Tove Styrke’s mission is to make life and death pop. The sort of pop music that is bold and unapologetic. Pop music that isn’t completely flawless, and still has some grit attached to it. And with her fourth studio album ‘HARD’, she has successfully done that. Throughout the nine tracks on the album she takes you on a journey of love and heartbreak, and delivers a lyrical vulnerability that we haven’t heard in her music before.
The Swedish singer-songwriter is no stranger to straight-fire pop bangers. Her discography is full of them. From ‘Borderline’ to ‘Sway’, ‘Say My Name’ and ‘Mistakes’, it’s safe to say she knows how to construct an earworm hook. And don’t even get me started on all of the songs from her albums that should have been hits, and ones we should create petitions for to have a resurgence, as there are a lot.
I recently chatted to Tove Styrke about her love for wanting to make life and death pop songs, explored the creative processes of songs like ‘Cool Me Down’, ‘YouYouYou’ and ‘Bruises’, and paid retrospect to her flawless third studio album ‘SWAY’. Check it out BELOW;
THOMAS BLEACH: Your fourth studio album HARD feels like your most honest record yet. So when you started the process for this album, did you have an idea of the transparency you wanted this record to have, or where along the way did that vision come into fruition?
TOVE STYRKE: I feel like a lot of things with this album fell into place when I wrote ‘Show Me Love’. That was truly a different experience for me from how I had previously worked with my music. It was way more personal because I wrote it directly to somebody who is now my girlfriend. Back then we were just starting to go out. So I wrote it to her, and it was really just straight from my heart and about how I feel.It felt like a challenge for me to be super vulnerable and honest, as it’s so scary to put yourself out there. And that is a really big part of this project, and an overarching theme for the record; daring to put your heart into it, and go all in. You will feel so many amazing things, but you will also be at the risk of getting hurt. These are love and heartbreak songs, but they feel more like life and death to me.
TB: And love is terrifying right? I recently fell in love and this is the most terrified I have felt in a long time.
TS: Exactly! When I sat in the studio to work on these songs, I asked myself what I was feeling. And of course I was feeling all of these warm and fuzzy feelings, but I was also scared shitless. It was the most terrifying situation I had been in, because I had never been at more risk of getting hurt and completely crushed. Having your whole life and heart in someone else’s hands… my scorpio heart hates that.
TB: The album opens with the incredible recent single ‘YouYouYou’, which is honestly a flawless pop song. The breezy synthesiser intertwined with the 80’s drums is everything. What were your sonical references for this song with where you wanted it to sit?
TS: Just big! I wanted it to be the sunrise of the album, to really set the scene and make it really clear to people that it is a really explosive pop album. I love pop like that, pop that feels really inspired. Think Roxette, think Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’ album. Big, big, big pop things. Life and death pop. I’m very inspired by 80’s sounds and I love synthesisers as they are electronic and hard hitting. My favourite thing is when you combine them with electric guitars. But synthesisers have so much personality and soul to them, and I just love that. There is a lot of that synthesiser grit sprinkled throughout the album. But I think with ‘YouYouYou’, that production is so immediate, and it is such a great pop track. So I wanted it to represent the album and start it off that way.
TB: The lyric “If I saw your face I’d have a heart attack. I’m not trying to say that I want you back” is SO good because it’s vulnerable but it’s all sassy as it’s kinda like; don’t get it twisted. I miss you, but I don’t want you back, okay *laughs*.
TS: *Laughs* exactly! That’s the thing I love about that song. It’s so passionate. It’s like you’re painting this really beautiful and romantic picture of where you are right now and everything is purpley, nice, and pastel. And then you get the twist, and it’s like “but it’s youyouyou on my mind”, and it’s somebody else. So you’re still that naughty scorpio who can’t be trusted *laughs*. It’s a really simple love song, but I still feel like it’s very representative of how it actually is. It doesn’t feel like a lie or a fairytale fantasy.
TB: And then you back it up with this gritty guitar riff, light synths and big drum beat on ‘Cool Me Down’, which is honestly the album’s standout track for me. Can you explain the creative process behind it?
TS: I’m so glad you love that song, because I do too. It was the last song that made it on the record. I had ‘YouYouYou’ lined up as the big album single, and then I got this last version of ‘Cool Me Down’ and I was so blown away. At first when Oscar Scheller and I wrote it, the demo was really intimate, slow, and more indie sounding. If you’ve ever heard ‘Ever Again’ from Robyn’s album ‘Honey’, it was more on the lines of that indie laidback sound, but it was still a bop. But it always felt like this was meant to be a big pop song, and it was one that wanted to soar. I wanted it to go as hard as ‘I Love It’ from Icona Pop which is another Swedish banger.
