Lykke Li Zachrisson was born in 1986, the middle child to a photographer mother and a musician father. Her mother giving birth to her standing up and without anaesthesia was a manifestation of the revolutionary hospital’s credo – “Being born on a woman’s terms” and possibly the first confrontation with womankind to found Lykke Li’s struggle with the concept of belonging.
The Zachrissons were the family that wouldn’t sit still, moving from Sweden to New Zealand, to Portugal where they settled in a mountain village to escape radiation in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster. A compliant rebel child whose first steps were taken barefoot on sharp pebbles to the sound of peacocks and thunder, spending her winters in India, Nepal and Morocco, her school years in 11 different establishments, Lykke soon turned to scribbling poetry and dancing, not out of interest but out of necessity. When the family moved back to Sweden several years later, the now nine year old was already a wanderer by nature, restless and ancient at heart.
At 19, dancing was no longer enough of an outlet for Lykke Li’s increasingly loud soul, singing what she felt became the beginning of a cure for the ailments of youth and the confinement of Stockholm suburbs. So she took her business to New York, toughed things out in Bushwick, hustled and bustled, uptown and down. Waking up in her rat infested closet of a flat the morning after getting booed off stage at an open mic night with the hard knock conviction that “This is as rough as it gets. It’s all downhill from here”,
she knew that artistry in what ever form would always be her life.
Back in Stockholm, broke and alone but ready to rumble, Lykke copped the ears of producer Björn Yttling (from Peter, Bjorn & John) and found in him a Henry Higgins to her Billy The Kid as he became the one to initiate her into the world of recording and writing songs for an honest living.
In 2007 the pair recorded the 14 songs that would become Lykke Li’s acclaimed debut album Youth Novels, a release that quickly gained notoriety, setting the 21 year old up for a breathtaking race around a world of claustrophobic backstage rooms, bright lights, indecent parties, busy airports, rotten people, beautiful strangers, wrinkled couture and stripper shoes, goodwill rags and butterfly knives in overworked suitcases. And heartbreak…
God bless heartbreak, and so say all of us, because out of it came the haunting song Possibility, taken from a severely beat up belief in love, written for the Twilight – New Moon movie and embraced by millions of young vampire hearts longing for the right not to belong. And love.
”My last tango with love ended really badly, but you could say I broke my own heart. Love was just my tool and the heartache my ghost. Something to grab onto when everything else falls apart…”.
After two manic years of practically every place, person and pleasure on the face of the earth calling for her attention – except for love – Lykke Li found herself in desperate need for a place to lay her head rather than another stage to fill. With no actual place to call home, she decided to take on New York once again, to live a little!
“I spent two months there, just having a good time. But I was drained,
New York was the wrong place for me to be at the time. Too many bloodsuckers, it got the best of me. And once I pulled the plug, once I was quiet and alone and the flood of offers and invitations started to run dry, I had to think about who I was. And although my circumstances had changed so dramatically, although I had every opportunity I ever wanted, I still felt the same as before. The same existential anxiety, the same restlessness. I hadn’t changed with the world around me, I was holding on. I had to do something, I had to grow.’
And so Lykke Li fled west, into the California desert, starred in a trippy, dark Moses Berkson film called Solarium and buried part of her bruised heart
in the scalding sand. The rest of it came with her to a house on a hill in east
Los Angeles where she bought a bicycle and an autoharp, rented a not so grand piano, put some flowers ‘round her room, and sat down to think.
Settled in, a little bit lonely and faced with the Gainsbourgeois fear that
the ghost of a love that never really lived will never cease to haunt you, will always stay inside you, unborn and undead, she turned to records for solace.
The Echo Park hilltop soon trembled with music stemming from minds of that same contemplative, refined, painful place. Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and Dr John mixed with the Velvet Underground and This Mortal Coil, all under the omnipresent hex of Alan Lomax’s field recordings, Whisky and Darjeeling.
But like anyone in the midst of longing and loss, Lykke Li was eager to recover and rediscover the essence of the music in her self. She found herself thirs-ting for the raw power of simplicity, for some form of straight up truth.
She came to the conclusion that regardless of any fear, any loss and any longing, it’s not about the pearl in the oyster but about the grain of sand that forms it. About the coal itself, not the diamond it could become. About the now that will inevitably turn into then, and the when that may never turn into now.
And she began to write.
“I wanted back to the beginning, to where songs meant something. I wanted minimalism, just lyrics and melodies. Like all great songs, I wanted mine to really stand the test of being played with nothing but handclaps and vocals.”
Channeling the demise of The Shangri La’s leader of the pack, women under the influence, ladies and gentlemen of the canyon, a Kung-fu Marianne Faithful and an armed Nancy Sinatra on peyote, she made music. Out of her head came voodoo drums, a few aching chords, churning and unholy, staggering and lolloping, and a voice that had suddenly turned from yearning to demanding, from fragile to undressed.
“When I sing… it’s always about my most private emotions, I wouldn’t talk to anyone about them. But it’s my stage, my space, where I can express as much as I want. Either way, I set the boundaries, I make the rules. You can’t come in.”
‘These scars of mine make wounded rhymes tonight’, she sings, putting her sophomore album’s title into context. A second born album demanding the right not to belong, convinced that it does all the same, from a performer of equal parts life and afterlife, love and destruction, fight and faith.
“This could be it, you know. Really. My last Hurrah. I needed this album to be the real thing, I had to make it last people for decades. Just in case.”
In the words of a mother who once stood up giving birth to an artist:
“Dance while you can”, Lykke Li sings.
“Dance ‘cause you must”.
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