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We Spoke to Neneh Cherry and Robyn About Their Collaboration

"Out of the Black" is hopefully just the beginning for Robyn and Neneh Cherry.

by Elissa Bradley
Mar 30 2014, 8:52pm

This week we premiered the glorious new video from Buffalo girl Neneh Cherry featuring Robyn, for "Out of the Black" on You Need To Hear This. To get the lowdown on this new dream team we called them up to chat about dancing around in raincoats for the visuals and being destined to work together.

Hey guys! So when did you start working on the track?

Neneh: Robyn and I wanted to do something together; we’d talked about it before this album came around. With "Out of the Black" I did a writing spell with Cameron—my husband—and Paul Sim and a few other people. "Out of the Black" was one of the tracks that came out of that during an intensive writing period. I had really bad stomach poisoning while we were writing. I was throwing up every other verse when I was trying to sing it! So that was two years ago, then actually we went in the studio, and "Out of the Black" was the track that was begging for Robyn. I mean, I wanted her to be on the record if she wanted to do it but we didn’t know which track and I might have picked another track, or had another track in my head but "Out of the Black" was the one that I had a bit of a funny time with, and I just couldn’t quite nail it, and that’s because I was needing Robyn. That’s quite lame to say!

Was the track recorded in London or Sweden?

Neneh: Well Robyn was recorded in Sweden.

Robyn: You had already done everything with the album, so everything was there.

Neneh: So basically, I sent the track over to Robyn and she listened, and thank God she wanted to do it. We had a nice meeting on a late sunny afternoon in Stockholm and talk about maybe how we could work on it together.

Robyn: It was such a nice afternoon. We had a glass of wine; it was late summer and we sitting by the water in Stockholm and just had a whole afternoon of talking. It was super. Super nice! And for me, to get the question was a no-brainer; of course I’d do it! I’ll do whatever you want! But the song made it even nicer because it’s such a sensitive and really naked lyric. I think the whole song is very vulnerable and it felt really like an honor to be on that particular track.

Do you take a lot of inspiration from each other’s music and style?

Robyn: Well I grew up listening to Neneh. When I was ten years old I heard "Raw Like Sushi" for the first time. I was at my friend’s country house for the summer and the only thing we did was play poker and listen to "Raw Like Sushi"!

Neneh: That makes me want to cry! And you know Robyn is really big. She makes me hopeful and happy. I find her deeply inspirational, I cry when I see her on stage. I feel a very strong bond. It’s been interesting, because doing the track together we’d known each other a little bit for quite a long time but it’s been a relief getting to know each other better while we’ve been doing this, because when you just have a connection with someone, it’s just there.

Robyn: I feel the same. We met this one time a long, long time ago when I was 17 or 18, and we had mutual friends who we’d met in London. I came by your house and I know your sister a little bit, every time we’ve met it’s always been a nice, special thing. It’s cool when it all comes around and is a natural thing and it happens in a natural way.

Neneh: I think with "Out of the Black", it was actually Kieran [Hebden, of Four Tet], when we were in the studio recording and one of the only tracks I was having a bit of a fight with was "Out of the Black" because we recorded most of the other tracks live, he was like “I think I can really hear Robyn’s voice on this track. I might’ve gone for one of the ones that were more up, going upwards in another way. But I’m really glad that we met in a song that’s more gentle and as you [Robyn] said, really vulnerable and deeper in a way. I was talking to a journalist the other day that said, “oh my friend was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t a big feminist pop anthem” and I said “well yeah exactly, that’s why we didn’t do that!” It would’ve been a bit too fucking crass! I’m glad that it’s not that! It’s another kind of anthem.

Robyn: To me, it just felt like such a personal song from your world and the first time you work together, it always takes time to tune in to each other’s world. So for me, it was so nice to come on to something that you had already made and that it was you and it was so naked that I could just surf on top of it. The song is so simple and so strong, you don’t want to mess with it too much you just want it to be there the way it is.

