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For Swedish songwriter Lykke Li, honesty and intimacy are the destination

“I’m still searching for my (singing) voice,” Lykke Li said. “Like everyone, I hope to be a great singer. All I’ve done is keep at it and pay my dues going on tour. I guess I’m still on that path.”
“I’m still searching for my (singing) voice,” Lykke Li said. “Like everyone, I hope to be a great singer. All I’ve done is keep at it and pay my dues going on tour. I guess I’m still on that path.” The Associated Press

The final track on “I Never Learn,” the latest album from Lykke Li, is a sparse piano ballad called “Sleeping Alone.” It’s a lament and a naked confession: Li is expressing the sorrow and guilt she suffers after ending a long-term relationship.

“I loved you a lifetime, I loved you long,” she sings. “Now was not our time. No, I let you down.”

“I Never Learn” is Li’s third studio album, and sonically, it represents a departure from its predecessors, which were lighter, brighter and poppier. “Learn” is filled with stark, intimate recollections of the breakup and its aftermath, a time when Li, 28, was living alone in Los Angeles, half a world away from her native Sweden. She has described it as a tribute to “the guilt and the shame and the hurt and the pride and the confusion of being a woman.”

Saturday night at the Uptown Theater, Li will express those sentiments when she performs songs off “Learn,” which, she told The Star recently, is no easy feat.

“I wrote those songs for my own sake,” she said, “to feel freed from what I was going through. By touring so much I’ve realized it has a great cost. It’s not like I can just show up. I really have to go there — well, it’s not that I have to, but I do go there every time. I don’t lie, ever, on stage. Every single word is written, almost in blood, through experience. So it really drains me a lot. I’m very thankful for the experience to tour the world, but it has a cost.”

Since she arrived in the music scene in 2007, she has made it clear what inspired her as a singer and songwriter: women and girl pop. Her debut, the EP “Little Bit,” showcased her fondness for ’60s pop and soul.

In 2011, in a play list of some of her favorite songs she compiled for an online radio station, Li included “Crying All by Myself,” by ’60s soul singer Wendy Rene, and “Dressed in Black,” by the girl group the Shangri-Las.

“I’ve always searched for someone to identify with,” she said. “There’s Neil Young and Bob Dylan, but that’s a man’s point of view and those are male voices and everyone thinks it’s very deep. I wanted to find that voice in a young woman. And when I found those people, I really felt like I’d found that kindred spirit.”

In early 2008, Li released her first full-length album, a modern-pop affair called “Youth Novel.” Three years later, she released the follow-up, the darker and grittier “Wounded Rhymes.” Both were produced by Björn Yttling of Swedish pop trio Peter Björn and John.

Some of those “Novel” songs were written when Li was still a teenager, which is why she performs few of them any more. “To me, it feels too light, too juvenile,” she said.

She was also a much different singer back then.

“I’m still searching for my (singing) voice,” she said. “Like everyone, I hope to be a great singer. All I’ve done is keep at it and pay my dues going on tour. I guess I’m still on that path.”

Her voice on “I Never Learn” is anything but light and juvenile, and it’s even more expressive when she is performing live.

“When I make a record, I’m trying to create an intimate and profound world in a very concentrated form,” she said. “Live, I’m trying to give it heart and soul and imperfection — a human touch. It’s almost like completely different. Maybe the record is the film, and the show is the play, where anything can happen and it gets reinterpreted.”

Li considers “Learn” the final chapter in a trilogy, but touring has kept her from even beginning to explore what might be next.

“I’ll be touring until next April, so it would be painful for me to get excited about going into the studio,” she said. “To create, I need change … but I have to let it come to me. I can’t force anything.”

But she may alter things. Three albums and seven years into her career, Li has learned a lot about the pull of the creative process, the push of touring and the potential price of “blowing up” into pop stardom.

“What I value most is intimacy and honesty,” she said. “When things get blown up, it takes you away from that and from your life. All of a sudden, you have to do so many things other than go into the studio or concentrate on your craft.

“I’ve been on the road since I was about 20 or so. After this tour, I think I’m going to re-evaluate my life and maybe not tour so much.”

To reach Timothy Finn, call 816-234-4781 or send email to tfinn@kcstar.com. Follow the Back to Rockville blog on Twitter @kcstarrockville.

SATURDAY

Lyyke Li performs Saturday at the Uptown Theater, 3700 Broadway. Mapei opens at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35.

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