Tove Lo

The hype surrounding Tove Lo

There is an aura going round the music industry. This is the aura generated by the hype surrounding Tove Lo. There is a hive of activity around the 26-year-old songwriter who has already worked with the “crème de la crème” of Swedish producers, and is now well on her way to conquering the stage as an artist.

“The first time that I was going to play my stuff for Martin, I was so nervous that I thought I was going to wet myself.”

Tove Nilsson, better known as Tove Lo, laughs as she tells us about the meeting with Max Martin, referring to the producing legend with a degree of familiarity, pronouncing his surname with a Swedish lilt instead of an American twang. It is hard to imagine just a couple of years earlier, she was a 24-year-old nervous wreck when she played her songs for the same man.

But that’s in the past now. To be rated by someone who is perhaps Sweden’s greatest pop guru of all time two weeks after being signed up as a songwriter is enough to make anyone quake in their boots.   

But we’ll come back to this later. First of all, to use a rather clichéd metaphor, let us rewind the tape.

Tove grew up in Danderyd, outside Stockholm. She wrote her first number back in 1998, at the tender age of 11. The song was called Crazy and “wasn’t particularly good”. We can put it down to chance that Max Martin wrote a global hit with the same name in the same year for Britney Spears.

After Crazy, Tove put her song-writing on the back burner for a few years. Music was sidelined at the expense of other interests until it was time for her to start senior high school.

“I went and did singing at the Rytmus music school. I had no notion then about becoming a songwriter. I wrote a lot of lyrics, poems and the like, but I kept them all to myself.”

At the end of high school, Tove decided that it was time to dust off her songwriting and started the band Tremblebee.

“I wrote the lyrics and my friend set them to music. We played quite complicated rock music, which is a world away from what I’m doing now. The melodies and chords were all over the place, making it a challenge for me to sing. It was really good on-the-job training.”

After a few years of doing the circuit of local gigs in Stockholm, the band broke up. But Tove, who had gotten a taste for composing, continued to make music on her own.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to be as an artist. I mostly sat at home and wrote music all on my own.

Tove was searching for a direction and found it in a pub in London. Completely by chance, she met an A&R guy at the bar. Tove, who is astute enough to recognize a chance when she sees one, quickly got herself an email address in exchange for a large whisky. The A&R guy himself turned out also to be smart enough to recognize talent as she offered him a glass of the amber liquid.

This set things in motion, ending up with Tove being signed by the music publishing company Warner/Chappell as a songwriter in winter 2011. Two weeks later she was on a plane to Los Angeles.

“It was actually pure chance. I got to know another songwriter who asked me to go there and I decided to go along.”

It was in LA that Tove met Max Martin and played her songs for him.

“It was a totally new experience for me to enter a room with two producers saying that the song we’re working on is going to be offered to Britney. I met Martin later on via another producer and played a couple of songs for him at a party. I was a complete nervous wreck, but he gave me good feedback.”

Martin liked what he heard and continued to keep a check on Tove’s progress. Fall 2013, Tove was invited to join a group of young songwriters that Max Martin and his colleague Johan Schuster, better known as Shellback, were mentoring, with the aim of creating the next generation of great Swedish songwriters.

“It’s great that they keep an eye on people and help young songwriters. All respect to them. Both Johan and Martin are really down-to-earth guys.”

Tove has worked so far with artists like Icona Pop, Lea Michelle and the British group Girls Aloud.

“Girls Aloud had been really big in the UK before and were due to make a comeback with the song that I was involved in writing, and everything was going along fine.”

Unfortunately, the big comeback that the group were hoping for didn’t happen. But Tove wasn’t disappointed. The first thing you learn as a new songwriter is to celebrate every song that makes it to disk.

“It’s a long process. First of all, you need to find someone to write with and put together a good song. That in itself is a triumph. Then there’s a whole bunch of people who need to express their opinion before the artist even gets to hear the song. And even if the artist likes the song and ends up recording it, there is no guarantee that the song will appear on disk.”

The latest project that failed to materialize was a collaboration with US singer-songwriter Gavin Degraw.

