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Interview: Karl X Johan

Karl X Johan, the Stockholm duo of Johan Tuvesson and Kalle Jönsson, emerged in 2010 with "Flames," a monumental play on "The Untouchables Theme" by Ennio Morricone that won them the Swedish Grammy for the year's best video. Their 2011 followup "Fantasies" was maybe even more affecting, and the pair have kept the single-a-year pace going since, refining their sound a bit each time. "Never Leave Me," their recent 2013 effort, is a beguiling love song that's like a macro bowl smashup of Air France-y Swedish pop and the duo's surprise inspiration, Popcaan. The single is out now on iTunes via Emotion, the fantastic label Tuvesson helps run. I spoke to both members over Skype from Jönsson's apartment.

Stream: Karl X Johan, "Never Leave Me"

Johan, I first heard you when you sang for Nicolas Makelberge, and at first I thought Karl X Johan sounded kind of similar. Do you think Karl X Johan becomes more distinct with every release? TUVESSON: I can’t speak for Nicolas, but that was much more Italo disco, with a retro feel. We’re not influenced by that at all. We don’t even like synth pop, it’s not a term we like and we’re trying to get as far away from that as possible—as far away as two white guys can. Not that I dislike Makelberge in any way, but things have to evolve. We’re really trying to get influenced by new stuff and bring that in in a natural way. Of course it still has to sound like us.

You've announced that your debut album will come out on April 29th, 2014. How did you choose that specific, far-off date? TUVESSON: It’s a Tuesday, which is when our distributor releases stuff. We just picked a Tuesday that looked good. It’s a serious date, and the album will be out on the 29th of April. We just didn’t want to say, Oh, it’ll come out this fall, because it won’t. We just wanted to be up front and honest, so it’s not a scam. JÖNSSON: It’s realistic. It seemed like a good date. TUVESSON: The idea is it will be all new songs.

Do you have day jobs to tide you over? JÖNSSON: I work at a telephone company. You call in when you want a number or anything at all and I answer—I forget what’s it’s called in English. Telephone operator. TUVESSON: I work at a union. I studied law, and it’s mostly legal, very bureaucratic work.

What's the ideal place to listen to Karl X Johan? JÖNSSON: In crappy headphones. TUVESSON: Loud. JÖNSSON: If the music sounds good in those, we’ve made it.

Hip-hop seems to be a big influence on your music, approached on a sort of poppy slant. What type of music do you listen to? TUVESSON: Hip-hop is the only influence, really. JÖNSSON: Of new music, we only listen to American hip-hop, and then we listen to old music. TUVESSON: The main thing for this track at least was dancehall music, Popcaan and Vybz Kartel. We thought everyone would say, “Oh, this sounds like Popcaan!” but nobody does. They just say, “Oh, this sounds like synth pop with a little Balearic touch.” But that’s probably better than if they saw right through us. This is Popcaan music. JÖNSSON: We’ll have to do a song more like “Only Man She Want.” TUVESSON: Nobody else is influenced by this in Stockholm, so it’s a good feeling. We really like that raw emotion of pop dancehall. We don’t always agree with the lyrics, but it doesn’t matter because the feeling is so pure.

Interview: Karl X Johan