.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LFT")

QUADRON: (Singing) He's (unintelligible) we're all supposed to meet by the bridge. I'm not the only one who's late. Wearing the black tie (unintelligible), left my phone, already rang twice, and I forgot to bring the wine. Tell me do you like to (unintelligible), do you like the sound...

MARTIN: I mean, I love this track. It's so throwback and literal storytelling. It's really lovely. How did this come together. What is the story of this song?

O.: It was about my group of girlfriends in Denmark. LFT is my girl gang.

MARTIN: Your girl gang. Everyone needs a girl gang.

(LAUGHTER)

O.: Yeah, yeah. I think they're kind of retired now. They used to be a lot of fun.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LFT")

QUADRON: (Singing) What about love (unintelligible) looking for trouble. Just looking for trouble.

O.: It's just nice to have, like, a lyrical photo of a time period that I really love and sometimes miss a lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LFT")

QUADRON: (Singing) (Unintelligible) come on, girls.

MARTIN: So, you're making your home in Los Angeles now. What have you learned about America?

O.: The biggest culture shock is that the distance is so spread out here in L.A. In Denmark and I think most of Europe, people grow up in, like, small, local kind of communities. And I'm used to walking out in the street and, like, meet a ton of people that I know and just high-five, you know, on my bike. Just being like, hey, hey, hey, how you doing? And it creates, like a strong, solid network. And I think here you have to really engage yourself if you want to make friendships. You have to go out and meet people and schedule it because you don't meet anybody because you're all driving.

But I think, though, I learned that America is definitely into music in a very different way than what I found in Europe and especially Denmark. In America, it seems to me like music is such a big part of life and culture that is almost as important as, you know, food. And getting that reflection on something that you work so hard on, it's just, it's meant the world to me and Robin. We never thought that would be possible when we wrote the first album in the basement in Denmark. And besides that, America is just so diverse to me. There's so many different layers because it's such a big country, but all the states are so different. I really, really enjoy being here.

MARTIN: Coco O. She and producer Robin Hannibal make up the duo Quadron. Their new album is called "Avalanche," and she joined us from our studios in Culver City, California. Coco, thank you so much for talking with us. It's been really fun.

O.: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

QUADRON: (Singing) You keep giving a (unintelligible). They never mind it. It comes priceless. You keep offering all your best cards. We will obey your wish. We're going to play with this.

MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.