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Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano On Psychedelics, Isolation And Connection

One would think that, in the midst of a global pandemic where most of us are living in a state of forced isolation, a sense of dread and impending doom may cloud our everyday lives and interactions. Pessimism and hopelessness abound, and it gets harder and harder to stay positive.

But it is in times like these where we turn to our artists for comfort. Art can give us that little ray of sunshine we need to get through another grim day. And this is exactly what we can get from one of Little Dragon’s latest tracks, “Are You Feeling Sad?”

Aided by Kali Uchis’ unique voice, the song repeats like a mantra: “You’re gonna be alright”.

Interested in what inspired this piece, the collaboration, and more, we caught up with Yukimi Nagano, Little Dragon’s vocalist and songwriter. In a long conversation, we spoke about creativity in an isolated world, psychedelics, and connecting with other fellow artists and humans.

Are You Feeling Sad?

The band’s single was released on March 4th, right when the world began to feel the effects of what would become one of the worst pandemic crises in recorded history. It’s part of their latest album, New Me, Same Us, which debuted later that same month.

The themes for the whole album seem to resonate with humanity’s current situation. But according to Little Dragon’s songwriter, these are not new feelings: “I think that a lot of things that everybody is dealing with during these times have brought up a lot of questions that I’ve been dealing with.” The process of writing the album was plagued with existential reflections about who Yukimi is, and who Little Dragon is, as a band.

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But these themes of “change and death and living in the moment” were prevalent even before the coronavirus was an issue, Yukimi says.

“And, oddly enough, these are quite difficult but important questions; everyone’s been there. These are bringing everyone’s attention through this difficult time, which was kind of a blessing in a way as well.”

Granted, “Are You Feeling Sad?” was produced before the pandemic started. But its lyrics and themes seem particularly relevant today. As one might expect, COVID-19 has driven a marked surge in anxiety and depression, both in America and all over the world.

Meant To Be

Yukimi says that it feels as if it was meant to be, and the timing of the launch was not coincidental at all.

“It was kind of crazy, but I think that we’re faced with fear and worries… except that we have all these things, whether there’s a quarantine or not, to deal with, within ourselves.”

That being said, the track just wouldn’t be the same without Kali Uchis’ input, says Little Dragon’s singer. “Creatively, what she added to the song just really brought the whole track up on the whole, to a whole nother level… It was a dance track, it was a kind of very uplifting feeling. But also I wanted to have a bit of a lullaby type of vibe to it. And I think that Kali Uchi and her lyrics just tied everything together.

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“We’re just big fans of her. We really like her expression,” she continues. “She seemed super cool. It’s always fun when you get to work with someone that you respect.”

‘It’s All About Connection’

Saying that Little Dragon has been around is a bit of an understatement. The band was formed in Sweden in 1996, and even though it took them almost ten years to release their first LP, they gained prominence in the European indie scene of the late 2000s.

In all their years, they experimented with many genres and artists: “We are music lovers, music nerds in the band. We love all kinds of different music,” Yukimi declares. This is crucial to their glaring ability to create art with so many different artists, from so many different backgrounds and styles, from EDM to hip-hop.

In fact, the collaboration with Kali Uchis is only the latest in a long list of features Little Dragon has under its wing, which includes renowned artists such as Big Boi, Flying Lotus, SBTRKT and De La Soul, among others.

Perhaps their most famed collaboration took place in 2010, when they participated in Gorillaz’s album Plastic Beach and toured with the band. Yukimi recalls that experience fondly, noting that the best part of touring was connecting “with so many other artists… Also just to see his (Damon Albarn’s) studio and see his process was fun.”

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But, again, Yukimi repeats, it’s all about connection.

“It really is about the soul of the person, and the moment and the energy that you have with them. So I can mention an artist that I love, but at the same time, I might not necessarily want to work with them. Maybe what they do is perfect the way they do it.” So it wouldn’t even have to be someone she personally loves or admires: “It really could be anybody. Someone completely unknown, or a musician friend.”

Tripping With Respect

With more than two decades of touring, writing music and collaborating with other musicians under their belts, Little Dragon’s members are bound to have amassed a plethora of experiences. Unsirprisingly, these include numerous experiences with cannabis and psychedelics, backed by a lack of prejudice and an understanding of the therapeutic properties of them both.

