10:32 am - 07/08/2014

Lykke Li interview: I can't stand my first album

On Lykke Li’s wrist are three thin, faint black lines. They look like an accidental pen doodle but are in fact a tattoo. “I was 21 and homeless – such a broken, lost woman. I chose three lines because I knew I was going to make three albums and I knew they were going to set me free.”

So here the Swedish indie-pop artist is, seven years on, having just released her third album, “I Never Learn”, a heartbreaking collection that continues the theme of broken love from the critically acclaimed “Youth Novels” (2008) and “Wounded Rhymes” (2011). Her mesmerising performances take her to festivals around the world, including Glastonbury this weekend and Latitude next month.

Although she still considers herself a “boutique singer”, not a mainstream one, her fame is growing fast, bolstered by projects such as writing a song for the soundtrack of a Twilight film, a music video with the celebrated Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård and even a role in a Terrence Malick film, which is shrouded in secrecy.


The three-line tattoo worked, says Lykke (“it’s pronounced ‘Leeck-ee’, but here [in the US] they say ‘Likey’ or ‘Leaky’”). “The truth has set me free. I think I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.” It’s an unexpectedly positive statement from a woman whose stock-in-trade is unremittingly bleak songs. “For me it’s completely revolutionary. I really went to the bottom and let out all of my sorrow,” she says. But happiness is not a state of being that she thinks will last. “I’m happy right now, but tomorrow I might not be.”

The lyrics of her latest songs describe a tortuous break-up with a boyfriend. “Everything is about me. I was feeling every word. I write everything out of necessity… In a commercial sense this album is the worst move I could make: nine songs that just rip your heart apart.” Although she instigated the break-up, it devastated her, and she took no comfort from the thought that one day she could turn the material into music. “I’m lying on the floor thinking, ‘I’m going to die’ – I was in that much pain.”

We meet in Venice, Los Angeles, at a hip vegan café that is so noisy I have to hold my dictaphone up to Li’s mouth to catch her soft words. She is wearing a long white Italian men’s shirt, which hides a pair of denim shorts underneath, and black patent loafers. Declaring herself starving, she orders a macrobiotic bowl of yams, adzuki beans, kimchi, sea palm and gomasio – but asks the waitress to leave out the quinoa that is listed. After a couple of bites Li decides the dish is missing something. “Can I add the quinoa back?” she asks the puzzled waitress. “That’s how I live my life. I change my mind.”

Despite the choice of venue, she says she is not a health nut. “I drink whisky. A lot, actually. And I love champagne – especially champagne and marijuana. My father told me that was the ultimate high. I do everything: I’ll have a green juice then a melted chocolate ice cream. I stay up very late, I get up very early. Life’s too f— short.”

With typical Li logic, she says she feels that she has become younger as she has grown older. “For about 28 years [her age now], I thought I was 45. And now I’ve started to go backwards. For the first time I’m aware that I’m actually quite young, but it’s almost too late as I’m not even that young anymore. So I feel a bit stressed out that I kind of missed my youth. Now I just want to do everything – I want to live life and make art and make love.”

Over the years Li has evolved as a singer without losing the rawness of emotion that makes her so compelling. Singing, she once said, “feels like crying, almost”. “I Never Learn” proves that in fact she has learnt, if not in her love life then at least as an artist. “I cannot stand my first album,” she says bluntly. “It is so bad. I sucked.”
She may be her own fiercest critic, but she is also her own strongest advocate. “I knew that one day I would arrive. I’ve worked so f— hard, harder than anyone would imagine, and I’ve done everything alone. I deserve to be here.”

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aquaecolore 8th-Jul-2014 05:37 pm (UTC)
I think there's a couple fillers on it, but i still listen to it from time to time.
scriptedending 8th-Jul-2014 05:38 pm (UTC)
Declaring herself starving, she orders a macrobiotic bowl of yams, adzuki beans, kimchi, sea palm and gomasio – but asks the waitress to leave out the quinoa that is listed. After a couple of bites Li decides the dish is missing something. “Can I add the quinoa back?” she asks the puzzled waitress. “That’s how I live my life. I change my mind.”

