Lykke Li on Rejecting Pop with I Never Learn | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Lykke Li on Rejecting Pop with I Never Learn

The Stones Cry Out

Jul 08, 2014 Issue #50 - June/July 2014 - Future Islands Bookmark and Share

Lykke Li does not want to be a pop starshe wants to make that clear. Though recent years have eroded much of the boundary, as well as the stigma, separating the pop and non-pop worlds, she nonetheless expresses frustration over the fact that after seven years of writing and singing her own songs she is still categorized more with pop singers than singer/songwriters. For this, she has a solution: if pop stars make music for the masses, plastic and polished to appeal to greatest number of ears, she will do the opposite. She will make albums like I Never Learn, her third full-length release.

“I set out from the start trying to make something very raw and honest and stripped back, to not hide behind anything,” she says from a hotel room in Manhattan. “I wanted to make something very straightforward and direct. I wanted it to be classicnothing contemporary about it. I had to make everything live. I couldn’t have a produced drum loop or something. Everything had to be played and it had to have an emotional touch, like a human touch-that it’s not a straight line, that it’s dynamic. I always wanted the subject and voicethe storyto be most important. I could have made these songs way more hittier, but that’s not what I wanted to do.”

To that end, first single “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone” is arguably the least “hittiest” song on I Never Learn. Composed of nearly four minutes of simple acoustic guitar strums and haunted, unadorned vocals, it’s startling in its naked immediacy, her vocals cracking and breaking around a melody that feels both familiar and otherworldly. If the song sounds like a demo, that’s because it is, the performance so perfect that she decided no amount of ornamentation could improve it. The rest of the album isn’t quite so austere, but it’s this emphasis on elevating the quiet, vulnerable moments that runs throughout I Never Learn and sets this release apart from her previous two. Where she previously obscured her pain and heartbreak with defiance and swagger, she now has the confidence to present her insecurities without a buffer. The results are striking.

“I think that’s art at its greatest,” she says, “because I work from that tradition that you have a wound and you’re trying to heal yourself. So you put your wound into your art, and that could be a photograph or film, and you’re so open and honest with yourself that it transcends everything. That’s when people can feel that pain. For me, that’s magic. That person has laid themselves bare in order for me to have that experience.”

Exploring those dark corners of her psyche comes naturally to her, she says, admitting that she has been plagued by doubt and dissatisfaction with her work from the start. (“In my personal life it’s even worse,” she says.) But channeling those emotions into her work has proven tricky, resulting in a debut (2008’s Youth Novels) that she seems to more or less disown, and a sophomore release (2011’s Wounded Rhymes) that she says she doesn’t really relate to anymore. I Never Learn, she says, is the album she was trying to make all along.

“The older you get the more it’s about finding the simple things, about refining your art,” she says. “So everything has been a process leading up to this, the end of my trilogy as a young 20-something. This is what I tried to do before and failed.”

[Note: This article first appeared in Under the Radar’s June/July print issue (Issue 50).]


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