The melancholic singer-songwriter Lykke Li on the genesis of her most intimate album to date, shifting psychological patterns and the universality of suffering
Lykke Li is a name that is synonymous with dark, heartbreaking, and sometimes epic torch songs of love, loss and desire, but in her career there has been perhaps no greater evocation of raw emotion than is evident on her latest stripped back offering EYEYE, which once again explores toxic and dysfunctional patterns of behaviour in the tortuous environs of love. However, it is the word ‘patterns’ that is absolutely key this time around, as her intimate fourth album (produced by her longstanding collaborator Björn Yttling), is presented not only as a collection of songs – all of which are paradoxically achingly delicate and immensely powerful – but also as seven short visual loops created in collaboration with the melancholic songstress’s longtime filmmaking friend Theo Lindquist. These cinematic scenes from a car-crash of a break-up have the feel of a highly stylised Hollywood noir but are just a few minutes in length each, blending their vision of emotional devastation seamlessly in beguilingly haunting loops. It’s a truly ambitious project, born in part of a lockdown spent in the singer’s home in Los Angeles, where she recorded her vocals on her smartphone, and, as such, it’s one that feels utterly authentic – opening with the quietly excoriating single “No Hotel” before whispering through vast hinterlands of heartbreak in songs such as “You Don’t Go Away” and “5D”, which seem hardwired to send myriad shivers along the spinal cord.
Here, the singer waxes lyrical on the genesis of the project, delves deep into the nature of being, and explains why she believes all suffering is universal.
This record feels very raw, what made you want to create something so intimate?
When I’m creating, I only am interested in making something that is vulnerable. I love a good heartbreak, or hearing about those times when things fall apart, because I like it when people are just as raw and honest as possible – laying it all on the line in a very direct, very personal and intimate way. When someone is channeling pain in a true form, it goes straight to my heart and hits me. That’s just what I gravitate towards. Music is like God to me. It’s really shining down from heaven, you know? And when the material is kind of timeless and universal, you can tap into it when you perform.
What made you want to make this album an audio-visual experience?
I wanted to try and paint a landscape that is kind of going in-between reality and dream, and I wanted to make a sonic movie you can really kind of feel. I was into exploring rebirth and death, and just the cycles of love, and addiction, and how when you start looking you realise that these cycles are everywhere – the lunar cycle, the menstrual cycle… It’s like we’re all just in one long cycle. So, I became obsessed the circle of life, but also the circle as a form, and wanted to make a movie that explored repetition. There is something so perfect about repetition as a form. It was the director Theo who suggested that instead of resisting the times that we’re in, where everything gets condensed into like, one-minute or less on TikTok, that we make a whole movie in seven short key scenes. The idea is quite radical and it took months of figuring out how to unfold seven stories from a combining incident – we kind of start and end it all with a car crash, which I guess you could kind of see as a metaphor for the crashed dream or relationship.
The films seem to reflect this idea that the relationships we tend to have as people are based on subconscious patterns that we fall into…
Yeah. I read something along the lines of, we don’t live life – we just repeat patterns. And I have found that very true in my own case. It’s like, am I really in control? Or am I just choosing over and over again to be in the same kinds of situations that then lead to albums. In a way, you could watch the movies in a metaphorical subconscious way, where it’s just about me, and my own emotional rollercoaster. Actually, though, I think I shifted my own patterns while I was making this album, Obviously, I dramatised the situation that I was in, but on a personal level, I did extreme amounts of attachment theory, and psychedelic therapy – and if you can shift just a few degrees you can change your whole life. When you’re making music, you are kind of used to channeling, and being in some sort of state where you’re reaching into the divine, but with psychedelics it’s like you actually experience the divine, and it’s incredible – you are broken open. I think it’s a profound, life-changing experience.
Melancholy and beauty seem like two things that are sort of inextricably linked for you…
Yeah, but I feel like it’s not intentional. I feel that’s just the way that I exist in the world. Because I can be quite dark, I sometimes even have to force myself to ask, what are the things that I actually love about life? And one word that really defines what I love about life, and about everything, is beauty, but for me, beauty is that kind of sore spot between like love and pain. I kind of exist in that pocket. Life is full of multitudes and we need the dark to define the contrast, because, you know, anything beautiful comes with pain. It hurts when buds break open.
Do you think that those difficult moments are the things that make us most alive?
Yeah. We’re all in this together. There is the Buddhist idea that there’s actually only a certain amount of emotions. You think that you’re so special? No one has ever suffered like this before? You know what, in reality so many people have suffered like this before. All the shades of these feelings are universal. And probably most people will have to live through all the shades. The last line of the album is “the movie is you”, and I hope that it will bring you back to that realisation that our life is a movie, and that it all counts and it all matters, you know? It’s the rollercoaster of love.
You wrote the album during lockdown, how did the pandemic affect you psychologically?
I mean, I’ve kind of always been in my own lockdown, especially living in LA. I’m quite introverted, so it was okay. It was strange, though, because even before the pandemic, I had this sensation that something terrible was going to happen. Just before it began, I went to Paris on this super glamorous thing for Gautier – they flew me there first-class, and I kept on having this sensation that this would be the last time; that this type of life would be over very soon. I was also very much in hermit mode, anyway, having just been on tour, so I had already set up a studio in my living room to record. I went through terrible things, emotionally, right before the pandemic on a private level, but actually the pandemic was a very healing time for me, to be honest. It sounds horrible to say, but I am privileged. I was able to be at home without worrying.
Is fame and social media something you struggle with being introverted?
I mean, thankfully, I’m not so famous, especially now. It’s like I’m less and less famous, so I’ve never really had to deal with that kind of fame. It’s not like everyone knows how I look, right? So I don’t really notice that, but even the few times that I’ve had to be in that situation, I really don’t like it. And I really don’t like the way people seem to need to be posting selfies on TikTok, either. I have an aversion to that kind of thing, and find it meaningless – I don’t see the purpose in it. I think it’s actually dangerous, and it’s proven to be affecting people’s mental health. Even with me, because I’m on these platforms, I am exposed to certain images. I remember when I was in a psychedelic trip once, I brought up the image of Kim Kardashian – it’s like Kim lives in my subconscious! I think that’s actually really dangerous, and something we should be terrified of. I really am.
EYEYE by Lykke Li is out now