“Both he and I thought it was an awesome song, but it didn’t reach the final production stage of being put on disk. In this case, I was annoyed as a fan. But it was an experience just to write with him.”  

“There are loads of disappointments in the industry, but, most of all, it’s really good fun. You don’t dare build up your hopes, but you hope, all the same. I wouldn’t swap this for any other job in the world.”

“There are loads of disappointments in the industry, but, most of all, it’s really good fun. You don’t dare build up your hopes, but you hope, all the same. I wouldn’t swap this for any other job in the world.”

“A long-distance romance is definitely not great, especially not with the distance involved. I think, what would be worse – if he were on the moon?”

But Tove has not only been devoting her time to uploading glamorous surfing photos on Instagram while she was Down Under. She also got a whole load of work done.

“I have a portable rig that I take everywhere with me. It’s an SMb7 mike, a small mini-synthesizer and a Mac book Pro. I’ve previously worked a lot in Logic, but now I’m in the process of learning Protools. I’m writing almost constantly.”

Apart from writing music for others, Tove is also running her own career as an artist. Her first single Love Ballad was released in late 2012. Since then, a couple of her own songs and collaborations have been released in 2013. Mid-February this year, Tove is releasing her debut EP Truth Serum.

“If I go to the studio, I very often write together with others for other artists. If I’m at home, I nearly always write for myself.”

Truth Serum is all about a previous broken romance. But she didn’t originally intend to write about the relationship at all.

“Unfortunately the songs weren’t that good. I wrote a song based on revelations from the book about the King of Sweden and the “hostesses” he had. I come from Djursholm, which is only a small place, you know. I performed the song at a party there. It wasn’t particularly popular.”

“Then when I was going to make the EP, I poured my heart out on paper and wrote down everything that I needed to process. Everything from everyday stuff, friends and the future to the relationship with my ex.”

Are you not scared that the same thing will happen as happened to Adele, whose ex tried to claim money for having inspired her debut album?
“Ha-ha. No. But, let’s wait and see how well everything goes before I can answer that.” Though actually, the songs are more about me than him. It’s a love story with the focus on me.”


Tove draws the inspiration for her own songs from her own life. When she writes with other artists, it’s about building up trust and finding a story that the artist can identify with.

“Some are very open and, at the same time, tell something about what happened with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Others will be more low key and not say that much about themselves. It is interesting, and a little scary if it doesn’t click.”


“Sometimes, you feel that it isn’t working, but still persevere for the whole session. My aim for 2014 is to be able to say if it doesn’t click and be brave enough to walk away. This may be me acting spoilt. But everyone wants to be able to do their job and say ‘Oh, this wasn’t much fun, so I’m off’. But it’s a real inspiration killer to write with someone that you don’t click with.”

Modern song-writing has largely abandoned the clichéd notion of the genius sitting and writing alone in their room. Popular music has become a group activity.

“You can see from the cover of a disk that seven people have written a song, which makes you think: ‘How did that happen?’ But you include different people with different solutions to different problems. And it becomes whatever it becomes.”


How does it work with royalties in these situations?
“You do actually hear a lot about rows, especially in the US where they like to get lawyers involved. In most cases, when I’m working, everyone who is in the room involved in writing the song gets the same share, no matter who comes up with what.”


If you’re writing music the whole time, even when you are on vacation, surely you start to hate it after a while?
“No, I don’t usually walk round listening to my own songs. But I can hate myself sometimes. There is so much focus on things that are not related to music. How I look, what I’m wearing, etc. The music should be enough, but it never is. Sometimes being an artist can make you feel so self-absorbed.”



There’s no chance then of you doing a Kanye West and forcing the DJ to play your record when you come into the club?
“If everything goes to plan and I become really famous, then we’ll see. But if it does happen, I hope that there will be some event that will bring me down to earth again with a bump I don’t want to become like that.”

Next up for Tove is a mini-tour in Scandinavia to launch her new EP. At the same time, she’s trying to arrange a work visa so that she can go to the States and play live.

"It's going to be a fun year. I'd also like to produce more in the future, but it's all a matter of time. There are only 24 hour in a day."

Text: Anders Löf 


Foto: Viktor Gårdsäter