Tove Styrke on Making Pop That Bursts With Feelings

Tove Styrke on Making Pop That Bursts With Feelings

The Swedish singer gushes about her faves and her upcoming new album 'Sway.'

The Swedish singer gushes about her faves and her upcoming new album 'Sway.'

Text: Sydney Gore

Tove Styrke loves pop music. The 25-year-old singer-songwriter has a lot of opinions about the entire landscape, but she respects everyone that operates within the category. After we are introduced to each other in the lobby at Park South Hotel, she tests me by recounting a debate she overheard earlier in the day comparing the talent of Britney Spears and BeyoncéWhile she knows better than to pick sides, Tove provides constructive feedback about the legacies of both stars. Before our interview officially begins, I mention how Destiny’s Child comes to mind every time that I listen to her own single called “Say My Name” and notice how she gets this gleam in her eye. “Nobody has ever made that connection before,” she says. “It wasn’t until recently, but I just noticed how both videos are similar too with the whole monochrome room thing, but that wasn’t even intentional!”

While she enthusiastically answers all of my queries, Tove taps her long, glittery nails loudly on her iPhone screen and makes a sound that she describes as “when you write on an old Nokia.” At best, the Swedish artist’s phone is merely a distraction, but she’s not super attached to itTove claims that she’s not dependent on technology to get her through life. “I’m actually so glad that there’s a time I properly remember without smartphones ‘cause you know that you can survive without them,” she says.

Midway through our discussion, Tove stops sipping her huge cup of tea and takes a quick break to run up to her room to and grab tobacco--it’s been a long press day and this is the only thing that will keep her energized enough to stay awake. But all of this is just a part of the moment she’s been building up her career for. Tove recently finished touring with Lorde and will go on to support Katy Perry as an opening act in Europe next month. All the while, she’s been preparing for the release of the follow-up to her 2015 album Kiddo. Tove’s third album Sway is slated to drop on May 4 and shows the emerging pop star more confident than she’s ever been in her abilities. Scroll down and learn more about the world of Tove Stryke in the interview below.

Take me back, I wanna know about where you’re from and where you grew up, all that fun background stuff.

Oh my God! The whole thing. Jesus Christ. So I live in Stockholm, I’ve lived there for eight years, but I grew up in Umeå, which is in the northern part of Sweden. It’s a small town. My dad had a music store, not where they sell records, but where they sell instruments. He used to always bring home instruments, like if I so much whispered, “Bass would be fun to play,” he’d bring one home.

Did you teach yourself any instruments?

No, I didn’t because I’m lazy. I’ve just been singing, and singing, and singing. I used to when I was little, I wanted to sing like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, so I used to sing those songs for hours, and hours, and hours, because they’re hard. It lead to me spending a lot of time singing, so eventually I got good at it, even if I still can’t sing those songs.

When did you start writing songs?

When I was writing my first album, I was on Swedish Idol and I got my record deal from there. I was lucky enough to end up with an A&R who cared and saw something in me. I always, from the beginning, had so much to say and all control of my project. It’s not an unusual thing that the artist is present even if they don’t write, so I was present just to make sure that they make music that I like. Then automatically I contributed more and more. In the end, I wrote most of my first album so that was a learning place. Everything was the first time—the first time I did a session, the first time I mixed a song, the first time I didn’t mix it, but I learned what everything was and how it works to make a record.

How was the whole experience with being on a music competition show?

To be honest, I don’t remember that much because it’s long ago and I succeeded. It’s like your brain doesn’t even know. [laughs]. I think they say when you’re 25, that’s when you're fully developed, so supposedly I am that now and that’s scary. This is all I get!

I’m about to turn 25 and I feel like the closer I’m getting to my birthday, the more and more I’ve got the quarter life crisis kicking in.

How do you feel about it?

I mean I’ve always felt like I was pretty mature for a very long time. I’ve always been really independent, I’m an only child, I’m a Taurus which is an earth sign, so I’m just like “I’m good.” I’ve felt 25 for a very long time, but now that it’s actually coming, I’ve started to freak out. Being in your mid-20s, that’s supposed to be such a monumental time, you know?

Yeah, this is supposed to be the time of your life.

Right, and I’m just like, “Is it?” I feel like once you start working and doing stuff for your career, everything else just becomes secondary.

It’s interesting, I feel like people get their crises earlier and earlier for some reason. I don’t know.

What is it about pop music that you’ve been attracted to? Why did you want to be a popstar?

I love pop songs. Obviously if you ask different people, they will say a different kind of music is pop, some will say that it’s only Katy Perry pop that is pop. It spans over so much to me. What I feel is my mission when I write, what I want to do, is to take a feeling, take a thought, and boil it down to its simplest form. So making it as easy as possible for somebody to immediately get it, and tune into that emotion that I’m trying to communicate. Finding a shortcut to somebody’s feelings, that’s what I want to do. That’s why I think pop is a very good tool because I don’t want to write a really nice metaphor for something that you have to look at five times to understand what it’s about. I want people to feel it. I want that directness that you can just feel, you hear the chorus, and you just feel. I think that’s my fascination with pop.

