Swedish singer-songwriter Lykke Li spent her first three albums attempting to understand, as she refers to it, “the suffering of being a human.” She’s delivered on her somewhat emo mission, beginning with her 2008 debut Youth Novels and its breakout single “Little Bit,” which cemented Li’s signature sad-pop sound.
But the human experience is far from static, and in 2018, Li took her sound in a new direction with her fourth album, so sad so sexy. The album was infused with modern hip-hop, R&B, and a number of tracks featured collaborations with Malay (Frank Ocean) and Skrillex. A year later, Li lent her vocals to “Late Night Feelings,” a shimmery Mark Ronson–produced track that’s become the groovy sleeper hit of the summer.
Li is continuing her unusually prolific streak with a new six-song EP, still sad still sexy, out tomorrow. Featuring reworkings of songs from so sad so sexy, the EP is made up of new tracks, alternate takes, and remixes including a “two nights” redux with Skrillex and Ty Dolla $ign. And next month, Li is closing out her 2019 tour dates at the inaugural YOLA DÍA, female-focused music festival, which Li co-organized. Vogue caught up with the singer to talk about her new EP, what inspired her to start YOLA DÍA, and the rumors about her retirement (which she started).
It’s been a little over a year since so sad so sexy came out. With a bit of distance from the project, has your view of the album changed in any way?
I have a lot of thoughts, like, How did I even get it made? I’m kind of surprised that I made an album with all the different things I had going on, and I’m proud of it. Especially playing it live when things are a bit stripped down, I think it’s some of my best songwriting. I’m very proud of it.
What drove you to put out the new EP, still sad still sexy?
I was writing songs that didn’t make so sad so sexy, and “neon” was a part of stuff that I was writing that didn’t make the album. Also sometimes songs hit me harder way after I initially wrote them. I was playing around on the piano when I sang “so sad so sexy” and “deep end” and it hit another nerve in me. I enjoyed singing it in that raw form, so it was either I keep it to myself or let other people hear it. But it was very emotional when I did the acoustic takes because when I was recording the album, I was in the thick of all the pain and all the drama, and to later hear it again in such a raw form, I was so broken-hearted. It was really beautiful to sing it again.
The EP utilizes a lot of the same pop and R&B sounds of your last album. Would you say the EP is an extension of that record or is this an aesthetic you’re interested in exploring more in the future?
No, I feel like I’m kind of done. I’m kind of at the tail end of that era. I was very interested in hip-hop at the time of so sad so sexy, but I do that with every album. It’s like a counter-reaction to what I just did, and now I really wanna make it way more organic and stripped down. I’ve been to the Kanye West churches a couple of times, and that music hits my soul on such a deep level that I really want to create something more healing.
When so sad so sexy was announced last summer, a lot of people were caught off guard when it was announced that you’d signed with RCA and releasing music that seemed so different from your past releases. Were you surprised by the reaction to the record?
Yeah, because it’s clearly been such a big part of my life in terms of the music that I’ve listened to since day one. When so sad so sexy came out, people who know me said ‘Yes! This is the record you’ve always wanted to make!’ And you can’t judge the process. For me, when I make albums, I do what I think is most interesting at the time. And at the time, that for me was the most interesting. I’m not to say, or anyone is to say, if it’s good or bad, it is what it is. You’re an artist and you work from where you are and what interests you. If you’re not interested, then you shouldn’t make anything. You can’t just make the same album five times, you know? You have to immerse yourself in something hard and difficult that you haven’t done before, and that, for me, is what I did. And who’s to say at the end of my career what the best work is? We don’t know.
You’ve worked with select writers and producers in the past, but this past year you’ve collaborated with everyone from Mark Ronson to Ty Dolla $ign. Is there a reason you suddenly started collaborating more with other artists?
I’ve been around a long time, and I was highly uptight and depressed and self-obsessed. You know when you’re young and take your shit so seriously? But if you’re gonna keep doing this thing, it’s fun to be open, it’s fun to collaborate, it’s fun to try new things and see what happens. Some things are good and some things are bad. But for me, what is interesting is to do something new.
