If Robyn’s last album, Body Talk, was dressed up in robots and the mechanical, then Honey is warmer and sweeter, a sensual record about being human that starts from a place of loss and grief, and emerges ecstatically and joyfully into the light. “I danced a lot when I was making it,” says Robyn. “I found a sensuality and a softness that I don't think I was able to use in the same way before. Everything just became softer.”
Though she has spent the time in between records working almost constantly, curating remixes of her own songs, on side-projects and collaborations with friends, this is the first time she’s back as simply Robyn since she finished the long period of touring that followed the huge international success of Body Talk. By 2014, she began thinking about making a new record, but her confidence wasn’t what it had been. “I wanted to make an album, but I couldn’t,” she says. “I didn't know how to make an album. I didn't know what kind of music it was supposed to be. It just felt really pushed and contrived.” She says she wasn’t even sure that she would make another album at all. “I was at a point where I didn't want to write more sad love songs. I really felt like I was getting tired of my own life,” she laughs. “I’m over this!”
On a personal level, the years following Body Talk were tumultuous. “When I was making this album, it wasn't a really happy time of my life, so my self-confidence wasn't at its best,” she explains. “It was an intense, dealing-with-shit time. I was scattering everything, from so many angles at the same time, throwing everything up in the air and seeing where the pieces were going to land.” While she remained musically prolific, releasing collaborations with Royksopp, Kindness, Mr Tophat and the La Bagatelle Magique EP, among others, she realised she needed time to figure out the kind of music she wanted to produce for herself. Missing U, the first single, is the first song on the album; it’s also the first song she wrote for it. It began as a song about a break-up, pre-empting the end of a long relationship. And then Christian Falk, her friend, collaborator and La Bagatelle Magique bandmate, died, after a short period of illness.
“And it became about that instead. He got sick really quickly and it all just happened within six months. I went through this break-up right after, and I was also in therapy. It was kind of a psychedelic time for me. I really felt a little bit crazy,” she recalls. Missing U is a song about loss, but it’s a generous song, too, about being grateful for what you were left with when somebody is no longer there. “When I started putting the pieces together, it became this amazing release. Something that didn't feel sad to me at all.” The video, a mini-documentary which sees Robyn visiting fans at a club night in New York dedicated to her, is a testament to its openness. “To me it was really personal and very intimate, but this video kind of came as a rescue, to make it about the fans instead, and maybe have it be a song where people put their own meaning into it.”
Missing U’s striking opening arpeggio made her certain that it should be the first new Robyn song people should hear. “I love that sound. I love thinking that's the first thing people will hear. It has an irregular rhythm and it feels really bright. Like this whoosh of light.” Metronomy’s Joseph Mount, who worked across the album, had brought it to Robyn at an early session at his studio in Paris, back in 2014. They worked on sketches of three songs that in time would become Missing U, Human Being and Because It’s In the Music. “Joseph and I had an amazing pow-wow in the beginning,” she says, but knew that for the record to become what it could be, she needed to try a different approach. She returned to Stockholm and holed up in her studio for a year, working, for the first time completely on her own.
“I knew I was in such a sensitive place, that if I would have done it with someone else, it wouldn't have happened. I had such a strong urge to shut the door and be by myself,” she says. She listened to music she loved and made lo-fi beats that she would later flesh out. She credits this time with suggesting the softness of the record. “Because I was not pushing myself or looking at myself from the outside, I was really just in my own feeling.” That period also gave her the space to conjure up the hypnotic rhythms that became the backbone of Honey. “I wasn't as involved in the production before as I have been on this record, so a big part of why I wanted to start on my own was because I had an idea of production that I kind of knew I needed time to figure out.” It helped that her studio also had a rehearsal space. For weeks at a time, she would dance to the records she loved, moving her body to house and techno and disco music.
“It was a lot about the rhythm. I wanted it to have a groove. I made this disco EP with my friend Mr Tophat, so I was really inspired by disco music and Michael Jackson’s early demos for the Thriller album and for Off the Wall, and how a lot of that dance music that's older, more disco or funk, has the exact same feel or theory as house music and techno music, where there's a rhythm that's just hypnotic. That’s what I got off on. That's how I got started. I would spend days or weeks just feeling stuff. Not really making music, just getting inspired by listening to other things or dancing.”
While dance music and nightlife have always inspired her, you can feel the rhythms of the club pulsing through Honey. On Human Being, the darkest song on the record, she pleads for human connection, for someone not to give up on her, and finds solace in dancing: “Move your body closer to mine”. On the rapturous disco of Because It’s In the Music, dancing to a familiar song takes her to the heart of a happy memory: “I wonder when you hear it, do you get the same feeling?”
Having spent a year in the studio, dancing it out, Robyn started to collaborate again. She went back and forth between Stockholm and Mount’s studio in Paris, wrote Baby Forgive Me with her friend Mr Tophat in Sweden and spend time DJ-ing with him in Ibiza, where she also wrote the sunny, celebratory Beach 2k20 (“I wrote it about what can happen in a place like Ibiza, where it's warm and you don't have to plan anything, you can just be super open to whatever happens.”) She worked with Adam Bainbridge, aka Kindness, in New York and London, on Send To Robin Immediately (so called because that’s what Robyn demanded Bainbridge do as soon as she heard it).
The track, which marks the album’s midpoint, samples Lil Louis’ French Kiss. “It's one of my favourite songs ever. Adam slowed it down and made it something else. I'm really happy that song is on the album, because it's also a little bit of a break. It references the dance music that I was so obsessed with, the repetitiveness, the hypnotic rhythms.” She also worked with Zhala, who she had signed to Konichiwa records. She wrote the brilliant new-love rush of Between the Lines with Klas Ahlund, her long-time collaborator, “almost as a freestyle, that just came in one go.”
The songs came together, loosely, in the order in which they appear on the album, giving a sense of chronology but also emotional expansion and change. In the period between Body Talk and Honey, Robyn went through a long period of psychoanalysis, three or four times a week, for several years. “I always made music from a happy place, but because I started so early, it was a real trip for me to figure out what it was that I wanted to do,” she says. “I really loved being in psychoanalysis. It has a bad rep, but it's such an open space to explore anything you want. I felt it being so unrigid and experimental in a way I didn't expect. I learned new things about myself. Then it became this really inspiring, amazing place where I could be in sync with myself and understand myself better and heal a lot of my relationships. It was like going back to square one with everything.”
That feeling of rejuvenation runs through Honey, from its newfound softness to its determined examination of - and movement away from - sadness. The title track, which follows Send To Robyn Immediately, is the moment at which the record begins to rush towards the light. The idea for it began when Robyn pressed two buttons at the same time on an old Casio synth. She loved the accidental beat and bassline that appeared, and worked on the loop for a long time without quite getting what the song should be. But she had been thinking about the word ‘honey’ for a long time, and eventually, the two came together. “It has all this mythology around it. In Egypt, it was something they used in making mummies, so it was connected to death. There's psychedelic honey in Peru which you can trip your head off. I found a place for the word in that song where I had put in all this time, with this beat, that was just about this rhythm. I kept writing the melodies and then one day it just happened.”
Of course Honey was going to be the title track. It’s everything Honey the album has turned out to be. “Honey, to me, was the feeling of sensuality and softness, and all the things I was growing in the studio, like a garden,” says Robyn. “This sweet place, like a very soft ecstasy. Something that's so sensual, and so good.”