Uh, okay. That's just annoying.
shepherds 8th-Jul-2014 05:41 pm (UTC)
lol she sounds like a pretentious pain in the ass. so disappointing
disney_doctrine 8th-Jul-2014 05:44 pm (UTC)

im going to pretend i never read this
bienenkiste 8th-Jul-2014 05:47 pm (UTC)
ugh seriously, this ain't cute
gypsy_leerose 8th-Jul-2014 05:58 pm (UTC)
Lol :-( Ikr
pastelward 8th-Jul-2014 05:42 pm (UTC)
Lmao @ “That’s how I live my life. I change my mind.” A mess.
bemythugtonight 8th-Jul-2014 05:44 pm (UTC)
xD negl i love people like that (as long as i don't have to interact with them)
bless her pretentious soul
cleopatrick93 8th-Jul-2014 05:44 pm (UTC)
That sounds fucking disgusting. What happened to normal food?
ivannafierce 8th-Jul-2014 05:52 pm (UTC)
Wow, she's so original, substituting menu items with themselves.
montag_heidi 8th-Jul-2014 05:58 pm (UTC)
“That’s how I live my life. I change my mind.”

omfg i actually lol'd at that
syvlie0o0 8th-Jul-2014 06:02 pm (UTC)
lol that makes her sound like an asshole but I don't think she's really like that (all the time).
arielazul_22 8th-Jul-2014 06:10 pm (UTC)
lol irl
aquaecolore 8th-Jul-2014 06:24 pm (UTC)
lmao oh dear :/
littlehazaay 8th-Jul-2014 06:37 pm (UTC)
This is cracking me up. I'm picturing the waitress's whole thought process.
dizzy879 8th-Jul-2014 07:03 pm (UTC)
kurtvonnegut 9th-Jul-2014 01:05 am (UTC)
god i hate people who are like that in restaurants. i have a friend who has to ask a billion questions and begs for samples of things and asks which is better, this or this, and tries to customize orders and i fucking hate eating out with her
spanishsaharaa 8th-Jul-2014 05:38 pm (UTC)
I can see why she would probably hate her first album. I think if I were a singer I would probably hate to sing certain old songs live tbh. It would bring back memories of something or someone & I'm not sure I'd be into it. Or perhaps if you are embarrassed by your early writing/work. Some artists enjoy that tho.
happypekpek 8th-Jul-2014 05:38 pm (UTC)
bitch, youth novels was flawless
vespertinev 8th-Jul-2014 06:58 pm (UTC)
1000x better than I Never Learn.
shepherds 8th-Jul-2014 05:40 pm (UTC)
ARE YOU KIDDING ME RN, BISH. Youth Novels is the ONLY consistently solid and cohesive album she has ever put out. She's tripping. Her new album is a bunch snore/sobfest songs that should've been left as B-sides on some forgotten single.

Edited at 2014-07-08 06:36 pm (UTC)
kennacious 8th-Jul-2014 06:39 pm (UTC)
I agree. I was so disappointed in this last album that I wound up deleting it from my iTunes.

I'll still forever love Wounded Rhymes though.
kurtvonnegut 9th-Jul-2014 01:07 am (UTC)
ita, i LOVE slow and dragging songs (cat power's moon pix is my favorite album) but hers are just slow and boring and don't have as much soul as she thinks they do
luvthatdrtywata 8th-Jul-2014 05:41 pm (UTC)
i will not acknowledge the slander than this is anything but pure pop perfection...

