Live at CMJ, Day 2: Lykke Li

review and interview by Sheryl Witlen
photos for Doron Gild

At a glance during London’s Black Cab Session with Lykke Li she comes across as a delicate youthful blond sprite. As she nestles in between her fellow band members, an impression of nervous energies and hurried introductions leaves you wondering how she is going to pull off a functional performance. Then, her song begins and that shy introduction is lost in the dust leaving nothing but that tantalizing fall of infatuation. With each chime of her hand-held bells, you realize you are captivated by the organic rendition of “I’m Good I’m Gone” as the world flies by outside the windows of her motorized cage. You have just encountered Li Lykke Timotej Zachrisson. Born in Ystad, Skane, Sweden, she spent her early years with her photographer mother and musician father before moving and traveling throughout Europe. At the tender age of nineteen, she ventured to New York City to record her album in three short months before returning to Scandinavia. In 2007, she made some people’s lists (Stereogum) as an artist to look out for during the massively overwhelming music festival that is CMJ and her debut US performances were trampled in the mix of discovering Yeasayer, MGMT, The Black Kids and Eagle Seagull. A few short months later under the production skills of Bj√∂rn Yttling of Peter Bjorn and John her record, Youth Novels saw state-side release as she set out to play Glastonbury, one of her largest shows to date. Not bad for a first year of trying to push your songs and command the attention of indie music lovers world-wide. Citing Edith Piaf, Joe Strummer and Nina Simone as both heroes and inspiration for her music Lykke Li explains her adoration for these revolutionaries, “Everybody who took a chance. I think every big artist doubts themselves because it’s a journey. but they had a message, a good soul and they wanted to give people something.” Admitting to feeling overwhelmed by loneliness and the owner of a broken heart most of the songs on her album were written in the midst of a stinging break up from which she managed to salvage her emotions of love, lust and anger and in turn produce one of the most successful debuts of 2008. Stepping out of that fawn-like demeanor on stage, Lykke Li bursts forth with sensuality and yearning. With a background in dance, she cruises about the stage armed with a megaphone, tambourine, bells or drumstick in hand. Pointing directly into the audience she unleashes catchy pop tune after catchy pop tune, “Little Bit,” “Dance, Dance Dance,” and “Complaint Department” sound sharper and sassier than the album version and the observation of Lykke Li as an artist is complete. Fragile and doe-eyed, sensual and sassy, youthful yet mature she has much left to unveil and us gasping after her every sigh.

Sheryl: I read that your mom is a photographer and your father is a guitarist and I was wondering what your childhood was like growing up, if they inspired you to follow music?

Lykke: I mean my upbringing was different, but it wasn’t because they were working with different stuff. They are not artists in that way. My mom takes pictures but that is not the same as being an artist. The only thing that was different was that I moved to Portugal for a few years and that was more of a hippie, free environment. They did not at all push me to do anything. I don’t think they are so fond of me being in music that way, so they didn’t tell me to do anything like “do you want to paint? Kids, do you want a sandwich?” (laughs)

Sheryl: Recently you recorded a performance with Bon Iver in California. How did that happen?

Lykke: I LOVE him so much you know. His record is… oh, so good. When I heard it I was like, why didn’t I do this record? We knew he was going to be in LA, so I knew I wanted to meet him and go to his show. So I went to the show. I was going to film something and I had to do it the same day. We asked him if he wanted to do it so he came and found us after his sound check and we did it. It was all very spontaneous and fast.

Sheryl: So that was all done in one take?

Lykke: Yeah, it was one take. Just right outside the venue.

Sheryl: Is there anyone else you have collaborated with since that you have had an organic experience with?

Lykke: Not like that, not really. I am still looking forward to some more collaborations.

Sheryl: So you’ve done a Black Cab Taxi Session and did you do Blogotheque as well?

Lykke: We did Blogotheque in San Francisco last time we were out there touring.

Sheryl: Do you enjoy those kinds of performances?

Lykke: Yeah, oh yeah, I love it. It is a good opportunity to let the song really shine and breathe. I like it a lot.

Sheryl: Your album, Youth Novels, how long did the writing process take? Was it over the course of a couple years?

Lykke: It was hard because I think subconsciously you are writing and re-writing it for all your life and then, bada boom bada bing, now you are going to do a record and then… now you are going to do another record. So I had to write a lot of songs and write in a month’s period. Some of the other songs I have had for a year and a half. It is really hard to tell, I can’t say. One song I wrote one day another song I wrote a year ago. The recording process took two months.

Sheryl: Is there anything you remember during the process, someone you were reading or listening to that helped you transcribe what you were going through?

Lykke: When I write of course I get inspired from texts, but it doesn’t transcend into what I do. Everything that I write is the stuff that I know. So, I am not really inspired or influenced by anybody. I just write what I know, mostly about my own relationships.

Sheryl: I’ve read in some articles that you consider yourself a bit of a shy soul, but when you get on stage you seem so effervescent and energetic. Is it a bit of a rush or release to perform for you?

Lkkye: I’m not a lonely shy person, I am still crazy when I go out with my friends. I am talking about when I am alone. But I am not a person who is always in relationships, I am a lonely person in that way.

Sheryl: Do you find it lonely to be on tour?

Lykke: Sometimes, of course.

Sheryl: Do you have any big upcoming tour plans, for a New Years Eve show or something special that you are looking forward to?

Lykke: I will be in Australia for New Years for a mini-Australia tour. I am excited for that.

Sheryl: Hercules and the Love Affair, who were on KEXP earlier today will be there as well with Cut Copy and Presets, so you will all have a sick time.

Lykke: (laughs) I know. Yeah, it is going to be a lot of fun, I am looking forward to it.

Sheryl: Are you going to take a bit of time off, or are you returning to the studio again sometime soon?

Lykke: I am still touring-touring-touring until next summer. My plan is just to stay on my feet. Touring is exhausting so I can’t even think about it. If I have time off I just want to have time off and sleep.

Sheryl: Besides Bon Iver, are there any other artists that you have enjoyed or gotten excited about recently?

Lykke: I don’t really know what else has come out, I don’t really have time to listen to much right now. I really like Beirut and Amy Winehouse.

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