Lykke Li

Swede Revenge

Jun 01, 2008 Summer 2008 - The Protest Issue Bookmark and Share


In 2002, when indie kids in the U.S. looked to Sweden as a hotbed for new music upon the emergence of bands such as The Hives, 16-year-old Li Lykke Timotej Zachrisson was devising her escape from Stockholm.

“I was writing songs and dreaming,” remembers the now 22-year-old singer/songwriter, who goes by Lykke Li (pronounced lick-eh lee) because of a passport error. “I probably was sitting in a car somewhere planning my future, planning my revenge.”

Revenge? Against whom does a Swedish schoolgirl exact revenge? “Against everybody,” she replies. “I’ve been told a lot of times that I’m not a good singer and I suck, and that I’m crazy....You want to rebel against everybody who ever doubted you.”

Lykke is a Danish name that means happy and lucky, and it’s proved to be prophetic. Lykke Li’s infectious, dance-friendly singles “Little Bit” and “I’m Good, I’m Gone,” along with their inventive, improvised live videos, have propelled her to rising star status.

“I still don’t feel like I’m getting well known,” she says. “When you see Madonna or Beyoncé, it’s like, ‘Yeah, that’s what it is to be a star.’ But everything has changed. Record labels, they don’t have the money, so you have to carry all your stuff yourself, and you have to do a lot of cities and clubs.”

Raised by parents who are also artists, Lykke Li grew up accustomed to traveling country to country. Her father, Johan Zachrisson, is a musician, composer, and former member (under the alias Zilverzurfarn) of the Swedish prog band Dag Vag. Her mother is a photographer, whose work took the family to India and Nepal. Lykke Li spent five years of her youth in Portugal and, at 19, she moved to New York for three months in the hope of landing a record deal, an experience she says wasn’t so glamorous.

“I had to hold open mics and eat oatmeal every day,” she explains. Realizing that she wouldn’t be discovered in New York without a demo, Lykke Li returned to Stockholm, where she acquired the phone number of producer Björn Yttling (of Peter Bjorn and John) through a friend. “I convinced him to work with me, ’cause I was a nobody, and he worked with all these big bands in Sweden, so I just nagged.”

Lykke Li’s debut album, Youth Novels, produced by Yttling, has drawn comparisons to Kate Bush and Björk, but like many young artists, she frowns at being labeled. “If they would compare me to Dr. John or Cody ChesnuTT, I would be really happy,” she laughs. “How could I label myself? I don’t even know who I am when I wake up.”

Lykke Li says that the music styles she wants to pursue change by the hour, but she’s long been certain that her recordings should be “dirty and raw and edgy.” When asked about a lyric from “Little Bit,” where she sings, “And for you I keep my legs apart,” she insists that she never considered writing a less graphic alternate.

“Snoop Doggy Dogg wrote worse things than that,” she says. “It’s only because I’m a girl that people bring it up. But I don’t see myself as being a female artist. I’m just an artist, and I want to be true to myself. I want to be even more raw the next time.” 

 



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