With no more than two singles released, Tove Lo has distinguished herself as one of Scandinavia’s most distinctive pop voices. Today she releases her new single Out of Mind, and we met with Tove in her studio in Stockholm to talk about her background as a songwriter, how she found her voice, and a very special lynx.
During the last few years there has been an explosion of female singers and musicians emerging in the Scandinavian region. Following in the tracks beaten by precursors like Robyn and Lykke Li, they form a movement of strong, talented, and savvy young women. United by their Scandinavian heritage of synthetic dance beats and melancholic sincerity, they can still be distinguished by their unique and inimitable voices.
One of the most distinctive voices among all these talented singers goes by the name of Tove Lo. After spending a few years in the background, working as a songwriter for bands and musicians such as Icona Pop, Girls Aloud and Cher Lloyd, it is now time for Tove Lo to step into the limelight. And with no more than two singles released, she is already well on her way there.
– I like the feeling of entering through the back door, Tove says. I’ve been in the music world long enough to know what I can do and what I want to do.
I want music to have this nerve, the nerve that really breaks your heart
Tove Lo’s real name is Tove Nilsson. She grew up just outside of Stockholm, and though her family wasn’t very musical, Tove began to sing at an early age. At ten she wrote her first song, pairing a piece of music she had learned in school with her own melody.
– I remember that I was at a friend’s house together with two of my best friends. They thought the song was amazing, so we decided to record it with a little tape recorder and a microphone. Afterwards I just felt like, wow, did I just do that? After that I kept writing songs, and even though I kept most of them to myself, I couldn’t help but thinking: what if I could do this the rest of my life?
At the age of twenty-five Tove is doing exactly what she was dreaming about in her teens, but it took her both courage and many hours of training to get there.
– I went to a music school in Stockholm. I was probably the worst student when I started, but I practiced and practiced. People today want everything to be done in a second, but when it comes to training your body it’s all about practice. It’s the same thing with your voice.
How did you find your voice?
– When I was learning it was more about how to sing, and when I listen to old recordings I can hear that I focus on how to phrase or how to hit a high note. Today I think less about how I sing, and more on what I sing about. I want music to have this nerve, the nerve that really breaks your heart. With today’s technology you have every possibility to make the music sound exactly the way you want it, but you have to be careful not to strip the music of its soul. When it comes to my own music I want to keep that organic nerve.
In her early twenties, Tove began working as a songwriter, writing songs for bands and artists like Icona Pop, Gavin Degraw, Girls Aloud, and Cher Lloyd. She says that writing for others is all about balance. Balance between the universal and the personal, between thinking outside the box and sticking to the rules.
– There are only a certain number of paths that you can take when you are writing for others, and it’s nice to be able to leave them when I’m just writing for myself. Then I can just write straight from the heart.
You have to be careful not to strip
the music of its soul
How does it feel to stand in the background when a band you’ve been writing for becomes a huge success, like Icona Pop?
– People ask me this question all the time. I love being an artist and being on stage, I’m kind of an exhibitionist. But when I’ve been writing for someone else I’ve never craved the attention, especially not with Icona Pop. They deserve it so much. It’s fantastic to see what has become of them and know that I’ve been a part of that. I can also see their success as a driving force for my own artistry, something to strive for.
Tove might not have reached the success of Icona Pop yet, but she is well on her way. With the singles Love Ballad and Habits, as well as the celebrated Lucas Nord collaboration Run on Love behind her, she has taken both one and two steps in the right direction. Her music can be described as dark and sincere, full of that nerve that Tove wants her music to be infused with, the nerve that truly breaks your heart.
– Sometimes I feel that my music is too honest, but I wouldn’t be able to write in any other way. I can’t strain myself. However, I try not to talk about the songs too much. I’d rather have the songs to speak for themselves.
Today Tove releases her new single Out of Mind, and later this autumn we will hear her still nameless debut EP. In its entirety, the EP will tell a love story from the beginning to the end.
– I will probably continue to release some EPs. I like the thought of releasing a little at a time. I guess I’m too impatient to work with a whole album, Tove laughs. I want people to hear my music right away.
Will you continue to work as a songwriter?
– Yes. Sometimes I can feel that I’ve given away too much of myself. To be an artist is to always think about myself. It’s just me, me, me. I think it’s wholesome to have a break from that once in a while. To see things from new perspectives. I can be more imaginative when writing for others, writing songs that I wouldn’t be able to sing myself.
Last but not least, I ask Tove where her stage name Tove Lo comes from. It turns out it was her namesake at a zoo that gave her the nickname. More exactly a lynx, called lo in Swedish.
– It’s been my nickname since I was about three years old. There was this lynx at a zoo that was called Tove, and that I totally fell in love with. It was my dear godmother who decided to call me Tove Lo, after that lynx. It stuck. When I eventually needed a stage name it felt natural to use that nickname, even though it’s hard for people abroad to pronounce it. Most people just call me T Low. Except for the really swaggy guys who call me T Whizzle. I love that.
Watch the video for Tove Lo’s new single Out Of Mind here.
Photos by Viktor Fremling.