Magnus Berger
Photography by
Chadwick Tyler

Styling by Vanessa Chow at Creative Exchange. Makeup by Chiho Omae. Hair by Shinichi Arima. Photographer’s assistant: Shane Lyons. Stylist’s assistant: Beatriz Stuckenschmidt Maues. 


Originally published in the Fall 2009 issue.

The breakthrough indie pop star’s meteoric rise and hit album instantly made her one to watch. But Lykke Li is wise beyond her years. She’s taking time to plot her next move, and making sure she doesn’t get caught in the typical young artist death trap-the second album. Here she talks about songwriting, the power of performance, and how she predicted her own future in her lyrics.

MAGNUS BERGER: Let’s talk about inspiration.

LYKKE LI: I think all artists are going through the same thing. You have your whole life to do your first album and three months to do your second. The first is made from a very pure place because nobody knows you and you write everything subconsciously. My first was very much about revenge and proving everybody wrong.

Now you’re here in New York. How can you find that pure place with all of these crazy things going on around you?
I’m going through this psychological phase right now, and I spoke to a friend about it the other day and he said, “You have to get back to the reason why you started writing in the first place. You have to be honest, whatever that reason was.” Maybe I have to get back there, but the place where I was when I made the first album was not a happy place. It’s not a positive place.

Do you really think it works to go back and revisit that place, just to put yourself in a situation that is familiar to work from? Considering what you’ve been through in the past few years, you’re not really the same person now as you were then.
I know. It’s not as much going back to the same place but rather the same room. I try to watch other artists as well to see what triggers creativity, but everybody is motivated by different things. Though it seems that personal sacrifice is a common thing.

There can be many reasons for creativity. Sometimes it might just be the only therapy that works. For some it’s the success itself that is the driving force. I guess you just have to be honest about your reasons.
I did it because life was so boring. But I love performing, and that is something that I can do better than anything in life. I don’t know anything about relationships, or anything really. I know how to perform, but I can’t always write a song. I think that’s why I keep on touring, because when I’m on stage I’m completely happy. To me that is very pure.

Is there a way you can take that feeling with you as a starting point for writing music?
No, not at all. That’s the problem. My songwriting comes from something that happens in my life. You’re not going to write that in a bar or hotel, and that’s the hard part to deal with. I hope what I’m doing right now is just collecting a lot of information and emotions and stories until I get to that place. I can’t push it out just yet. I think I’ve been breathing out so much energy by performing that now I just need to breathe in for a while.

Just take your time. There’s no rush.
I know. I don’t feel pressure from myself, but I feel it from other people around me. Because getting a record deal can be your kiss of death.

But isn’t that everybody’s problem, that once you’ve reached a certain level of success, or even just a reassurance of what you’re doing,
it can be hard to find that initial motivation again?
In a way it’s fantastic just to be able to live off of what you love and have it as your day job. And it’s weird to be able to do that for a living rather than doing it as pure sex.

Do you find inspiration in other people’s music? Or is that the difference between music and lyrics, that lyrics have to come from life experiences?
Yeah, and with music it’s like there is a million new bands and you think that you always have to find the new twist. But then you go back and listen to some- one like Neil Young and it’s just shocking because it’s so simple.

When I heard your music the first time it struck me that it felt new without necessarily trying to be. But most importantly, I felt there was a real honesty in there, which came across even more when I saw you perform.
That is the only thing I strive for. But that means I also have to be very honest to myself. It’s hard for anyone, any young woman, not to listen too much to other people, but really listen to yourself. I just feel that live, people see it more clearly because it’s more vital. People also connect with the lyrics in a different way that is less dreamy.

Well, it’s definitely a more direct experience because you connect with the audience and you let it all out, especially vocally.

Which is important because I’m talking about quite dark things, you know. You do what’s best for the album when you record, but once you play it live it’s a different thing.

But you still relate to the songs.

Yeah, oh my God. Sometimes it’s even like, I didn’t quite understand what I was going through when I wrote it but now, all of a sudden, I realize what it means. It’s like this song “Time Flies,” which I wrote in one go and just thought it sounded cool but two years later it actually happened. So it’s like I’m my own psychic. A lot of what I write now is just fragments of what I am experiencing at the moment. Sometimes you panic and think that you can’t ever write again, and then the next day it just happens. It’s a mystery. I don’t understand it. Maybe it’s a gift from God. MB: So do you believe in God?
LL: Yeah…no…I don’t know. It feels sometimes like we are the lost generation. And there is a reason for religion, you know. It keeps people from going crazy.

Well, if you can shift focus from your miseries towards something else that is bigger, that makes it all worth it, or at least manageable, if you believe in that.

There are just so many people around me in my generation who have such a strong belief in success and money but once you get there, it’s a deserted island. It’s like one second of gratification, and it doesn’t even taste like anything.

Maybe it’s how we were raised with our parents making us believe that everything is possible, and we actually believed in that. So you’re searching and always thinking that it can get a little bit better. In the end you’re just looking for the simple things in life but you’re doing it through this enormous detour.
Yeah but you have to do this in your own way. There is no other option. And the most courageous thing you can do as a person or as an artist is just to follow your guts. You have to find your sacred place, a place without sugar…

Magnus Berger
Photography by
Chadwick Tyler

Styling by Vanessa Chow at Creative Exchange. Makeup by Chiho Omae. Hair by Shinichi Arima. Photographer’s assistant: Shane Lyons. Stylist’s assistant: Beatriz Stuckenschmidt Maues. 

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