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The DNA of Lykke Li's 'I Never Learn'

The Swedish pop artist told us about the importance of LA, tape recording, and a Werner Herzog movie in making her amazing third album.
May 31, 2014, 7:29pm

Lykke Li has spent almost the whole of her twenties being a pop star. Aged 21, she released her acclaimed debut Youth Novels, in 2008, and she followed it with Wounded Rhymes in 2011. This past month she released her third and infinitely most mature record, I Never Learn. A paean to growing up, the space between the three records is cavernous as she navigates from youthful earnest and sparring retaliation to the wised-up reflection of I Never Learn, "the conclusion of a trilogy."

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We spoke to Lykke Li about producing her most reflective and anticipated record yet:

PERSONAL GROWTH
Lykke Li is open about struggling with life after touring and returning to a world that had continued to turn as she traveled the world playing shows. “I went through a shit storm. Things really crashed for me…When you’re young there’s so much internal, external stuff. When you enter adulthood, you have to face yourself”. I Never Learn is the outcome: an outpouring of almost a decade’s worth of emotion. Conclusions are drawn, and, in a musical sense, there has been healing.

LA
Moving from Stockholm to LA defined the recording of the album. “LA made me face myself. It’s so quiet and so desolate that everything just came out. The great thing about the city is that you can just make music in your house. I’ll be sitting down, and Bjorn will be next to me playing the guitar. At first I was in a house with no furniture, and all of those feelings, they just came out…I just cried a river every day. I was very in touch with what I was going through”.

TAPE RECORDING
“I write first and don’t go in until I have all the songs. It’s very much writing on the piano or guitar. What I did on this record, I recorded on a tape machine, one of those 1990s tape machines. It’s great because you can compress the sound, and it’s so much fun to listen to the song back. That’s how I would listen to songs in the car when I was a kid. So I recorded on tape, and I’d come to the studio with all the versions of the songs. I hate going into the studio. This [tape recording] is so much more interesting because of the possibility it brings. You could make something so big. But when you’re in the studio and you record, you listen back and you think you sound [like] shit.”

THE INSPIRATION
Lykke Li is as much a visual artist as she is a musician; she writes with videos and striking accompanients in mind. I Never Learn has been teased out with moody trailers and video clips and her Instagram is filled with photos from shoots.

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“I was like, I think I’m going to have to give up, or maybe I shouldn’t finish this record because it’s just going to be a disappointment. Then I watched Fitzcarraldo, by Herzog, where the story is that they’re lost in the Amazon jungle for two and a half years. Klaus Kinski is going mad, everything is going to hell. I loved Heart of Darkness too. I love watching those films, where everyone is struggling and everything is going wrong. One person is always like ‘we must continue’, and everyone’s always like ‘no.’ Usually, everyone around you is saying ‘you’re crazy’ or ‘it’s too expensive, it’s never going to sell.’ You have to be like, fuck it."

THE INSTRUMENTS
Lykke Li's debut felt light and airy, and the follow-up, Wounded Rhymes, felt somewhat suffocating, with enclosed drum patterns and hollow vocals. I Never Learn is spacious and free, like the accidental let-go of a helium balloon.

"I was trying to make a completely stripped back album, though I simply couldn’t help myself." Yet, the record feels more concert hall than studio basement, with pedal steel, guitars, and piano reaching an uplifting crescendo.

"I’ve been listening to a lot of Danny Lanois, who uses a pedal steel. It’s like a laid down guitar, and you play it with a pedal. It makes more of a whining sound. It’s very draining, though so beautiful. I used synth-based instruments, and the Moog. I tried a Rhythm King drum machine, though it’s all about how you mic the drums."

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HOW TO LISTEN
"Listen to it alone, in the car, in the middle of the night, walking home. When you need someone to hold your hand, to feel like they understand you. The music is that something."

Tamara is sitting in a car listening to Lykke Li somewhere. She's on Twitter - @TamaraRoper

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