“For me, it’s kind of the pattern of my relationships. Initially how it starts is very passionate… When something that’s been very passionate and very intense ends, I don’t think there’s any way to end that on good terms.” Swedish pop singer-songwriter Tove Nilsson, better known as Tove Lo, is candid when it comes to talking about her debut album Queen of the Clouds, which was released in the U.S. on September 30th, 2014. An autobiographical album that traces the singer’s past and failed relationships, Queen of the Clouds is sectioned into three different themes: “The Sex”, “The Love” and “The Pain”. The confessional quality of her album is best represented in her most popular single “Habits (Stay High)” which appears under “The Pain” section of the album, and has been getting considerable radio play, as well as nearly 50 Million views on YouTube. The song currently sits at number four on Billboard’s “Hot 100” chart and is still on the rise.
Before the explosion of “Habits (Stay High)” and before releasing Queen of the Clouds, Tove Lo worked as a songwriter for artists such as Icona Pop and Girls Aloud. Tove Lo met Caroline Hjelt (of Icona Pop) back in the days of high school, while attending a prestigious music academy in Sweden. They jammed together in a band as freshman, and have been close friends ever since. After high school, Tove Lo continued to write music for other artists until she decided to try her luck at performing her own songs. She humbly stated, “when I decided to release stuff on my own, I thought it would be more of like, my indie career on the side. [Something] that I would just have for fun because I needed it.”
Tove Lo recently wrapped up her U.S. tour this October and is currently preparing for her Australian tour with pop singer Katy Perry, which will take place in December. In addition to her traveling and touring, Tove Lo will have a song that she wrote featured in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. Check out The Untitled Magazine’s exclusive interview, photo shoot and behind the scenes video with Tove Lo.
Indira Cesarine: I’ve been hearing your song Habits (Stay High) and seeing your video absolutely everywhere! I love it. There’s a lot of excitement going on with your new work. Your album Queen of The Clouds just came out too, right?
Tove Lo: Yeah, it’s been really amazing. I’m so happy with the response I’ve been getting. It’s really awesome.
IC: Yeah, it’s incredible! I heard you grew up with Caroline Hjelt from Icona Pop, and wrote for them quite a bit before you started performing your own work. Can you tell me what it was like back in the days going to school in Stockholm and the early days when you started exploring music?
TL: Caroline and I became friends in school when we both went to this music high school [Rytmus Musikergymnasiet] together. I grew up in a little posh, safe, suburban area twenty minutes outside of Stockholm, and went to school there. I was into music and I sang, but there wasn’t really as much love for it until I started this high school and I really applied myself to it. I had to audition for the school and everything. I got in and when I started there, I was like, ‘Okay, now I’m actually growing up in Stockholm,’ because I was in the middle of the city. The school had kids from all over Sweden from totally different backgrounds. It was a really good experience for me to get out of the safe world that I was in.
IC: And it was a specialized high school for music?
TL: It was all music from day one. It was not classical at all. You could study pop, rock, blues, and jazz. From day one, we were put into bands. Caroline from Icona and I were put into the same band on the first day. There was a drummer, a guitar player, a bass player, and two singers. Caroline and I were the singers, so that’s kind of how we became friends. We were just playing [in this] very hippie-like high school. I chose between that one and another one that I got into that was focused on science. I had good grades in school, actually! But I chose the music school to my parents’, kind of, sadness. Haha!
IC: Well, they’re probably happy now, right?
TL: Yeah, yeah, yeah! Oh, they’re super happy now. They were just worried. They were like, ‘Is this really a good choice?’
IC: It can be considered a risky path.
TL: And it was a very hippie school. They were like, ‘Is this really serious?’ And I’m like, ‘It’s the best school in the world!’
IC: Well it’s great they let you go!
TL: Yeah, my parents are amazing. They’ve been very supportive, even though they’ve been worried. But yeah, it was just amazing, really. That school — a lot of kids found it very competitive. I thought it was just more inspiring and terrifying at times. You know, getting up on stage when you’re 16 and trying to pull off the song you’ve been working on – it was hard, but for me that school was everything! Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t be where I am.
IC: What musicians were you into when you were younger?
