"When you live in a safe environment like I grew up in, you need the adrenaline to come from somewhere," says the Swedish pop artist.
Swedish singer-songwriter Tove Lo first made a major Stateside impression last April with the self-release of her single "Habits," an all-too-honest (and all-too-hooky) account of using hook-ups and substance abuse to cope with a breakup. "I get home I got the munchies / binge on all my Twinkies / throw up in the tub / and I go to sleep" is one of the tamest eight-bar segments, and the brand-new music video for the song, released Monday (Mar. 17), makes its emotionally dissociative themes all the more explicit.
Nearly a year after the release of "Habits," Tove Lo is poised for a U.S. breakthrough following the March 3 release of her debut EP "Truth Serum," which more than earns its title with four more refreshingly candid accounts of the thoughts that go through Tove Lo's mind in the aftermath of a fractured relationship. "Out Of Mind" finds her telling off an ex for expecting her to move on so quickly, with a pre-chorus that practically announces itself with a boisterous, "Are you kidding me?" Elsewhere, "Not On Drugs" sounds like a would-be single for Selena Gomez's post-Bieber "Stars Dance," with its sparkly production and mammoth, sing-along chorus ("Baby listen please / I'm not on drugs / I'm just in love"). "Paradise" and "Over" mine similar territory of the alternate denial and desire to hold on to a dying flame, anchored by Tove Lo's impassioned vocals and winning way with a sticky hook.
All the songs on "Truth Serum" were inspired by one particularly messy breakup, a process that Tove Lo found therapeutic. "It's hard for me to talk about it or sing about it without any filter," she said in a recent interview at Austin's Moonshine Café, in between sets at South By Southwest, her already raspy voice straining to talk above the noisy crowd. "At first I didn't want to write something bad about something you're in, but when it was all over it was things like 'Habits,' being in that state of mind. I need to use that when I write – I can't not."
The songs struck an early cord with fans upon "Truth Serum's" release, which debuted at No. 39 on last week's Heatseekers Albums chart. But the EP will likely see an even bigger bump in the coming weeks thanks to Ellie Goulding. The "Burn" singer recently shouted-out Tove Lo via her Instagram and Twitter accounts by linking to Hippie Sabotage's "Habits" remix, re-dubbed "Stay High," on March 5. She's also the featured vocalist on "Strangers," an EDM-pop track from producers Seven Lions With Myon & Shane 54, which is currently No. 38 on Dance/Electronic Songs in its 19th week on the chart.
And with the "Habits" video likely to gain her even more attention in the coming weeks, Tove Lo is beginning to see why her songs are beginning to connect from across the pond, having grown up in a pleasant Swedish suburb. "When you live in a safe environment like I grew up in, you need the adrenaline to come from somewhere," she says. "Because you know, love is pain. We're always so safe and controlled and you need to take risks. I think that's bad for us in the long run [if you don't]. You need to feel passion for something, that kind of intensity."
Having wrapped a productive SXSW, Tove Lo will next play a handful of gigs in London before making her New York debut at Neon Gold's Popshop showcase April 24, held at The Westway, a former strip club. "Do they have a pole and everything?" Tove Lo asks excitedly, when informed of this detail.
Look for more Tove Lo music later this year as she readies her full-length debut for Island Def Jam, which will be inspired by her current relationship – one that's in a happier place than the one that inspired "Truth Serum," but not without its own complications. "I'm in Sweden, he's in Australia, so the long-distance is tough," Tove Lo says. "So [the songs are] a lot of, 'I just want your hands on me,' 'Where are you?' Skype is a savior, definitely."
In the meantime, expect her songwriting to pop up on upcoming albums from Cher Lloyd, Girls Aloud and perhaps even Adam Lambert, who spent some time in the studio with Tove Lo recently. "He came to Sweden, he's been working with all the producers, the little collective out there, and having a really good time," Tove Lo says, declining to share further details on the newly label-free Lambert's next project. "When you hear the fully produced stuff from the studio, that's one thing, but his voice is insane. I couldn't believe it."