I’m such an emotional music listener, so for me it’s always about the feeling I get from a song. That’s how I connect to it, and how I associate certain songs with certain moments or periods of my life.

I think that’s the cool thing with music in general is that it can be so immediate. You can hear a guitar note, and get a feeling. It’s so cool.

Let’s talk about your next album. I want to know everything from the process of putting it together and when you started working on it to how it’s different from your previous record and how it’s showing your evolution as an artist.

My evolution! I feel like I’ve grown so much since my last album. I feel so much more confident in myself. I’m so happy that I’m in a place where I know that I am capable. I’m very capable, I’m really good at some things, and I know that. What I feel like I’ve done with this album is that I’ve had a vision, I’ve had an idea, something that I wanted to do, and I made it. I know what I’m good at and I know what I need from other people to make that thing come to life. I’m a lot a more confident, I think that’s a big difference.

The whole album, Kiddo... when I listen to it, I really feel like, “Oh, yeah, this is when I was 19, 20.” I really went through this phase where you sort of discover—suddenly you realize that there’s a world, and that there are people in it with feelings, and it’s a whole world, and I’m in this, and who am I in this. So that one was a burst of emotions, with broad strokes, bold colors, and a lot. More is more—put everything in there, all the different things that I was feeling, all the big teenage emotions. Everything. It was a super important album for me to make because that was also just making an entire album where I also had a vision, and something that I set out to do. I know how to do this, I know how to produce a song—not engineer, but like make a song.

From that now, I feel like I’ve done that again, but on another level. What I wanted to do this time was bring it down, and bring it to a much more intimate, close thing. As you said, you go through phases of what you’re listening to, and what music you relate to and feel something for. I feel so much for the songs that when you listen to it, it feels like it’s my life, it feels like it’s my thoughts, and I can’t believe that I didn’t write this because this is me. It’s so cool when a lot of people feel like that about something. For instance, I did a cover of Lorde’s “Liability,” and that song really has that effect on me, and that song has that effect on a lot of people. So many of her fans, that’s their favorite song because it’s got that inner dialogue, it’s very true to hers and very similar to everyone’s. It comes down to these real feelings.

So that’s what I’ve been trying to do—get realer and get smaller. Also with the sound, as well, I really wanted to leave out everything that’s unnecessary, and just keep it as simple and straightforward as possible. Also the way I use my voice—the way I sound on this album, I’ve never sounded as much like I actually speak. I think that’s the core of it. We talked a bit about the sound and my feeling about it, but basically the whole album, the theme of it, is almost a little collection of love stories. Some of them are super romantic, and some of them are very not romantic because that’s how it is.

Life.

Exactly, and with that tone that we talked about. It’s all these little things, like “Mistakes” is about never really feeling like you can stay in a place, and that sort of urge to ruin things, and do what you shouldn’t. “Changed My Mind” is just about changing your mind about somebody.

Which happens!

All of the songs have their own little quirks. With “Changed My Mind”, we did it almost like it’s happening in one night. So everytime I say “changed my mind” it gets more like—in the beginning it’s super crisp and clear, but then it’s like, “I changed my mind” and it gets more “I changed my mind” and then “I-I-I changed my mind.” Then the vocoder comes in and goes nuts, and at that point I guess you’re drunk and think it’s the best decision ever.

It’s very, very real!

Yeah! It’s fun to do those things and I find the whole process so much fun. I think that production is part of the songwriting. In “Say My Name” as well, it wouldn’t be the same song without that ukulele riff. It’s the song’s ID. I like every song to have their own ID so that when you hear it, you recognize it.

Why did you decide to name the album Sway?

I like the word. It looks so pleasing to me, it’s so even and nice, but it’s a romantic word. I like that it suggests movement, like you can sway with someone and it can be a close thing, but it can also be a big movement like swaying. It can be both a physical thing, you can actually do that, but it can also be a mode. 

We should start saying “sway into love.” When I think of falling in love, I think about tripping which I tend to do a lot. It makes me think of mistakes like “Oh, you were tripping.”

Swaying is more when you’re leaning in a little bit, but leaning out and then leaning in a little bit more.

What was going on in your mind when you found out that it was happening, and that you were going to tour with Lorde?

Lorde, I’m so excited! First when I got the question, like usually when you get requests like that, it’s like, “Oh, let me think. We need to think about timeline.” I said yes in two seconds. I was like, “Yes, I’m down, I don’t care when, where, whatever, I’m there.”

Cancel everything.

Yes, yes! Because she’s an artist that I really admire, and she’s so unique and interesting. I really love what she’s doing so I’m excited.

How do you mentally prepare to go on tour? We were talking about travelling before, and I’m sure it’s a lot of back and forth. What do you tend to do?

I feel like you can’t really. With every new experience, I can’t really prepare because I don’t know what to expect, and the more I try and visualize what it’s going to be like, I’m just going to be confused. I’m never going to get it right, when I’m guessing, so I’m just gonna prepare for the wrong thing. I just stay open, and whatever happens happens, and whatever it is, be prepared for everything.

I struggle with figuring out what I’m going to wear everyday, how do you figure out stage clothes? You can only bring so much. 

