Photograph: John LindquistLykke Li

Lykke Li | Interview | Lollapalooza 2011

Swedish pop star Lykke Li shrouds herself in darkness on her latest album. But don’t use the B words—burqa and Bergman.


When Lykke Li answers her phone, she is deep underneath the Hudson River. There’s no more fitting place, really, considering her state of mind and lyrical themes on her breathtaking and sad sophomore album, Wounded Rhymes. Bodies of water pop up in several of the 25-year-old’s tunes.

“Deep sea baby / I follow you,” she sings on “I Follow Rivers.” Later, the Swede avows, “We can cross rivers with our will.” Frankly, she’s not exactly in the best of moods. But can you blame her when she’s stuck in traffic in the Holland Tunnel?

I was looking at recent photos of you performing. You were wearing a veil or a burqa. On the cover of your new album, you are draped in black veils. Why are you hiding?
It’s not a burqa, that’s for sure. As an artist, it’s comfortable to have something to shield you from the outside world. It’s almost like an army suit, like I want to shield myself. If I could, I would probably just wear that all the time. I want to steer away from having to be seen all the time.

You wear a lot of black.
Yeah, I only wear black.

Is that new or something you’ve always done?
The last years, at least, for various reasons. That’s the color that fits my music and the world that I’m in right now. And also for a few practical reasons. I’m a vagabond. I live out of one suitcase. I feel very comfortable in black. I feel very uncomfortable in anything else than black.

Should we be worried? Are you okay? Your record is very dark.
No. I mean, wherever there’s dark, there’s light. It’s a very proactive thing to be dealing with your darkness and getting it out of your system. So it doesn’t have to be in your system.

I love the line “sadness is my boyfriend.” Were you going through a difficult time when making the record?
Oh, most definitely, yeah… [Long pause] My closest friends knew what I was going through and I’m a very private person.… It could seem like I would talk a lot about my private life because my record is open, but in real life, my private life is very private.

Is it difficult to deal with personal issues in song when you have to revisit it every night onstage? Or talk to the press about it?
It can definitely be. Sometimes you’re vulnerable, and sometimes it’s a bit heartbreaking when you go into that private zone and you put your heart out there, and the only thing that you can see staring back at you is cell phones.

The new record is very sparse at times. It’s dark, yet you’re gaining confidence in your voice to the point of stripping a song back to just your voice and one instrument.
My dream is to one day just be me and my guitar. I’m working myself to the core. Who am I, underneath everything else? I’m still on that journey, to find that core. The music that I listen to is very minimalistic. I listen to a lot of old blues that is just guitar and vocals.

Would you like to make a blues LP?
I don’t believe that you can just go and do a blues record. It’s putting on a costume, you know? We’ll see. I’m curious too to see what’s underneath everything. Hopefully the older I get, the better I will get, too. And the more myself I will get.

Because of Stieg Larsson novels and Ingmar Bergman films, Americans have this perception of Swedes being somber, brooding people. Does that bother you?
I don’t engage in that. I haven’t read those books. I have no idea what people think about Sweden. I am a person, not a country. I can’t stand for a whole country. I don’t know what that means. I only know that I’m just a person with feelings.

Lykke Li hits Lollapalooza’s Google+ stage on Saturday 6 at 7:15pm.

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