"My past albums were angry about being vulnerable, this is about admitting it..." - Tove Lo talks new album Sunshine Kitty
Swedish pop sorceress Tove Lo was first introduced to us in the early 2010s from behind the scenes. Initially, she began her career as a songwriter, working alongside supremo Max Martin and his team, she wrote hits for Girls Aloud, Victoria Justice and her childhood friends Icona Pop.
That changed in 2013 with the release of hit single 'Habits', and, over the course of the next six years, her star has shone brighter and brighter. She's delivered three excellent albums, produced big hits like 'Cool Girl' and 'Talking Body' and firmly established herself as a name in her own right.
Lo, whose real name is Ebba Nilsson, has built her reputation on dark, elegant pop with lyrics that laid it all on the line. She's more explicit, more honest and more engaging than her contemporaries.
But she ran into trouble for her fourth album Sunshine Kitty. After chronicling short-lived liaisons and the rise and demise of a relationship on paired albums Lady Wood and Blue Lips, things were different this time. She was newly settled in Los Angeles and in a good place in a good relationship. In short, she was happy. How would that affect her new songs?
Fortunately, she's powered through with great aplomb to deliver Sunshine Kitty, which arrives in stores today.
With all that in mind, we spoke to Lo about writing from a happier place, working with Kylie Minogue and the wild inspiration for the album title...
You’re constantly writing, both for yourself and for artists, but when did you know you had the songs for an album?
“It took me a second. Last time I had done the double album and I was finishing songs while touring. I was totally sick of myself. I was spent, I had nothing to say. I needed to live a little before I felt like I could go to work again. I was writing for other people, doing sessions without much purpose and an end goal. Then I wrote ‘Sweettalk My Heart’ and that shocked me.”
In what way?
“I was like, ‘This is kind of happy!’. I knew it was a good song, but I didn’t know if it could be one of mine. Then I kept writing and I realised that this was the sound that was coming out of me. It felt quite effortless. It was coming from a calmer place. It has its dark moments and it’s still a really emotional record, but one written in a better place.”
How do you know when a song is yours or it’s a song for someone else? Has that changed over time?
“Now it’s more writing with artists and they usually want to be in the sessions. I don’t really write songs to pitch them to people anymore. The only time that happens is if a movie is looking for a song. If I’m in a room without another artist, then usually it’s for me. I try to go into the room with the mindset of what to do.”
“If I know an artist is looking for a song then I’ll go in with them in mind. Even songs that don’t make an album, I might have thought to give them away, but now you need to release so much music. I’m already talking about what I’ll release next year and this album isn’t out yet!”
How many songs did you have for the album?
“About 20, I managed to push 13 in there and that was hard to do. I picked the songs that made it the most cohesive and I will look to put the others out the year after. I focused on making the flow right. I could put out all 20 on one album, but I don’t think it would feel right.”
You’ve got Kylie Minogue on the album, how did that come about?
“The people I work with are always asking about collaborations and reaching out. It’s usually about timing and I was really lucky. It’s a total dream scenario. She tweeted me once and I still have it saved on my phone, it was such a moment for me. Then I met her and I asked her if she would want to work together and she said ‘Sure, anytime’. I had that mental note and started trying to find something that would fit her. I sent her ‘I really don’t like u’, she loved and she was down. It just worked out. I was so happy.”
What kind of album is it lyrically? You’ve said it’s a happier record…
“The title is certainly happier and that’s how it feels. Now I’ve listened to it a few times I think you can still hear that classic Swedish melancholy. I was just in a happier place making it. It’s definitely a progression, it feels more effortless, but it’s still vulnerable and emotionally honest. My past albums were angry about being vulnerable, this is about admitting it.”
That must be more challenging as a songwriter to do, it’s easier to make people connect to sadness than it is to happiness…
“There’s a happier tone, but you have to leave a little piece of fear in there. When you have something you love and you want to hold on to, you’ll always have a fear of losing it and you have to channel that. It’s impossible to have one feeling no other ones. Being hopeful also means being scared. I treat my songs like a journal, so there are still a lot of thoughts and dreams and fears in there. It’s how I work through s**t.”
Where did you get the album title from?
“Sunshine Kitty had a funny journey. It’s me adapting to living in Los Angeles and feeling the sunshine. Kitty also gave another layer to lynx (lo is the Swedish word for lynx), it’s still my spirit animal. And an episode of Girls where Lena Dunham’s character is telling everyone about this author’s glow and how she lays down and tans her v****a. She lets the sun in and builds up p***y power. It’s a play on that.”
How are your live plans forming?
“Next year will be an intense touring year. I’m headlining all over the US and Europe. I’ve got a few weeks in Sweden this year to get the show and the set right and then we’ll get production in the new year. I want a simple, but bold art piece on stage. I want visuals that go beyond just a video screen. I’m trying to decide what goes in for my two hours, I’ve got four albums now. Some of the venues are twice as big too, it’s very exciting.”
Your live shows are so raw and intense, keeping that alive in bigger venues will be tough...
“You have to remember what you were. I give so much onstage, I move a lot and I always want the audience to feel everything. I want to have the same rawness, I always think of it as more rock and roll than pop.”
Are you finding time to write on the road?
“I block out time for writing and I do try to get sessions in. I bring my portable studio on tour, but it’s definitely tough. If I’m doing five shows all of an hour and a half, then I need to rest my voice. I broke my voice and had to have surgery five years ago. As much as I love doing it, I have to make myself have days off.”
Having done the Lady Wood and Blue Lips double album, could you see your next project being something that epic again?
“I set up a lot of goals with Lady Wood and Blue Lips. Both albums, all the short films, and it wasn’t the best business-wise. It cost a lot and I ended up financing a lot of it myself. I couldn’t do it again, I was going through something really dark and I needed to express it in some elaborate ways. I look at it all now and I think ‘Wow, I was going through some shit’. It was my way to deal with it.”
“I’m really proud of it. I get tunnel vision when I want something and I’m so pleased I could fully realise it. But it’s time for something different now. I don’t think I’ll ever stop wanting to build a world around the album, but it will be something new each time.”
Tove Lo’s new album Sunshine Kitty is out now.