Having said this, Yukimi clarifies she does not consume either regularly, in spite of them being frequently around her while on tour. However, she continues, psicotropic substance have become part of her life to some extent.

“I enjoy weed from time to time, but don’t make a habit out of it,” she explains.

Similar es her approach to psychedelics: cautious. In fact, she describes it as one of careful planning and respect.

Yukimi enjoys microdosing magic mushrooms, but only under very special circumstances.

“I like to plan that out. And I have a lot of respect for it… I think that a good trip can last a while if you have a lot to reflect on,” she explains. “Those are the trips that I have had to reflect on and deal with and think about. And they’ve lasted with me. So it’s not something that I feel like I want to do on the regular.”

Furthermore, Yukimi emphasizes the importance of the set and setting for having a psychedelic experience: “I really like to have the right day in the right mood and be in the right place.”

That being said, psychedelics can also be a tool for creativity and for healing, she continues.

The singer has used psychedelics to focus while writing, always in a controlled setting. She has never taken psychedelics as a “party drug,” and says she did a lot of research before even trying them.

“I was on a very deep soul searching journey with myself. (There were) a lot of changes in my life and I started reading a lot about the benefits and the insights of psychedelics.”

So her curiosity got the best of her, aided by the growing accessibility to new information on the subject. Her budding interest was met by more and more data on the therapeutic properties of psychedelics and cannabis becoming available.

This insight, accompanied by her own innate taste for the surreal, prompted her to finally try psychedelics.

“I’m really drawn to surrealism, and was drawn to art that is very psychedelic without even having tried psychedelics. So I knew it was going to be appealing, but I think I was also interested in the more introspective and very deep emotional work as well,” she says.

Eventually, Yukimi was able to get her own kit for growing magic mushrooms and began experimenting, alone or with company, to further this emotional work that her soul craved. And thus began her beautiful and respectful relationship with these substances, born out of curiosity and search for self discovery.

But sadly, her enthusiasm is not shared by her fellow countrymen and women. According to the artist, most people in Sweden are “very tragically” not open to exploring potential therapies based on psychedelics and cannabis.

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Aknowledging that her native country is quite progressive in many ways, she adds, “when it comes to drugs, it’s actually quite crazy how conservative it is.”

Reflecting on the hypocrisy of most societies, she criticizes how “people in Sweden get drunk insane on the weekends and act like zombies,” but then frown upon a little bit of cannabis, unlike more progressive and open-minded places like the U.S. states of Colorado and California, where “people are just so relaxed. It’s not a big deal.”

‘Home Is the Most Exotic Place’

Even in spite of the limitations of her home country when it comes to cannabis and psychedelics, Yukimi believes that (as Dorothy once said) there is no place like home. Especially in this context, where we’re all clinging to what feels safe and familiar, “home is the most exotic place.

“It’s the place where I want to be the most,” she voices.

Nonetheless, Yukime admits to enjoying the downtime to write and to reflect, whether at home or in nature.

It should be noted that Sweden is not under strict quarantine rules. This means the band still has access to its recording studio.

But this doesn’t mean she’s not careful: “I try to stay away from doing anything with a lot of people, but we can still go to the studio, which I’m very grateful for. So I’m working on my studio setup at home.”

It comes as no surprise that, at a time like this, many musicians and artists are filling the empty hours with new creations. And Little Dragon is no exception: “We’re working on a lot of new stuff and collaborations. We got a lot of things in the making. So it just seems like a very creative time.”

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One upside of the global pandemic is that it’s much easier to collaborate with other artists, she explains. “You know, everyone’s kind of in the same boat. In a way, everyone’s available… no one’s on tour.”

The downside?

Beside the obvious, Yukimi admits that “it’s more fun when you get to be with the other artists in person. And you get to be in the same room together and vibe… Talking on the phone or whatever is cool because you can just work with so many different people that way. But preferably, I like being in the same room, working together, face to face, jamming out.”

The same can be said about touring and playing live.

When asked if she missed performing, she answers: “Of course I miss it… but I’m not dwelling over it. I miss, you know, that energy that you get together with people in a room and on a show… it’s the high, it’s a very beautiful, natural high.”

“Hopefully, it won’t paralyze people (to a state) where it’s only fear and worry,” Yukimi concludes, adressing the global pandemic. “Hopefully it will be something that can really bring us closer to our humanity.”

This article was written in collaboration with Marian Venini.

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