Tove Styrke is one of Sweden’s most exciting pop stars at the moment. She gained fame in her home country when she participated in the local Idol tv show and released an interesting electronic pop album a year later. She left the spotlights for quite a while, but comes back swinging with a brand new album called Kiddo. I spoke to Tove about her time off, how she looks back at the first years of her music career, her evolution as an artist and patriarchy in society.
You took quite some time between the release of your first and second album. What happened in the meantime?
I worked quite intensely on this first record that I released in 2010 and after that I felt I needed a break, so I went back to my hometown Umeå in the Northern part of Sweden to have some time away from the music industry. I was still writing, but I wanted to explore music on my own without any pressure to sell it. I needed that to get to know myself better as a grown up because I have been doing this since I was 16. When I came back to Stockholm I was inspired and full of ideas. I teamed up with a friend of mine and we spent five days in the studio and made five songs that all ended up on the album. I felt like a kid on summer vacation who was happy to return to school, after getting bored of doing nothing.
Would you say you needed a break because you were tired of other people wanting things from you?
I just felt lost to be honest. I wanted to be an artist because I love music. When it stops being fun, you can’t really do any good. It is important to have a dream or a goal you want to go for, because if you don’t, it is very easy to start doing things that you don’t even want or like and it all won’t lead anywhere. That happened to me. I needed to start again.
You co-wrote a lot of the tracks on your first album. How do you look back at this?
I am not the kind of person to despise what I have done earlier. I have respect for where I was at that time. I am happy that I managed to make an album that I still like today. I took a lot of time to make it after Swedish Idol, which most people don’t. It was an important lesson for me. I learned how it worked to write and record. With ‘Kiddo’ I had a completely different foundation to build on. I already had some knowledge and a vision of what I wanted to do.
Where did the title ‘Kiddo’ come from?
I like the word. I had it as a working title for so many songs because it sounds good, but it is like a love/hate relationship. Older people who feel superior will say it to put you down. I thought, if I use it almost as a superhero name, I take away their power and claim it as my own. Language is really interesting in that sense. I was also inspired by the movie Kill Bill and the name of the main character is Beatrix Kiddo.
“It is almost like our brains are programmed to think that what men do is more valuable than what women do.”
How would you describe the style of the new album Kiddo?
I think it is rather diverse and full of surprises. The songs are quite different from each other and I have done this intentionally as I did not want to restrain myself. I find it important to not stay at one place musically and keep exploring myself. I will always aim to do new stuff and try things and sometimes it will turn out good and sometimes it won’t.
You sound feisty on a lot of the new tracks. Where does this attitude come from?
One of the best things you get from writing is the opportunity to process things. It is almost therapeutic. I can cope with feelings of frustration and anger and that is the best fuel for writing lyrics. It feels good to be honest! A lot of the things that I feel upset about, I turn into a song.
What was the frustration that triggered you to write Ego? What did the person do to piss you off?
Haha! It is about somebody that you really care for and have known for a long time, who is drifting away and loses themselves to their own ego. And the frustration is that there is nothing you can do about it. They are losing touch with themselves and with you. The nice thing with pop music is that you can write these sad lyrics over a joyful and hopeful sound. I like to create these contrasts in emotions.
In an earlier interview you stated ‘Borderline’ is a protest song. What are you protesting against?
I wanted to write about the patriarchic matrix. I wanted to point out that it is not real and something you can wake up from. It is made up and we don’t need to live like this. It is about breaking free from these standards of society that ties people down and forces you to be all kinds of things.
Is that something you have experienced in the music industry?
People ask me often if I think the music industry is sexist, but you can’t really point at one place if you want to explain gender inequality. It’s in every layer of society. It is almost like our brains are programmed to think that what men do is more valuable than what women do. Of course this happens in the music industry as well and people talk about this, because it is more visible, but it is everywhere.
How does it feel to come from a country that produces so much fantastic electronic pop?
I like that everyone is doing their own thing within pop as there are so many different things you can do with it. I mean, Tove Lo’s ‘in your face’ pop is different from Seinabo Sey who is more like a modern day Nina Simone with her soulful and powerful vocals. It’s a great thing, isn’t it?
Sure is Tove, thanks so much!
Kiddo is out on the 8th of June.