Island Records

Let Go



What We Live For

Say Amen (feat. Billy Raffoul)

Tove Lo

Tove Lo vividly recalls her first heartbreak. His name was Erik, and he was breathtaking. “I fell in love with him right away,” she says. But as we’ve come to learn from her songs such as “Habits (Stay High),” romance is complicated. Erik liked her friend instead; Tove was gutted. “I cried after that forever,” she says, laughing. Did she mention she was just eight years old?

To this day, the highs and lows of love’s labor’s lost continue to be the Stockholm native’s area of expertise. Her second album, Lady Wood (out October 28 on Island Records), deeply navigates the tributaries of sex and love, while its cheeky title debunks her unofficial moniker as The Saddest Girl in Sweden. “When people meet me, they’re like, ‘Oh, you’re actually happy.’ I’m not going to show up drunk and cry my heart out to you,” she says. Then adds, joking, “Well, not every time.”

It is true, however, that Tove enjoys exploring the darker side of life. Lady Wood’s first single, “Cool Girl,” is inspired by the twisted thriller Gone Girl and contemplates the hollowness and ironies of affecting an easygoing, feminine persona to ensnare a man. “When you create, you try to get out of your safe zone,” says Tove, who writes her own music and lyrics. “It’s okay to be pissed off or depressed. You’ll pick yourself back up. We shouldn’t be so scared of our emotions.”

To that end, Tove summoned a tsunami of hormones, intimacy, and regret with her platinum 2014 debut, Queen of the Clouds. And she managed to distill these emotions into poignant sincerity. Pitchfork applauded Queen of the Clouds as a fascinating study in contrasts: “bruised, brightly arranged pop songs that feel grand but not excessive.” The lushly louche “Habits (Stay High)” hit No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot 100, and “Talking Body,” an homage to lust and taboos, hit No. 12. “Coming from a small country, I was shocked to have that kind of success. It meant a lot to me,” she says. “There’s this idea of what a good female role model is. It’s usually not what I’m doing. But if I have an impact, if it makes people speak their minds, that’s a good thing.”

Lady Wood expands on its predecessor by being more conflicted, more nuanced, more feminist. “There’s no real word for, like, a girl getting a hard-on,” she says of the album name, its title track a percolating dismissal of mores. “I feel like it’s a powerful word that makes me laugh a little bit.” In Tove’s world, humor and heartache are essential components of life. “‘Lady Wood” describes the album well, because there’s a lot of passion-attraction songs—the leading-up-to-the-first-kiss moment, an intense high.”

The album is broken into two chapters: Fairy Dust and Fire Fade. “These are basically the emotional curves I go through when I’m chasing any kind of rush,” she says. This can refer to everything from romantic sparks to the feelings evoked when she’s on stage. “Playing the last song in my set, where I’m holding out the mic as everyone sings to me—that’s the ultimate high,” she says. “Then I run off stage, close my dressing-room door, and it’s just, like, quiet. You were in this rush, and now you’re like, ‘What just happened?’”

The Fairy Dust, in songs such as the seductive slow-jam “Influence” and the prowling title track, refers to anticipation. “Like when the adrenaline starts to kick in. It gives you butterflies. It’s that tingling sensation of sex,” she says. The Fire Fade of the swelling, unguarded “Keep It Simple” and the cocksure “WTF Love Is” captures the moments when that thrill starts to wear off. “You feel a little bit uneasy. And you really want to chase that first feeling again.”

Tove travels with a small studio set-up—keyboard, mic, laptop—to lay down ideas whenever the mood hits. While on tour with Katy Perry in late 2014, that process was cut short after doctors discovered cysts on her vocal cords. “It was intense, because I had to do voice rehab after surgery. It made me realize, ‘Fuck! This is the one thing that actually keeps me level-headed,’” she says. “I was about to go crazy after two months of not singing. I started writing the second it was okay to sing again.”

