It would be easy to dismiss 23-year old Swedish singer Lykke Li as the latest manufactured pop confection. After all, last year’s debut Youth Novels–produced by Bjorn Yttling of Peter, Bjorn and John–yielded several electro bubblegummy hits, songs with hooks that stuck in your head like claws. And the accompanying videos showed the blonde sylph with a look and sultry swagger that seemed made for the camera. But scrape the surface a little and it’s obvious that Lykke–whose given name is Li Lykke Timotej Zachrisson–has something intangible that runs deeper than most. For one, there are her lyrics, which skew a little darker than most disposable pop blasts (from “Little Bit”: “I would do it/Push the button/Pull the trigger/Over a mountain/Jump off a cliff/Cause you know I love you love a little bit”). For another, there’s her music, full of quirky twists and turns, like the noisy sax solo in the middle of “Dance, Dance Dance” or the alternate, acoustic cabaret-like version of “I’m Good, I’m Gone” that shows off her Nina Simone-influences. It doesn’t hurt that she’s also street-savvy enough (or is it flirty?) to get herself out of a Bushwick mugging.
We recently caught up with Lykke in Brooklyn, a couple weeks before her show at the Highline Ballroom on June 1.
How come you changed your name around?
I didn’t change it. They just got it wrong in the passport.
So should call you Lykke, or Li, or what? What do your friends call you?
My name is Lykke Li, but my friends call me Lykke.
I heard you lived in Bushwick and got mugged.
I didn’t get mugged, I saved myself from getting mugged.
I don’t know, with those dreamy eyes of mine? And I was so small as well!
And now you live in Stockholm?
No, I’m in New York right now. I don’t know, I don’t really live anywhere. All the time off tour I have, I spend wherever I am. I’m a bit of a nomad.
What a lifestyle.
It’s not really that cool, it’s quite exhausting after a while. But I don’t know where I belong.
But you lived here in New York for a while, right?
Yeah, like three months, and then two months. Probably in the future I will, but I don’t know actually where I’ll end up.
How do you write songs?
I write on the piano, so I play some piano, but I wouldn’t call myself a piano player. I grew up jamming out to weird music in front of the mirror. I play whatever comes in my hands, but I’m not really a player, like a guitar player.
Did you write a lot of these songs with Bjorn?
A lot of the songs I had before. Together we kind of added whatever was needed–it was so much collaboration. You know, my mind works in one way, and then he has the talent to be able to play everything that my mind says.
I was reading that your album was about a relationship you had.
No, it’s not. It’s definitely not about a relationship, it’s about being heartbroken and being lost and confused. Some songs are about a certain man that I was involved with, so some songs are about that, but about how I feel not about the relationship.
Well, is it worth it being heartbroken if you get songs like that out of it?
No! I mean, it depends. It was worth it, for this album. But now I’m heartbroken again, so it’s not worth it.
I’m like, ‘I can’t do this again!’ Not a third time.
But something good is going to come out of it.
If you’re a creative person, you’re always working on something. Everything I do will hopefully lead up to something. Hopefully.