I know, but I hacked it this time! My wardrobe is made up out of t-shirts, I made my own fan merch with people I like so I got Britney, Lorde, Destiny’s Child, Cardi B, myself, a lot of people. The rest of it, we did everything in tulle which is maybe the lightest fabric there is, so I can just jam my whole wardrobe into a little bag and it weighs nothing.

These are good life hacks, I should just wear tulle.

It’s not that comfortable and it’s see-through, but yeah. With stage clothes, it’s a tricky one because when you do a photoshoot, you can make things look a certain way depending on what you do, but on a stage it’s a certain kind of lighting, you’re moving around all the time, and it has to look good from all angles. It has to make sense on the stage, making you look bigger is a good thing, and I like color, for instance. Find a way to extend your persona without creating a new persona, like staying true to yourself so you still feel like a person.

I saw you had some merch that you made, are you going to have more new merch for this tour?

Yeah, I made new versions of the "Say My Name" shirt. I think that’s my best merch ever, because “wear it out like a sweater that you love” on a sweater makes sense.

Talking about clothes again, I saw on your Instagram you have these really cool pants that were see through and they have a galaxy...

They’re not mine, I wish I had them! They’re Adam Selman and they’re amazing. He’s done ones with rose print as well.

Is that the same person who did Janelle Monáe’s pants in the “Make Me Feel” video?

Yes!

I tweeted about that because I was like “I think I want see through pants.”

She looks so amazing in that video.

I’ve been tweeting asking who the stylist was because I need to know where all the clothes are from.

It’s a really good video and the whole opening sequence is so beautiful. You’d think that when the video starts, at least I felt like, “Oh, I know what kind of song this is going to be,” and then when it started it was the complete opposite of what I thought. That was so cool, that contrast, and she’s so cool in it. She really feels like she’s just living, and being herself.

Yeah, I’m here for Janelle.

Yes, me too!

But, we’re talking about you!

Sorry! I drift.

How did your collaboration on Alma’s Heavy Rules mixtape come about?

Well, we’ve been in contact for years actually. The first time I was in contact with her was a couple years back because she worked with my boyfriend who's a producer. I was going to do a club tour in Scandinavia, and I was like, “Finland! I know nothing about Finland, where should I play?” and he was like, “You should talk to this girl.” I hit her up, and she answered, and was the sweetest, and had really good tips. We’ve just been liking each other, and following each other, and she asked me to do something for her mixtape, and I did.

And the rest is history!

The rest is history! But I really like it, I really like how it turned out. We added some backing vocal things that I did. It’s called “Good Vibes,” but there’s a line that’s like, “Just tell me your sweet lies / sweet lies” which made me think so much about Fleetwood Mac, “Tell me lies / tell me sweet little lies.” So we did this Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks-inspired [sings] “sweet lies” backing vocal thing which I really love, and I think it did something. It was fun to have her world meet mine a little bit. It was tricky because her voice is so powerful and strong, and for me to match that, I can’t. So my verse is like a breathy whisper. When it gets closer to the chorus, I had to amp it up to get closer to her in the chorus. Then I had to put like 50 dubs of myself to match her because it’s crazy, and she’s got like one, through the whole song, bam! But I think it’s nice, the dynamic.

Are there any other artists that you’re hoping, in the next couple of years, to hop in the studio with and do a collab?

Anybody who’s fun! Seriously, I don’t really care what people have done, I feel that way with writers and producers too. Because somebody could have done my favorite album ever, but that doesn't mean we have a good vibe. It’s all about the person, and do we have a connection, are we feeling the same kind of thing right now, so you never know. It’s not easy to find good ones, so Elof [Loelv] for instance, who I worked with mainly on this album, I really loved working with him because we’re so in sync. I don’t have to explain why I think it’s cool with a guitar in this song for instance because he’s in the same sort of head space as me. It’s almost like you can just double yourself and get twice the brain capacity, which is cool.

Sorry, I totally spaced.

[laughs] I love how both of us are like air!

I’m such a grandma, it’s so hard for me to go out on weekdays.

I woke up at 6 today, so I’m like…

You’re better than me, I woke up at 7:30, and then I was like, “I’m not going to the gym today, I’m staying in bed for 30 more minutes…”

I’m a better grandma than you! [laughs]

I’m 24 going on 25 and I’m like, “Nope, I can’t be out past midnight!”

But it’s like that when you work a lot! I can’t believe people have time to go out. How? How do you do that? How?

My friends are like “Come to happy hour” and I’m like “What?!”

Happy what? No! No way.

Honestly, I’d rather take a bath and do my whole skincare routine.

You’re such a Taurus! “I love my bath, and my skincare routine.” I’m like, “Yes, girl!”

What are you?

I’m a Scorpio, so we’re actually kind of a good match!

My mom is a Scorpio, but we argue all the time.

It’s fun because I realized that like all my best friends match up to the ones that I’m supposed to work with. All of them are like Tauruses or Cancer. So there must be something to this. I don’t know how, but there must be.

The universe works in really, really weird ways. I’ve had a terrible romantic track record and I realized that the most recent guys that I’ve had situationships with were all Aries.

Situationships! That’s so good!

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