POD CONCERTS & AIKEN PROMOTIONS presents:
Thursday June 12th
The Sugar Club – Leeson Street – Dublin 2.
Doors – 8pm
Tickets €15 (inc. booking fee) available from Ticketmaster, Road Records, City Discs, Sound Cellar and usual outlets. www.ticketmaster.ie
“When you’re dancing, you free your emotions and say things you can’t with words. You’d never tell how shy I am if you saw how I dance…”
Lykke Li can’t stay still. Her life and her career are relentlessly pulled forward by an impatient desire to see what’s just around the corner, her music full of ideas about moving on and breaking free. Just 18 months ago she was complaining to her mentor, Bjorn ‘of Peter and John fame’ Yttling, that everything had gone wrong because she was 21 and still hadn’t released an album. Now 22, she’s finding that things are on track. With the release of that album ‘Youth Novels’, already out in Sweden through her own label LL Recordings, she’s been surprised and maybe a little embarrassed to find that the world is falling at her feet. She’s just the kind of person people can’t help falling in love with.
“I’m always looking for something raw and pure,” says Lykke Li. “I want to create a direct, intense, intimate feeling; a vision which is uncomplicated but with a depth.” This idea of uncomplicated depth – or, to put it another way, an album completely accessible but also robust enough for repeated listens – is expressed through the layered, multi-instrumental flavour of her music. You’ll hear harpsichords, flutes, and theremins throughout the album but you’ll also hear Lykke Li’s magnificently brittle, candy coated vocals. ‘Youth Novels’ is like a well-thumbed paperback which falls open, again and again, on the same pages: love, loneliness, frustration and obsession. The stories are so moving because the stories are true: they’re stories about Lykke Li and her extraordinary life, told with unusual honesty. Recorded with Bjorn over the last 10 months, ‘Youth Novels’ weaves its way through 14 perfectly-realised chapters. It includes recent single ‘Little Bit’ (released to much acclaim on Moshi Moshi earlier this year), continues with the punchy throb of ‘I’m Good I’m Gone’ and brilliant songs like reluctant breakup anthem ‘Breaking It Up’. Throughout, there’s a sense of momentum and a pursuit of some unobtainable goal. “I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied and calm,” Lykke Li admits. “Even now I wonder how I’m going to live a whole lifetime, feeling how I do now…”
If you’re wondering where Lykke Li (first name Lykke Li, surname Zachrisson)’s fidgety, keep-on-moving attitude began, let’s rewind 22 years to the very beginning of her nomadic life. We’re in northern Europe and Chernobylised clouds have chosen to dump their radioactive rain down on Stockholm. A new sense of environmental consciousness grips the country and her parents – Lykke Li’s mother a photographer, her father a musician – move first from the city to the country and then, selling everything they own, they move to Portugal, where they buy land and build a house in small village in the mountains. As the years tick by the family move to Lisbon, then back to Sweden. Every year the family escape Sweden’s gloomy winters to India, then return in the summer. Her passport may be Swedish, but Lykke Li is from a little bit of everywhere with a perfect balance of city and suburb that pours from the organic, digital feel of her songs.
Lykke Li danced her way through childhood. When she was five, when her most prized possession was a cassette of Madonna’s ‘Immaculate Collection’ hits album, this Little Miss Sunshine would slap makeup on her face, stuff a bra and put on dance shows for her family based on the entire album, taking in everything from ‘Like A Virgin’ to ‘Erotica’. Back then dancing was her chosen mode of expression and though her emotional vocabulary has now broadened it echoes through ‘Youth Novels’ – on ‘Dance Dance Dance’ she sings “having trouble telling how I feel but I can dance, dance, and dance; couldn’t possibly tell you what I mean but I can dance, dance, dance”. “I didn’t fit in,” Lykke Li says. “I hated my school and everyone in it. ‘Dance Dance Dance’ is a song about dancing away the silence and the awkwardness.” By her teens she was dancing on Swedish TV, backing up other artists. “Then I made things difficult for myself, like I always do. All my friends were dancing, but I stopped that. My dream had been to dance, but I was bored of it. I was writing songs and decided to start singing, but I sucked.” So she joined a gospel choir. By this point artists like Prince and Kate Bush were on the radar: fantastical eccentrics with extraordinary, otherworldly talents. “I seek comfort in artists like that, and even Edith Piaf, because I read about them and think ‘yes, someone feels like me’,” LL smiles. “I feel inspired by people who feel different.” The influence of that Madonna cassette was not forgotten, either: when she was 18 Lykke Li decided that she would finish school, move to New York and become a singer.