scriptedending 8th-Jul-2014 05:45 pm (UTC)
Probably my favorite of her songs.
hbic_monalisa 8th-Jul-2014 05:48 pm (UTC)
"For you I keep my legs apart/ and forget about my tainted heart"

dizzy879 8th-Jul-2014 05:57 pm (UTC)
gypsy_leerose 8th-Jul-2014 05:59 pm (UTC)
kaykaydelight 8th-Jul-2014 06:00 pm (UTC)
save_me_xenu 8th-Jul-2014 06:12 pm (UTC)
This song and video is what made me love her.
XxEmyll 8th-Jul-2014 06:13 pm (UTC)
This is my favorite from her! I use to listen to it all the time when I had a crush on this guy in high school. I sent it to him on AIM and he was like "lol whut". >.
emmy0001 8th-Jul-2014 06:18 pm (UTC)
I wish I could still listen to this song but it makes me think of really bad times now. Boo.
tessselate 8th-Jul-2014 06:45 pm (UTC)
lol whenever i see this vid i just think about how my friend said "that room looks so HOT AND SWEATY"
vespertinev 8th-Jul-2014 07:01 pm (UTC)
Such a bop!
foxxywith2xs 8th-Jul-2014 10:39 pm (UTC)
the remix is sooo good.
stormydown 8th-Jul-2014 05:42 pm (UTC)
The three-line tattoo worked, says Lykke (“it’s pronounced ‘Leeck-ee’, but here [in the US] they say ‘Likey’ or ‘Leaky’”

what's the pronunciation difference between "Leeck-ee" and "Leaky"? Just that the first syllable is more defined?
scriptedending 8th-Jul-2014 05:44 pm (UTC)
I honestly sat here saying them out loud to myself wondering the same thing.
shepherds 8th-Jul-2014 05:47 pm (UTC)
mte. maybe she meant "licky", that's how i've heard it mispronounced the most here
ivannafierce 8th-Jul-2014 05:54 pm (UTC)
Leeck-ee as in L---eeeccck, I have something me tEEth.
intangibleamor 8th-Jul-2014 05:59 pm (UTC)
stormydown 8th-Jul-2014 06:04 pm (UTC)
idgi what you're trying to say here but that's also how you pronounce the word "Leaky" as in "L---eeeeeeaky," if you have something in your tEEth you might want to grab a toothpick.
aquaecolore 8th-Jul-2014 06:25 pm (UTC)
i.. think that the first syllable has more emphasis on the K than the e

not lee-ke but leek-ke

pastelward 8th-Jul-2014 05:42 pm (UTC)
time flies is the only song on that album that still does it for me today so i guess i agree
markedglory 8th-Jul-2014 05:43 pm (UTC)
I tried to listen to all three albums as one unit (idky). It was a bit difficult to get through Youth Novels (and I used to love this album).

WR > I Never Learn > Youth Novels
fancycarousel 8th-Jul-2014 06:08 pm (UTC)
wheresandrae 8th-Jul-2014 06:13 pm (UTC)
vespertinev 8th-Jul-2014 07:04 pm (UTC)
WR> Youth Novels> Britney Jean> INL
anderbobo 8th-Jul-2014 05:44 pm (UTC)
I love Youth Novels, it is literally flawless... c'mon girl don't do us wrong like that. I do like her new album but it is really really short :/
markedglory 8th-Jul-2014 05:50 pm (UTC)
tbh, I think I Never Learn is the perfect length. If she added another track or two, the album would have been weighed down.
crucified 8th-Jul-2014 06:08 pm (UTC)
Same. There's only two songs on that one that I really love.
jellycar 8th-Jul-2014 06:35 pm (UTC)
same so idc if she hates it
silentxstrom 8th-Jul-2014 07:03 pm (UTC)
I only listen to 2 or 3 songs. I don't even know why the whole thing is on my iPod because I never listen to most of it.
phallus 8th-Jul-2014 05:48 pm (UTC)
I like Wounded Rhymes, I'm thinking of seeing her at Outsidelands.
disney_doctrine 8th-Jul-2014 05:49 pm (UTC)
youth novels is a solid album, the hype surrounding her new album confuses me because it's not really good.
roxas39 8th-Jul-2014 05:51 pm (UTC)
Are you gurls okay? Youth Novels slays>>>>>
la_guillotine 8th-Jul-2014 05:51 pm (UTC)
her second album was the best, the others are extremely hit or miss (mostly miss tbh)
silentxstrom 8th-Jul-2014 07:05 pm (UTC)
Wounded Rhymes slays me! It is one of my favorite albums ever. I don't like her first one that much, apart from a few songs, and her newest one is good, but nothing special.
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