Little Dragon have been making music together for more than 15 years.
The band’s four members met as high school kids in Gothenburg, the Swedish art school city that birthed a whole generation of cool bands. At this year’s Bonnaroo, shortly after releasing their fourth album, Little Dragon’s vocalist Yukimi Nagano and drummer Erik Bodin talked about how they’ve managed to be both friends and business partners for all these years.
1. Check your ego.
“When we first got together, we argued a lot,” Nagano explained. “We were at that age, 18 or 19, where you’re trying to define yourself as a person. Everybody had bigger egos. So there were a lot more fights. That was cool at the time, but you can’t live your life like that. It’s too exhausting.”
2. Focus on making music, not how famous music can make you.
“Being in a band humbles you,” Nagano said. “Starting out, you get promised the world from a label. But all bands have ups and downs. The bands you were jealous of, you’ll see them come and go. So you have to be humble and appreciate the success you have. If you wanna stay in it for the long run, it’s better to focus on the music than the hype machine cycle. People that like music can get into the band. That’s something to appreciate, but the celebrity aspect of that is very come and go. It’s not like everyone’s thinking about you 24/7. We have our own lives and fans have their own lives.”
3. Split ALL the money equally.
“Split everything equal. Money, everything. We decided to do this before the first album” Nagano said. “It’s easy to doubt the approach, because in the industry there’s a standard that lyrics and melody earn 50%, and the other 50% goes to everyone else. So I could tell the band that I own 50% of everything, but there’s nothing fair about that. We all work equally hard.”
“We’re all lacking sleep,” Bodin continued. “We’re all equally tired, equally drunk, equally euphoric. So we should be equally broke as well. That’s really glued us together. It’s super boring, but it’s essential.”
4. But act just as much like friends as co-workers.
“It’s important to keep real friendships for the band to feel real. I hate when you see bands that are in it because they’re a brand or that’s how they earn their living, but they have nothing in common with the person next to them onstage,” Nagano said. “Being in a band is about growing together and being inspired by each other.”
5. Celebrate criticism.
“Being in a band, you have to work together,” Nagano said. “If it was just one person, maybe it’d be easier, because you could make all the decisions. But at the same time, you wouldn’t have other people challenging your ideas, your taste. Other people actually make you fight for your ideas and speak up for why you believe them.”
6. And cool off before discussing something important.
“It’s good to remind yourself to stay calm if you get irritated with somebody,” Bodin said. “Don’t talk in anger; cool off a little bit. When we were younger, here was a lot of heat all the time. But when you’re exhausted, you don’t really get to the point you wanted to make anyway.”
7. Invite everyone to come along, always.
“Traveling can be very lonely. The only thing that makes you feel at home are your friends, and if they’re gone, you’re like, ‘Why am I in Miami right now? Where am I going?’,” Bodin said.
“It’s not nice to wake up on tour bus by yourself and everyone’s gone and it’s 3 p.m.,” Nagano continued. “So it’s always nice,even when people don’t want to go, to ask if they want to come along for breakfast or whatever. Even if it’s a project when it’s a lot of people.”
8. And have regular, informal, meetings.
“A cookout is good. Make a bunch of food. We do that on an off day: the crew and band set up a grill, everyone hangs out,” Nagano said.
9. Don’t stay away from home too long.
“Try to be home just as much as you are away,” Bodin said. “There are times that we’ve been away for three months solid, and then you come home like a stranger.”
10. But seek out partners that respect your dedication to music.
“I’m married, I have kids. I was lucky to find somebody who really gets what I’m doing and doesn’t feel like cheated on by the music, and all the time I spend on myself and the music,” Bodin said.
“An album release is really intense, but you can make it short,” Nagano said. “During that time, it’s good to have a partner who understand what you’re doing.”
11. Rely on more than one leader.
“Everyone in our band could be a good leader,” Nagano said. “Everyone has a strong personality. So it’s about learning to step back and appreciate the other.”
12. Find a core purpose.
“We didn’t decide together, ‘This is how our music is gonna be, always, now you play your role and I play my role,’” Bodin said. “But we all share the same wish for how music should be and feel. We really want it to be free and open doors for anybody to do things they want. That is some kind of very honest friendship,”
13. And always work to make each other better, even if it’s hard.
“Being in the studio is a kind of struggle,” Nagano said. “But it’s a good struggle. It’s a comforting struggle. It can be scary when you don’t have the struggle. You have to challenge each other and do something different, even if it’s hard.”