Time magazine once marveled at Tove’s “razor-like precision” as a songwriter. In reality, she has been deftly penning tracks for more than a decade. She started at age 11 with a homegrown girl-group (writing their only song, “Crazy”), graduated to the indie-rock band Tremblebee in her teens (“we played all the shittiest bars in Stockholm”), then took on a career-changing role in Max Martin’s songwriting collective Wolf Cousins. “He’s a great mentor,” she says. “Always telling me, ‘Produce more! Keep doing what you’re doing! Don’t let that part go.’”

She took his advice to heart and has become a go-to collaborator. Tove co-wrote and sang on Nick Jonas’ “Close,” Flume’s “Say It,” Years & Years’ “Desire,” Broods’ “Freak of Nature,” Alesso’s “Heroes (We Could Be),” and sang on Coldplay’s “Fun.”

But recently, the multitasker has focused on fleshing-out Lady Wood. Tove began in Sweden, then L.A., stretching her voice from pop to R&B to soul. She wrote her most revelatory work after joining musicians from the Neon Gold imprint on a week-long retreat to Nicaragua. The album’s most quiet, avant offering, “Vibes,” was co-authored there with U.K.-based composer Joe Janiak (Ellie Goulding, Adam Lambert) after a catamaran ride involving rum, dancing, and an escort from the happiest dolphins they’d ever seen. “No one can paint a picture better than Joe,” she says of the track, in which they sing about a relationship from two points of view. “It’s that moment right before the kiss when you’re looking intensely into someone’s eyes.”

She recorded Lady Wood in the first three months of 2016, capped off by a session with rapper Wiz Khalifa, whom Tove personally asked to guest on “Influence.” Written around a bassline, it covers familiar territory for Tove: the mixed virtues of altered states. The track refers to those times “you accidentally say too much and regret it the next day,” she says. “But the song is about the actual moment you’re feeling all these things, and you’re like, ‘This is fucking awesome! I’m in love with everybody!’” Given free rein in his rhymes, Khalifa recorded his part—rapid-fire verses contrasting the song’s atmospheric haze—in one take. “We hung out in the studio and smoked out of an apple bong,” she says. “It was the highest I’ve ever been in my life.”

As an artist, Tove is boldly unedited, proud to be rewriting the rules of pop-starlet engagement. “You’re supposed to speak for everyone. You’re supposed to not swear. You’re supposed to make sure you don’t do anything that will provoke anyone too much,” she says, laughing. “That just pisses me off and makes me want to do it more.”

And there is demand for her supply. “The reaction has been really amazing. I feel the support of a lot of female artists and writers,” she says. “In the beginning, I was like, ‘Ah, no one will notice.’ But now I can tell that I have an impact. My fans feel like they can relate to me. It’s a crazy feeling that you can mean so much to someone you’ve never met. Most of the time, they tell me their breakup stories, and I share another one of mine.”

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The Vamps

The Vamps' new found position as superstars-in-waiting is a social media fantasy come true. Four teenage musicians from disparate parts of the country hook up via their homemade demos on YouTube, their plan: to upload a series of punkish, acoustic-driven covers of chart-conquering pop hits by the likes of One Direction, Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars and release an album of their own arena-shaking anthems. 28 million online hits and a Number 2 debut single later and the UK four piece have become one of the heaviest bleeps on the pop radar. 

This is only the beginning, however. Having won over an army of new fans during their support slot with chart heavyweight McFly, the four piece - singer Bradley Will Simpson, guitarist James McVey, drummer Tristan Evans and bassist Connor Ball - have amassed a serious online following. Their YouTube channel has gathered almost ½ million subscribers and they have over 450,000 Twitter followers and over a ¼ million Facebook likes.

"YouTube opened all of this for us," says James, a Taylor Swift fan and one time acoustic pop solo artist. "It's not an understatement to say that without it, we wouldn't be a band. We've been able to put our music online without any real trouble and got our videos in front of a big audience. It used to be that bands had to wander around record stores and TV stations begging to have their music heard. We're very lucky that we have the online thing where we can just put a track on the internet and get an immediate reaction. It's mind-blowing."