TL: I started buying my own records when I was eleven or twelve. I was into Nirvana and Hole, Kim Gordon, you know – kind of the grunge vibe. When I started this high school, I went through all different kinds of periods. I went through a soul period. Erykah Badu and all that kind of stuff. I could never really pull it off vocally though…(laughs). When I started writing and producing myself, I got way into Robyn and Lykke Li— the Swedish electro acts who where writing and producing themselves. I found that really inspiring. I guess a mixture of grunge and electro-pop is really what kind of brings it together for me.
IC: Was your angle always to be a performer or was it more to be a songwriter? You started out writing music for Girls Aloud and you’ve done a lot of writing for other artists. Was it your initial plan to be more of a songwriter?
TL: When I was a teenager, I loved performing. After high school, I got really into just being in the studio and producing and being the person behind it all. I thought it was really cool so I really got into that. That was also how I got a publishing deal and started working on other projects. For a long time, I thought songwriting was my career. When I decided to release stuff on my own, I thought it would be more of like, my indie career on the side. [Something] that I would just have for fun because I needed it — to just have a space where I wouldn’t have to think of anybody else and where I could write whatever I wanted. Then that started taking off, so it’s been really quite a ride!
IC: Your new album, which just came out, Queen of the Clouds, I understand is extremely autobiographical. It’s broken up into three different sections: “The Sex”, “The Love”, and “The Pain” – what do these different themes of the album mean to you?
TL: For me, it’s really about the pattern of my relationships. Initially how it starts is very passionate. I’ve never really grown in love with someone; either it’s right away or it’s not happening. It starts passionately and intensely, and you fall in love because of the passion. It’s when you start to fall for someone more than just the attraction that it starts to get a bit scary. Because that’s when you actually need the person. That’s when you get to “The Love” section, where I feel it’s scary for me to be vulnerable. I’m so, like, stand on my own two feet. I do everything myself. I’m used to being always surrounded just by dudes, and I stand on my own. When I actually feel like I need someone, it’s really scary for me. That is “The Love” part. I think, “The Pain” is when something that’s been very passionate and very intense ends. I don’t think there’s any way to end something like that on good terms. It’s hard to just be like, ‘Oh, let’s just be friends and It’s just going to end in a very nice, calm, gathered way.’ I don’t think that’s possible. I think it always ends with explosion and hurt and pain. Just like Passion comes with Pain.
IC: Your song, “Habits,” released first a few years ago. What is the story behind your decision to re-release it?
TL: I released it independently in Sweden and it kind of took off; a lot of blogs picked it up. People were writing about it and discovering it on their own. That led me to getting a record deal. Once I got the record deal, they were like, ‘This song still has a lot left to give, we want to re-release it and do it properly with the full muscle behind it.’ So I re-released it on March 5th in the States with the EP.
IC: It is a very raw and personal account of the pain you went through – your post-breakup meltdown. The video is pretty intense. Revealing that side of your personal life, was that difficult?
TL: I think when I wrote the song I obviously didn’t realize how many people were going to hear it! You’re in your own world and you’re writing your stuff. When we did the video–I kind of have this thing for challenging myself. I want to do things where I feel it as much as everybody else that watches it. I want people to know what I’m feeling. I want it to really reflect the song. So I wanted to make a video that I’m not able to watch, which is kind of what it is. My two best friends agreed to make out with me. The guy in the video, I dated for a while, so we kind of knew what we were doing. We were super wasted. I’m carrying this camera around in this big harness. It’s basically just us walking around being idiots. People at the bars had no idea we were going to be there, so there were all these drunks trying to get in the shot and being annoying. It was a very intense recording. It was very rowdy. I watched the first track and I was like, I know this is great, but I can’t watch this – it’s perfect. But I hope that raw material never comes out somehow, because that would be very embarrassing. There is so much going on that’s just like… yeah…
IC: I think it’s amazing that you were so fearless. That you were able to shoot scenes where you were making out and totally wasted, and to put that in a music video for everybody to see. A lot of artists, particularly female artists, maybe wouldn’t put themselves out there like that in the early days of their career.
TL: True. I think it’s also kind of what I actually feel. I could have done [“Habits”] in a way where I looked perfect in every angle, where it’s super retouched and it’s beautiful, and it’s just a sexy video. But it’s not a sexy video. It’s all anxiety, which is what I wanted. I wanted to show me because I’m not perfect. Nobody is. I want to show the imperfections, so that people can see that I’m serious when I say that I’m honest about who I am, and that I think about my mistakes and my flaws. If I don’t dare to show them, no one is going to take me seriously. I just went for it!
