“I need to take off my hoops!” teases Swedish singer-songwriter Lotta Lindgren, who performs as LÉON, with a laugh. She’s just come to the phone from her native Stockholm, and though the sun is setting on her side of the world, it’s time to get down to business, hold-my-earrings style.
The 24-year-old recently returned to her homeland (and, she excitedly notes, her dog) after spending two months in Los Angeles working on her self-titled debut album, set for release in 2019 on her own LÉON Recordings imprint, in partnership with BMG. Here, she’s focused on finishing up production on the project — but she’s also finding time to reflect.
This month, Lindgren dropped the album’s gushing first single “Baby Don’t Talk,” three years to the date since she made her official debut with the finger-wagging “Tired of Talking” after it went unexpectedly viral on SoundCloud. (Yes, she recognizes the irony of those two titles.) She has followed up with three EPs’ worth of husky soul-pop love songs — Treasure (2015), For You (2017) and Surround Me (2017) — while “Tired of Talking” has surpassed 64 million Spotify streams.
Still, Lindgren remembers a time when she’d get excited over 50 new followers on her Facebook page. Growing up in Stockholm to a family of musicians and artists, and inspired by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Stevie Wonder and Lauryn Hill, she began writing songs in elementary school and joined her first band at age 14. “One of the first songs I wrote was called ‘As I Am With You,’ which is such a corny title,” she recalls with a hearty laugh. “It was always about love — still is.” Though she admired her college-bound friends as they chose majors (“it would be cool to do something with crime,” she imagines), she jokes that hers was the rare family that discouraged traditional routes.
“My sister would be talking of, ‘I’m thinking of doing this [career] instead,’” Lindgren remembers. “And my mom and dad would be like, ‘Are you sure you’re not going to do music?’”
Around the time she turned 20, she narrowed her work down to eight demos and started going by LÉON, a Nordic name she liked because it sounded androgynous. But when her emails to several labels went unanswered, she decided on a whim to upload “Tired of Talking” to SoundCloud in 2015. The next day, “I had, like, 20 new people following me on Instagram, and I was like, ‘Oh shit!’” she remembers. “But then I saw the numbers growing” on SoundCloud, where streams quickly reached hundreds of thousands. Twitter shout-outs from Katy Perry and Chloë Grace Moretz only added to the momentum, and she signed with Columbia Records for her first EP.
Lindgren adds that she’s always been inspired by the stories behind her favorite songs, like Fleetwood Mac’s iconic “Dreams,” which she and her band have covered at almost every gig going back two years. “Their record Rumors, that’s just them gossiping about each other,” she says of the Stevie Nicks-fronted band. “I love hearing gossip about songs — like, that was about that?” The same hunt for truth translates to her own intensely personal songs, like For You’s “Liar,” a wrenching breakup ballad in which she asks, “Why am I not enough?”
Now, as she preps her full-length debut (and approaches her 25th birthday), Lindgren is applying the same sharp lyricism to the realities of growing up. The LP will include a track about coming to terms with no longer being a teenager and love songs that touch for the first time on her own role in heartbreak. “I’ve gone looking inside myself more, like, ‘What are the reasons why you ended up in these situations?’” It’s one of the many things Lindgren says has changed about herself since she first began going by LÉON. Another: “Listening to my gut.” Another, with a laugh: “Growing some balls!”
But as the ’70s-inspired music video for “Baby Don’t Talk” nears 1 million views on YouTube, here in Stockholm, she’s settling in to just being Lotta. Later tonight, she says she’ll “finish up some artwork” around the house and make a dinner of spaghetti carbonara, maybe take her dog for a walk.
“When I came to America for the first time, I’d just ended school and was figuring out where I wanted to go. The years between 20 to 25 are really weird because you’re trying to figure out yourself,” she says. “I think I’m coming to terms with who I am.”