When Saints Go Machine on Working With Killer Mike and Recording in English

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Danish quartet When Saints Go Machine have made a name for themselves in the past few years thanks to their supple, kaleidoscopic approach to music. Their sound fluidly touches on any number of approaches, from elegant ballads to rough-edged rave and hip-hop compositions, all connected by the engaging, beautiful falsettos from singer Nikolaj Manuel Vonsild. Their latest album Infinity Pool continues what’s already been a compelling run of releases, featuring excellent singles in “Love and Respect” and “Iodine.” The former song also features a high profile, surprising guest: Killer Mike, who delivers a celebration of inspirations and peers over the band’s skillful, propulsive arrangement. Hive recently spoke with Vonsild  to find out more about that collaboration and their approach to recording these days.

Does When Saints Go Machine often surprise itself or do you find yourself reaching for clear goals when you record?

I think it just happens when we start writing a song for the four of us. During the process, a song should have a signature sound -- a choir, a dragging sound, something. If we use drums, we’re thinking of classic records, searching for a classic break or sound. We’ve always tried for that, and all four of us are producers as well! In this regard, we’ve thought through things a lot harder on this album.

Does your work emerge from collective experimentation, individual contributions or something else entirely?

We all have different opinions and think differently, but if we all have a feeling, it’s going on the album. All the vocals I recorded in my living room, some recorded very late at night. A lot of times we tried to keep the same feeling in the way we recorded them, sometimes a clear feeling, sometimes a lot of reverb rolled into the song. Whatever fits the song best.

The question to record in English always seems potentially fraught for any non-Anglophonic bands -- but was this ever much of a question for you? Is it simply natural to record this way?

We never really think of ourselves as a Danish band, having to sing in Danish or something similar. One of the first songs I ever got was a local rap release -- it sounded like Sugar Hill Records in Danish, didn’t really fit my attitude! Meantime there was also a lot of what my parents listened to as well, especially a lot of reggae.

The Killer Mike collaboration was fascinating both as an album start and first single, given he almost seems to be the lead performer. How did the collaboration come about, and do you have anything similar planned in the near future? Related to that, who would you most enjoy remixing among current artists?

We’re interested in a lot of different artists, as long as we’re fans! “Love and Respect” was something I wrote initially for another group of mine. The idea of ‘love and respect’ almost seems like a cliché, something we’d normally hate, but then it all came together. We thought it would be really fun to have a rapper on the track and Killer Mike came up; we really love his work. It was all pretty boring how it came together -- we contacted his label, met him at a show of his in Copenhagen and he recorded his part in Atlanta. But you can still feel his presence in the room when you hear it. I’ve never been to the South, but it feels like he’s a preacher!

A friend who is a trained singer really enjoys your music and thought he heard the influence of medieval singing forms like madrigals in your work. Would this be accurate?

In Denmark the cultural heritage is Protestant, but I wouldn’t say there’s anything in that heritage that directly inspired us. Still, sometimes, it gives us a reference point. But with my vibrato singing, it’s just something that you feel inside you, and I’m much more inspired by blues, singles from the early 1990s, much more. The four of us share music all the time! If I was to name one singer it would have to be Nick Cave. I’m a huge fan of his approach to working each day, nine to five. That kind of work ethic satisfies me.

Infinity Pool is out now via !K7.