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WHEN MUSIC POPS, WE TURN IT UP

Exclusive: Interview with Tove Lo

Exclusive: Interview with Tove Lo
April 21, 2014 ALEX NAGORSKI

Tove Lo

Tove Lo has quickly become Sweden’s most exciting musical import since Robyn.

Her brilliant debut EP, Truth Serum (iTunes), was released last month to rave reviews. A gut-wrenching record that chronicles the singer coping with the deterioration of a painful relationship, the EP calls to mind Jagged Little Pill – but with a sophisticated and contemporary electro pop makeover.

Currently hitting the road on her first ever American tour, Tove chatted with me about her upcoming full length album, her refreshingly unfiltered lyrics, her thoughts on drugs and tattoos, and more.

ALEX: Where does the name Tove Lo come from?

TOVE: Tove Lo has been my nickname since I was, like, three. Lo means “lynx” in Swedish, and there was a lynx that was named Tove at the animal park that I kind of fell in love with when I was a kid, so this has been my nickname since forever. It felt natural to keep it.

Last month at SXSW, you played your first ever U.S. show. How did that experience compare to playing in your homeland of Sweden?

I love playing in Sweden. The audiences there are very attentive and you can tell they’re really listening to what you’re doing. But here, the response was just amazing. The audience had so much energy, and the way that people are cheering you on kind of feels like they’re interacting a bit more. They don’t hold back from anything. And if I’m like, “It’s so good to be here,” they’re like, “Yeah, it’s so good to have you!” And I’m like, “Oh, thanks!” So that was a really big difference. Just the energy in general and that kind of openness – it’s awesome.

Next week, you’ll also be playing your first ever New York show. What are you looking forward to most about performing in the Big Apple?

I’ve been to New York so many times and I love the city. I’m just so excited to finally play there and I hope there are going to be tons of people. I’m playing at The Westway, which is an old strip club, so I’m kind of hoping some people will take the initiative to get up and do a full dance. I know the poles are still there, so whatever they’re doing, I’m going to be super excited! It’s going to be really fun.

That sounds like such a fun time! The Truth Serum EP is so brutally raw and honest, and it really does an amazing job of detailing the various hardships and stages of grieving that people go through after a tumultuous breakup. Are all the songs written about the same person? And did you find that expressing yourself through your music gave you closure on this relationship?

Yeah, it’s all about the same person. It’s about the relationship from beginning to end. I didn’t plan to write it that way, but when I looked at the songs that I had when I was picking ones for the EP, I was like, “Oh my god, here it is.” I didn’t really figure out that it was going to be the full story right there until I looked and listened, and I was like, “Wow, here it is! Just the way it is!”

When I figured that out, I was very happy because I was so proud of it. But then I kind of got to this empty moment. It was like, “Oh, this is it. It’s done now. I’ve now worked through these emotions, and I’ve released all the songs.” So even though the EP is done, the story is done, and the chapter is closed, I kind of relive everything a bit when I’m on stage sometimes. I have some gigs that just really get to me and it’s like I’m getting thrown back into those moments that the songs are about. But yeah, I feel like it’s been kind of a closure. It’s been an interesting experience putting my emotions out there for everyone.

I bet. Do you prefer writing songs about despair or writing happy songs, and why?

I think despair. Outwards, I’m generally a really happy person — although I do have my moments. But I usually shut the door on everyone when I’m in those moments. So I think for me to get that out is good. I like writing about things that make you feel a bit of tearing in the heart. That’s what I love to listen to as well – something that kind of tears you from the inside because that emotion is just more honest to me. I feel better after writing a song that gets me through something that’s darker.

Later this year, you’ll be releasing your first full length album via Island Def Jam. Both thematically and musically, how do you think this record will differ from your EP?

Well it’s all going to be about my life, and keep that same kind of truthful, raw honesty. But it’s going to be more of a mix of the life that I’ve been living the last few years. Just everything that’s been happening and that sudden feeling of having all eyes on me. You know, that kind of feeling where you’re like, “Whoa, everybody’s suddenly very curious about who I am,” and you kind of realize, “Was it worth it to give it all away?”

To be so honest is the only way I can write my own stuff. So it’s going to be a lot of love and frustration and kind of what it feels like to be under the radar. I’ve experienced a little more and have gotten into a bit of trouble, so that’s going to be on there as well.

Right now, I’m going to keep writing for a while to see what else I can get out of me. Pretty soon I’m going to just start looking at what I have and figure out where I see the story and what I want to tell. It’s important to me that it’s cohesive. I don’t want it to be like one of those projects that’s thrown together with tons of different writers and tons of different producers. It’s going to be with my people that I like to work with and be very clearly, “Oh, this is Tove.” You’ll know that right away.

Do you have a title and/or release date in mind yet?

There is a deadline … but I’m not paying attention to that. So far, the working title is Embryos, but that’s all I have so far. I came up with the title for Truth Serum when I had all the songs and it was done and I was like, “What do I want this to be called?” That’s when I came up with that. So it’s going to be the same for the album. When I have it all done, I’m going to know what I want to call it.

In March, you released the music video for “Habits,” which includes some intense party sequences. Was there a specific scene that was most fun to film for you?

It was actually very hard to film because it was so emotional. But the most fun I think … it’s a combination because we had three nights out during that shoot. During the first one, we were in the good drunk place. We weren’t like, too drunk. We were dancing with all these people and that was really fun. The making out stuff was funny too. It was funny when we did the close ups because you feel so weird. Those are some of my best friends that are in the video, but I’ve never made out with them before. It was really kind of a funny and awkward moment to be like, “So, we’ve known each other for years, time to take this other places,” And we were just like laughing and that was really fun. But everyone was a good sport for making out with me for a week.

