Even though I’ve been writing about music for a long time, the thrill of discovering a new voice never gets old. Today, I had that experience when I interviewed Lykke Li for AOL. I’ll post a link to the interview when it goes live. The chat followed a four-song studio concert for AOL’s The Interlude, a video performance segment that highlights developing artists.
I’d been hearing Li’s name for a few months now, but hadn’t paid any attention to her. Other people clearly had: Her song “Little Bit” came in No. 23 on Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop 2008 poll. She’s 22, from Sweden, and her debut full-length CD, “Youth Novels,” was released through Atlantic Records a few months ago. She has one of those slight, little girl voices that can, quite frankly, drive you crazy, but on her, it fits and is nothing short of charming. The album was co-produced by Bjorn Yttling of Peter Bjorn and John fame. (Remember last year’s ubiquitous “Young Folks?”)
Dressed all in black, in a loose, flowing shirt and ripped tights, she channeled Stevie Nicks when she sang, swirling and making her movements as much a part of the song as her voice. In interviews, she’s declared herself an old soul, and it shows when she’s performing. There’s something a little possessed, otherworldly, about her that is extremely compelling. She’s also not afraid to reach into her trick bag-she plays kazoo on “Dance, Dance, Dance,” and opens “For Good, I’m Gone” using a megaphone. Her sweet voice only enhances the vulnerability her lyrics display on such songs as “Little Bit,” where she coyly declares, “I think I’m a little bit in love with you/but only if you’re a little bit in love with me.” You can hear a few of her songs on her myspace page.
She’s quirky and it’s hard to imagine Li ever breaking through into the mainstream (although there’s something about her vocally that reminds me of Donna Lewis, who had a smash in 1996 with “I Love You, Always, Forever”), but that’s not her goal. In fact, she told me flatly that she doesn’t ever want to play stadiums. She idolizes Edith Piaf and Josephine Baker. Both were extraordinary talents, but both also, especially Piaf, led extremely hard lives that I’m not sure I’d wish on anyone. But for now, it’s clear that Li is following where her artistry takes her as opposed to a marketing plan. That may, and probably will, change, but we’re glad we caught her now.
She has a few dates left on this leg of her U.S. tour, plus she’s playing Coachella on April 19. I can’t recommend catching her highly enough.
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