Tove Styrke On Her Minimal Approach To Pop, ‘Swap’ LP & Touring With Lorde: Interview
Sweden has a habit of producing perfect pop stars. From ABBA to Robyn and beyond, they just do the genre better. Carrying on that fine tradition is Tove Styrke. She has been the MVP of electro-pop since 2017, when she released two of the year’s best songs (“Say My Name” and “Mistakes”) as well as the best cover version (of Lorde’s “Liability”). The 25-year-old combines those songs with five other gems on Sway. A lean collection of love stories, Tove’s third LP ranks as one of 2018’s first filler-free experiences.
I recently had a chat with the Swede on the phone. She spoke about Sway’s meticulously minimal sound, which amplifies every lyric and beat. Her perfectionism extends to all aspects of the creative process, which explains the lengthy delay between albums. Tove also talked about touring with Lorde and her upcoming stint as the opening act on Katy Perry’s Witness Tour. Most excitingly, the “Borderline” singer revealed that she’s already working on new music. Get to know the pop star a little better in our Q&A below.
How does it feel now that the album has finally been released?
It feels really good and it also feels a little bit weird. I’ve been working on the songs for such a long time and I’ve been going so deep into them. They are so personal to me, you get really attached. And when you release something it’s not really yours anymore. You give it away. It’s a little bit sad but, I’m very happy because people seem to love them. The reviews have been amazing.
Everyone loves it. Can I ask why the album took so long?
I am very meticulous. I just want to make sure that I made these songs the best that I could make. Why should I do it 75 percent if I know I could do 100 percent? I just want to make a perfect thing, or something that feels perfect to me.
I think you pulled it off. Does that perfectionism explain why it’s relatively brief?
Yeah. I really wanted to give each song all the attention, and all the work and heart that I feel like it deserves. If I don’t think the song is the best thing I ever heard, I’m not interested in finishing it. I want to really do my best. I wanted to really be able to spend my time on fewer tracks than have a bunch of stuff that I don’t really care about.
I love the title track. It’s so emotional.
This whole album is a little collection of love stories. Some of them are romantic, and some of them aren’t very romantic. They’re more cheeky in a way. But “Sway” is definitely one of the more romantic ones. I think it represents the album very well. It’s like peak epic-ness, in the album. Definitely one of the bigger songs. I’ve been trying to keep everything as minimal as I can, but that one is different. Recently, when I opened for Lorde, we played it in all these arenas. And it really worked, it was almost like it was made for a big stage, for a big audience.
I think that’s really cool, something can be quite minimal and not have too many elements to it, but it can feel so big. And that’s also what I wanted to do with these songs. I wanted to take these small, intimate thoughts that go through your head. The things that occupy so much of your day-to-day, but you don’t talk about it that much. I wanted to take that and give them space.
It’s interesting that you talked about keeping things minimal. You seem to have this magical ability to take something quite sparse and make it so obscenely catchy. What’s the secret?
I don’t know, but thank you. Another reason why it took so long to make the album was because I really wanted to strip it down. I wanted to keep the production as minimal as I possibly could. When you do that, it asks much more of every song, of every sound that’s in there. Of every melody, every lyric, because everything is really going to be heard. If something didn’t feel like it was perfect, we kept working on it until we felt it was right.
Every single thing on there has a purpose. We didn’t just add a snare to it for the sake of it. If there’s a snare there, it needs to be there. It’s a key thing in the production if you remove this, it make things different, and the song won’t feel the same. Almost every song is like that. It’s like solving a puzzle really, you need to find all the right pieces to make it a beautiful while. It takes some digging, some tweaking, to find everything.
Did you scrap any songs because they didn’t cut it?
No. I used all the songs that were intended for the album. I know with everything that made this past year, I knew quite early what was going to be on this album. Once I started a song with the intention of it being on Sway, we managed to get it right.
Would you describe it as a concept album about relationships?
I’m very interested in how people connect. So this album is a sort of patchwork of many, many people that I’ve had around me. There are things that I’ve been through, things that I’ve felt. There might be things that I’ve heard somebody else talk about that I thought were interesting. And I’m bad at feelings, a lot of the time. Feelings don’t make sense to me. Every time I feel something, if it’s excitement or anxiety, I’m always stunned. And then I need to retreat and figure it out. Writing is a way for me to do that, try and make sense of people. But you can’t ever really make sense of people, because people are weird.
