Anyone with ears will tell you, Sweden is pretty good when it comes to fostering amazing pop talent. With Stockholm's Tove Lo, however, the typical mold of elegant heartfelt electropop has been beautifully corrupted by the sort of raw lyrical honesty that not only ruffles feathers, but makes you want to wail along at the top of your lungs. Nowhere is this shown more than on Habits (Stay High), a US certified platinum break-up epic that has peaked inside the iTunes Top Ten in 25 different countries and caught the attention of the likes of Lorde, Ellie Goulding and Katy Perry, the latter asking Tove to support her on her forthcoming Australian tour. “When you say it like that I'm like 'holy shit, that's true!',” she laughs. “It's hard when you're in the middle of everything to remember that your dreams are coming true.” This sense of awe is reflected in the title of her forthcoming debut album, ‘Queen Of The Clouds’: “It's a reflection of those moments when you float up and look at your life and see the bigger picture. I feel like I'm dancing on clouds, it's been so amazing.” That bigger picture is that Tove Lo is the most exciting new pop star on the planet.
Music was always going to be something Tove Lo was involved in. Her high school, for example, was run by teachers whose motto apparently was “fuck reading, let's play music”, and it was here that Tove formed bands left, right and center and learned how to write songs. Singing in bands was something Tove also took outside the school gates, fronting a math rock band and playing what she affectionately refers to as “shitty” venues, while also earning money as a session singer and starting to produce her own demos on her computer. As a sign of her intent, those early recording sessions took place in a freezing cold makeshift studio. “My cousins had a shed outside of their house. It wasn't heated so I had this heater in there and sometimes in the winter it would be minus ten,” she laughs. Tellingly, one of the songs that took shape in those early sessions was ‘Habits (Stay High)’.
As well as mining her experiences (break-ups, drinking, drugs, raucous nights out and emotionally barren mornings after) for her own songs , Tove also set out to cultivate her songwriting career. At a party thrown to celebrate her school friends Icona Pop's newly-signed record deal, Tove decided it would be a good idea to harass some label bigwigs. “I just walked up to someone and said to him, 'you have to hear my songs, they're amazing',” she giggles. “It was just to get some feedback from someone. He was like 'who the f**k are you?', but I forced him to give me his email and sent him some stuff.” From there she signed a publishing deal with Warner Chappell and before long she found herself being flown out to LA to hang out at pop songwriting legend Max Martin's house. “The whole experience gave me so much more confidence,” she beams. The impromptu meeting has since resulted in Tove becoming part of Max Martin's and Shellback’s songwriting collective, working on some of the biggest forthcoming pop releases.
But it's with her own songs that Tove's real songwriting chops come to fore, as evidenced on the ‘Truth Serum’ EP and her forthcoming debut album. At the core of both is new single ‘Not On Drugs’,
the song which gives the album its title, and the aforementioned global smash ‘Habits (Stay High)’. “That song is about my ex,” she states. "It was a lot of passion and pain clouded by smoke. It was chaos - really up and down”. For a song wrenched from so much pain, its success is satisfying but unexpected. “I mean you can always dream but to see it happen is very strange,” she laughs. “I never thought when I released Habits (Stay High) that it would be huge, I was just proud of it and knew that I wanted to have it out there.” Did she ever think of restraining her honesty in any way? “I don't like to filter it. I just think, 'why be subtle? Just say it as it is'. It's not 'I'm a single girl, let's party all night long', it's more 'I'm really destructive right now and I don't care'.”
‘Queen Of The Clouds’ – which was produced by fellow Swedes, The Struts, and is split into three chapters; Sex, Love and Pain – is further evidence of this honesty, but also showcases her desire to fully display the emotional roller coaster of the last six months. “There are a couple of very dark songs on the album, but there have been a lot of euphoric moments, so I wanted to get that in there.” This is reflected on the playful, drum clap-heavy ‘My Gun’, which details a confident attempt at seduction in the verses balanced out by a vulnerable chorus; the seductive and sensual ‘Talking Body’ (about sex, clearly!) and the galloping, almost euphorically raw ‘Timebomb’. Perhaps the song that perfectly showcases Tove's skills as a songwriter and performer is ‘Moments’, an uplifting stomper that flits effortlessly from raw introspection one minute, to emotional honesty the next (“I'm not the prettiest you've ever seen, but I have my moments”), to the song's almost darkly humorous kiss off, “on good days I am charming as f**k”. It's another example of Tove Lo's greatest strength; the ability to cloak emotional honesty in the sort of songs you want to jump about a room to, drink in hand, singing out your emotions with a big tear-stained grin on your face.