“Even for me, I felt, like, this is a joke,” says Li, with a chuckle. “Like, are you for real? You’re gonna write another album about heartbreak? I can’t do this anymore.” With the help of various psychedelic and spiritual practices—as well as some good old-fashioned soul seeking—Li spent much of the recording process tracing a path through her life. “I went as far back as before I was even conceived, trying to understand what my journey was and why I repeat this cycle and then make art about it,” she says. “I wanted to close the circle that I started painting when I was so young in a kind of ceremonial way so that I can move on. I kind of made it for me as a 19-year-old starting out, saying, ‘Okay, you want to make an album about love and you want the videos to express everything you ever dreamed of—some man pulling you out of a burning car, crying. I’m gonna give you that, and then you can be done with this topic forever.” I’m doing a favor for me and everyone else.”
For her previous album, 2018’s So Sad So Sexy, Li enlisted a rogues’ gallery of experimental pop masterminds—Rostam Batmanglij, formerly of Vampire Weekend; Frank Ocean producer Malay; the British hitmaking songwriter Kid Harpoon—and of course her ex-husband and father to her six-year-old son, Jeff Bhasker, the superproducer best known for his work with Kanye West. The end product was a sleek, trap-inflected magnum opus that, while immaculately produced, proved divisive. For Eyeye, Li swung the pendulum back in the other direction, returning to her primary collaborator on her first three albums, Björn Yttling, to make a record that swaps wide-canvas pop for something a little murkier and rougher around the edges, the ambient sounds of the bedroom in which Li recorded most of the songs bleeding into every track. For those who struggled with So Sad So Sexy’s more abstract lyrical tendencies, they’ll find in Eyeye some of her most tender, intimate songwriting yet.
It was in her bedroom rather than the clinical environs of a recording studio, she explains, that she felt most able to tap into those deeper feelings. “Every time I go on tour and do the whole cycle, I kind of come out dead on the other end, so I’m always looking for some type of rebirth through my music,” says Li. “I’ve kind of followed a cycle in my career where I write about it, I stage it, I go on tour, and then it happens all over again. So I was trying to process that. I was just laying in my bed, completely exhausted and heartbroken again, and listening to voice memos from when I was writing, and I realized, This is so much better than any album I’ve ever made. There’s an intimacy when you sing and no one else is around, and I felt like I could never capture that on my other albums.”