Once she arrived in New York, the 19-year-old gave herself three months. She rented a room in a dodgy four bed apartment in Brooklyn, signed up for improvisation classes at an acting studio to boost her confidence and turned up at open mic nights to perform her songs. One night, during a spot at the legendry SOB’s club, a punter shouting “Get this white girl off the stage!” prompted the audience to boo Lykke Li out of the building. “The next day I knew I’d experienced the worst,” she recalls. “I was happy, somehow. You need to do that stuff before you can be a real artist.” She changed tactics – she reinvented herself, turning up at venues glammed up, claiming to be a huge Swedish star who was, as Lykke Li puts it, “tired of all the attention”. She wrote a fictional biography and had photos taken. “I was a Swedish superstar,” Lykke Li grins. “I’d sung on every stage.” The plan started working… Then her visa ran out.
When she returned to Stockholm her family was in India for Christmas. Lykke Li spent the long, dark winter days working in a retirement home, clearing up sick. “I’d just sit there,” she recalls, “thinking ‘fucking hell’.” One day, in between thinking ‘fucking hell’ and wondering how she’d ever earn enough money to get back to New York, she started fiddling around with her songs. The next week she set up a MySpace page and almost instantly people around the world started paying attention. One producer told her that her demos sucked and put her in touch with his friend Bjorn. Bjorn was busy. Lykke Li kept calling him, once a week, every week, for three months. “Eventually,” she remembers, “he said, ‘let’s do a demo’, but then his band blew up and he was away all the time.” Lykke Li managed to grab a few hours with Bjorn every few weeks – he’d have been in LA or Japan promoting ‘Young Folks’ while she’d been clearing up after old folks. “My life was fading away!” she laughs. “I was going ‘I’m twenty! I’m going to be twenty one in a month!’ He told me I was crazy.”
Once again, Lykke Li’s impatience took hold. She went back to developing her own songs, producing them and putting them on MySpace, where word was beginning to spread and songs were being hungrily devoured by bloggers. At her first proper gig, with beats played off an iPod, a journalist who wrote a glowing, ‘star in the making’-style review for a Swedish paper. The ball was rolling, and once again, Lykke Li had been the mistress of her own destiny. “You have to do everything yourself,” she says, matter-of-factly. “I never trust people to do things, because they never do. Except for Bjorn.” As it happens, despite his frequent absences, Bjorn had seen something quite special in Lykke Li and, as time went by and he was able to spend more time developing tracks on ‘Youth Novels’, a close bond developed. “I’ve always wanted to find a genius who thinks I’m a genius,” she laughs, “and a lot of my album is there as a result of Bjorn seeing something in me – he knew I was never going to be a big singer like Christina Aguilera, standing there and wailing.” She didn’t realise it at the time, but she had found a partner who totally could make sense of her intense, wounded vision of pop; who “believed in me and gave me time to get better”. Without noticing, Lykke Li had also gone from impatiently waiting for the world to catch up, to a point where she would desperately try to slow things down. Fans wanted more music; festivals wanted summer appearances. She was recording with Royksopp and Kleerup. For Lykke Li, a born perfectionist with a hands on approach to everything from songwriting and artwork through to marketing, things were close to getting out of control. “I only had four songs and I was doing all these festival gigs, getting this hype! Everything was getting too big!”
In October 2007, she returned to New York to finish recording her album. New York was different this time round – she stayed in the East Village, she had some money, she was on all the lists for the clubs and gigs. Everything that was wrong about her first visit was somehow turned on its head and the result is one of the most perfect albums you’ll hear all year.
A defining point in ‘Youth Novels’ is the song ‘Hanging High’, which combines Lykke Li’s most beautiful melodies with jarringly brutal lyricism: “these razors cutting sharp, it leaves me with an ever bleeding scar… So soft, so suddenly, so that I can not breathe, I’m drawn into a circle painted black”. “When I wrote ‘Hanging High’ I couldn’t really put my finger on what was wrong in my life, but I could feel in my whole body and soul that if someone let me down again I would not be able to take it. It’s a song about walking on thin ice. I’m a person who’s kind of drawn to the dark sides in life and I can be very dramatic and emotional.” Another song, ‘Let It Fall’, is about pleasure to be found in the pain of your own tears falling. “I noticed how often I cried, and that it’s not always a bad thing. I cry when I see movies and God knows how many times I used tears to manipulate my parents. It’s also very relaxing and good for you. It’s something very poetic and beautiful over tears. Let them fall – the more drama the better.” ‘Breaking It Up’, meanwhile, returns us to one of our recurring themes. “It’s about me always being the one to leave someone in order to pursue my dreams,” Lykke Li admits. “It’s about how my creativity is keeping me from having a steady relationship because I’m always thinking about new ideas. I do feel bad for beginning things with people when I know it’s never gonna last. I’ll stay a while, but never for long…”
Just as her music sometimes seems to have arrived from another planet, Lykke Li is not quite like anyone you’ve met before. Sometimes nervous but exceptionally impatient, she knows she’s almost too fragile for the success that lies ahead, but she’s storming on regardless.