It’s one of those unbearable New York City summer afternoons. Everywhere you look, t-shirts are affixed to their owners’ backs with sweat and it feels like you might choke on the humidity. Stockholm’s Lykke Li sits at a crowded East Village café trying to refresh herself with a bowl of fruit. Perhaps it’s the weather, or maybe the strawberries and bananas just aren’t cutting it, but the Swedish singer-songwriter isn’t stoked to chat. “Journalists ask me the same things wherever I go and I’ve been doing [interviews] since May of last year,” she sighs. “But I like doing them…sometimes.”
With a restless petulance that’s as endearing as it is frustrating, she leads me on, telling me she’s starring in a film (she’s not) and refusing to talk about the tattoo she got the previous day. “It’s a secret,” she says.
Lykke Li (pronounced “Leek-yuh Lee”) has reason to be press-weary: Having already released her Little Bit EP and Youth Novels full-length in Sweden, she’s been on the road for a year gearing up for those records’ worldwide release, enduring nosy music scribes all along the way.
Of the secrets we do know: 22-year-old Lykke grew up in an artistic household–her dad is a musician, her mom is a photographer; as a youth, she avoided her homeland’s folk music in favor of the pop and hip-hop making its way across the Atlantic. At 18, Lykke Li began recording her own tracks, then shopped demos to notable Stockholm producers. “I didn’t want to produce my own album,” she says. “I always believe that working with other people gives you more. Someone suggested working with this guy, so I got his phone number and just called him.”
That guy was fellow Stockholm resident Bjorn Yttling of hit-making indie-pop trio Peter Bjorn and John. Known for his crisp production (he’s also helmed records for Robyn and Nicolai Dunger), Yttling perfectly complemented Li’s subversive brand of sprightly, sensual bubblegum pop. The album’s first single, “Little Bit,” which pairs Lykke Li’s come-hither coo with plucking guitars and a minimal beat, is an ideal example of the undeniably catchy recipe that propels this record-.
Youth Novels’ confidence and sassy stride perhaps comes from the speed with which it was recorded. “You have to have the ideas for what kind of music you want to make–that’s been a lifelong process–but the actual [recording] was really fast,” says Li. And with a gang of female artists–Santogold, Robyn, M.I.A.–currently serving up genre-smashing beats, this Swede has got a willing audience for her mix of pop, hip-hop, and modern folk. Li claims she hasn’t listened to any of those artists (though Robyn appears in a YouTube-able live clip of Li’s track “I’m Good, I’m Gone”). “We’re all female and we’re all doing something new… but that’s not my inspiration,” she says defiantly.
Bad moods aside, Lykke Li is a talented singer with a rare penchant for melody–and a plucky personality that she’s not going apologize for. “Sometimes you’re [feeling] social and sometimes you’re not,” she offers. Yeah, we noticed.