Neneh: To me there was something really missing, so to me it was like when Robyn came and wrote her verses it was the bit missing in the spine that was going to keep the back straight. There was a twist and bend and crook in the spine so it put all of the ducks in a row.

Robyn: Thank you!

Neneh: No, thank you!

Robyn: It’s all love, as you can hear.

Neneh: Now we have this kooky video.

Indeed! What was the concept behind the video?

Neneh: The guy who made it, Dario, who also goes by 241-24-7, he’s actually a friend of my oldest daughter Naima. He’d been in touch with my daughter a while ago about wanting to do something. He’s a very conceptually inspired, digital artist. He’s quite quirky and in a way, he just seemed to fit the bill of doing something that was going to be sensitive to who we were and the song, and just making it playful and bright, but also a very smart video. A lot of it’s been done in post-production but it’s also very simple. In a weird sort of way, it’s like a futuristic Buffalo Stance video but without trying to go back and recreate. It’s very artistic but very simple.

Robyn: I love that it has this relentless energy and he just seemed to be so excited to do it. You can that it when you look at his website, it’s chaotic but it’s positive like he is. He’s such a cool guy; it was great to work with him. Everything was so spontaneous, that evening we just messed up this warehouse place. We set everything up and it almost didn’t happen because of flights that were cancelled. But we all showed up...

Neneh:...One day late!

Robyn: It was like the video shoot was the way it looks, everything happening at once but a positive vibe. I love that because the song is so serious in a way, it’s really nice that the video is not so heavy. It has the same energy as the drums, in a way messy, but so positive. It’s good I love it. And I loved just dancing with you!

Neneh: One of my favorite bits was when you see the white backdrop behind, and it’s just us in these two weird raincoats just dancing around. Everything that was around us was put in in post-production we were just standing in front of white paper. It was a beautiful night. I think we were meant to start it in the morning of that day, I think it was a Saturday, but we ended up starting it at 8 o’clock at night but it was just amazing. Dario, when we turned up with his little video camera. We just did it and we were done by about 12.30/1 o’clock in the morning. The last thing we did was weird, lying on our knees puking up green liquid. I think the vibe was positive and really fun. We had a lot of fun. Like Robyn said, he was a lot of fun to work with. He’s an ex-assistant of Chris Cunningham, and he used to work for Damien Hirst as well, so he’s had some serious schooling, but he’s absolutely enthusiastic. He kept going, “I’m so excited!” It’s just so infectious, being around someone like that. In comparison, everyone just seemed blasé and jaded. He was so much fun! He’s worked so hard in post-production, we were just there [on the shoot] for a few hours, but he’s been really going at it, putting a lot of hours into the imagery and getting it right.

And how was working with Four Tet?

Neneh: He produced the whole album and Joe Goddard of Hot Chip produced the remix of the track. We were hand in hand. It was a very close, intimate and natural vibe. So I just felt really able to open up with him and feel completely safe. I think it made me able to go into a place that is more vulnerable and less manipulated by my brain constantly, into maybe a more soulful, naked place with him. It was a close exchange. We were all together in the studio that she works in here in Stockholm, and Robyn put her vocals on and then he took that track and went back into the studio where we recorded the album, in Woodstock, upstate New York. He wanted to mix everything in the same room, in the same way. As we recorded each track, he’d mix them and I’ve never worked with anyone who does it like that before. So at the end of the week we had a mixed album. He remixed the first track he did, and of course he went in and did "Out of the Black", just so that it would be one thing, all together.

Finally, do you two have any plans to work together again?

Neneh & Robyn: Yes please!

Neneh: I’ll come over and do anything you want me to do on your track. I think I want to rap on one of Robyn’s tracks. We’re not finished, I don’t think I’m finished with you!

Robyn: It’s just the beginning.

Elissa Bradley believes life is one big dream collaboration. Follow her on Twitter - @ElissaKB

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