Scandi-pop fever is set to strike again with the rise of Stockholm’s Tove Lo. The 26-year-old (pronounced too-veh-loo) has hooked tastemakers both sides of the pond with the release of her debut EP Truth Serum, a brutally honest account of a love story gone wrong, brought to life in epic pop anthems. Her single “Habits,” as well as its remix by Hippie Sabotage, retitled “Stay High,” have been climbing charts worldwide, set to soundtrack summer parties all over.
Staying in California for songwriting sessions, Tove spoke to Interview from L.A., ahead of her debut West Coast show.
HOLLY RUBENSTEIN: Your entry into the music industry began with your writing songs for other people (including Icona Pop, Cher Lloyd, and Adam Lambert). Was it always your ambition to work in music?
TOVE LO: I knew when I went to a very hippie high school that focused on music that I wanted to do something in the industry. I spent a few years in a rock band playing all these shitty bars around Sweden, and then I went from that into starting to write and produce myself. I did session singing to get by. I met an English A&R guy at a party in Stockholm and forced him to give me his email. He liked what he heard, put me in touch with people in Sweden, and a few months later I got signed to Warner Chappell and got thrown into songwriting sessions. It was such a weird situation to be thrown into having been writing in my own little home studio, but it was very exciting.
RUBENSTEIN: When did you decide that you wanted to release music as an artist, or was that always on the cards?
TOVE LO: I always loved performing and being on stage. When I got the publishing deal, I hadn’t performed for a long time, and I loved being in a space with all these writers, so I pushed that away a bit. But then some songs that I wrote became too personal for me to give away, especially when people often want to change lyrics to make it fit someone else. I started releasing stuff independently, and after a while it just took off.
RUBENSTEIN: How would you describe your signature sound to someone who hasn’t heard you yet?
TOVE LO: I’d say it’s pop. It’s very raw, honest, with a lot of drums and vocals in your face. It’s dirty pop—no relation to Justin!
RUBENSTEIN: So much amazing pop talent has come out of Sweden in the last few years. Why do you think that Swedes are so good at writing pop songs?
TOVE LO: It’s really hard to say. There are a lot of theories—it’s the melancholy, it’s because we’re good at following the rules to make a pop song… I think it’s a combination of those, and also the directness in music speaks to the way we are. Of course, we are also surrounded by talent who are doing really well, and you get influenced by that. Sweden is a very inspiring place to be when you’re a songwriter.
RUBENSTEIN: Who would you cite as your key musical inspirations as an artist?
TOVE LO: I was big into grunge, like Nirvana and Hole, when I was younger, which has been a really huge inspiration because of its rawness and honesty. But really I’d say there was one album in particular—Charlotte Gainsbourg’s IRM. When I listened to that album, I was like, “I can do this.” That’s what made me start to produce and write on my own. It was simple, had these cool sounds and quirky lyrics. It opened a new world for me sound-wise that inspired me a lot.
RUBENSTEIN: You’re currently blowing up both sides of the Atlantic simultaneously, which is a rare feat. How do you feel about the success coming so quickly and being so widespread?
TOVE LO: It’s a bit overwhelming, to be honest. Now it’s nice to be in L.A., just writing and staying away from reading about everything that’s going on. It’s hard to grasp. But it’s amazing to have my first U.S. shows, and to have had my first show in the U.K. I love to travel and being new places, so I find it really exciting.
RUBENSTEIN: Given the subject matter, was the process of writing and recording the EP very emotional for you?
TOVE LO: Yes, both the writing and the recording. Writing the songs is always emotional and most of the vocals on there are the first three takes from the demos, because they give so much more. You’re in that moment, so it speaks for itself.
RUBENSTEIN: Which of the songs on the EP means most to you, and why?
TOVE LO: For me, it’s “Habits.” It’s the song that made everything take off, and it’s the one that’s the most directly honest. The process of writing that song was huge for me, so it has the biggest place in my heart.
RUBENSTEIN: Like Adele, you’ve turned a failed relationship into a bunch of pop classics —will you need a similarly emotionally intense experience to inspire the album?
TOVE LO: I have so many songs already for the album—it’s more me trying to figure out what I want the storyline to be. I’ve been in a long-distance relationship for a while now, so there’s going to be a lot about frustration of being apart, watching each other through a screen. Everything that’s been happening the last few months have been insane inspirations—all these ups and downs. I do also tend to get into a trouble a bit, so there’s always inspiration there!
RUBENSTEIN: Will people recognize themselves in your lyrics, given that you are so honest?
TOVE LO: Yes. The guy who Truth Serum is about—he knows. I haven’t spoken to him, but he actually sent me a very beautiful poem about when he heard one of the songs, which I thought was very big of him. He’s a great person. There’s no hate there.
RUBENSTEIN: Your SXSW show and your London shows were both critically acclaimed. What is it about a Tove Lo show that is so memorable?
TOVE LO: When I’m on stage, I turn into this rock person. I give everything I have. I sing with emotion, I’m loving it up there, and I think there’s a lot of energy. In the same way that I’m open when I speak, I’m that open on stage. I feed off the energy of the audience too, so they’re feeling what I’m feeling. And the set up is great—I have two drummers and a bass guy so it’s just us four.
RUBENSTEIN: How are you feeling about performing in New York for the first time?
TOVE LO: I’m so excited, I can’t wait. My feet are jumping now when I’m talking about it. It’s been a dream—I’ve been there a lot of times but never performed.
RUBENSTEIN: Have you always loved performing?
TOVE LO: I’ve had a love/hate relationship with it. I was an attention seeker as a kid, doing all this stupid stuff to get attention in general, but it all depends where I am in my life. If I’m having a bad few months I’ll hide away. But I’ve always loved acting too—I like having all the eyes on me, I guess!
RUBENSTEIN: How do you feel about fame?
TOVE LO: I have mixed emotions. I like the fact that a lot of people get to hear the music and I love performing with people cheering you on and you’re feeling the love for what you’re doing, but there’s also the other side where if you give away as much personal information as I do it’s hard not to take it personally when people are saying mean things about you. But I try not to read any comments. Right now I’m just feeling a lot of love.
RUBENSTEIN: Where would you like to be in a year’s time?
TOVE LO: This is probably very ambitious but I hope to be starting on my world tour. That’s my dream. I want to be in a bus, traveling with the band, almost in a bubble.
Original interview for Interview magazine http://www.interviewmagazine.com/music/tove-lo-truth-serum