So after months of sitting on it I sent it to this Swedish producer called Svidden who does a lot of these huge dance tracks, and I was just like “do whatever the fuck you want. I just want it to be big. You could put a sax solo in there. You could put a guitar solo in there. Just go nuts”. And I got this version back and I couldn’t be happier. It’s exactly what I wanted.
TB: ‘Bruises’ is another guitar led song, and it felt like a bit of a nod to ‘KIDDO’ with what people may have expected those songs would’ve grown from there?. Did it feel like a return to that world when you focused on guitar a bit more?
TS: I don’t know. I think I have a tendency with every other record to go big and go intimate. So my last record was very intimate and minimal, everything was so fine tuned and polished. So with this one I really wanted to go big.
It was funny because yesterday I teased the song ‘Free’, and people were like “oh my god, I am getting ‘Number One’ vibes from this”. I didn’t think of that beforehand, but I definitely get what people mean with that reference. I would say my taste has remained the same, but I think I’ve become a better producer, and I’ve got more tools in my toolbox today than when I did ‘KIDDO’. To be honest it was a really messy album sonically, but I still love it. I think it’s very inspired, and love that album, but the mixes are crazy *laughs*. There’s too many things to fit in there. But a lot of things I love also sound messy.
But yeah, I think it’s more of a cyclic thing, as every time I’ve done something, I’m trying to do something different the next time. And with ‘Bruises’ I was especially trying to pay homage to things I had grown up listening to, with that whole band and indie-wave in the early 2000’s/2010’s. I grew up listening to so many big pop, rock, and indie-rock Swedish bands, so I definitely feel like that is in there. Even Oasis. And more recent references would be artists like Sam Fender, who I am such a big fan of. There’s something about live instruments on tracks, and I’m so glad we had live drums and guitars on this track as it’s more organic in that way.
TB: I feel like you’ve always been an artist who’s been in their own lane, and in some ways I think your third studio album ‘SWAY’ was slightly ahead of the times. If you could reintroduce one of those songs to listeners, what song would you choose?
TS: It’s hard to choose because they are all so different and good. ‘On The Low’ is really good, ‘Mistakes’ is really good, as well as ‘Sway’ and ‘Say My Name’. I feel like those four songs are the pillars of that era.
TB: And ‘Changed My Mind’! Ugh, so good!
TS: It’s really good as well! I now use that song to open my set, and I’ve made a big intro for it, and it’s perfect for that. It’s so good! But I am very proud of those songs, and somehow I don’t think I’m ever going to make something that I’m more proud of as a whole, as I think the production is flawless. I think the lyrics are flawless. I know I sound like a jerk. I know I sound like Kanye, but fuck it. I think people are always so dishonest. If you’re going to put in that much effort and put out an album, you kind of have to love it. I feel like people who pretend like they don’t, they are lying. They just want you to reassure them that it’s good. They think it’s so obnoxious to say they love their own shit. But yeah, I love the shit that I make *laughs*, otherwise I wouldn’t put it out. There’s a part of me that is never expecting to make anything better than ‘SWAY’, but I still think I can do things that can give people something, and make things that people can take something positive away from it.
TB: Are we going to see you down under in Australia again any time soon?
TS: I want to so badly! I had so much fun last time. I sold out both of my headline shows, and had such a blast. So I really really want to come back soon and stay as long as I can. I’m honestly begging the label to send me down there *laughs*.
TB: Let’s play a quick game of rapid fire questions about the album. Are you ready?
TB: The emoji that best describes ‘HARD’ is…
TS: The heart with the band-aid on it.
TB: The song that nearly didn’t make the album was…
TS: ‘Bruises’! Not by choice… *laughs*. I can’t even tell you why it nearly didn’t, but I love that song and I am so glad it made it.
TB: The song I’m most looking forward to performing live would be…
TS: ‘Bruises’, ‘Free’ and ‘Cool Me Down’.
TB: The song that went through the most versions to get it to where it is now was…
TS: Definitely ‘Cool Me Down’.
TB: The first song from the album I’d want you to play to your friends if they’d never heard of me or my new music would be…
‘HARD’ is out now!