So you weren’t as interested in collaborating in the past because you put your own artistry first?
Yeah. And I want to get back to that again. I want to go back into my little cave again and only do little soul music for myself. But I love writing songs, so if I write a song and it comes out, that’s cool as a songwriter. I wasn’t even supposed to sing the Mark Ronson song, but I helped write it and somehow he liked the way I sang it, so I got to be on it.
“two nights” is such a personal song off of so sad so sexy. Why did you choose to share that particular song and story with two other artists for the remix on the EP?
I was working on that song, and Skrillex came by the studio like, ‘Yo, this could be such a smash if you just made it this way and cut the chorus here.’ We were going back and forth for a year because he heard it a certain way like, ‘Dude, you can make it into a dance song!’ And I’m like, ‘No this is not a dance song!’ We were just talking about the form. I did my album version, then we did this version afterward, and it was interesting. Why not? Many different things and versions can exist at the same time. Like, who cares?
Has shifting your musical direction changed the way you process the emotions that you pour into your art?
Yeah, definitely. Every song is a way for me to understand the suffering of being a human being. Especially sonically, that song is so much like my teenage years when all I listened to was R&B. When I make something, I just make it. It’s like cooking in the kitchen when you feel like putting in this or that, you just make it.
You caused a bit of a stir a few weeks ago when you posted photos from tour on your Instagram story with captions that read, “7 shows left until I retire,” and “thanks for the past 10 years.” Most fans assumed you were joking, but is retiring something you’ve seriously thought about?
I mean, it’s not retiring, but it’s like, you hit a point where you go, ‘I’m not going through this again.’ I’ve played summer festivals the last 10 years of my life. I’m kind of done schlepping around the world, you know? Like yeah, I’m done with that part, to be honest. I want to become more curated and do the shit I really like. Life is short, I can’t spend any more time on an airplane playing in front of people who have no idea who I am. It doesn’t feel spiritual anymore. I’m ready for a more intimate life.
You have the YOLA DÍA festival coming up in Los Angeles next month, which is presented by the YOLA Mezcal brand you co-own with Yola Jimenez and Gina Correll Aglietti. How’d that come together?
We all felt like there’s a lack of diversity and so few female headliners on most festival bills ,and I thought the time was right to celebrate strong women. We got the opportunity to create a festival, so we did it. Also, I don’t particularly like festivals. So for people who don’t like festivals, you can come and chill, sit in the shade, drink wine, smoke weed, and watch something great, you know? And without advertising everywhere and feathers and shit. It’s all-female security guards and food and beverages; it’s like a party in your backyard.
So, basically, it’s a festival for people who hate music festivals.
Pitchfork did a survey last year revealing that women only make up 19% of the average festival lineup. You’ve been heavily featured in summer festivals over the years, were you shocked by that number?
Uh, no. Not just the music industry, but the whole world is just a bunch of dudes, you know? So, no, I’m not shocked. My tour manager is female, and I’m usually the only festival performer with a female tour manager. And the shit she has to hear from the workers? Everywhere, it’s just a bunch of men disrespecting women. The world has severe problems. It trickles down, but these are big problems we have in the world because it’s a group of white men at the top.
How do you hope to use YOLA DÍA to correct some of the issues you’ve dealt with at previous festival experiences?
I want it to be warm, inclusive, including, and celebratory of the craft. We have speakers and we’re giving back to the L.A. Downtown Women’s Center. And YOLA Mezcal is a half-Mexican company, so we’re trying to show how important it is to unite, and how big the Mexican culture is in America—and point out what the fuck is going on at the border. Let’s celebrate together and create an environment where we can be strong and free and loving and inspired. It’s important that people show up. I know that people are always talking about ‘we support women!’ But really, show up. Buy a ticket and come drink with us! This is a bunch of women putting together a women-led festival—that in itself should be enough to support.
The festival is also your last scheduled performance for the year. What’s next?
I cannot wait to go back into the studio. I have a lot to write about and really immerse myself in creating again. And I don’t know...be a better cook?
Originally Appeared on Vogue