LÉON Takes Charge

Billed as the best Swedish pop export since Robyn, the indie-pop siren starts her own imprint and makes music on her own terms

By Yeow Kai Chai

You can hear instantly why Katy Perry would be besotted with her disco-pop song ‘Tired of Talking’, tweeting “she’s one to watch.”

When the then-22-year-old LÉON, otherwise known to her parents as Lotta Lindgren, posted the track from her debut EP Treasure to the music-sharing platform SoundCloud in July 2015,  the song exploded, amassing millions of plays and gaining celebrity fans like Perry.

After all, the Stockholm native, who opted for LÉON as a stage name as it’s “short and simple”, has the goods: she oozes god-given charisma, blessed with that dusty, low, richly resonant voice which can lasso anyone with a cavalier fleck of vowels, much like her musical inspirations like Amy Winehouse, Adele and Janis Joplin. No wonder Vogue dubbed her “Sweden’s Next Big Thing” in 2016, but instead of quickly dashing out an album, the singer took her time.

She followed up with three other EPs Spotify Singles (2016), For You (2017), and Surround Me (2017), which were released on Columbia. She got out of the major-label deal and decided to make and release music on her own terms.

True to her perfectionist’s streak, she scrapped one album’s worth of songs, and worked assiduously on what would become her official studio debut album, her self-titled record. Packed to the rafters with infectious indie-pop melodies steeped in soul and blues, it makes you want to get up and dance, and reflect on the meaning of life at the same time.

LÉON takes time off from her American tour to answer some questions before she comes for her Singaporean debut at The Alex Blake Charlie Sessions on 7 Dec.

In 2017, you started your own label LÉON Recordings Imprint with BMG. What was the motivation behind that, and how does it fit into your artistic vision in the long run? 

Well, first of all, I’ve always had a dream to start my own label. To have total freedom and creative control for me is everything. It makes the whole process way more fun, and challenging. Even if I partner up with another label, I still get to call the shots. And I just think every artist should be able to put out music whenever and however they want and be able to tell their story their way.

As someone who is behind everything you put out, how do you ensure you don’t get overwhelmed? What’s the secret of being in control? 

A great manager! Haha. A great team. At first, I felt a bit overwhelmed but working with the right people is the key. I’m very grateful that I get to work with people who trust and understand my vision.

You come from a musical family. Growing up, did you feel any pressure to make music a career? Or it was something you take to quite naturally? 

My mum plays the cello and my dad is a composer and, of course, they always encouraged me to go into music. But it just really came naturally. I couldn’t really see myself doing anything else. I was kind of a bad student in school. I’m not good with focusing on one thing. I tend to get distracted pretty easily, haha. Music is the only place where I feel a total focus in a way.

Do you see any changes in how women are being treated in pop music these days? Do you have any personal experiences? 

There’s definitely been a change. More women are on the line-ups for festivals, are getting highlighted, nominated at awards and more women are supporting each other.

Only a few years ago, I felt like festivals would book just a few female acts and that would “be enough.” Like there was only room for a certain amount! Which is crazy. There’s been a change to that, but we still have a long way to go. We still don’t get respected enough in different areas which is tiring.

I’ve been in studios with different producers, where I’ve had a feeling like I can’t touch anything. If that makes sense? Like they want full control and I’m just there to sing. And now I don’t put up with that. I work with people I love or have a connection with.

Why do you think Sweden has produced so many of the world’s international pop stars, such as ABBA and The Cardigans, and musicians who helped produce and write songs for big stars, such as Max Martin?

I have no idea! The weather? It gets real dark over there. No but I don’t know. We support music and arts a lot and it’s a big part of our culture. I wish I had a better answer to this question.

Since your single ‘Tired of Talking’ went viral, you took nearly four years to work on your solo debut album. I understand you took on the reins of arranger. How was the process of recording it, and were there any challenges?

Well I did make an album; I just couldn’t put it out. And then it didn’t feel right to me anymore! I had to start over and make something new. I know it took me some time, but I think I had to do it my way. So I started my own label and just put it out when I felt like it was done.

Would you say you’re a perfectionist? You did record an album before this one, but decided not to put that out. Was that album very different from LÉON, which you have described as “more upbeat and brighter”?

I think every artist is. I know I have a very hard time letting go of things, haha. It just gets so personal to you when you’re in it. But yeah, the last album that I didn’t put out was very different from this record. It was meant to be for me to wait in a way. I don’t think I was ready really.

 

Katy Perry gave ‘Tired of Talking’ a shout-out. Have you actually met her? Talking about dream collaborations, is there any other artist you have yet to work with? 

I did actually, and she was so nice. She gave some good advice and we just hung out a little at her house. I got to sing for her which was nerve-wracking, haha! Feels like a long time ago now. There’s a lot of people I’d want to work with. Actually, Harry Styles. I loved his last album.

As you travel around the world, what has been the biggest challenge of performing your songs live? Did you have to change them up? What has been the most vivid memory so far? 

It’s actually been great so far! It would be the heat, maybe? It got real hot in Auckland when we played. But it’s been kind of smooth so far. The first two shows I was sick and had to throw up before and after stage, haha. But we still managed to have fun and do the shows. I’ve just been so happy to meet new crowds over here. It’s been better than I ever could have expected.

You will be performing for the first time in Singapore in December. What can the audience expect?

We’re just gonna have fun. I’ve wanted to go to Singapore for the longest time and now it’s finally happening! I just want to dance and sing with the crowd and I hope people will have a good time.

LÉON performs at The Alex Blake Charlie Sessions on Saturday, 7 Dec, at the Pasir Panjang Power Station. Get tickets here: http://bit.ly/ABCapactix