Tove Lo Had Us at 'Sex Clubs'

Speaking to the Swedish singer-songwriter about dark thoughts and twisted stories.

Tove Lo
© Frederik Etoall

Tove Lo had me at “sex clubs.” It’s right there in the first verse off the breakthrough single, ‘Habits,’ on her new EP, ‘Truth Serum.’ “I eat my dinner in my bathtub, then I go to sex clubs, watching freaky people getting it on.” Sign me up for that, right?

The song is about the epoch-spanning tradition of getting over a lover, as is much of ‘Habits,’ but the lyrics that the Swedish singer-songwriter used to express her heartbreak are dark and twisted. Not what we’ve come to expect from our Swedish dance-pop.

That may be why Tove Lo (her real last name is Nilsson) has risen so quickly over the past two years, from promising songwriter (see Icona Pop's debut album) to releasing ‘Truth Serum.’ An album can't be too far away.

Tove was in Austin a couple of weeks ago for her first performances in the US. When we spoke, she was still thinking about her first show. “I pulled the mic cord out of the microphone,” she said. So, no sound? “Nothing,” she replied. “I haven’t done that since I was a teenager.” We then sat under a big tree in a hotel courtyard overlooking the Colorado River and she answered some questions.

So the EP is out. How does that feel?

It’s weird. I finished it and was like “Oh my God, my EP is done! I’ve finished the songs! I’m really excited about it!” – and then, I kind of moved on, creatively. I kept writing, and getting new influences and new ways of thinking of songs and what I want to do. And then all of a sudden, here it is! We need to find a cover. And then suddenly it’s out, and it’s kind of like a new rush of “Oh my God, it’s out! I’ve released it! It’s done!” I feel like I’ve been getting really great response, so I’m really excited. I haven’t read any reviews because I’m too scared to.

I’ve read them. They’re really good. How long did you spend on it?

I’ve had these songs for some time, like I would say two years in total because the songs kind of go from the start to end of my emotions -- going from top to bottom, what the songs are about really, which is a relationship. So that and getting them to my producers and us working them out together to finalize them. But I know now that working on an album, it’s going to go a lot faster because there will be – I have so many songs and material.

How long have you been writing songs or singing?

I’ve always been writing, writing lyrics for more or less for the last three or four years. I’ve been signed to Warner Chappel as a songwriter since the winter 2011. So, not that long, really. When I signed to them I was pretty much just sitting in my shed where I had a studio at my cousin’s house.

Where is that?

In Stockholm. They have this house and they have this shed that’s isolated, so it’s dry and everything, but there’s no heat, so I have this little heating thing that I put up when it was like minus 10 in the winter and all of my gear would just freeze, and I would be like, “Oh, please don’t die!” But they managed to stay alive. I was writing all by myself. Then [Warner Chappel] heard my demos and signed me, and that was the first time I started co-writing with people. That was a big change – just getting in with producers who would do it properly.

That’s such a strange jump from being in your small dark place… I’m sorry, I imagined it was dark.

It was dark. Big curtains. There was one window. It was like 10 square-meters. It was like this little area. That was all.

In a recent tweet you wrote that you read your diary when you were 14 years old and everything made sense. What was that entry about?

It was kind of funny because I was going to do this interview with a Swedish documentary people and they wanted to talk to me about lyrics and why my lyrics are so personal and who wants to be that open because Swedish people are way more enclosed and we don’t give away private things too much. And I’m kind of the opposite. They asked, “Are you daring enough to read us a piece of your diary?” I said, “I don’t know. It’s actually different to say it than sing about it.” But I brought them, and then I started looking over the pile of diaries, and found the one where I was 14, and I was like, “Oh my God.” It was about my trip to Moscow. I was there when I was 14 and I went to visit a friend, and it was a crazy week, and I was like, “Wow.” It’s just the naïve way that you think about people when you’re young -- and still do, really. Just a lot of why I’m still an emotional person with my-heart-on-my-sleeve kind of thing.

The EP is kind of dark-ish?

Yeah, it is. You can dance your tears away to it.

Are you still in that place?

It’s really day-to-day. I’ll have days -- I mean everyone has days when they think, “I’m the worst person in the world. And I hate myself and all that." When I hate myself I feel it very strongly. Either I feel really, really happy and ecstatic and there’s no real issues in the world whatsoever. Or I feel like everything’s shit, and there’s no point of even being here. Ups and downs – not suicidal.

Oh, good.

No worries… I just don’t think before I feel. I don’t think before I speak, either.

When did you begin transferring your emotions into songs?

I’ve always been writing poems and a lot of stories, like short stories and stuff growing up. I never let anyone read them, especially my parents because they were pretty dark and they were pretty sick stuff in them.

What were these short stories about?

I remember one that I wrote in junior high school. I won a lot of prizes in school for those. There was one that I wrote that actually brought me into the school psychiatrist because it was about a girl stalking a guy and like going crazy, writing all of these kind of threatening letters to him and being totally crazy. And they were really worried. I was like, “No, this is a story.” I was really anxious about turning it in and my teacher actually loved it. She was really, really excited and wanted to send it to like this novel competition thing for the whole country. But she left it to the principal to do that, and the principal just like, “No, no, no. There’s something weird going on.”

You were denied.

I was denied. It was always about the stuff that everybody feels but doesn’t talk about, that kind of stuff. I guess when you’re 15, it gets disturbing.

More: Top 5 Tove Lo Songs