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Oct 07
By Izzie

Article written by: Pitchfork

Seven years ago, Lykke Li and Andrew Wyatt stood close, traded glances, and told each other: “I don’t care what nobody says, we’re gonna have a baby.” Li was on the road with Wyatt’s group Miike Snow, but the two weren’t about to become parents. Rather, Wyatt was joining Li in singing lyrics from Kings of Leon’s 2007 song “Knocked Up,” a star-crossed-teens rambler she’d been covering at recent shows. It was their first duet.

Now, in a photo sent out last week, a pregnant Li can be seen standing next to Wyatt, each posed as if for a wedding ceremony. The image introduced LIV, a new supergroup with Li and Wyatt again sharing vocals, joined by Li’s longtime collaborator Björn Yttling of Peter Bjorn and John, Wyatt’s Miike Snow bandmate Pontus Winnberg, and producer Jeff Bhasker, whose past collaborators include Kanye West, fun., and Mark Ronson. Oh, and Bhasker is also the father of Li’s child, whose birth she announced in February.

“I thought it was so crazy that I was pregnant, because that’s everything that I’m trying to say with this project, too—how to get back to something pure and organic,” Li says, talking about the striking press shot. But she also says she wanted to create a story, with characters like in a Bowie record, about a forced marriage to Wyatt—partly inspired by the wedding scene in The Deer Hunter—that leads to a dysfunctional marriage. “I want the show to be like that, too,” Li adds, confirming there will be concerts but declining to specify where or when. “I want to be in wedding costume, and I want to marry the audience, and just have it be really psychedelic.”

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Lykke Li and Andrew Wyatt, for LIV. (Photo by Boe Marion)

A familial, earthy vitality seems inherent to the entire project. “I’m trying to shut down the EDM scene,” Li jokes over the phone from Los Angeles. The Swedish word liv, pronounced as in “leave,” translates as “life,” and it’s also the name of Yttling’s daughter, who was often around during songwriting sessions. “We all have babies, we bring the babies,” Li tells me. “We only do things that we enjoy. It’s all about art, and music, and family, and love. Nothing else.”

Although LIV have unveiled only one song so far, the iridescent folk-pop yearner “Wings of Love,” it’s assuredly part of something bigger. “We have an album,” Wyatt confirms over the phone separately. “We have more than an album.” But they don’t yet, he says, have an album title. In an era of Instagram updates, they’re toying with the idea of putting out material in stages, Wyatt says, though he acknowledges the approach might be old hat to a digital native like Chance the Rapper: “We can kind of respond in an emotional way to what fans are doing and their response rather than having this rigid quarterly approach that big labels have.”

Li, in agreement, declares, “Keep checking us out because we’re gonna come with things, in a continued stream of consciousness.” She conceives of the whole project as more of an art installation. Whether a song, a vinyl cover, a video, or a photo book, it will all be part of LIV. “We’re doing it without a label, a manager, or anything,” she says. “We’re just trying to be free.”

Musically, that freedom will evidently translate in a naturalistic, back-to-roots way, though with considerable pop craft on board, along with a fair dose of quasi-hippie mysticism. “Wings of Love” centers Li and Wyatt’s harmonies amid brisk acoustic strums, winding lead guitar lines, gleaming keys, and a propulsive drum loop played by the Dap-Kings’ Homer Steinweiss. Li suggests her lyrics for the song were a sort of social commentary, a reflection on a jilted generation. “How can we create a movement that’s all about love?” she asks. “Love is the only thing that will remain after we’re gone. Even when you die the only thing you can ask yourself is, ‘Did I love enough?’”

Li promises each of the as-yet-unheard LIV songs will be different, though. “You can tell that we both spend our time between Sweden and California,” she says. “It has this Swedish melancholy in the melodies, but the soundscape was really influenced by Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk or Crosby Stills & Nash. It’s real music. We’re not trying to make it sound fresh or anything, just doing what feels good—live, analog, handmade. Pure.” Li adds that when she played one song for her dad, Johan Zachrisson, a veteran musician and film-score composer in his own right, he responded, “This is like Pink Floyd.” Expect a bit of a “prog vibe,” she hints. Still, a near-constant on the songs, Wyatt says, will be their two-part vocal harmonies—“almost like Everly Brothers style.”

Along with working on LIV, Wyatt has been touring with Miike Snow in support of their new album, iii, which arrived in March. He and Mark Ronson wrote the music for a 2012 ballet at London’s Royal Opera House, Carbon Life, which will get its first revival this November. Wyatt says he’s also been working with some “rock’n’roll OG legends” and others he can’t talk about yet. “I sound like Donald Trump!” he observes, then launches into a fairly credible impression of Trump. “I don’t know what to tell you, but I’ve been doing some great stuff with some really great people!”

Li has, if anything, been even busier. She’s writing new solo songs, for a follow-up to 2014’s powerfully stripped-down and heartbroken I Never Learn. “It’s very opposite,” she says of her latest material. “I feel like I’m always doing opposite things. LIV was very analog and ’70s, and now I’m accidentally doing pop, in a very non-shameful way.” She chuckles. “I started out pop by accident, and everyone was like, ‘Oh, you’re pop,’ and I was like, ‘No, I’m not! I’m indie!’ I got really offended. And then [I Never Learn] was like the least pop album ever. Then now I’m getting back to it and feeling like, Cyndi Lauper wrote some fucking amazing songs. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

Li has also released her own brand of mezcal, Yola, and the agave-based liquor ties in well with the au naturale ethic behind LIV. “Mezcal was found by women and also agave as a plant they refer as a female plant,” Li enthuses. “So our process too, we only hire females on our farm. It’s all handmade, organic, pure. And for the people who want to get jazzy, it’s the best thing.”

Of course, Li and Bhasker have also been spending time with their young son, Dion. In August, Li shared video of the trio rehearsing a rendition of the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” for Bhasker’s brother’s wedding in Albuquerque. She’s thoughtful about the modern parent’s challenge of balancing privacy against the urge to share baby pictures on social media, made all the more difficult for a public figure. “I didn’t share anything about my child, but now—I don’t know. I’m just so in love, and also because I’m in L.A., and all my friends and family are in Sweden, I want them to see him,” she says. “I’m still conflicted about it.”

Nor is she finished with personal growth. Trilingual already (along with Swedish and English, she also speaks Portuguese), Li says she’d like to learn Spanish. And she dreams of someday writing a poetry book. But the obstacle she most recently overcame was closer to home, in more mechanically constructed—and more smoggy—environs than you might associate with her latest music, or with agave.

“I had to learn how to drive in L.A.,” Li tells me. “I failed three times on the test. It was such a part of my life to conquer the fucking freeway, and now that I’m doing it, I’m blazing on the freeway, listening to Steely Dan, and it’s empowering.”

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