How Robyn Found Herself In The Space Between The Notes After eight years away, Robyn's new album Honey has fans asking where she's been. The answer, as the Swedish singer tells NPR's Ari Shapiro: dancing her way to emotional clarity.
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How Robyn Found Herself In The Space Between The Notes

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How Robyn Found Herself In The Space Between The Notes

How Robyn Found Herself In The Space Between The Notes

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Swedish pop star Robyn makes music that you can dance and cry to at the same time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DANCING ON MY OWN")

ROBYN: (Singing) I keep dancing on my own. I keep dancing...

SHAPIRO: Her last full-length solo album "Body Talk" came out eight years ago. While the music gave her fans a soundtrack to navigate heartbreak and loss, Robyn was going through personal upheaval of her own - the end of a relationship, the sudden death of her longtime collaborator Christian Falk from pancreatic cancer.

ROBYN: He was a big part of my musical education. A lot of the music that I love - he's the one that played it to me the first time.

SHAPIRO: Those losses left Robyn alone and searching for direction, for sounds to express what she was feeling.

ROBYN: I didn't really feel like I had the tools to make that kind of music when I started to write again.

SHAPIRO: Now Robyn has released a new full-length album called "Honey." It sounds more open and more spare than her earlier music, but from the very first track, "Missing U," she weaves in those two familiar themes - dance and despair.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MISSING U")

ROBYN: (Singing) Now that it's over, the space where you used to be, your head on my shoulder...

It was a tough time, and it was, like, a time change for me. Like, I went through a lot of big changes and a lot of soul searching and just exploring new parts of myself kind of like a space trip but just inside instead of into space. Yeah, "Missing U" is a song that I wrote about some of those experiences I had during that time.

SHAPIRO: And so what do you get by pairing this heartbreaking sentiment in "Missing U" with this exuberant club beat?

ROBYN: I don't know...

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

ROBYN: ...What you get. I guess you get a song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MISSING U")

ROBYN: (Singing) There's this empty space you left behind. Now you're not here with me. I keep digging through our waste of time, but the picture's incomplete.

The harmonics have a particular kind of mood where I think pop music becomes really interesting, where it's, like, I guess soulful pop music in a way.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MISSING U")

ROBYN: (Singing) 'Cause I'm missing you.

You know, I didn't know what it was going to sound like, but I knew that I wanted to loosen things up a little bit and really dive into my love for dance music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MISSING U")

ROBYN: (Singing) All the love you gave - it still defines me.

SHAPIRO: It's interesting to me that you said you wanted to use this album to kind of dive into your love for dance music because when I listen to it, it sounds less dancey than some of your other things.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BABY FORGIVE ME")

ROBYN: (Singing) Here come the night.

SHAPIRO: You left openness and space and room rather than sort of filling it with with danceable beats every moment of every song.

ROBYN: Well, I guess that depends on what dance music is to you. To me, dance music is a lot of space actually for me at least to listen to other things than melodies.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BABY FORGIVE ME")

ROBYN: (Singing) Won't you give it a chance, baby, just one more try?

You kind of have to like where you're at at the moment. It's about, like, finding your groove and, like, letting whatever is happening in the music rhythmically kind of guide you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROBYN SONG, "BABY FORGIVE ME")

ROBYN: There was this feeling for me that I wanted to dive deeper into the things that have inspired me throughout my life. But also personally, I was in therapy, and I wanted to dive deeper into my personal growth as well, getting to know my own consciousness a little bit better.

SHAPIRO: I feel like you're reciting the lyrics to "Honey" right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HONEY")

ROBYN: (Singing) No, you're not going to get...

SHAPIRO: The ideas that you're talking about and the themes that you're describing seem very similar to the idea of, down in the deep, the current is stronger.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HONEY")

ROBYN: (Singing) Down in the deep, the current is stronger.

Yeah, well, yeah, it - to me, it makes sense, you know? It's, like, really what decided the way the album sounds is that I was in a space where I couldn't go back. And I didn't want to do what I did before, but I also - I was, you know, kind of sad, and I couldn't push through.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HONEY")

ROBYN: (Singing) No, you're not going to get what you need.

I didn't feel like making music. I don't know. I just wanted to I guess soothe myself, and that's how the music happened. Like, I did things that made me feel good, that made me feel better.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HONEY")

ROBYN: (Singing) I got your honey, baby. Can you open up to the pleasure, suck it up inside like a treasure, let the brightest place be your passion?

SHAPIRO: Your fans have a very intense relationship with you.

ROBYN: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: I would like to read an email auto-reply that a friend of mine put up last week. It says, thank you for your email. I may be unable to respond on Friday, October 26. My heart is being destroyed by Robyn's new album, "Honey," and I will do my best at pulling [expletive] together.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBYN: That's very sweet, very sweet.

SHAPIRO: What's it like to be on the receiving end of that intensity?

ROBYN: Amazing of course. I mean, there's nothing bad about it at all. It's just - I mean, I listen to music very intensely as well. I feel like, you know, when I listen to the artist that I really love, I feel like I know them. I feel like I understand what they're thinking about even though I've never met them or talked to them or - and that's what I think is amazing about music - that you don't need to know anything about the person who made the music because you get to know them through the little details and the nuances and the dynamics of the music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVER AGAIN")

ROBYN: (Singing) Come on. Let's have it out. Go ahead, and try your little crazy on me.

SHAPIRO: The album ends with this sentiment - never going to be broken-hearted ever again. Is that a hope or a promise or a delusion?

ROBYN: I think it's up to you. I mean, your heart is definitely going to be broken again sometime in your life. I mean, it's - that's very hard to avoid. But maybe the song is about, like, defiance or maybe how you decide to deal with it...

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

ROBYN: ...More than actually predicting the future.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVER AGAIN")

ROBYN: (Singing) Never going to let it happen. Then it won't be all for nothing. Oh, I swear I'm never going to be broken-hearted ever again.

SHAPIRO: You said that music helped make you feel good again. And when I hear from your fans on social media, so much of what they say is that now your music, whether it's "Missing U" or "Dancing On My Own," is serving the same function for them.

ROBYN: Well, I think that's what music does. I think music doesn't change the world, but I think music gives people, like, a break, you know, where they can recharge and then maybe change themselves, which is beautiful.

SHAPIRO: Well, Robyn, thank you so much for the music and for the conversation. I've really enjoyed talking with you about it.

ROBYN: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: Her new album is "Honey."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVER AGAIN")

ROBYN: (Vocalizing).

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