The Vamps' beginnings mark a very modern twist on the age old tradition of band making. When James decided his acoustic pop sketches required a great singer in the summer of 2012, he decided to scour the pages of online demos and cover versions posted online. After weeks of searching, he stumbled across 16 year-old Bradley on YouTube, an indie fan with a neat line in Ed Sheeran covers. One Facebook email later and the duo were recording the first of three demos in James's Bournemouth home.

"I did loads of solo covers and songs when I was 14, 15," says Bradley. "I would cover The Specials and the Arctic Monkeys and put my versions on YouTube. That's when James found me and got in touch. For six months we'd meet up and write songs together." 

The duo's next steps towards stardom took place firstly with the arrival of 18 year-old Tristan, a finalist in the 2010 UK Drummer of the Year competition. After seeing Brad and James’s videos online, Tristan reached out to James on Facebook to express his interest in working together. (Brad: "We saw him on YouTube and thought, “Let’s get him in - he's amazing'"). And then with latest arrival, Connor Ball, a 17 year-old, self-confessed French fries fanatic, who was the frontman in his own band.

"It used to be that 20 years ago people would put an advert in the NME to find bandmates," says Bradley. "But now people get together on YouTube, it's a hugely helpful tool in the whole process. We've managed to get a band together through that; we were able to see what the other guys could do online and what music they liked. Instead of putting ads in music papers like they used to, we were putting ourselves online for bands to find." 

Throughout this process, The Vamps recorded a string of covers in their home studios, including hit singles from the likes of One Direction (Little Things), Taylor Swift (We Are Never Getting Back Together) and Bruno Mars (When I Was Your Man). Brad's soaring vocals and the band's rocky, acoustic guitar riffs attracted a raft of new fans. "When we got a thousand followers we were really happy," says Tristan. "Then we had 2,000, 5,000, 10,000… it kept going up and up and up…"

Major label interest followed soon after and EMI signed the four piece to a recording deal. The band were then flown to New York and LA to sketch out the tracks that will make up their forthcoming debut album - due for release early 2014. With 30 tracks demoed by the band, The Vamps opening shot is a release that James promises will arrive big on "feel good guitar riffs and melodic anthems."

Early demoes and writing sessions framed The Vamps as a band with a knack for discovering the infectious pop hook. Their first UK single “Can We Dance” is a shuffling, pop juggernaut that stormed the UK charts and debuted at #2. It’s also starting to pick up worldwide airplay, seemingly destined for global ubiquity. The next single “Wild Heart” (available January 20th) is already all over the airwaves and the video can be viewed HERE.

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The Beaches

Toronto-based band The Beaches are a little bit glam rock and a little bit garage. They’re tremendously warm cool girls with an infectious edge—the kind you’d want to introduce to your parents and then sneak out and party with.

However you break it down, The Beaches are 100% rock and roll.

Comprised of sisters Jordan and Kylie Miller (on lead vocals/bass and guitar, respectively), Eliza Enman-McDaniel on drums, and Leandra Earl on keys and guitar, the band has a natural kismet that shines through on each of their tracks and in their live performance. Their songs flow with unparalleled ease, headbangers with resonance.

Truly the best of friends, their writing sessions are entirely organic. They’ve been playing as a band since their early teens, and it shows. Each band member brings something unique to the table, resulting in songs that walk the fine line between being a heavy hitting gut punch and a hell of a lot of fun. In fact, according to Leandra, they sometimes have too much fun writing: “Jordan and I will sometimes get into our own zone and write our Dracula rock opera,” she says, totally serious. “The others have to get us back to working on the sound.” 

Loaded with killer guitar riffs and poignant lyrics, it’s no wonder that The Beaches’ two self-released EPs caught the attention of iconic label Island Records, to which they’re now signed.

