WORDS: Michael Wilton
Over the last decade, Scandinavia has served up an avalanche of fascinating female pop artists – Lykke Li, Tove Lo and Frida Sundemo, to name a few – but one of the most consistently impressive is Tove Styrke.
Styrke has just released her single ‘Say My Name’, a whimsical minimalist jam that features the excellent chorus, “Say my name, wear it out like a sweater.” It’s miles away from the darker textures of her last release, 2015’s Kiddo, and from her base in Stockholm, Styrke says, “It’s got a feel-good vibe to it that I really love, and it’s exactly what I need in my music right now. Sometimes you need to write about the bad, and sometimes you just want to escape into the good. Long before I released it, I tested it on friends that don’t work in the music industry. Without saying anything, I put headphones on them and watched their expressions as they listened to the track. They were smiling and bopping along to it. It was so nice.”
One of the biggest fans of the song is Lorde, who instantly added it to one of her Spotify playlists. “Oh my god, I didn’t believe that at first”, the 24-year-old exclaims. “I admire Lorde so much. She’s such a great songwriter, and it really made me happy.
I would love to just meet her, and I’d really love to pick her brain. I don’t understand how somebody so young can write those lyrics.”
As a teenager, Styrke was obsessed with Björk; these days though, she also loves Rihanna, Beyoncé and Britney Spears (her complex, throbbing version of ‘…Baby One More Time’ almost rivals the original). At the age of 16, Styrke was a finalist on Swedish Idol, and although talent shows usually don’t have a stellar track record of creating internationally successful artists, she says, “For me, it turned out great. I got my first deal and I’ve been working with my label and we really get along. But, that might not be the case for everyone. I feel like the reason my career has been successful, or at least one that I’m happy with, is because I write my own material and I love working. Everyone is different, but my main advice for people who want to make music is pretty simple: just make music!”
In the eight years since she released her self-titled debut, Styrke has witnessed some big shifts in the music industry, especially when it comes to equality for women. “Right now, I feel women make the most interesting pop music. I think the landscape is getting better for us, and I can definitely see a change from when I started to now, especially in terms of the kind of questions I get asked. I feel like I no longer have to explain in every interview that I write my own songs.”
While Styrke believes there’s a better equilibrium in the gender stakes, she says, “There’s always stuff to achieve. It’s not like we’re done. However, I do feel like my job is getting easier. For example, when I’m on tour, I don’t want to have all guys in the crew. I don’t want an all-girl crew, but I feel people perform better when it’s mixed. It used to be difficult for others to understand how important that was for me, but now it’s a very natural thing and people don’t think twice when I ask for it.”
Styrke will release her third album this year, although she admits she initially suffered from writer’s block after the success of her second album Kiddo, which Spin named as one of the top 25 pop albums of 2015. “It’s was tricky”, she says. “For me, the second album felt a lot like a debut album. You know when people say that everybody has at least one book in them; it’s a little bit the same with music. Everybody has a need to get something off their chest, and with that second record, I just had to scratch a little bit underneath the surface and it all came out and I wrote it really fast. This time though, I had to dig a lot deeper to find some friction. I had a fear that maybe I don’t have any creativity in me, that maybe the inspiration is gone. It was really scary, but then when I wrote ‘Say My Name’, something clicked. This is new and interesting, and it’s a place where I can start digging, and it’s been a really exciting journey for me.”
Styrke hopes to visit Australia soon for a tour, but until then, you’ll have to make do with saying her name a lot, and wearing it out like a sweater.