Entertainment & Arts

How Tove Lo survived a brush with death making her second album

Tove Lo, Sweden's most exciting pop export, is back with her second album after a "rollercoaster" two years, in which she shot to fame, lost her voice and had a deadly encounter with a snake. She tells the BBC the gory details.

Image copyright Polydor
Image caption Tove Lo: "Techno raves I've been going to in the past two years have started to creep into my music."

The biggest hazards in a recording studio are normally bad wiring and a lack of inspiration. Not for Tove Lo.

Earlier this year, the Swedish pop star was recording with dance producer Diplo at his house in Bel Air when a delivery man suddenly appeared at the back door.

"Everyone was startled, like, 'Woah, who are you? Where did you come from?'" she recalls.

"He said, 'I rang your doorbell but there was a rattlesnake by the door'. We walked round and we saw it, just there, rearing its head up. I could have easily been bitten."

'Really intense'

Beating a hasty retreat, Tove and Diplo dialled animal control - but their story doesn't end there,

"The guy came and picked it up with one of those harnesses around its neck, and carried it away. Then he gets his walkie-talkie out and says, 'Hey, there's going to be a gun shot up in Bel Air,' and gives the co-ordinates.

"And he holds the snake down in the dirt and just shoots it right in the head."

"We were like, 'What on earth just happened?' And he explained that, apparently, there are so many rattlesnakes they don't release them back to the wild."

Shaken, the musicians returned to the studio, where the song they'd been working on suddenly seemed a little too upbeat.

"We had to go darker," she laughs. "It was really intense."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The 28-year-old started out writing songs for pop groups like Girls Aloud and Icona Pop

Drama seems to follow Tove Lo around. Her breakthrough single Habits (Stay High) was the true story of how she used drugs to block out the pain of a break-up.

It took her around the world until, on the eve of releasing her debut album, her voice disappeared.

"It was a rollercoaster," she says. "I was so excited about everything that was happening, but so worried every day when I woke up, thinking: 'I can't sing. What am I going to do?'"

Doctors discovered cysts on her vocal cords which required career-threatening surgery.

Her last concert before going under the knife was in New Zealand. She flew her family over to watch, taking to the stage while "crying my eyes out".

Surgery was 'heavy'

For five days after the surgery she couldn't make a sound and when her voice started to return, she worried that it sounded different. But with practice and exercise, normal service was eventually restored.

"The surgery was very heavy for me," she says. "It's been such a relief, being able to sing again."

Since then, she's barely stopped. Tour dates and festivals were scheduled around high-profile collaborations with Coldplay, Nick Jonas and Years & Years. She co-wrote Ellie Goulding's Love Me Like You Do and became accustomed to live television, video shoots, paparazzi photos and award shows - well, almost.

"The red carpet is weird," she says. "It's very aggressive. All the photographers are screaming, 'Over here! Turn to this side!'

"And I'm no good at being dressed up. I don't have a huge artist persona with crazy hair and crazy clothes. I'm just, like, a normal.

"But it is what it is. If you look bad in one photo, you're not going to die."

Image copyright Polydor
Image caption The singer was nicknamed "Lo" after the Swedish word for Lynx - an animal she was obsessed with as a child

Somehow, in the midst of the madness, she managed to write and record a new album.

"A lot of people said that to me, 'When did you even have time to write this?' But I write so much on the road, that I've never had that problem of going, 'OK, now it's time to sit down in the studio and start from scratch."

The first single, Cool Girl, is a sleek and sexy pop joint, its sound inspired by "all the minimal techno raves I've been going to in the past two years".

Lyrically, it riffs on Rosamund Pike's "cool girl" monologue from the movie Gone Girl, in which her character Amy says: "He loved a girl who doesn't exist. A girl I was pretending to be. The Cool Girl... Being Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker and dirty jokes, who plays videogames and chugs beer."

'Everyone supports each other'

Tove took the speech and turned it on its head, observing that in real life people generally "play like they're not emotionally involved, just to keep the power and control".

In the song, she keeps her partner at a distance - "ice cold, I roll my eyes at you" - despite harbouring deeper feelings.

"Making the other person insecure is kind of stupid when you like someone," she says. "It takes more courage to have an open heart - that's what I'm trying to say, but it's sarcastic. It's like the opposite song!"

Prior to release, Cool Girl got the seal of approval from fellow pop star Lorde, who tweeted it was "the song of the summer".

"I was very excited because she's such a great writer," says Tove. "There's so many female pop artists out there and everyone's supporting each other, which I think is really cool.

"I don't think it's always been that way, but the mood is very good out there".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The star sings about the messy substance of relationships with a refreshingly direct, unblushing wit

The singer was born 28 years ago as Ebba Tove Elsa Nilsson, growing up in the "safe" and "posh" Stockholm suburbs.

She rebelled as a teenager, worshipping Kurt Cobain, dying her hair pink and joining a rock band.

At first, her parents were worried.

"They worked really hard to build something that we could fall back on," she says. "I mean, my brother is an investment banker, but right from being very young I went in another direction."

Music was a lifeline. "Growing up, there were all these things you weren't allowed to talk about and it would drive me mad. I would get really depressed and sad. The music is now the channel for everything I couldn't speak of.

"All the dark thoughts, all the times I'm not feeling what everyone else is feeling. It's keeping me sane."

'This is my place'

When the BBC last spoke to her in 2014, Tove insisted she never wanted to be centre stage - turning down repeated approaches from the makers of Swedish Idol while she cut her teeth as a songwriter for bands like Girls Aloud and Icona Pop.

Fame, when it came, came quickly. Habits, a track on her debut EP, was never intended as a single but became a global hit thanks to an unofficial remix by Hippie Sabotage.

It changed her life overnight - but it took time for the singer to adjust.

"I did my first run of club shows and then, that summer, I started playing all these big festivals," she recalls.

"I didn't know how I'd ended up there. I couldn't understand how it happened. The dreams that I'd had, they didn't even reach that far.

"But once I was up there, by the second song in, I was just like 'Hell yeah, this is my place.'"

Image copyright Polydor
Image caption The album, Lady Wood, is themed around the "adrenalin curve" of the star's life

Fans connected with the singer's unflinching, scars-and-all lyrics (most of her debut album excavated the same messy break-up as Habits). But approaching her second record, Tove questioned whether she should continue to be so honest.

"It took some courage for me to be equally personal and vulnerable on this record, now that I know that people will hear it and have opinions about me," she says.

"I didn't know that the first time. It was just like, 'Here is my life.' But I'm proud that I dared to do it again. These whole two years have been terrifying but exciting and amazing at the same time. It's like going to an amusement park every day and riding on the worst ride in the park."

Tove expresses her resilience in her album title, Lady Wood. Yes, it's a slang term for female arousal, but it's also a call to arms.

"It's about being brave and doing the things that terrify you," she says.

"It's my way of saying there are a lot of chicks with balls out there."

Cool Girl is out now on Polydor. Lady Wood will be released later this year.

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