Nina Persson is most famous for singing one memorable phrase: “Love me, love me, say that you love me.” The song, “Lovefool,” by the Swedish band the Cardigans, was a huge hit in 1997. Close your eyes and you can see Persson in the video, a cooing pixie adrift at sea.
Twelve years later, we are sipping tea in the living room of the airy Harlem rowhouse Persson and her husband, former Shudder to Think guitarist Nathan Larson, have spent over a year renovating. Persson still affects a pixieish style and she remains the lead singer of the Cardigans, but pretty much everything else has changed. For one thing, she’s no longer a pop star in America; the Cardigans’ brand of music—which tends to mask quasi-masochistic tales of love in a lush, alt-rock package—isn’t, as it turns out, all that Top-40 friendly outside of Europe. But that’s provided time to develop a side project, A Camp, a trio that includes Larson and fellow Swede Niclas Frisk (another nineties survivor, formerly of Atomic Swing). “I still like being a singer only,” says Persson of the Cardigans. “But I needed something in addition to that, a bigger field to play on”—which includes collaborating with her husband. “We’d never see each other if we didn’t,” Larson says. “When we write, we aren’t very much a married couple,” Persson adds. “We can come up with the nastiest shit without wondering where the other got it from!”
The songs on the group’s second album, Colonia, are orchestrated with horns, winds, strings, and chorus, reflecting the trio’s desire “to be maximalist—more in-your-face. It’s been a decade of irony and having to feel like you must hide behind something,” says Persson, who will perform with A Camp on Tuesday at Bowery Ballroom. She describes all her music as a balance between Scandinavian melancholy and melodic soundscapes. “Pop music is like a Trojan horse. Push it into anyone’s living room and people will be like, ‘Aw, cute!’ But just wait—little, unexpected things come out and save you … or kill you.” Spoken like a true Swede.