Meet Snow Culture. The Swedish dark pop duo, comprised of Ana Diaz and Oskar Sikow, arrived earlier this year with their striking debut single "No Sleep," only revealing themselves only as "A" and "O," in a bid to keep their origin a mystery.
But despite their anonymity, the buzzy act did earn one shining endorsement from tastemaker label Neon Gold Records, who signed them to their impressive roster that also includes massive breakthrough acts Christine and the Queens, Tove Lo, Marina and the Diamonds, and Charli XCX.
Today, the enigmatic group return with the second offering off their debut EP, "The Box," premiering exclusively via Billboard.
Over ominous synths and a vigorous beat, vocalist Ana coos "put the numbers on the box and then you wait, make sure you write this on the box, and then you wait, and then you..." before the track's sinister drop. The menacing tone is no accident, as Ana tells Billboard the song was written from the perspective of a young person who "got pulled in to a heist to bomb a jewelry store" and is reflecting back on it.
In their exclusive first ever interview, Billboard caught up with the buzzy duo about signing to Neon Gold, the importance of retaining mystery, why Stockholm is the mecca for pop, and more.
First, tell us a bit about your origins and history as a group. When did you form and what drew you to each other?
Ana: I don't know...It just happened, and it happened fast. We kinda met in passing. I'd just moved back to Stockholm after over a decade in the US/UK. Oskar was just about to move to Los Angeles. We kicked it and early in our conversations Snow Culture started forming - we both needed an outlet. It was a very swift process from meeting to creating to signing with Neon Gold.
How did you come up with the name 'Snow Culture' and what does it signify to you?
Ana: Living in Scandinavia..is a bit of a shocker. I just spent my second winter here...no joke. It's cold and dark for a long time and that's when there's not much else to do but go inside, hibernate with some booze and a synth and cry (laughs).
Neon Gold is known as a taste maker imprint. How does it feel to be a part of their legacy?
Oskar: Obviously amazing. Neon Gold truly are great taste makers and one of few installments left in todays music business that reminds me of how labels and imprints used to work a few years ago. You know, before Spotify, when you found a new amazing artist you immediately looked up the label and they probably had other stuff that you also would love, guiding listeners to explore more great music.
You have a truly unique dark pop sound. Who are some of your biggest sonic influences and inspirations?
Oskar: Honestly I think Ana and I don't really share the same influences, but that is actually a strength, and the reason our music sticks out even more. We never talk about how certain parts of our songs, a sound or a lyric, reminds us of another artists. That's usually a good way to zone in on what you have in front of you to better understand it, but with us it's like we force ourselves to zone in on what it actually sounds like instead.
You revealed yourself only as A and O in your debut. How do you think mystery and anonymity support your mission as a group?
Ana: We wanted people to hear the music, not focus on us. I've worked with other artists & projects as a songwriter/exec producer for about 6 years. It's been a great learning experience and I've been fortunate to work with some insane talent & cool people in general. I feel a bit over it now so taking a break.
Oskar: It was never our intention to act mysterious in any way. The "A & O" thing just happened cause I think we have this humble distance between us and the music we make. "Like our music, not our selfies" or something like that. But the raw truth is that I'm 31, living in Los Angeles with my best friends, a blue Saab 9-3 and Lucy the rabbit.
Your debut video, directed by Andreas Ohman and Maja Kin, features a moonlit Stockholm as a metaphor for growing existential awareness. How did that concept take shape?
Oskar: The song "No Sleep" is a song about choosing to not close your eyes, and that was the theme that we based the idea of the video around. There's so many levels to this theme, some for us very personal, and some easier to talk about. For one, we wanted to portray our home town Stockholm in a way that was true to us, and not that common in the more classic depiction of this green, lush city on water. The winters are long, cold and brutal. It's also about not closing your eyes to all the different people that live there, not the classic stereotypes, but the real people that we have gotten to know though the years. We wanted not to portray one person, but many. They are all alone doing their thing, but if you get enough of them together in the same 4 minutes, suddenly they all seem to blend together. Sometimes just zooming out gives you a totally different picture.
Ana, what inspired you in making the song and video?
Ana: I like to imagine short stories when I write, see images in my head, or look at photos. In my mind I saw a person living off the grid but amongst everyone else, no material possessions, chilling, doing yoga on a piece of cardboard somewhere like Manhattan, and super zen. I really want there to be a person like that.
Sweden has had many pop crossover exports and has always been synonymous with groundbreaking pop music from Britney Spears' 'Hit Me Baby One More Time' to the ABBA museum, etc. How do you feel about that reputation?
Oskar: This is interesting. This is the top one question I get from Americans - "what's in the water over there?" My two cents are that Sweden's free healthcare and education promotes a feeling of security - you don't need a job only to pay for healthcare only to not die if you get sick, whereas in the US for example, it's the other way around. I believe it's when you feel secure that you start being creative with your time, and then after some fooling around you eventually write "Hit Me Baby One More Time." Ok, maybe not that song, cause it's a masterpiece, but you get my point.
Who is your dream artist/producer to collaborate with?
Ana: I love Frank Ocean.
Oskar: Mew cause they are insanely good at turning weird ideas in to pop songs, Nils Frahm cause I want to learn how he mics his piano, Jamie xx cause I want to steal his samples, Robyn cause her melodies makes me cry.
For new artists, touring is an important part of the beginning phases of promotion - are you looking forward to playing more live dates and the festival scene?
Oskar: I can't fucking wait to take these songs to the stage. Creating music in the studio is very isolated, so is designing covers, making videos and doing interviews. But playing live is one of the few parts of artist-life where you actually feel like you communicate with your audience. And, really, that's what it's all about. Playing live is, and will always be, the most amazing thing you can do, and I hope no Spotify, Youtube or Soundcloud ever takes that away from us.