‘Swedish Idol’ Tove Styrke branches out 

As a child, Swedish alt-rocker Tove Styrke didn’t get parental praise for her creative accomplishments.

“My mother used to tell me, ‘Can you please, please stop making noise right now?’” says the 22-year-old, who plays The City this week, promoting her reggae-infused earworm “Borderline” (the title track of her recent EP on RCA), and playing new songs from an upcoming 2015 album.

She started experimenting vocally as a toddler. “I’ve just always been making noises – just me, by myself, making noise – and I used to try things with my voice, like ‘How high can I go? What’s the highest pitch? And what’s the lowest I can reach?’”

When Styrke’s musician dad – who led a Swedish combo called Max Fenders – bought her a synthesizer, and she really sent mom up the wall. “I was either making sounds by expressing myself, or by making noises on this big keyboard,” says Styrke.

In school, she seized any opportunity to perform, until she felt completely at home onstage.

At 16, Styrke got an unexpected big break. For the ninth season of the TV competition “Swedish Idol,” fans were offered an anonymous tip line to suggest potential contestants. Someone recommended a video of her singing, and the show’s producers, wowed, invited her to audition.

“I just couldn’t say no, you know? I was too curious about what it could lead to,” she says. She finished in third place, and a year later released her first single, “Million Pieces,” co-penned by Lykke Li and Shout Out Louds bandleader Adam Olenius.

She says “Swedish Idol” was both fun and nightmarish: “It is a weird way to get into music. You get that immediate exposure, and you get to sing. But you still have everything to prove when it comes to actually making music, and being an artist, and not just some likable person on television.”

So when she began her self-titled 2010 Swedish debut album, she stressed a hands-on approach, co-writing almost every song and overseeing production.

“After that, everything has been an organic process,” Styrke says. “I just kept on learning and evolving, into being a serious writer, and that’s led to me where I am now, with ‘Borderline’ and my new album.”

The song’s video – in which she convincingly wields a shotgun and other dangerous weapons – is striking. So is its lyrical message.

“‘Borderline’ is about breaking free from the rules of society and finding a different way of thinking,” says the composer, who’s raising a racket of a different kind now. “And for me, it’s also about gender inequality, and the frustration and anger that I feel toward that system.”


Tove Styrke

Where: Popscene, Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Jan. 16

Tickets: $12 to $14

Contact: (415) 861-2011, www.ticketfly.com

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Tom Lanham

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