Being an all-female group certainly sets them apart from the male-dominated rock world, but there’s a collective, visceral eye roll at the suggestion of being called a “girl group.” “It’s one of those things where you wish you didn’t have to mention it,” says Eliza, sighing. “It makes us unique, yeah, but we shouldn’t have to define ourselves as a female rock band. We’re a rock band.” They’re excited at the prospect of inspiring other young women to join bands, but it’s not why they play. “We’re not doing this to be role models,” says Kylie. “We’re in this band because we love to play together and we love music.”

Their love of rock and roll is obvious; with wide-spanning influences including Nirvana, The Strokes, Amy Winehouse, St. Vincent, FIDLAR, and Blondie, their songs translate easily to live shows, connecting with any kind of audience. Their first single on Island, “Give It Up,” is a hard-hitting, reverb-heavy anthem that calls for change in any context. “It’s not about giving up anything,” says Jordan, whose vocals on the track call to mind the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O at her grittiest. “It’s more about just needing something to change.” 

From touring the UK, to playing Canadian festivals like Osheaga and Wayhome, to opening for Eagles of Death Metal, a lot has certainly changed for The Beaches over the past two years. “It’s been really exciting,” says Kylie. “We’ve been evolving a lot and growing as people, writers, and performers.” 

Performing is particularly important to The Beaches, who can’t wait to play their new music live. “Onstage you get to let go of all your insecurities and channel a purely confident person,” says Jordan. “You get to be really free.” Eliza agrees, adding, “It can be like therapy. Sometimes you can just focus, forget the crowd is there, and just be so in the moment doing what you do best.”

“And if a boy would like to date any of us,” says Leandra, only half joking, “we’re all for it.”

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Skip Marley

“I don’t really think about how I want to be perceived by people. They have their own projections. I just want them to see me as a fighter for good. A love warrior.”

Skip Marley often speaks in this way—a rare combination of serious and cool. The Jamaica-born, Florida-based artist is mysterious and chill, but deeply connected to his craft and refreshingly self-assured. He’s authentic in a way most musicians these days could never claim to be; when he says he’s never thought about how people perceive him, it’s without any pretense or irony.

His sound follows suit, a reggae-hybrid that effortlessly blends eras, genres, and styles, while showing off Skip’s impeccable musicianship and poetic lyricism. His natural talent comes as no surprise—music’s quite literally in his blood. Skip is the grandson of reggae icon Bob Marley, and his songs pay homage to his deep family legacy.

But Skip’s music is decidedly different, too.

“It’s a new twist on the old songs,” he says of his sound. “I’m coming from a new generation, blending influences and letting it come out organically in the music.” He references The Rolling Stones, soca, hip hop and EDM artists in one breath, but it always comes back to reggae. “It’s the root,” he says thoughtfully, “but I don’t like to limit myself. I just let ideas drop down on me and go with the flow.”

His songs confidently mix an assortment of genres, influences, and instruments while maintaining their reggae roots and important messaging. Though the arrangements and lyrics are often complex, they feel easy and fresh. “Lions,” for example, has heavy alt rock guitar riffs and hip-hop elements, all underscored by a dancehall rhythm. This blending of styles is all part of Skip’s songwriting process, which he would never describe as a process. “I don’t really have a structure,” he says. “Just let it happen freely. There’s no right or wrong, you just know what’s good when you get there.”

Lyrically, “Lions” acts as an intense call to action that “shows people when we are strong and unified no evil can get us.” The lyrics are particularly relevant, especially when Skip sings, “we are the movement, this generation, you better know who we are.” His messages aren’t wedded to a particular moment in history, however. They’re universal and important, bringing the love his grandfather preached to a new generation.

“What Is Love” is no less powerful. It begins slowly, building to an anthemic chorus with an epic guitar solo backed by classical strings According to Skip, it’s a song for the people. “I question what is love, what is true, what is right when everything we know can be a lie,” he says. “There’s a power in speaking from the people first.”

“I want to spread my music to the people and help them unify,” he says. “I want people to take away a message of love, of looking at the way you are living and thinking where we can work to be or better and feel better. Whatever they’re feeling, I want them to be able to turn up my music and think, relax, and get good vibes.” It’s a radical idea maybe, but an essential one.

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