“Tove Lo is diving head first into a new chapter in her career - independence. It’s almost a decade since the LA-based Swedish pop superpower’s now multi-platinum single “Habits (Stay High)’ took the world by storm and in that time she’s released four full-length records, collaborated with everyone from Charli XCX to Kylie Minogue through to Doja Cat, Major Lazer and Flume and toured the world.
On fifth album “Dirt Femme’ she finds strength in empathy and sensitivity while exploring familiar “heartbreak you can dance to” formula, but switches things up as she gets more personal than ever before.
We catch up over Zoom with Tove to find about more about the genesis of “Dirt Femme’ and whether she’s enjoying being in full creative control as the CEO of her own label.
“Dirt Femme’ is finally here, how are you feeling?
It’s been a really long process, I’ve had a lot of time to really make it the way I wanted and obviously some songs are extremely vulnerable. As always with me, there are some songs that might rub people the wrong way, but in general this is a milestone for me putting it out on my own label.
When you do a really big project, that you put all your heart and soul and blood, sweat and tears into, that feeling of releasing it into the world has always been emotional, but in a good way. It’s not on me anymore, now I just have to let it live its life. I feel very proud of it. I think it’s one of my best albums.
Has that feeling of letting go changed over the years, is it any less scary now you’re on Album Five?
This feels like “Queen Of The Clouds’. This feels like my very first release. I guess maybe because I wasn’t able to be an artist during the time I wrote it. I wasn’t touring, I was out of my record deal and I wasn’t putting out music. I usually do all those things simultaneously, while making an album.
The only thing I was doing was writing and being still in one place. That was very new to me after being on the road for so long and constantly moving for so many years.
Which songs do you think will rub people the wrong way?
I guess “Suburbia’. If you don’t have kids, and you’re in the same mindset as me, you don’t know if you want that typical domestic life: I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but I don’t know if it’s right for me.
Once we got married, the people around us that we grew up with were like “Oh my god, you finally did something normal” [and started asking] “When are you kicking your friends out of your house? when are you having kids?” They’re expecting us to do all these traditional steps and I had this fear that what if I just wake up and all of a sudden we’ve just done it and we’re living in this suburb with our neighbours talking about how to mow the lawn and there are only straight boring people around us who don’t have an open mind?
Not everyone who has children is stuck in that mindset, but I could tell when I played it to some of my friends who have kids, they took it so personally. I think it’s a beautiful experience and maybe I’ll change my mind [about having kids in the future], but the thoughts that I had really offended a lot of them.
“Grapefruit’ is probably your most vulnerable track to date and the first time you’ve discussed your relationship with your body in such detail.
It’s a very triggering subject. Hopefully, that one will resonate with people who have struggled with similar thoughts or have those issues, and that maybe can help them feel less alone.
I’ve mentioned in passing that I used to hate my body when I was a teenager, but I never went into how bad it was for me during that time. It was such a process for me, I was struggling with it from when I was 15 and I was about 20 when I had a wake-up call with a voice doctor who could tell I was bulimic, because I had problems with my voice. I lied and he said, “You don’t have to talk to me about it, but I can tell you if you keep treating yourself this way you will lose your voice.”
The number one thing that I need in my life is singing, the only thing that’s really making me happy and making me forget how I feel about myself: I’m going to ruin that. It was very much a you’re-stopping-this-right-now feeling, but first you have to go to therapy, break the behaviour and figure out what was really going on. And once you’ve done that, you have to start working on really loving yourself.
Because I did all that, so well, when I became an artist in the public eye that was crucial for me. If this journey had happened to me when I was 17, I’d never have been able to handle it. All the comments and dissecting your looks and your body and everything. Flashing on stage and being very revealing, no retouching photos and trying to keep my body real has been a secret victory for me.
The production on “Grapefruit’ feels like the opposite to its lyrics.
That’s the funny thing about it, you feel like screaming it from the top of your lungs, but then, wait, what the fuck am I saying? It really makes it hopeful.
But for me, it was really important to write it from the perspective of how shitty things can get. If I’m feeling shitty about myself, I can’t listen to a song telling me that I should feel good about myself, I just feel like a failure. That’s why I wrote it in this mindset. That used to help me more so I didn’t feel as alone in my feelings.
You’ve got a handful of collaborations on the album. What was it like bringing SG Lewis, Channel Tres and First Aid Kit into the world of “Dirt Femme’?
Honestly it was hard. It’s a very personal album and that always makes it tricky to bring other people in. “Attention Whore’ is such a sassy song with so much attitude and I’m such a huge fan of Channel Tres that from the beginning of this I wanted something on the album he’d be down to do.
I didn’t know I was going to get two songs on my record with SG. We just started working together late in my process and it just ended up being so good that I kicked other songs off the album to put those two on there. I have a few people in my life that just speak the same language when we’re writing, it always ends up the way I’m hearing it and you’re hearing it and we push each other and he’s one of those people for me. That was very special and I’m very happy we started working together.
With First Aid Kit, “Cute & Cruel’ just felt like such a different world for me. I also knew I wanted to do a collaboration with a Swedish artist and it was a long shot. I’ve been a fan of them forever and I just asked if they wanted to do the song with me and they just killed it!
Are you enjoying being an independent artist?
So far I’ve been loving it! Obviously, you want every song to go as far as it can and you want your music to resonate with as many people as possible, but sometimes there’s a creative goal and that can be hard to do when you’re at a major label.
Even if they support you and want what’s best for you, they’re always going to think about what sells the most records. Sometimes you want to do things that aren’t necessarily the clearest way there, so it fits me to be able to have the final say. I don’t want anyone to tell me it’s the wrong choice.
I built this amazing platform with help from a major label and it was crucial that I had them to get the international career that I have now. It wasn’t a “Fuck my label” or “I feel trapped by my label”, I really didn’t. Even if they didn’t understand what I was doing they weren’t going to stop me from putting it out, which is lucky because I know artists who are not even allowed to put out the music they want because the label doesn’t believe in it.
Your choices seem to have been working out just fine. The fans have been eating up the single releases and videos too.
I’m so grateful to all my fans for the support they’ve given me. I honestly worked so hard to create the visual stories and I know they love to be a part of that, so it’s really special to see that they’re loving it and being so supportive.
“Dirt Femme’ is out now via Pretty Swede / Mtheory.
Subscribe to DIY
As featured in the October 2022 issue of DIY, out now.