IC: Did it concern you what your ex would think if he saw it?
TL: Well I’m kind of the one who messed this up in the end. It was both of us, but you know, I think it was more like, ‘Don’t think that it was easy for me either.’ We both hurt each other many times around, but he’s an artistic person too–very creative. I think he, too, wears his heart on his sleeve. All emotions are out in the open, so he gets it more than anyone, I think. If I dated a “normal” guy (laughs) it might be a little more controlled. A normal person might be more controlled. But he was like, ‘So this album of yours… I’m the big inspiration behind it, I’m guessing?’ I’m like, ‘Yup. It’s beautiful. Thank you.’
IC: In the song lyrics, you talked a lot about getting wasted, and staying high to not think about things. It’s a rather taboo subject to admit to doing drugs. How do you feel about the indications of what you’re talking about?
TL: I’ve been getting a lot of questions about it. What I always wonder is, there are so many dudes singing about the same subject. I wonder if they get the same question or is it because I’m a girl that people… Some people ask me, ‘Don’t you feel like you have a responsibility to be a role model?’ And I think: do I have that [responsibility] more than dudes because I’m a girl and I sing pop? Where do you draw the line for ‘you have to be a role model’ because you’re reaching out to so many people? I always wonder about that. For me, I think there’s a kind of denial on how much drugs are a part of people’s lives. I see alcohol as a drug as much as anything else. Even though that may not be my drug of choice, for me, that’s as much of a drug as anything else.
IC: A ton of people do drugs, but don’t necessarily admit to it. There’s definitely a taboo about actually admitting to doing them, versus what everyone does behind closed doors. So the fact that you were open about that, some people might consider that a bit controversial.
TL: That’s true. Well, it’s way easier for me to sing about things than to talk about things. I’ll say something in a song, and then people will confront me about it. I’ll be like, ‘Well, just listen to the song,’ because it is harder for me to talk about it. All I can say is that I’m always going to be honest and upfront in my music. Some people are going to be offended and some people are going to relate, and I think that’s just how it’s going to be.
IC: You were saying you feel like there’s a double standard – that the attitude is that women shouldn’t be open about being a mess or doing drugs, whereas it’s accepted for guys?
TL: I think it’s very common when girls are singing about heartbreak or about sex. It’s like, you should play hard to get, and you’re not supposed to be the one who messed up, or the one who made a mistake. I think it’s changing a lot now because there are a lot of young girls coming out and saying, ‘Hey, this is me.’ Good people can do bad things too. I think it’s also more when it comes to sex. I feel like there used to be this thing where it was like, ‘Oh, you’re thinking about sex. You’re a bad girl.’ I’m like, why are those two connected?
IC: There’s a total double standard. I agree with you. I think it’s great that you’re willing to attack that. Because absolutely there’s a double standard. Girls are supposed to be good and want to just get married and be perfect, and guys are able to go out and go crazy and get wasted, and sleep around, and the attitude is it’s fine for them to do that – because they are men.
TL: I grew up in Stockholm, where it’s very much that we’re equal. We still have a long way to go, like everywhere, but we’re very equal. Girls are very free to do whatever they want. Like in New York – it’s the same. You’re in big cities, but then you go to some places in some countries where it’s just…
IC: Very extreme?
TL: Completely. They just act like, how could you do this? Why are you not embarrassed? Why should I be embarrassed?
IC: Do you feel it’s also a cultural thing – being from Stockholm? That it’s part of their liberated attitude to be able to be so open about it?
TL: Yeah, maybe. I’m just thinking of what I, in my gut, feel is right and wrong. I’m just going with what I think is right, and what is me.
IC: You have a lot of other songs on the album. Which ones really resonate with you personally?
TL: It’s different everyday but I think the one that I feel stands out regularly is “Timebomb.” It really kind of romanticizes the one-time love or the one-night stand, where it’s like, we’re not forever; you’re not the one, but we could be the best thing ever. Just because of that, you know, when you’re with someone. You’re always like, ‘Ah, I remember the first time we met.’ You always think back to the first moment you saw each other, the first time you met. Because that’s the most romantic part of your story, usually. So this song celebrates that first time, and should we really keep going after that? Because it’s never going to get as good as this. And I like that twist.
