Lykke Li and Mark Ronson on sad songs and psychedelics

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Photos courtesy of Lykke Li.

Lykke Li has spent most of her career exploring matters of the heart. Over five albums, his latest, EYE EYE, was released last Friday (accompanied by a striking series of meta visuals)—the Swedish singer-songwriter embraces feelings of longing and rejection with equal lust. That’s why Mark Ronson, nightlife icon and frequent Li collaborator, dubbed the 36-year-old artist “the high priestess of heartbreak and sadness.” On the eve of the album’s release, Ronson called Li for a chat about psychedelic revelations, breakups, and accepting your own dance floor bangers. —ERNESTO MACIAS

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MARC RONSON: How are you?

LYKKE LI: I’m fine! Thanks for doing this.

RONSON: Of course! I just watched the movies, and they are so amazing. I like to joke that you’re the high priestess of heartbreak and sadness, but the movies were so emotional. They are incredibly sad, but also super beautiful. Did you do the music or the visuals first, or did they hatch at the same time?

LI: It means so much coming from you. I really wanted to capture my idea of ​​love and how I always turn it into a fantasy. I usually write about what’s going on in my life, but I was starting to lose track of which elements reflected reality and which I created myself. I spent a lot of time with my friend Theo [Lindquist] trying to create a story from my real life, but more meta, like a movie within a movie.

RONSON: So you had the songs first and then you figured out how to turn them into movies?

LI: The movies are more like a reflection on a relationship, and there are key scenes that stand out in your memory. I was trying to create something modern, because we live in a time where our experiences are fragmented. We spend so much time on Instagram and TikTok, where you only get snippets of information.

RONSON: It’s obviously just my interpretation, but cycles seem to be a major theme. Movies are circular and you don’t know where one ends and the other picks up. Was that the main theme for you?

LI: What I realized when I was lying on the floor, completely heartbroken and writing this album, was that I was stuck in a cycle of my own making. It became almost comical – I was like “Really? Am I doing a fifth album about heartbreak? Making albums is a cycle in itself. You make the album, you make the music videos, and you go on tour, you’re exhausted. I became obsessed with the idea of ​​repetition – everything in nature is cyclical. While making this album, I was also doing a lot of psychedelic therapy to alter my own patterns. I became completely obsessed with the loop as a shape.

RONSON: I talked to you when you were just starting out, but did you do this whole record with Bjorn?

LI: Yes. It was really beautiful too.

RONSON: I guess it’s a version of the cycle that feels positive and special. Completing a cycle can offer something beautiful, not just sorrow.

Lykke Li

LI: Completely. The album was inspired in part by a day when I was lying in bed listening to old voice memos. I was like, “I want to go back to how I was making music when I was 19.” It was really me, alone in my room, making eight tracks and my own voice. Then I found Bjorn. Going back to my teens myself and then going back to Bjorn was so beautiful. We did it in my living room, just me and him. He had this shitty guitar that was the same one we used when we wrote “Little Bit” and “I Know Places”, and we had a little drum. There were no headphones. It was like going back to the beginning and making the album that I always wanted to make for myself when I was 19. I also realized that the videos offered a very youthful view of love. It felt like I had finally finished the chapter that started when I was 19, when I worshiped a glamorous TV version of love.

RONSON: Is there a sense that, if you close those circles enough, you can move forward into something that’s not as tragic as heartbreak?

LI: That’s my hope. That’s why I opened up a lot of instrumental space in the production. It was beautiful to create a soundscape like that. I’m always quite pop in my writing, and quite structured. I’m curious if I could break away from pop now and start a completely new landscape. Because I was so happy to create melodies, moods and worlds.

RONSON: The last track on the album is really cheeky. You end on a seven-minute song where the last four minutes are just sounds. It looks like a really intentional thing, can you explain it?

LI: I wanted to end on a divine frequency. I was obsessed with neurology while working on the album. The problem with me is that when I make albums, I just make them for myself. It felt like such a heavy album – like a big cake of pain – and I needed time to decompress. Also, I was so interested in the escape of the environment at the end, like in a movie. This song is my final scene, alone in the rain, while the credits roll.

RONSON: You get into such heavy emotional stuff in this music. Do you find that dwelling on it brings you back inside, or do you find catharsis in the process?

LI: It’s completely cathartic. With each disc, you also discover this new character in you which emerges and overcomes all pain. I usually cut and color my hair.

RONSON: You definitely tout the virtues of psychedelics as therapy. I totally believe in therapy and have used a lot of psychedelics, but never really combined the two. Has it brought you healing?

LI: It’s breathtaking and life changing, like the effects of music. When we channel music it is a doorway to heaven, and psychedelic therapy is similar in that it puts you in a state of openness and your guards are down. It’s a really beautiful place.

RONSON: When it was time to do my heartbreak record, you were the first person I went to. You ended up being my main collaborator, sparring partner and sounding board. We did a lot of great songs together. It wasn’t that long ago that you were writing this music and making these films. Is it a bit like looking in the rear view mirror? Does that sound foreign to you?

LI: I’m so happy right now, which is quite strange for me and also very scary because I’ve never felt that way. I try to be okay with love and peace. It’s pretty foreign because of all the time I was traveling with psychedelics. When you do ayahuasca, it’s like 10 years of therapy. I was working through the grief of my relationships, but also of life. I was finally processing my mother’s death. There were heavy things I was working on.

RONSON: I was looking at your Spotify, and I thought it was so funny that you released a slower acoustic version of a single and it became even more popular than the original.

LI: This was actually made by a kid on TikTok, and it exploded. Somehow I have a kismet thing where I actually have nothing to do with my biggest commercial hits.

RONSON: It looks like you’ve agreed to be responsible for one of the biggest bangers on the dance floor of the past 15 years.

LI: I’m very grateful for that. At first I was not at all, but now I think it’s a gift. I love seeing people kiss her on the dance floor.

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