Interview: The Cardigans' Nina Persson

Charismatic frontwoman on getting older, country music and Tom Jones

Ahead of The Cardigans’ Shanghai show, charismatic frontwoman Nina Persson talks to Time Out about getting older, her love of country music and why working with Tom Jones was so crazy

‘It’s dangerous to meet your heroes,’ The Cardigans’ frontwoman Nina Persson tells us. She’s talking about her desire to meet Neil Young, but she may as well be cautioning us directly. ‘What about phone interviews with sultry lead singers you had a hopeless crush on as a teenager?’ we resist the urge to ask.

Most men of a certain age had a bit of a thing for Persson when The Cardigans burst onto the scene in ’96 with breakthrough single ‘Lovefool’ – which became an international hit after appearing on the soundtrack to Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet adaptation. The ’98 follow-up album Gran Turismo – featuring the tender, hooky ‘Erase/Rewind’ and infectious ‘My Favourite Game’ (with its irresistible ‘eh-oh’ chorus) – was also a big commercial success for the band.

A lot has changed in the 15 years since, but The Cardigans’ output has been relatively limited: 2003’s mellow, country-laden Long Before Daylight and the darker, broody Super Extra Gravity in 2005 are the band’s only LPs since. So why the long wait? It’s the standard set of rock ‘n’ roll obstacles; needing time between records. ‘We’re not very prolific, we need time to get inspired – babies and, of course, solo projects,’ says Persson.

Although not as commercially successful, Persson’s side project A Camp was critically well-received; especially the eponymous debut record, which was hailed as a return to the basic songcraft of earlier Cardigans albums. In fact it’s Persson’s early country-influenced, rawer recordings with A Camp that influenced the direction of The Cardigans’ later records. ‘When I discovered country music it was quite a big awakening,’ she says. ‘I had been quite minimalist before but I was moved by how tear wrenching it is and how country allows for larger feelings.’

There have been plenty of collaborations during The Cardigans’ downtime, with Persson contributing her distinctively soft, almost demure Nordic vocals to a UK number two single by the Manic Street Preachers and the Sparklehorse and Danger Mouse collaborative effort Dark Night of the Soul; an album also featuring contributions from the likes of Julian Casablancas, The Flaming Lips and filmmaker/musician David Lynch.

Although Persson refuses to a pick a favourite collaboration – ‘it’s just the best job because you get to meet these great people’ she says – it’s her reminiscing of work with Tom Jones that has Persson enthusing the most: ‘He was just amazing. I mean, [the experience was] a little crazy. He’s such an icon... and he’s really friendly, warm and smart. And he knew Elvis Presley; that’s pretty heavy.’

So Persson’s hardly resting on her laurels, then. But can we expect new material from The Cardigans anytime soon? ‘We’re not going to make new music for a while,’ she says. ‘We probably will at some point... [but] it’s not even in the pipeline for us [right now]. This tour is more for fun, we’ve never been to China before as a band, so when we realised we could get that opportunity we were super excited.

‘I’m the only one in the band who’s been to China, but that was more than ten years ago. I know that it has to be incredibly different now because there’s been so much change during that time – I’m sure that Beijing and Shanghai are not going to look like they did when I was there last.’

Indeed, as those in our fair city can testify, a lot can change in a decade. But where does Persson think she’ll be in another ten years’ time? ‘I’ve just finished recording a solo record, coming out at the beginning of next year, so that’s the next thing that I’m going to do,’ she explains. ‘I’ve recently been starting to think I would like to make a record in Swedish – a bigger part of my identity is Swedish rather than English – that would be a fun way to move on a little.

‘I think we’ll probably call it a day some time but I’m not sure if that will be in ten years’ time. I’m pretty amazed that I’m almost 40 and still doing my old pop group. So if we can still do it now, I can’t see why we can’t do it in ten years.’

The Cardigans play The Mixing Room & MUSE on Saturday 30 November. See full event details

Lee Williamson