IC: And what about your track, “Not on Drugs”?
TL: “Not on Drugs” obviously is a funny follow-up after “Habits (Stay High).” It’s one of the more euphoric songs, which I’m happy I can write as well. It’s not all black and dark. But it’s more of where I compare the feeling of having the ultimate high to being in love, which I think are very similar. I wrote that with the same guy that I wrote “Idle Minds” and “Got Love” with, [which are] also on the album. He’s a Swedish guy and is the most artistic person I’ve ever met. He’s very hard to work with, but he’s amazing, so it’s worth it, haha. Even though he takes a while to get his tone down.
IC: So which tracks or videos do you plan to release next?
TL: I am going to record a video for “Talking Body.” I haven’t really decided which song to go with as a single yet. I feel right now I’m so in love with the whole album, it’s kind of hard to pick. But “Not on Drugs”– that would be very close to my heart. So is “Talking Body” and “Timebomb.” I feel like it should be either “The Love” or “The Sex” sections at least. Since I already now have “Habits” from “The Pain”, I should go with one from “The Love” and then from “The Sex”, so at least there’s one from each chapter. I’m going to shoot the “Talking Body” video when I go home to Sweden. I think “Habits” is still going pretty strong here now for a while. It will be a surprise what is coming up next!
IC: So you’ve been touring a lot as well. You are supporting Katy Perry on her Australian tour and you’ve been touring a lot in the U.S. recently?
TL: I just finished my US tour. I’m going with Katy to Australia in December. I’m heading back to Europe to do a few shows there before that. I guess I’ll be back in the US touring next year. As much as I can, I love playing live. It’s been really amazing, doing my first headline tour ever, which has been really cool.
IC: And are you excited to be touring with Katy in Australia?
TL: Yes! That’s going to be really insane! I’ve seen her live show, and I think the level between Katy and I is very huge in the production. I give pretty much everything I have energy-wise and I think that goes a long way. Obviously I’ll have my band with me, my two drummers, my key-board player, and the four of us usually go pretty nuts on stage. But I haven’t even thought about my outfit yet. I think I should start thinking about that: what I’m going to wear!
IC: Yeah. Definitely!
TL: That matters. That totally matters. Haha!
IC: Are there any designers that you’ve been working with for your performances?
TL: Not at all, actually. I’m not a fashion girl. When people are like, ‘so this brand would like to give you stuff,’ I’m like, ‘oh, why?’ ‘Because, well, you don’t…’ and I’m like, ‘Oh! Yes, I’d love some new clothes.’ I never go shopping. I need some clothes. I’m in my Doc Martens and my trashy jeans and T-shirt usually.
IC: So what do we have to look out for you next year? You’ve got your tour in December. You are planning your headlining tour next year… and obviously you’re planning to release more singles. Is there anything else that you have on the books that we should look forward to?
TL: I’ll probably start working on my second album soon, even though it’s going to be a while before it comes out. I’ll be playing shows, I’ll be releasing new singles, recording more videos, just doing everything I can to be out there.
IC: Where do you see yourself going from here? This is such an intensely personal album about so much pain and heartache with all your break-ups and everything. Do you think, moving forward with your second album, it’ll be harder to relate to some of those things, in the sense that your life will have changed so much?
TL: It all depends on what happens to me. I guess it’s whatever I go through, I’ll be writing about. I don’t think about my childhood that much, [but] because I’m getting a lot of questions about it, I’m thinking about it a lot more. So I dug up some of my old short stories, and my old journals, and started to write stuff using that as inspiration. So either it’s going to be an album with more of the music inspired from further back– or it will be everything that’s been going on this past year. There’s a lot of material we’re writing.
IC: Yeah, I can imagine – you have a ton going on! So last question, you mentioned that alcohol isn’t really your drug of choice. So what is your drug of choice?
TL: Ah…I can’t tell you that, haha!
IC: We’ll have to give you a truth serum to get that out of you.
TL: Yeah, exactly!
Interview, photos and video by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine
Fashion Editor: Indira Cesarine
Hair & Makeup: Bruce Dean
Video Capture: Maximiliano Longo
Video Edit: Patricia Gloum and Maximiliano Longo
Photographed at The Untitled Space