Tove Lo: Swedish Pop’s Janis Joplin
She's soundtracked your summer but you probably don't know that yet.
Tove Lo has already made the soundtrack to your summer, you probably just don't know it yet. The Swedish beauty may be poised to be the next electro/pop sensation, just off the release of her debut EP Truth Serum, a collection of self-deprecating pop songs that still manage to make you feel good. She started off as a songwriter for other artists, quickly making it apparent to Tove Lo, and everyone around her, that some of what she was writing was too personal to give to anyone else.
The EP catalogues the rollercoaster emotions of a relationship: the highs are ecstatic, dopamine-inducing thrills and the lows are addictive in their mournful depression. Past the ups and downs of both, and armed with a better understanding of who she is and where she’s going, Tove Lo is the brazenly honest voice that pop needs right now. Dabbling on the dangerous side of love and other drugs, her new video for “Habits” shows the darker side of coping with a lost love. The video may remind you of Janis Joplin a bit—Tove cites the rock star as a fashion icon and the two even look alike. Earlier this month, Tove sat down with Noisey for a cozy interview in the lobby of the Ace Hotel to talk about her music and what she wears when a breakup has her at rock bottom.
Let's talk about "Not on Drugs"—I love it—it's such an interesting and specific hook, I wanted to see if there was a story behind it.
I really wanted to sing about that, because all my songs are about the part after the breakup or during when you're sad and a lot of the pain. I just wanted to convey that there was a time before that that was awesome. But also, being the way I am when I'm really in love with someone and I can't think straight. It's pretty much the same as being high on something exciting. There's not been like a quote to it where I've said "no honey I'm not on drugs" like that actual sentence, but I remember I used to say that, I feel like I'm high all the time.
There are pop songs you listen to and the hook gets stuck in your head, so it's funny to be singing that one. You write so much about the pain of losing someone but the songs are very much admitting your own failure. Is it hard to sing those and relive those moments?
Obviously, it's harder for me to say what I'm singing about, that's why I'm singing about it! I feel like there's always that perfect pop girl who always sings about how she's been hurt and the guy has hurt her. She's always the good one. And I thought well, there's tons of us who've made a mistake and we need to admit to that too, it's not always the other person's fault. And obviously, I've messed up many times—it's my way to deal with that. If I have a hard time apologizing or saying it to the person, or he doesn't want to hear it, it helps me to sing it and just get it out of me. At least I'm admitting to what I did. Obviously now that I'm getting more and more attention I'm like oh shit I'm talking about personal stuff about what I'm like. But I can't polish it. I can't have any filters. It has to be that honest for me.
Do you have one producer that you're exclusively working with?
Two, they're a team they're called The Struts. They're anonymous. They're Swedish and super awesome. They know exactly what I like and we've worked together now a lot. When I was in my first band, they had this venue outside of Stockholm and they booked bands. So that's how I found them. Then we didn't see each other for years. When I signed to Warner/Chappell as a songwriter, they were signed as producers. One day I saw one of the guys walk out the bathroom and they were like, ‘What the fuck are you doing here?! We've been listening to your demos we had no idea that was you.’ That was really hilarious. Then we started working together and they're just the best.
How did you transition from songwriter to artist?
I think I started to write for others because I didn’t know who I was. I was too lost at the time to know who the fuck I was and wanted I wanted to sing about. I was in the middle of this relationship, and that the whole EP is about that was just… I was denying all of it so I didn’t write about that, I was just writing other stuff. I was very lost doing nothing with my day and just being an idiot. So when I got signed, they liked what I was doing, they thought my lyrics were quirky and funny. I used to write different stuff, like being a prostitute for the Swedish king and I wrote a song about my boss that I didn’t like. Just these everyday kind of subjects, nothing about love at all. But then I just had this moment where I just couldn’t handle it anymore and I needed to write something that was personal for me. So I did one song and I played it for my publisher and loved it and then this artist wanted to do it, but they wanted to change some of the lyrics because they thought it was too brutal…
And you didn’t want them to do it for once.
No! That was going to be my first single, or like, cut for a song, and they were like you’re an idiot why not? It was “Love Ballad,” the one that came very early. And I was like, ‘I’m going to save this one.’ So I kept that for me for a while and I went on writing and got in touch with some artists and I loved it, I had a great time. I had the song and I was like I’m just going to release it. I want to give this a go. I let go of the filter of it and I just started writing shit that I felt I needed to get out of me. It’s hard to know the exact moment. The music is just always going to be mine. It’s there. As long as I keep fucking up, I’ll have stuff to write.
I wanted to ask you about the name you chose to perform under, Tove Lo. I read that it means “lynx” in Swedish?
Well, my real name is Tove and Tove Lo has been my nickname since I was like, 3. There was a lynx at an animal park in Sweden that was called “Tove.” When I was there I didn’t want to leave. I was standing there staring at it. I had a stuffed animal of a lynx after that my godmother gave me, she was like, ‘That’s your nickname, that’s you, the Nordic wildcat’ because I can kind of relate to that. They’re kind of freaky looking and they’re a mix of lion and cat and leopard, it’s just a cool animal.
What did you think about Lorde’s tweet at you last fall?
Oh I was blown away! I thought it was a joke at first. A friend sent me a picture of it. Then I saw it was real and I was like, ‘Holy fuck!’ I love her. I think she's one of the best things to happen for women in pop music who write their own songs. To be honest, I feel like people feel more open-minded to different styles in pop in a new kind of way. I think she’s opened so many doors for girls coming up.
Would you ever collaborate with a rapper? I can definitely hear your sound mixing with hip-hop and that’s been happening a lot.
I’ve never ever thought of it. But if I would, it would be with Ty Dolla $ign. I saw him at SXSW and I could not stop staring at him because he had such cool eyes! I’m a little embarrassed to admit he turns me on a little bit and I was staring at him until he was like “what?” That was cool. I didn’t say hi, I just stared him down!
I want to ask you some outfit scenarios. What is your favorite thing to wear when you’re performing?
I always wear Doc Martens, all the time. Because I have this vocal pedal that I need to press stuff on and I need flat shoes for that, and I always want to jump around. And then I have these black pants from Cheap Monday that are really tight, they’re high waisted and then a friend of mine fucked them up and made them all fatigued and greenish, white and black. I love that rough vibe. And then some sort of crop top that’s kind of see-through, something I can show off my tattoos in. Either this or any T-Shirt that has holes in it or is a bit sheer. A lot of rings.
How are you dressed right now? For a photoshoot?
No, I would wear this. I’m going to fly home in this! But I would wear this onstage. What I wear everyday, I wear onstage.
What would you wear when you’re going through the worst part of the breakup?
If I’m home, I’m usually naked. I kind of hate wearing clothes actually. I should probably live somewhere warmer. But if I go out, I’m out to “get something to eat” so to speak, I would dress up probably a bit sluttier than usual. Because you’re in your lowest moment so you want to feel hot.
Who is a style icon for you?
I’d say I love Janis Joplin. Some people have said I look like her, I’ve gotten that before. I think she’s just the perfect person, her whole look. Her whole aura.
Caitlin White is "not on drugs" and made Tove Lo take a selfie with her, too. She's on Twitter - @harmonicait