Tove Styrke (pronounced Toovah Steerkah) is slaying it. The Swedish singer just wrapped her time touring with Lorde on the Melodrama world tour and she's dropping her new album, Sway, next month and then immediately joining Katy Perry on the European leg of her Witness world tour.
The Swedish singer-songwriter was beaming with excitement when we spoke with her — and for good reason. She's a Lorde super-fan, having released her own upbeat cover of "Liability" earlier this year. She's a devotee of some of Lorde's same self-proclaimed heroes: Robyn, for instance. On her last night on the tour, the pair even performed a duet "Hang With Me."
You may know the singer from her catchy, twangy single "Say My Name," or perhaps "Mistakes" ('You make me, you make me, you make me wanna make mistakes'). As she explains in our chat, what makes her music so unique — and each song so different from its predecessor — is Styrke's insistence on giving each of her tracks a signature ID. Through the production, through the chords, through the vocals, each Tove Styrke song is marked with its own identifier.
We'll get to hear a whole new host of fresh musical IDs on May 4, with the release of her latest album Sway — starting with the single "Changed My Mind," and now, today, with her newest track "On The Low." Take a listen below, and then read our chat with the Swedish pop star about creating her new record, the genius of Lorde, channeling heartbreak into creative expression, and why "Dancing On My Own" is the best song of all time.
OUT: This tour is so exciting! How did this happen? How did you get in touch with our Lorde and saviour?
Tove Styrke: I don’t know! She asked me—she added my name to her playlist, so at least since then she’s known about me. I’m so excited. It’s the biggest… It’s the first time I’m ever going to play in an arena. I’ve done big festivals and stuff before, but I’ve never done stages this big. I also get to go to a lot of cities that I haven’t been before where I also have fans. I’m so excited to meet them.
That’s a great thing about the digital age, the fans are all over the world.
A lot of them in Brazil! I think that streaming services are very big there and social media stuff, they follow and they’re so quick at discovering new artists that haven’t even been there because of the Internet. I feel like every artist has a little Brazil posse or squad that’s like, “come to Brazil!”
So you must love Melodrama.
Yeah, I love it so much. It’s like a little journey. Especially “Liability,” I think it’s so good. It’s that kind of song that makes me feel like, when I listen to it, I almost can’t believe that it’s not my words because it feels like me. Some songs just have that kind of magic because a lot of people love that song, and I think it’s because of that quality.
The lyric, “the truth is I’m a toy/that people enjoy” I certainly feel this way and I’m not a musician, but I’m a bigger personality and you kind of sometimes feel like you’re a clown or a little thing to look at and then walk away from.
I feel like a lot of people feel that, especially young people, because to me, it’s about at the end of the day, that feeling that you’re all alone. How is anybody going to understand me? How is anybody ever going to love me more than me? That feeling, and it’s so heartbreaking. I feel like everybody feels like that sometimes. It’s beautiful, it’s like a love song to yourself.
It’s so sad and scary! It’s like, “Oh God, what if I’m alone forever?” Which is the ultimate terror, I think.
Why is it so scary to be alone?
I don’t know!
So do you feel like you draw on similar influences to Lorde with those sorts of feelings? What is influencing you in your songwriting, especially with this new record?
For me, a lot of those things. People, how you relate to people, how you connect with other people, and what those connections and disconnections teach me about myself.
Yeah. What do you think you’ve learned?
The thing is, a lot of these songs, they don’t have answers all the time. It’s just like, “What is this feeling? I’m not sure what we are or who I am when I am with you. What are you doing with my feelings?” I don’t know most of the time, but it has to get out.
Would you consider this record to be about a specific person?
No. I picked from everybody.
All different relationships, so it’s not a breakup record or anything like that?
No, most of it is beginnings, like when you just meet a person and you don’t know what you are yet. Like, “Are we just friends, or… Because I feel like there’s definitely a vibe,” or “I have no idea if you feel the same.” The whole album is very much in my head and hopefully in the listener’s head.
Do you think you’ve fallen in love before and do you think that’s in the record?
I have definitely fallen in love before, but also, something that I’ve learned is that people aren’t constant. It’s not gonna be that you figure somebody out, and once you do, you know them and you’re going to keep knowing them and they’re going to keep knowing you. People change, so staying with a person is being committed enough to want to keep figuring them out every day and choosing them every day. It’s always relevant. I feel like I’m exactly the same person as I was when I was ten, in a way, but in another way, I feel like I’m not the same person I was yesterday. Or maybe my last interview.
