Tove Styrke may only be 22 years old but the Swedish electropop sensation has managed to release two albums and a whole heap of singles, tour across Europe and the United States and oh yes, finished third in the 2009 series of Swedish Idol! I chat to her ahead of her slot supporting British electronic outfit Years & Years at the O2 Academy in Sheffield.
Backseat Mafia: How are you finding the UK tour so far?
Tove Styrke: Really really fun yeah.
BM: What’s it like with Years & Years?
TS: It’s been amazing. They’re really sweet and there have been really great crowds. It’s been a lot of fun and it feels like a good match. It’s felt like the audiences have really appreciated it. People have searched me out on twitter afterwards and have been really happy about it.
BM: When do you finish with the tour and what do you miss most about home when you’re away?
TS: I’m doing half, or maybe more than half, then I’m going home and coming back to do one of their London dates. I miss the regular routines. That’s the only thing you can miss when you’re touring, just eating at the right times and not having pizza every day! [laughing] It’s nice for a while, but then, y’know…!
BM: What were your experiences being on a show like Swedish Idol?
TS: It’s a really strange way to get into music to be honest. It’s a popularity contest, it doesn’t have anything to do with music and afterwards – I was only 16 as well – it’s a lot to go through and I had to make my first album with everybody’s eyes on me, which is a lot of pressure. People don’t really expect much of you if you come from a situation like that. So I guess that’s kind of the struggle. I wouldn’t recommend it but it worked out alright for me.
BM: Do you think the fact you came third was a blessing then, avoiding the pressure heaped upon the winners?
TS: It was way more practical I guess because I got so much time to do my first album, about a year I think to finish it, and that was really really great and I co-wrote a big part of my first album so I guess that also made life a bit easier.
BM: What advice would you give to someone considering the talent show route?
TS: I would say, don’t do it, it’s a sort of a detour. If you wanna do music… I didn’t plan to do it, they called me and sort of convinced me and then it just kept going on until I was in that whole circus, so I wouldn’t recommend it. I think there are straighter paths to take, if you just wanna make it.
BM: What do you think it is about Swedish talent and music that the rest of the world just seems to love?
TS: Well there are a lot of great songwriters – every artist I know writes for themselves, sometimes in teams and stuff but there really are a lot of good songwriters. One of the most successful right now is Tove Lo. It might have something to do with the technology and computers that we get to learn on, or at least I did. We got to learn basic programmes in school and that makes a difference. We have so much music in schools, you don’t have to pay to learn an instrument so I think that might be a reason why.
BM: You’ve been compared to quite a few other acts such as Robyn, Annie and Lykke Li. How do you feel about such comparisons?
TS: I think it’s a very natural thing for people to do, to find something to compare to. That’s a natural way for the brain to work, we always want to link something that we know with something that we don’t know, but I’m just trying to make my own pop and do what I wanna do.
BM: Who are your musical inspirations?
TS: There are a lot of people who I think are doing a good job. I don’t try to have anyone to look up to and try and be like. I don’t do that because I think it’s very important just to think what sort of life is it that I want to live and how do I want my career to be and then make decisions based on that. Just like any other job! [laughs]
BM: What kind of music were you listening to when you were growing up?
TS: I think one of the first ones that I was Bjork. She was probably the first artist that I discovered for myself. She’s such a great producer as well. I think her music is the first music that really made me feel something. Something clicked for me when I heard her.
BM: That leads me on nicely to my next question! One of Bjork’s biggest hits, certainly in the UK, was a cover – a big fun cover version – and your cover of “…Baby One More Time” has been getting lots of interest and views. How did that come about?
TS: I just felt like doing it. I was chatting with a friend and we were talking about how we’re both fond of pop, that kind of pop that I grew up with and Britney was definitely one of those… that sort of Cheiron [studios in Stockholm]/Max Martin sound that was everywhere and I thought it would be really interesting to try and do something with something from that era and also I’m quite fond of Britney. I think that she’s an interesting person. I think it’s fun to try if you’re making a cover, the challenge is to try and do it the opposite way and do something that was more dark.
BM: Your music’s often quite upbeat, euphoric, celebratory music. Do you see that as something you like to pass on, rather than being like some musicians, more reflective and dark.
TS: Often I’m writing lyrics from an angry and frustrated point of view because that’s the way that I feel with my emotions and I think pop is a fun tool to use to sort of translate complex issues into something that’s very easy to grasp, that’s sort of the fun thing about pop and that’s the challenge to take something really relatable and understandable and I choose to write often about not just love and dancing – I do that quite rarely. “Borderline” is about inequality and breaking free this really really narrow framework that we’re pushed into…forced into. I think it’s always about contrast. I think “Ego” is an example as well. With that one, if you listen to the production as well, it’s like euphoric and happy but there’s still a sadness and melancholy to it and I think it’s really really important to have both. If you don’t, it’s like that’s the way you’ve got to make feelings in pop show.
BM: You’ve been described as things like “empowering” and a feminist. Do you think that’s lazy journalism because you’re a solo female artist who doesn’t just sing love ballads?
TS: I think it’s because I sing from a feminist point of view because I am a feminist, so it’s not a strange thing!
BM: Your latest album “Kiddo”, what can we expect from that? For people in the UK who perhaps haven’t heard it yet, how would you describe it?
TS: Well [she pauses for a moment] – it is out…?
BM: Yeah! [both laughing now]
TS: I was just checking, it was June? It’s out everywhere…! It is a very diverse collection of songs. I collected ideas and themes and topics over a long time and then with each song I tried to not restrain myself in any way when it came to the production, so they are quite different from each other. There are definitely electronic textures that bring it together but it’s very…I think I would describe it as off-kilter pop. It’s got an edge to it but there’s still the heart of the song you can hear on the guitar.
BM: I loved a quote in one of your interviews about how you view the word “Kiddo” and how it can be demeaning and make people feel small but you wanted to empower it and make it like a superhero name. Does that make you carefully consider your song titles or is it sometimes a case of “Well that word’s in the chorus a lot!”?
TS: It’s very different from time to time really. I’ve got one title that’s ridiculously long – “If I’m Loud, it Doesn’t Mean I’m Talking to You” but that’s just basically because that’s sung so many times , it’s like that’s the title. It had to be named that! But I think it’s really fun with language like exactly what you said with “Kiddo” it’s fun for me to take back the word, to steal that person’s leverage and taking that weapon away from them.
Tove also introduces me to Swedish tobacco snus (a sort of variant on snuff), she struggles to remember who was on her series of Swedish Idol (“It’s been nearly seven years, so people don’t really care!”), she talks warmly about her parents (father a musician and music store owner, mum a former dancer) and she wonders why we all love twitter in the UK, but not instagram as much! Her tour manager is full of admiration for how down to earth and humble she is despite being a household name in her native Sweden. She comes across as thoughtful, eloquent and passionate about what she does.
Tove Styrke was speaking to Ben Lewis.