They sure are. I’m happily surprised that your cover of “Liability” made the tracklist of such a personal album. What drew you to the song?
I love that song so much. The first time I heard it, my feeling was almost like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe I didn’t write this.” Not because I think so highly of myself, but because it feels so personal. When I listen to it, it’s like it’s about me, it’s about my life. And I can’t believe somebody else really felt that. Because it just feels like those feelings are mine. I think what’s really cool about that song, and good pop songs in general, is that they take a feeling or an experience and they boil it down to its most simple form. That makes it possible for other people to identify. Do you get where I’m at? I feel like I’m rambling and not making sense.
No, that makes complete sense to me.
Take that song for example. For a lot of Lorde fans, it’s their favorite song of hers. It’s so cool that all these people of different ages, from different places feel connected to that. I feel lonely just thinking about it.
What was it like touring with Lorde?
That tour was one of the best experiences of my life. It was maybe the most fun I’ve ever had. Being able to tour all around North America and get to meet all these new people, play to these massive crowds. It was the first time I’d ever played arenas. Which was amazing, and now I don’t know how I’m going to go back to not doing that every day. Also, the whole tour, the crew, everybody on it was so welcoming and we felt so at home there. It was just a really beautiful experience.
And now you’re going on tour with Katy Perry?
We start on May 23.
Are you nervous? That tour is even bigger. I’ve never seen staging like it.
I’ve heard. I’ve never seen her live, so I am so excited that I get to be there and dance to some of my favurite songs of all time. Like “Teenage Dream” is a perfect song. And I’m so excited to see her show as well, because as you said, she knows how to put on a show.
Do you worry how Lorde or Katy’s fans, for example, will respond to your music?
I think going on tour with Lorde was an ideal situation because her fans really trust her with music, she’s a curator. If she says that something is good, they’re going to look it up. So many people had done their research before the show. They had looked me up, listened to the music and they liked it. Once they got there, they were ready to sing along. That was amazing and I’m so grateful that Lorde as an artist, really gives you that.
When are you coming back to America for a headline tour?
Really soon I hope. What I’m looking at now is coming back this year to do shows. I can’t say anything for sure yet because I need to make sure, because I’m also going to put out more music this year. I need to make my schedule work, but I can’t wait to be back. My fans are so beautiful. They’re patient with me. Even when I’m slow, they’re patient, and every time I come back with music, they’re still there, and I’m so thankful for that.
I just heard the words “new music.” Is Sway getting a deluxe edition or are you taking about a completely new album or EP?
I don’t know yet. What I’m working on now is a little bit in the same space, I don’t feel like I want to challenge myself and do something new. And I’m not sure yet if it’s going to just be songs or if it’s going to be an album. I need more time to figure it out, but I definitely want to put out more songs this year. That’s definitely what I’m working towards.
That’s great news because I had half of Sway already.
I know. My plan now is to keep them coming, and not take big breaks between albums and between projects. I really want to just keep releasing stuff and then promote it and tour it at the same time.
What do you think is the biggest difference between Sway and Kiddo?
To me they are opposites in a lot of ways. With Kiddo, my only rule was that there are no rules. With Kiddo everything was in bold colors, broad strokes, shouting your feelings out into the world. Making that album gave me so much confidence moving on to this project. In some ways, Kiddo felt like my debut. With Kiddo, I had a vision. I had an idea of what I wanted to do. And I made that thing. I created that. It really was a huge thing for me to make.
And then with Sway, I had all this confidence to keep evolving, keep getting better, keep challenging myself. And on Sway, if you just talk about the sound, it’s really the opposite. With Sway, I was turning everything down. The challenge was more about restraint, and not putting anything in that doesn’t need to be there. With the lyrics, instead of shouting them out and being expressive, it was almost like talking to yourself and comforting yourself and talking things through with yourself. Those sorts of lyrics. I like doing it.
I don’t ever want to keep just trying to reinvent one thing. I don’t want to go back into the studio and do “Say My Name” and try to do a better “Say My Name,” because that’s impossible. Now I need to find the next thing that I can master and advance.
Thank you so much for the chat. I can’t wait to see your next US tour.
That’s awesome. I can’t wait to be back and play all these new songs, because I didn’t get a chance to play them on the Lorde tour either. I really want to come back with an album in full, and go out and do a few shows.
Good luck with everything! Bye!
You too. Bye!