“I feel a little rough,” admits Lykke Li. I’ve managed to catch the Swedish noir pop artist while she’s rushing for a flight from LA to Japan, although you’d never know it from the way she answers my questions. Despite the thousands of miles between us, and a hangover to contend with, she speaks beautifully and openly about her journey as a woman and an artist, explaining how it’s often hard to separate the two.
The day before, Li had managed to marry her two favourite things: mezcal and music, at Yola Día festival, a venture birthed from her burgeoning alcohol brand. Featuring an all female line-up (Cat Power, Courtney Love) singing to support women struggling in Oaxaca, Mexico, the festival is an opportunity to “celebrate women and give back at the same time”.
A day of “strong drink and strong women in the park”, I ask why she decided to combine the two. She explains that the issues you face when making mezcal are actually quite similar to the ones you do when making music: “All businesses all over the world are pretty much ruled by rich white men… that’s what we’re trying to change.” This positive feminist message has always embodied Li’s music. Manifesting in direct and unapologetic lyrics it allows her to occupy a space, connected to, but not characterised by, the pop genre.
In her latest work this female-focused directive has become clearer. The despondent girl who seems to feature in her third album I Never Learn is gone. In her place is a strong woman who has widened the definition of the word to encompass vulnerability while not sacrificing any tenacity. “I think for the first time I felt like I had arrived into being a woman.”
This rebirth came after Li lost her mother three weeks into the life of her son Dion. Her fourth album, So Sad, So Sexy, was born out of this difficult period. She says that after giving birth, making music became like “a burning thing that has to come out. So, it’s way more pleasurable, profound and direct”.
Having Dion also helped Li take control of her sexuality for the first time, as she was confronted with just how amazing the female body could be. I ask her what advice she would give to a woman struggling with owning her own sexuality. “You have to fall in love with yourself just like how you fall in love with someone else,” she replies. “For all their flaws and imperfections.”
Li’s new EP, “Still Sad, Still Sexy”, as the name suggests, is very much connected to the metamorphosis she went through while making her last album. The material, which consists of six songs — a few new with some remixes — remains in the “back end of that era”.
She prefers the versions of “deep end” and “so sad so sexy” that are on the EP, however. She explains that her songwriting “got a little bit lost” while she was experimenting with different sounds on the album. “When I started to sing, it was just with a piano. I connected so much to it and I was like, ‘Wow, I need to release this version. This is the version of my heart.’”
I can see what she means, the stripped back versions on the EP allow you to fully appreciate the emotion in her voice as they’re uninhibited by the synth, drums and reverb that characterise the originals. The journey of the album and the EP ends here however. Instead of creating a “trilogy” as she did with her first three albums, Li wants to start making music which is more “free form”, creating potentially shorter projects which enable her to be in a better “state of flow”.
This aspiration will be well served living in Los Angeles, a “melting pot of creative people”. She compares it to her time in Stockholm, where although collaborations occurred, they happened more “behind the scenes”. The opportunity is more overt in LA. “Everyone’s here,” she explains, “it’s definitely like a text message away for someone to roll through.”
This melting pot has seen Lykke collaborate with many different artists on the EP, ranging from Skrillex to hip-hop rappers, Lil Baby and snowsa.
Despite Lil Baby’s somewhat incongruous bars, these hip-hop mixes lift the tracks, allowing them to occupy a different musical space. For now though, Li’s done experimenting with hip-hop. For her next work she’s looking to create something more “organic and intimate”. “I feel like I’m kind of ready to go in the opposite direction,” she explains. “And that’s also how I always do. I do something and then I want to take a left turn.”
It’s evident that Li isn’t an artist that agonises over her process. In fact, the direction in which she takes her music comes so naturally to her that she “finds it hard to describe”. This is because making music, and getting it as close to her personal truth as possible, seems to be the only way she knows how to create.
I ask her if she has ever felt like she’s given too much away in an interview, which she admits to, explaining that it’s hard for her because she “can only be honest”. I tell her this makes her an ideal interview candidate. She wolfishly replies, “or a terrible ex-girlfriend.”
Lauren Palmer-Smith at Lowe and Co using Hair by Sam McKnight