This article was originally published in June. Tove Lo’s debut album, Queen of the Clouds, comes out today.
Until recently, Tove Lo was working behind the scenes as a songwriter for the likes of Cher Lloyd, Lea Michele, and fellow Swedes, Icona Pop. But some songs are too personal to give to other artists. After a horrific breakup, the 26 year old did what many of us would do: she drank and partied the pain away. Out of that experience, Tove Lo wrote “Habits,” an excellent pop torch song with a sticky hook that appeared on her first EP, Truth Serum. Shortly after the song’s release, two California-based brothers, who produce tracks under the moniker Hippie Sabotage, remixed “Habits” into a gauzy, highly addictive anthem called “Stay High.” The song went viral, and positioned Lo as Sweden’s next great pop export. With an opening spot for Katy Perry’s upcoming Australian tour just announced, and “Stay High” getting climbing the charts, we spoke to her about the song’s expanding popularity, her ex’s reaction to it, and how being in New York during Hurricane Sandy changed her career.
The video for “Stay High” has about 12 million views and it was only posted two months ago, so it’s obvious this song is striking a chord with people. Tell me about writing your original track, “Habits,” because it has very specific lyrics and I’m wondering if you experienced what you’re singing about (trying to move past a break-up by getting high).
The thing with “Habits” and my whole EP, Truth Serum, is that the songs are very much my real story about a heartbreak I had and everything that went down with it. I wrote the song a bit after this phase where I was in a dark place, and wanted to numb the pain anyway I could. I had the idea for the verses for awhile in my head, and I actually wrote the chorus when I was in New York during Hurricane Sandy. I was stranded in the apartment I was staying at; it had no heat, electricity, or anything. But there was a studio I was working in Midtown, so I slept there for a few days during the storm and that’s where I wrote the chorus and the rest of it. It was a good time to be isolated.
So then Hippie Sabotage gets a hold of “Habits” and they do this amazing remix of it. How did they get involved?
The funny thing is that a friend of mine sent me a link to this surf video where the song was playing, and they were like, “Is this a version of your song?” It took me awhile to find the credits for it, but when I finally did I looked up Hippie Sabotage on Twitter and messaged them saying that I thought it was great. I asked if I could put it on my EP, and that’s how it happened. We never met and I never spoke to them. We just tweeted and e-mailed, which is really insane. I’m a big fan of remixes and love their take on “Habits.” I love how it kind of grew very organically on its own. After that, we posted it on SoundCloud.
Do you remember your first time hearing “Habits” in public?
I had this one moment that was really cool. It was one of my oldest friend’s birthdays at a restaurant, and I ran to get there in time, and when I walked in “Habits” came on. They thought I asked them to put it on, but I didn’t. It was an emotional moment, because I hadn’t seen my friends in a long time either.
Have you heard from the person you wrote the song about?
I hadn’t for awhile. I was a bit nervous about it, especially with all of these interviews happening and me talking about it a lot. But I actually talked to him the other day, and it’s all good! I’m actually pretty amazed, because he said he was glad he could inspire something. So I can finally breathe, because we’re on good terms with no hard feelings.
Tell me more about this music school in Sweden you went to called Rytmus Musikergymnasiet (other famous alum of which include Robyn, Erik Hassle, and one half of Icona Pop). It seems like everyone who’s Swedish and killing it in pop and dance music went there.
Well, let me describe the first day. I walk in, and the teachers were playing and singing in this lunch room that has a tiny stage. Everyone was clapping and pulling students on stage, and that was the whole vibe. After that, they divided us into bands where we had to go separately and learn songs and perform them. It was a lot of pressure, but I learned so much going there. It was challenge after challenge. It was a great two years.
From there, how did you get into songwriting?
When I was attending school, it was more about singing in a band and less about songwriting for me. I was writing a lot of lyrics, but didn’t really connect it to the music quite yet. I was starting to understand though, and at a certain point I started producing on my own. I took part in a lot of sessions to get by money-wise, and was just making rent. After a while, I got discovered by Warner/Chappell (a publishing company) who signed me here in Sweden. From there I got to meet and work with a bunch of other producers, but it was very strange for me to go into this whole cowriting world. You have the track guys, and the beat guys, and the topliners. Anyway, I started writing songs and people liked what I was doing so I landed a few cuts.
When it comes to writing tracks, how do you know which ones to give to other artists and which ones to keep for yourself?
When I was first starting out it was a bit harder, but now I know right away when a song is for me. When I’m writing for someone else, I always have that artist in mind even if they’re not in the room. I try to get into what they would say and try to think what their perspective is, which is hard if you’ve never met them. There have been situations, though, where an artist heard one of my songs and wanted it, but if there’s a song that I know from the start is mine, I’m not going to give it away.
This past March you made a splash at South by Southwest, and then had these sold-out debut shows in New York and Los Angeles. What are your perceptions of the United States as a foreigner?
Well, I’ve been to the US a lot and always have a good time. The next time I come, I’m doing a few shows outside of New York and Los Angeles, which is going to be very interesting to see because I feel like every state is like its own country almost. Sometimes there are a few things culturally that I don’t understand, but mostly I’ve enjoyed it. I don’t know if I could live there, because Sweden will always be home for me.
Tove Lo makes her national television debut on Late Night with Seth Meyers on June 18th. Her EP, Truth Serum, is out now via Island Records.