Robyn on the record

Emma Lee Swedish singer Robyn is one of the most distinctive voices in pop. ahead of an eagerly-anticipated show in Norwich, Emma Lee speaks to her about going it alone musically.

Emma Lee

Swedish singer Robyn's number one hit, With Every Heartbeat, was one of last year's defining pop moments. Bittersweet and sophisticated, it showed that multi-octave warbling isn't mandatory for a ballad - take note, Mariah and co.

And for Robyn personally it was vindication that she had been right to trust her artistic instincts.

Although she might be a relatively new name to some, Robyn is, in fact, a music industry veteran. Born in Stockholm in 1979, she spent the first seven years of her life touring with her director father and actress mother in their theatre company.

She was talent-spotted (by Swedish pop singer Meja) at a school workshop at the tender age of 13 - she was singing a self-penned song about her parents' divorce - and ended up signed to the major label BMG.

In 1997 she scored an international hit with the R&B-infused Show Me Love (a song which has aged surprisingly well), but she became frustrated by her lack of creative control.

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She moved labels, and her new home wanted her to go down the Britney/Christina Aguilera route - but she wasn't keen.

Speaking from Stockholm ahead of a string of UK dates, including one at the UEA in Norwich on Wednesday, she explains that she felt like she only had one option - to cut the ties with her label and take creative control of her music and image.

“It [being spotted and signed at a young age] was what happened and it was great, exciting. But also it was hard to be a role model,” the softly-spoken singer says, choosing her words carefully.

“I decided to go back to Sweden to figure what I wanted to do. I came to the decision to start my own company,” she says.

It was a risk. But striking up a working partnership with brother-sister duo Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer, who go by the name The Knife, gave her the courage of her convictions. Musically they seemed to be on the same page, believing that music could be abstract and inventive without losing the pop sensibility. Like Bjork, Robyn's music effortlessly absorbs different genres, such as hip hop and electronica - there's not a hint of try-hard about it.

Having effectively bought herself off her label, they self-financed and released their work - and she became the chief executive and founder of Konichiwa Records.

She admits it's been a steep learning curve, and was a financial risk, but it's been worth it to stand up for what she believes in.

“If I hadn't started out early I don't know whether I would have taken that step. Musically it's been good - and the bad things about it are things that I can deal with and learn from,” she says.

As well as being artistically fulfilled, she believes that from the way the music industry has changed in the last few years - and how quickly it has been revolutionised by the internet - she got out at just the right time.

“I think the internet and websites like YouTube and MySpace are making it a lot more democratic - people can decide what they like for themselves. And the music gets out there quicker,” she says.

Her eponymous album, released last year, received unanimous acclaim - cool, ballsy, experimental, heart-breaking and incisive, you can't help hoping that one day all pop records will be like this. As well as With Every Heartbeat it's spawned a string of singles, including Be Mine and Who's That Girl.

Now she's heading back to the UK for some of her biggest-ever dates. It's something she says she's looking forward to.

“I've been on the road this whole year touring all over the world. I'm doing the biggest shows so far in England and it's going to be really nice to come back out and meet the crowd.

“British crowds are nice. They have been very nice to me. This album has been received incredibly well in the sense I have not had to change anything for this market. Ireland and Scotland are even more drunk than we are - it's crazy. London crowds are more reserved.”

Life on the road might sound exhausting, but for Robyn it's all one big adventure. She's had quite a nomadic life and you get the impression she'd get bored if she was in the same place for too long.

“I love being on the road, I grew up on the road. I'm from a theatre family,” she says. “If you want to be tired and bitter then touring will give you lots of reasons to be that. And if you decide to have fun, then it's a really exciting experience. You meet all these people, work in so many different countries.

“I like going to Australia, even though the trip there is a catastrophe every time I go. But you travel 30 hours and when you get there the weather's beautiful, the people are really nice and the nature is so amazing. I also like being in America. I feel at home and I spent a lot of time there when I was younger.

“I like places where they like me and I can do my thing,” she says.

t Robyn plays a sell-out gig at UEA in Norwich on Wednesday with support from Sam Sparro. For returns, telephone the box office on 01603 508050. Her album, Robyn, is out now.