After 10 million albums sold and 20 years on stage with the Cardigans, Swedish-born Nina Persson is celebrating the release of her first ever solo album, Animal Heart, with a gig at Mercury Lounge this Wednesday. We visited Persson in her Harlem brownstone and spoke to her about collaborating with husband Nathan Larson, being compared to Stevie Nicks, and the art of going solo.
Animal Heart is your first solo album, how does it feel to be on your own?
It feels great. Not too different, really. I’m still surrounded by other musicians, I practice with my band and it’s really not that big of a deal. Had it been just me alone with a guitar or a piano on stage I might have felt different.
You wrote Animal Heart with Eric D Johnson (known from The Shins and the Fruit Bats) and your husband Nathan Larson. How is it working professionally with your husband?
It’s great, it’s fun. I’m used to it by now. I’m kind of addicted to it, in a way. Nathan is very driven — he makes things happen and gives me a kick in the butt whenever I need it. He’s also more fearless than I am.
You’ve been a couple for over 15 years now?
Yes, and we’ve always worked together. We actually met through work and that is probably one of the reasons we fell in love in the first place, the way we work well together. We worked and toured together with A Camp as well. But this time I’m going on tour alone and this whole thing becomes more mine.
You had a brush with cervical cancer five years ago and had to go through surgery.
Yes, but I wouldn’t say everything about was shitty, though — when you go through certain things it opens your eyes as regards to what’s important in life. I can’t say that I was miserable, but there was some resistance for sure.
What do you mean by resistance?
I think I’ve led a pretty easy life in many ways and getting cancer made me realize that life’s not always going to be that easy. But it would’ve been way worse if I had, for instance, lost a loved one. That would have been truly sad.
But isn’t it very sad to have cancer?
It’s a pain in the ass to be sick, but that’s a whole other thing… It was very sad when we risked not being able to have a child. That’s sad to me. Everything ended well, but I still think about how I’d feel today had things turned out differently.
You’ve had some complications from the cancer, chronic lymphedema, but your cancer is in remission. Are you healthy and well otherwise?
Yes. I got well, I had a child and I’m back to work. It feels like it’s all over now. My sight is set on the future now.
Your son Nils is three years old. Is it hard to go on tour and leave him at home?
It is hard for sure, but I said from the get-go that I’d make this album first and decide whether or not I will tour later. This is actually the first time ever that I’m entitled to make certain demands. Earlier I’ve just had to accept that one becomes a serf after releasing an album, but this time around it’s all up to me. I make the rules and I’ve decided to tour, but never longer than three weeks at a time.
You’re playing a release gig at Mercury Lounge on Wednesday and you’re going to do a proper U.S. tour later this spring. Are you looking forward to getting back on the road?
I do! I have already been touring a couple of weeks before. It does put more strain on Nathan since he’s staying at home alone with a wild three-year old, but there’s more pros than cons. Nils was becoming a mommy’s boy in a kind of annoying way, but that has changed. Nils and Nathan are super tight these days and they sometimes tell me to eff off, which is a relief, really. We’ve gotten more gender equal after I started to work again.
The Cardigans have sold a whopping 10 million albums. Does that put pressure on you as a newly baked solo artist?
I’m sure that there might be certain expectations from Cardigans and A Camp fans… When it comes to the Cardigans, Peter (Svensson) wrote our songs and he’s more of a classically schooled songwriter and very unique in his songwriting, whereas I’m writing songs from a singer’s perspective. I want my melodies and harmonies.
Is Animal Heart a more personal album in that sense?
On the surface it might seem pretty similar to my previous work, but I got to be all inside my own head this time around. Only I need to know what I’m singing about and it also feels nice to represent myself and not the Cardigans. I guess that’s why it was so easy to write the songs. I was totally fearless and whatever idea I initially had got to stay on the album. I can’t wrestle down my own ideas. This one’s all me.
What is your favorite song on the album?
“Clip Your Wings.” That was an early favorite.
In what way, if any, has motherhood affected your music?
I was at home a lot with Nils and I didn’t write any songs for quite some time. My creative process is not the kind where I write music all the time so in the beginning I was a little bit concerned that I might not find my way back to writing. But as soon as we got started, everything happened super fast. I was a bit hesitant about what I wanted to write about, especially since I refuse to sing about having kids — I think that would’ve been a bit weird.
You’re originally from Sweden but you’ve been living in New York for a long time. Do you think you’ll stay here permanently?
I don’t know. Having Nils opened my eyes for Sweden again. It’s a good country to live and raise kids. When I think about the fact that we’re all going to die at some point and when picturing myself as an old lady I can’t see myself living here. And a move to Sweden wouldn’t be drastic in any way, especially since we still have an apartment in Malmö.
What would be the most ego-boosting comment you could get for Animal Heart?
I don’t know. Maybe that people like listening to it. I got a super ego-boosting comment the other day when someone said that Animal Heart is like a new Stevie Nicks album. It was fantastic! Luckily I don’t feel the need to be best at what I do. I’ve never carried that kind of stress on my shoulders. I just want to move forward, not necessarily upwards, but definitely forward.