We talk egos and sonic experiments with Sweden’s new noise provocateur, Tove Styrke.
It’s no secret that Sweden produces the best pop music, and Tove Styrke is no different. Having first appeared on Swedish Idol aged 16, Styrke followed the traditional reality television route, rush releasing an album that comprised of above average pop songs. However, in the throws of puberty and massive transitions, it’s hardly surprising that one might not have the fullest grasp on their own identity, both musically and personally.
Taking time away from the spotlight and the “circus” of the music industry, Styrke became a recluse, returning home. However, a passion for music forced her hand, and she signed a deal with Sony this year, marking her return to pop. Yet this time things are different, and her mentality is stronger. Not only is she experimenting with sounds from reggae tinged strokes on ‘Borderline’ to bratty punk on ‘Even If I’m Loud I’m Not Talking To You’, but she’s doing it with self-assurance and balls of attitude.
With her latest single ‘Ego’ out now and an album due this year, we caught up with Tove Styrke to talk about her time away, her sonic experiments and who really does have the biggest ego of them all…
How are you?
I’m fine, thank you. It’s nice to be back in London.
I wanted to start off by talking about ‘Ego’. Compared to the last two singles, ‘Even If I’m Loud I’m Not Talking To You’ and ‘Borderline’, it’s slightly more accessible and ‘radio friendly’. Was there a progression that you wanted to achieve through the three singles?
It’s kinda just how it’s ended up naturally. ‘Even If I’m Loud…’ – that was sort of apart from the rest of the songs. ‘Borderline’ was the title track for the EP, and is one of my favourites that came naturally at that point. And then ‘Ego’ is also a favourite one from the album. This whole album that I have coming out, Kiddo, is kind of all over the place but in a good way. I really tried to not restrain myself and not stick within a certain frame soundwise.
Have you been working with the same people?
I’ve been working with a few different ones, a small group of people at home that I really like working with. Johan T Karlsson, for instance, produced both ‘Boderline’ and ‘Ego’. Then there’s a guy called Janne Kask, who used to be in a band called Brainpool in the 90s. They’re very catchy songs that almost annoyingly get stuck in your brain. I worked a lot with him on my previous record, as well.
I wanted to ask about the previous record. You’ve mentioned that after its release that you wanted some space from ‘the industry’. What happened in that period that made you feel like you wanted to come back and do it again?
I needed to get some space between the industry and myself. I had been in this circus since I was 16, and I had just been going on and on, working and working, playing and playing for so long that I was almost raced into the music industry. My profession was such a huge part of my identity, and I needed to take all of that away for a while and get to know myself; who am I without the business and the pressure to sell my music.
But what did you do all that time?
I really did nothing; I went back north to Umeå, my hometown, and lived with a friend who was unemployed. It was kind of miserable, but I think sometimes boredom is a luxury that very few people can experience; it brings out so much creativity. It was during that time that I realised that I had this true passion for making music and that I would do it even if I didn’t have a record deal or nobody was going to hear it.
I guess you were 16 when you went on Swedish Idol, and people change so much over that period of time. When you’re growing up with all that madness going on around you, it must be hard to try and figure out who you actually are personally and musically.
Yeah, it was kind of tricky for me. I’m not ungrateful or anything, but with my first record everything was going so well and there was so much stuff to do, so I kept on doing things because I could. I realised that just because you can do something it doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do.
So let’s chat about the video for ‘Ego’. It’s great, but the male character in the clip who is eating the ice cream and then starts dancing. What is that all about?
The man symbolises the person with the problem. With ‘Ego’, a lot of people tend to think it’s a love song, somebody in a relationship, but it’s really not. I think it’s about love, but it’s bigger than that – it could be a mother talking to her child, or a friend to another friend – anyone that’s losing themselves to their ego and the frustration of not being able to do anything about it. He’s there to symbolise that behaviour. But then he comes back and we have drinks and he’s happy singing karaoke [laughs].
You’ve spoken before about how ‘Borderline’ is about rejecting patriarchal oppressiveness. Is that a theme that’s running through the album, too?
Many of these songs are very personal to me. That was also one of the things I set out to do with this album, to get to the next level regarding how much of myself I’m able to put into the music. At this point it’s all me and that’s a big difference in the lyric. You really can write a song that’s really nice, that rhymes and sounds pretty but that comes from a place that’s real. There, naturally, things that I’m frustrated or angry about tend to end up in the songs.
And it’s a continuation of a sonic experiment?
There are somethings that keep it together. There are definitely electronic textures to the sound that ties it together, and also my presence. There are the lyrics, which is like a therapy for me. It’s like, “Oh, this is how I think about this.” I also have a way of writing where I try to write in an ergonomic way. I focus a lot on what words naturally fits my way of speaking. Say I have this sentence that I like and I’ll say it over and again until I find the rhythm, and at that point it’s almost like a rap. And then I put a melody to it. That makes the vocals stand out a bit because they’re very true to the way I naturally express myself.
I saw on your Instagram that you put up that Britney and Justin double denim photo. What’s your favourite Britney song and what’s your favourite Justin song?
Ahh…I know Britney better. Actually, I really like a song called ‘How I Roll’. I think that’s an extremely good pop song.
Finally, who would you say has the biggest ego in the world?
Words: Alim Kheraj