Since the release of her critically lauded sophomore album Wounded Rhymes, Lykke Li‘s life has been non-stop. A one-month jaunt around Europe, and the Swedish singer-songwriter was on our side of the world, performing almost nightly. So it’s no surprise that when I sat down with Lykke Li at Vancouver’s Vogue Theatre just hours before her sold-out show, the singer looked exhausted.
“I just arrived today, and I got super wet, so cold,” she said sort of defeated. “I tried to find a hot meal ’cause I was so cold… and I’m doing laundry right now.”
The petite singer is dressed head to toe in black—hoodie, skinny jeans, and ankle boots—her blonde hair slicked back and tucked into the hood of her sweatshirt. Her arrival in Vancouver marks day 12 of her North American tour, and despite the fact that it’s nearly June, it is—as Lykke Li said—raining and cold.
We’re seated on a faded red brocade couch in the basement of the Vogue. Lykke Li is reserved and timid, her mouth barely cracks a smile. One thing I do notice is her saucer-sized eyes; they’re dark but playful, revealing how young the 25-year-old actually is.
“I think what people don’t understand is that when you live this so-called ‘rockstar life,’ it’s a lot of sacrifices,” she says, reflecting on the tour so far. “You’re in the bus with 14 other people, you have no privacy, wearing the same dirty clothes, you shower every fourth day, there’s nothing for your brain.”
She pauses to sigh.
“You sacrifice a lot in order to do it.”
But the singer seems to truly believe that the sacrifices are well worth it. She says that she likes the magic of being on stage, and that performing Wounded Rhymes has been an easy transition because her band hasn’t changed—just one of the many things that are different this time around, as compared to when she toured Youth Novels three years back.
“Life around me has changed so much, and I feel like I’m heading into deeper territories all the time with the subject change,” she says. “I’m evolving as a person, and I think I’m drawn to different things than I was before.”
Although the 10-track album was written and recorded in sun-drenched Los Angeles over the course of six months, Wounded Rhymes is noticeably darker than Lykke Li’s debut. But according to the singer, this was unintentional.
“I do things through instinct—through lust—so that was what I was feeling at the time, and I only put down what I was going through at the time,” she says. “At the time, I was experiencing some hardships, so I wrote it that way. Then, I wanted to have a very hypnotic sound, to work with layers, so hopefully with each listen, you can find something new, and to have it really alive, that was my only goal.”
When it came to making videos for singles “Get Some,” “I Follow Rivers” and “Sadness is a Blessing,” Lykke Li was as involved in that process as she was in writing and singing the songs.
“I don’t believe in putting up a fake story,” she says vehemently. “It has been a real story, you know, something I can really relate to. I always found it hard because I would see these grand visions in my mind while making it, and I’d feel very discouraged when I’d have to sing along to my own songs in a studio. I hate that. I don’t want to do that again. So when I made ‘I Follow Rivers,’ that was really alive, that was what I had been trying to do all this time, to have it intimate, and real, and raw and with people in motions and landscapes.”
While Tarek Saleh helped Lykke Li direct both “I Follow Rivers” and “Sadness is a Blessing,” the latter video, which costars accomplished Swedish-American actor Stellan Skarsgård, has a very different energy.
“I always think the interesting things in life are when it’s contradictory, so you have this really sad song, and somebody who’s manifesting sadness, almost, trying to dance it away because she’s in so much pain,” Lykke Li says. “I wanted it to be real aggressive, a real moment, so that the song would get another layer to it.”
Midway through our interview, Lykke Li becomes momentarily distracted by a spot on her sweatshirt. “Oh no,” she wimpers. “I have to wash it.” She continues to pick at the spot as she tells me about how visually obsessed she is—an irony I could only see after the fact.
“My mind is always working,” she says. “If I walk into this room, I’d immediately think, it’d be nicer if those were hanging there, you know, so I think I’m just doing that all day… I’m doing that when I eat breakfast in the morning. I’ll sprinkle different things on top, so you know, I think that’s just what I do.”
Listing filmmakers Lars von Trier, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and Francis Ford Coppola as she rattles off a list of artists that inspire her, Lykke Li is also quick to mention singer Patti Smith, author Joyce Carol Oates, and dancer Martha Graham on that list. “Everyone who put themselves on the line in order to do something,” Lykke Li concludes.
However, when it comes to picking songs to cover, the singer is more concerned with the songs themselves than the people who sang them. “Sometimes I feel like I want to acknowledge the times we’re living in, you know, and see who do I think writes a good song today,” Lykke Li, who has covered everything from Tribe Called Quest‘s “Can I Kick It?” to the Shirelles‘ “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” says. “I would love if there was a scene like there was in the ’70s, when people would sing the same songs, and it was really the song that was talking through that artist. So if I can relate to a song, I’ll do it, bring something new to the table, and sometimes I’ll just be self indulgent and do it because I love the song.”
As our interview draws to a close, I ask Lykke Li what she plans on doing after the tour, which wraps up sometime in the summer. But in the same way that she doesn’t map out her albums, Lykke Li’s vague about her post-tour plans.
“I’m as curious as you are in what I’m going to do after this tour ’cause I’m probably not going to do music for a while. I feel it’s not healthy,” she says. “It has to be special, you know, and special things don’t grow out of a tour bus.
“You have to live life in order to write life.”