Penning lyrics about observing strangers in sex clubs, taking drugs and throwing up in the bathtub, Swedish artist Tove Lo is not one to censor her songs. This unfettered approach is proving to have a strong appeal for pop audiences. Over a million downloads of her single “Habits (Stay High)” have driven impressive numbers across multiple charts that preceded the full-length debut, Queen of the Clouds, released in September on Island Records.
From the genesis of her EP Truth Serum in 2014 to 10 spots on the VH1 You Oughta Know Tour, a slot opening for Katy Perry last fall on the Prismatic World Tour and now with successive singles from Queen of the Clouds including her latest, “Talking Body,” it has been a rapid ascent for the artist and songwriter.
As her song “Moments” says, “…on good days, I am charming as fuck.” In this exclusive interview, MC speaks with Tove Lo on one of those days.
Music Connection: You were at SXSW last week; on the David Letterman show last night; and you’re playing a concert at the Highline Ballroom in Manhattan this evening––you’re a busy woman!
Tove Lo: It’s good to be back.
MC: You toured last year with Katy Perry, an artist who took a long time to break through. In contrast, your career arc seems to be on a shorter timeline.
TL: It feels strange that the first song I ever released “Habits (Stay High”) did so well. Obviously I’ve been working on my stuff for a long time. I was never in a hurry to release anything until it was right.
MC: You had a well-publicized spell of serious vocal problems last year. How is your voice holding up?
TL: It’s been good, but I’m a little sick. I did a radio show and the host was coughing and sneezing. I said, “If I catch your cold I’m going to kill you.”
MC: Do you notice physical limitations like this when you perform?
TL: I don’t feel it. I usually don’t think about it.
MC: You were barefoot last night on Letterman.
TL: The cold came before it, or I would have blamed the fact that it’s very chilly in that studio.
MC: Do you enjoy performing on television shows?
TL: I only enjoy it when I finally see it. There is so much going on, you don’t actually have time to think about anything, and we only play one song so it’s like, “What just happened? We’re done.”
MC: You had dancers on the Letterman show; will this be a new addition to your performances?
TL: We wanted to recreate the vibe of the video for the song “Talking Body,” and my tour manager had seen this cool production with these dancers. That was the first time––I never did that before. It was like “What’s going on?” It was cool––I looked back and had all of these people around me shaking their asses. I like to move, but it’s more spastic; weird moves, my own choreography. Maybe some day I will take dancers on tour and we can dance together. It would be hard for me to concentrate on that and to sing at the same time––to bring the emotion to the songs. But it would be fun. I always want to challenge myself.
MC: What is the structure of your live show, and how do you use stage technology to tell your stories?
TL: Me and my three guys––the band from Sweden––have a really cool connection. I’m interactive with the audience. We have cool, crazy visuals. Lighting is really important to me. I go through the lighting on every song because that enhances the mood and builds the energy. It’s funny, that’s such a huge part of it, how we can react so much to light and to music and how it means so much. I spend a lot time getting that incorporated into the show.
MC: Are you a control freak who oversees all aspects of the performance?
TL: I guess so, yes. I just really want to make sure that I am a part of all of the creative aspects. If it feels right, then it’s right. I usually know. If I am not 100 percent sure, I’d rather not do it. But you have to try things. It is a tricky balance to follow your instincts, but also open up a bit.