A lot of your songs sound so different from each other — I wonder if that’s because you feel like you’re constantly changing.
Yeah, I feel like it would be so boring to choose one path and then stick to that. I look at them like different projects, so this is the Sway project. These singles and this album, and maybe the singles that will come after them as well, are all one story, one body of work that I want to do. Kiddo was one. With each one of them, I want to… I have a mission. I have something that I want to try.
What’s the mission with Sway?
Sway… I wanted to make the kinds of songs that were this personal inner dialogue about being in your head. My last album was very much just… Out. All the feelings burst out. Broad strokes, very colorful, more of the productions are all over the place, but in a very fun way. That’s what I wanted to do with that. It was like a burst of emotions.
So is this more stripped down?
I’m more intimate and close and personal. Also, with the sound, I wanted to just strip it down completely and try to make the production as minimal as possible. I didn’t need to use more sounds to make the song work, but also tried my hardest to keep the production interesting. I want each song to have their own ID. "Say My Name" has got that ukulele in it. You can recognize it if you hear it once and then hear it again. With "Mistakes," it’s the: 'You make me, you make me'— and then you get the drop— pow! 'You make me'… It’s that song’s ID.
What about "Changed My Mind?"
"Changed My Mind"… The thing I love about that production is that I wanted the song to feel like it could be something that happened… Like, you followed where my mind’s at, or your mind’s, the person who is living this, during one night. So the beginning of the song, you hear crisp and clear, “I changed my mind,” and then it gets more (slurring) “change my mind,” and at the end, it’s just auto-tuned madness and you’re out of it. At that point you probably feel like, “this is a really good idea.” You’re a little bit more hard-to-get in the beginning.
That’s so funny! And that’s interesting because, bringing up Lorde again, the theory was all the songs took place over the course of one night.
She’s so smart! But I appreciate it so much, things like that, when you feel like there’s thought behind every decision.
I heard that you like Robyn, and I would love to talk about Body Talk for some time and how every song in that is amazing.
"Stars Forever," "Indestructible," "Get Myself Together," obviously "Dancing on My Own."
"Dancing on My Own" is monumental. It’s so good. Now I’ve got goosebumps, but yeah, it’s a perfect song.
Didn’t Patrik Berger write that?
He did! I worked with Patrik on my first album. He did "High and Low" and "Bad Time for a Good Time."
How do you end up creating a song?
With the writing, I do a lot of… I feel like I’m very good at finding melodies that suit my voice. Just singing two things and finding what feels natural and interesting for me to do. So that’s a good thing about being a writer and singer.
Do the lyrics come that naturally?
No, lyrics take more time. That’s a lot of thinking. With this album, especially with me and Elof, we’ve been sitting with so many albums, just getting it right. You have this feeling about where you want the lyric to end up, but it’s a process getting it there. But it’s worth it and it’s fun.
So this record’s coming out and you’re going to be promoting that for a while, but do you already have…
I have more material. Some more heartbreak, I think. There’s a lot of good vibes on this album, and as we talked about, the heartbreak and the sadness is important, too. I really feel like after spending so much time in this really nice, bubbly, romantic place, I want to go… I want to go emo.
Has your heart been recently broken?
My heart’s always broken. I feel like I mainly do that to myself. My mom even has a theory that I’m weirdly sensitive. Apparently, there’s like — this is so not scientific, but she’s like, “oh, there are these people that are super-super-super highly sensitive!”
It sounds like you found the balance of getting things done while also making sure that you’re still enjoying yourself and that you’re still passionate about it.
I really try and stay aware of what I’m doing because it’s easy to just see it as, “Oh, I have another task.” And you don’t notice, “Oh my god, I’m playing this stage tonight.” You have to stop and think and also think back on all the things that you’ve done to get to this point. Oh my god, if I would have known this five years ago… Appreciate what you get to experience.
Do you feel like you’ve had any recent moments where you were like, “Wait a second, whoa, this is my life?”
I love having drivers that drive me around here, they’re like mine for the whole day.
That would be amazing in New York, Jesus!
Sometimes I’m like, “Who am I? Am I this person? I’m this person who has a driver!”
I feel like being present is such a hard thing in the digital age.
You have to put your phone away. I suck at it. I have to stay active on Instagram and Twitter to talk to my fans. Often my only time to do that is my free time, and then I just end up sitting with my phone for ages and ages and ages. It’s so hard. You have to have moments of silence because you have to give yourself room to think. You’re not going to come up with any good ideas if you’re always occupying your mind.