As one third of synth-pop stars Miike Snow, Christian Karlsson [at left, above] knows a thing or two about wringing human emotion from synthetic means. As evidenced by the band’s upcoming sophomore album Happy to You, out March 27, between singer Andrew Wyatt’s gorgeously androgynous melodies and Karlsson and his fellow Swede and production partner Pontus Winnberg’s gleaming high-tech soundscapes, the trio have developed a perfect aural analogue for a cyborg. Perhaps that yen for combining the heartfelt and mechanical helps explains Karlsson’s obsession with anthropomorphic robots. “Since I was kid, I liked robots,” says Karlsson, speaking on the phone from Stockholm. “There’s just something about them that I respond to. I think it’s that they’re human, but not.”
Being an in-demand musician helps feed Karlsson’s robo-addiction. “You have so much time when you’re touring,” he explains. “Looking around in flea markets or online for robots to collect gives me something to do until soundcheck.”
He’s made the most of his downtime. “I have maybe 200 robots,” he says, a little embarrassedly. “Pontus and I have the same interest. Whenever we see that some new robot has come out in Japan, we send each other YouTube clips — ‘You gotta see this!’ And the studio we built just before we started Miike Snow is called Robot Mountain. Every time one of us sees something that could fit in our collection, we buy it and bring it to the studio and add it to the mountain of robots.”
Karlsson was kind enough to snap some photos of his collection and talk us through them.
“The collection is a lot of vintage robots. For some reason they’re easier to find. I don’t mind a new one if it’s really cool, but the old ones usually look cooler. There was one that I was happy to get and it was tricky to get home. I found it in Mexico. It’s this big chunky robot [at left, above]. It asks you questions and then you answer by hitting it. There’s some kind of big tape inside of it that plays back its questions. It asks you questions, and you can say ‘Yes,’ ‘No,’ ‘I don’t know,’ or ‘I need to hear more.’ I don’t even know what it’s asking because it speaks in Spanish and I don’t speak Spanish, but it’s really cool. When I brought this back with me on the plane, I was praying it wouldn’t get broken. I love it. There’s also a masturbating monkey in this picture. It doesn’t fit with the rest, it’s just cool to have.
“The yellow one in the middle is a Transformer. It’s another favorite. It records pieces of music — I don’t know how it actually works; it doesn’t work perfectly — but I can play recorded pieces of Miike Snow music into it and then reacts to the sounds and dances to what’s playing. I think it’s got some kind of MP3 player inside it. I just think it’s funny that it dances and records music.”
“Another one of my favorites is Robby the Robot from the Lost in Space TV show. It’s the one with the see-through head on the far right in this photo. That one is really cool. I found it in London. You can push it from the back and it says, ‘Danger Will Robinson!’ That one is a lot of fun.
“I don’t know the most I ever paid for a robot. Maybe like $500. I don’t even remember which one that was. I don’t really think about how much they cost. I just like getting them and having them. Mostly I find them in markets and vintage markets. I’ve bought some online on eBay and stuff, but I’d rather look around and find them myself. I’ve found a lot of cool ones on really weird streets in Bangkok, in that city’s Chinatown. There’s one I got there that I don’t have a photo of, but it’s where we got the name of the album, Happy to You. It’s a really weird robot. It’s some kind of fake computer. It looks like a windmill inside a computer. You start the computer and the windmill spins what looks like snow around and then it starts blinking and says ‘Happy to You.’ I have no idea why. [Laughs] It doesn’t make any sense but it’s perfect. You could also say that about why I like robots.