Lykke Li keeps expectations in check 

The music world was stunned last week when U2 announced the release of its long-awaited new album “Songs of Innocence” and an initial free download on iTunes. So was Swedish singer Lykke Li, who first heard the news in her physical therapist’s office, while being treated for a dislocated shoulder.

She almost had forgotten about “The Troubles,” the sweeping duet she trilled with bandleader Bono a year and a half earlier, but there it was, the closing tune on “Songs.” Afterward, she almost forgot the agony she was in, as well.

“Whenever I do something, I kind of never expect anything out of it,” says Li (born Li Lykke Zachrisson), who plays the Fox Theater on Sunday, backing her latest recording “I Never Learn.” The introspective, yet Phil Spector-ish, album completes the kid-to-adulthood trilogy she began with 2008’s “Youth Novels” and 2011’s “Wounded Rhymes.”

“I just did a film with Terrence Malick, but I have no expectation that I’m going to be in it or anything. But I do it for the experience, you know? And then you just have to let it go,” says Li.

In retrospect, she isn’t sure why she was chosen for the U2 honor. She recalls receiving a text from U2’s producer Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton, inquiring if she could add some backing vocals. At first she sang alone, in the studio. But the song’s key was changed, and she got called back to sing again, she says, “and the guys were all there this time. So Bono was like my choir leader. Iit was really interesting.”

Finding herself on the Texas set of Malick’s as-yet-untitled new project – alongside Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling and Natalie Portman – proved just as surreal for Li, who was already appearing in Swedish indie films.

Malick instructed her to “be like the wind” and not to alter her unique, doe-eyed charisma with acting lessons. She says, “It was wonderful, and it reminded me of what I’m doing already, with my art, my music and my little self-directed videos. It’s all about staying open, spontaneous, and free.”

At first, Li questioned the mournful, inward-looking direction that pain – both psychological and physical – compelled her to take on “I Never Learn.” But Bono gave her some perspective. “I learned that in the end, to be an artist, we’re all the same,” she says. “We’re all searching for music, and we’re like little children, who still get really excited about it.”


Lykke Li

Where: Fox Theater, 1807 Telegraph Ave., Oakland

When: 8 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $39.50

Contact: (510) 302-2250,

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Tom Lanham

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