“People keep asking, ‘Oh, aren’t you nervous?'” Tove Lo says coolly, sitting in the Rolling Stone office just a month before releasing her Gone Girl–inspired track “Cool Girl,” the lead single off her sophomore album Lady Wood. It’s hard not to be curious about her state of mind as she prepares for her latest release: Her 2013 single “Habits (Stay High)” nearly hit Number One in 2014, leading to a hot streak for the Swedish singer and member of Max Martin’s music collective Wolf Cousins. “Talking Body” followed suit and collaborations like “Heroes” with Alesso and “Close” with Nick Jonas turned her into an unbeatable radio force.
“I had no idea the response was going to be what it was,” she adds. “I’m 28, so I didn’t really expect it to happen this way, at this time.”
While she’s not worried about numbers and matching the success of 2014’s Queen of the Clouds, the upcoming Lady Wood, an album filled with dark electropop earworms, is a more than worthy follow-up. Set for release on October 28th, the record is the first in what she foresees as a double album to be continued next year. “The whole album is about different kinds of rushes in life,” she explains. “The first chapter – ‘Fairy Dust’ – describes initiating [a] feeling, and then the second chapter ‘Fire Fade’ is when you start to be a little bit more aware and vulnerable.”
An as-yet-untitled 2017 follow-up is intended to explore the aftermath of those rushes. “The third and fourth chapters are ‘Light Beams’ and ‘Pitch Black.’ ‘Light Beams’ stands for the last song of a set, or when you give your relationship a last go. You take a second hit and go even higher into whatever feeling you’re trying to chase and ending on top. ‘Pitch Black’ is when you get off the stage, go in your room, close the door, and it’s just quiet. The relationship is over and you’re coming down.”
Rushes are a consistent theme in Tove Lo’s music: The anthemic chorus of “Stay High” featured the memorable line “I’ve got to stay high all the time/To keep you off my mind.” She describes the new albums as an “intense love story” that explores her relationship with her self-destructive side. “I sing very openly about drugs and that I’m never as happy as when I just lose control and let go,” she offers. “But I can’t live like that forever. I tried to do it a different way, but I developed a need for that side. I go absolutely crazy if I don’t ever let that side come through.”
As she’s grown older, she’s seen that desire increase. “I feel like once I started doing this, all of a sudden I was surrounded by people who encouraged me to be the way that I’ve always been,” she explains. “I felt like I was more normal than most artists I met with. People would just break down in their room and it was OK. People would go away for a few weeks and disappear and it’d be like, ‘Oh, they just do that.’ Everyone just accepted them for how they were.”
Tove Lo was able to feed into her desires while recording the album, dividing time between Nicaragua, Sweden and various other locations she visited while traveling between January and May this year. Nicaragua in particular was an experience filled with “15 broken, crazy, creative people” assembled by the label Neon Gold for a songwriting camp in Maderas Village.
“It was in the fucking jungle,” she explains, noting that the song “Vibes” featuring fellow camper Joe Janiak was about the trip. “We would work all day and then go on a catamaran ride in the sunset and dance on a boat and drink Mai Tais. Everyone was getting really high and just watching dolphins jump along the boat. [That trip] was where all the ideas came out.”
In order to bring to life the adventures she describes on the album, the singer is plotting special visuals that will take fans on the emotional ride with her. “I’m going to make these short films for all of the different chapters,” she says. “I’ve created this kind of character who I guess represents the self-destructive side of me but is also my worst nightmare and what I don’t want to become.”
She pauses to reflect. “It’s a little funny to me that I grew up super, super safe and in the posh suburbs of Sweden and just looking for all of this shit,” she offers bluntly. “It’s really interesting to me that in this part of the world, we have everything we need and more to survive, and people are still not satisfied or happy.”
Between the highs she chronicles on Lady Wood, Tove Lo dips incredibly low to unearth her deepest insecurities and vulnerabilities. Album closer “WTF Love Is” describes the downfall after intense passion, reflecting how she uses her songwriting to deal with her issues, as she puts it. Elsewhere, she explores the negative side of her lifestyle on “Don’t Talk About It,” a bright synth-pop banger about what it means to spiral out of control. “Sweep it under the rug like you do, do,” she sings during the song’s infectious, deceptively upbeat chorus.
The record’s most personal track may be “Imaginary Friend.” “When I was a kid, I loved to play on my own,” she explains. “I had an imaginary friend, and whenever I wanted to do something and didn’t dare to, this friend would tell me, ‘Do it! Do it!'”
Given Tove Lo’s track record of exploring life’s extremes, it’s no surprise to hear her describe how this companion never really went away. “I’ve always needed that voice in my head to push me.”