At first, the question was: Who is Miike Snow? It was a fair question, especially as the group arrived in a mysterious fashion in 2007. Formed by Swedish musicians Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg, childhood friends who collaborate under the production moniker Bloodshy & Avant, and American songwriter Andrew Wyatt, Miike Snow began as an idea rather than a band. It was an experiment: Could you create left-leaning pop music that combined clear, sparse songwriting and hook-laden, muscular mainstream production? The gamble paid out tenfold as Miike Snow unveiled their self-titled debut album in 2009 to sizable acclaim, emerging into the musical landscape to fill a previously empty space. The group's eclectic, inspired take on music transformed the music scene, with other artists following suit to their innovative approach. In 2012, the band's sophomore effort, Happy To You, arrived, further expanding the experimental possibilities of their songwriting and sending them touring across the globe.
Now, the question is: Where has Miike Snow been? The answer is complicated. A third record wasn't necessarily inevitable for the band. Each musician, now living in a separate part of the world, was pursuing his own projects. Wyatt, based between New York and LA, wrote and produced songs with Bruno Mars, Mark Ronson and Flume, released a solo album called Descender and created music for a ballet at the Royal Opera House in London. Karlsson, based between Bangkok and LA, launched a new band called Galantis whose debut album Pharmacy reached #1 on the Top Dance/Electronic Albums Chart while Winnberg, who remains based in Sweden, focused on artist collection/record label INGRID and pursued his other band Amason. The desire to return to Miike Snow became undeniable after reuniting in LA for a few days in late 2014 where they fluidly penned five of the eleven songs which appear on their forthcoming album - iii. They had no specific outcome in mind when they stepped into the studio, just the curiosity of what the three musicians might create after their time apart. The third studio album was finished in the few months between spring and summer of 2015.
On this record we went back to that initial feeling of freedom," Wyatt says. When we got together there was a lot of tension and it felt very loaded. We'd all had individual successes in our own lives. We didn't know if we were going to stay a band. But because of that it was easy to make the music. We had a lot on the line and that intensity allowed us to have bursts of creative energy that yielded some really cool things."
"One of our strengths is that when we find something good, we keep working on that without thinking too much about it," Winnberg adds. "You can't try too hard to mold it."
The new album, iii, wasn't crafted in one fell swoop. Instead, the musicians collaborated across space and time, meeting in Stockholm, Los Angeles and New York for short periods over almost two years. They brought in a variety of other musicians and producers into the studios with them, feeling more open to outside collaboration this time around. Each musician began with different songs, sometimes sending them back and forth digitally when they couldn't be together in one room.
"Heart Is Full," a buoyant, sparkling indie number tinged with hip-hop production, felt like a central starting point. The track comes specifically from Karlsson's musical sensibility. "The sound this song has is straight out of where I came from and what I still think is my own bible," he notes. "I'm just so excited to now have that piece be a part of the Miike Snow story." The disc's flagship single, "Genghis Khan," is a propulsive pop number with a bluesy edge, an aesthetic Wyatt wanted to explore further with Miike Snow. "Working with Mark Ronson opened me up to embracing that side of where I originally started out in music more," Wyatt says. "We've always had a bit of a soulful thing, but we as a band embraced it a little bit more now."
As a whole, the album feels resolutely like a Miike Snow project, defined both by the two efforts that have come before and by the collective work of the three musicians. The combination of the musicians is an electric one, as exemplified on the album and in their live shows. "I think we really weren't meant to be in the studio together and do music together and then we do and it just works," Karlsson reflects. "I think that's the whole magic with this band. We have so much trust and respect for each other. I do a lot of music and nothing comes together easier than Miike Snow. The pieces just fall into place." Winnberg adds, "It's just a fun process. Being in a band a lot of other things can be hard. But for us the music part tends to be the easy part."
What began as an idea, as an experiment, is now a full-fledged band, three albums deep into a career. Over the past eight years, their innovative sensibility has left a lingering impact on the state of music and shifted the way other artists approach pop music. It's also an example of what can happen when three very different artists come together on one platform with no expectations and a lot of trust. In some ways, "iii" is both a return to form and an expansion of what has come before. "It feels like we did a little excursion on album two and now we're back where we were on album one," Winnberg says. "It's the original Miike Snow sound, but taken to the next level."