Drugs show up in a couple of your songs. On “Habits,” you’re using them to numb the pain of a breakup, while on “Not on Drugs,” you’re comparing them to the euphoric feeling you get when you fall deeply in love with someone. Have you received any backlash for being so open and candid about this topic? And if so, what’s your response to those critics?

I haven’t really looked at any comments or reviews. I’m trying to stay away from that stuff because it scares me. But I’m assuming that of course some people are going to be against it, and say I’m not a good role model and that it’s not good for young people to see this. I mean, someday it’s going to come. Especially with the song growing, people are going to have a lot of opinions about it. I know it’s provocative, but I like to do it that way. I think I’d rather have people react than not feel anything about it. It’s also that I write what I know and this is what I know. You don’t have to listen to it.

So what are your thoughts on the criminalization of marijuana?

Well, I think that if alcohol is allowed, I don’t understand the reasoning for why marijuana isn’t. That’s how I feel. Obviously, I’m not saying that I think alcohol should be illegal.

I totally agree. The “Stay High” remix of “Habits” has been blowing up ever since Ellie Goulding endorsed the song on her Instagram. How did that remix come into fruition and what appealed to you most about how Hippie Sabotage reworked the song?

It’s a very funny story, actually. There was a friend of mine who was like, “Hey, have you heard this awesome remix?” It was in a surf video that someone put up and I was like, “No, that’s amazing!” So I was like, “Who’s it by, who’s it by?” And they were like, “I don’t know, I think something Hippie?”

So then I found them, and was like, “Hey, I heard you guys did an awesome remix of my song, can you send it to me, please?” and they were like, “Oh my god, hi, yeah!” and they emailed it to me and said, “Here it is, what do you think? Do you have any opinions?” And I was like, “Only that it’s awesome and I want it on my EP!”

So we just kind of worked out all the kinks and got it on the EP and it just took off. I was blown away. I just love how they’ve made a proper dance remix of the song, but it still has that darkness to it. It’s just the way that they used all the parts. They did a genius job on it. I haven’t ever even met them, but obviously I think they’re great.

Speaking of collaborating with other musicians, you recently hit the studio with Adam Lambert to help write songs for his upcoming album. What details can you share about what you two cooked up together?

I’m sorry, I actually can’t talk about that at all.

No worries! You’ve worked with such coveted songwriters as Max Martin and Xenomania, and you’ve written music for various other artists – including Cher Lloyd, Lea Michele, and Girls Aloud. As a songwriter, how is your creative process different when writing for yourself versus when you’re writing for other musicians?

It’s all about getting in someone else’s head, really. When I’m writing for others, I won’t use my own experiences and my own stories because they’re not lived by that other person. It’s more like you connect to a feeling. Like, “Yeah yeah, I’ve had that feeling, let’s write about that feeling.” I try to just get into their heads and try to imagine what they would want to say and how they would say things. It helps if you’ve met them or if you know them, or if they write themselves, and you can do it together. The biggest thing is seeing from someone else’s perspective.

What are your thoughts on the resurgence over the past few years of Swedish artists being infused into American pop culture (i.e. Robyn, Icona Pop, Lykke Li, Loreen, iamamiwhoami)? Do you think there’s something distinct and inherent about Swedish music at its core that American listeners are attracted to?

Yeah! I’m so excited that there’s so much good stuff coming out of Sweden. I’m really a big fan of a lot of it. I think there’s a sort of darkness to it, and is a little bit melancholy, and I think that part speaks to a lot of people. Maybe there’s a type of directness and a kind of very lyrically clever theme that sometimes is a bit more honest, and not as edited or thought through as it might otherwise be.

This is actually something I’ve been thinking about, but I think it might also be because English is our second language. It’s much easier for me to express myself in English because there is that little distance to overcome. I can say things that are so personal and mean so much to me, but if I were to sing the same things in Swedish, it would feel like, “Whoa. That hit too hard.” Maybe we’re able to say things more honestly in English because there is a little bit of a distance. Does that make sense? But for you, when English is your first language, that goes straight to your heart and I think that maybe a lot of people can feel the connection. So maybe that’s why we dare to sing about it more than if it was in our first language. That’s my little analysis.

That’s so interesting! I hear you’re very big into tattoos. How many do you have and which one would you say is your favorite?

I have three, all in decent places. I have two that are from the painter, Mark Ryden. I love his stuff and it also reminds me of my time in my old band. There’s one on my left upper arm and one on my right lower arm. Then I have a little super ugly scorpion that’s tattooed under my right collarbone, which I don’t know what I’m going to do about. I mean, it’s part of me now, but it’s so ugly! It’s the worst. But I think my favorite is actually the one on my shoulder. That’s actually how a lot of people recognize me. I always figured I had an ordinary face, so when people see that, they’re like, “Oh my god, it’s you!” It’s pretty funny.

Well thank you so much, Tove! This has been great. Is there anything else you’d like to add about your tour, EP, or upcoming album that we didn’t discuss?

I don’t think so! I think we covered the lot of it. Thank you so much!

Tove Lo

Alex has been writing for PopBytes since 2011. As the Theater Editor, he primarily focuses on all aspects of Broadway, Off-Broadway, Regional Theater, and beyond. After growing up in Poland, Germany, and Russia, Alex spent several years living in New York before moving full-time to the Berkshires in Massachusetts. To read more from Alex, check out his blog, Headphone Infatuation, and follow him on Twitter @AlexNagorski.