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Lauv is the epitome of an independent pop star, as a recent bit of press material jokes he is a “singer, songwriter, producer, label president, head of A&R, [and] SVP of branded content.” And, as one of his most recent hits with Troye Sivan further reiterates, he is so tired of love songs.
On a more serious note, the 25-year-old musician (born Ari Staprans Leff) has slowly but surely made his impression on the pop landscape, becoming a global star in 2017 when “I Like Me Better” rose all the way to No. 27 on the Billboard chart and went platinum, not just in the US but several other countries. Prior to 2017, he released his debut EP, Lost In The Light, in 2015 featuring a couple of huge streaming hits, and eventually went on to release the compilation album, I Met You When I Was 18 (The Playlist) the following year. But today’s release, How I’m Feeling, is his true debut album despite a string of already recognizable hits and comes packed with plenty more.
Notably, a collaboration with BTS called “Who” couldn’t be more timely considering BTS has the No. 1 album in the country and are helping reshape and challenge American audiences’ expectations for pop. There are also inescapable earworms that are already huge hits, like his Anne-Marie collab “F*ck, I’m Lonely,” which he describes as not as “sad or as deep as it sounds.” But for those who are feeling that level of sadness, Lauv gets deeper than the music. His “My Blue Thoughts” initiative on tour helps normalize those negative feelings, encouraging fans to anonymously share what they’re feeling and connect with other people in the area who are facing the same struggles, realizing they’re not alone.
For Lauv, songwriting is functioning in that same space, and in some ways, the “My Blue Thoughts” initiative encourages fans to interact with their emotions on a similar level. “I was having a conversation with my friend and I was kind of like, ‘Oh, f*ck I’m lonely,’ and we just wrote that song,” he continued, speaking of his Anne-Marie featuring hit. “And it’s obviously a super upbeat-sounding song, so for me, it wasn’t really that sad.” That kind of tension is exactly what can be the most cathartic, whether it’s in songs or analyzing your own feelings. Wherever you’re at with exhaustion over the unending slew of songs about love on the radio, feeling lonely, or liking yourself better when you’re with someone you love — Lauv has a song for that. We talked about the process behind his debut and some other specific stories about songwriting in the interview below, read a condensed and edited version of our conversation and stream his new album, How I’m Feeling, out today.
You’ve released several massive singles and plenty of other one-off songs so far, what feels different about the debut album and the song collected here?
For me, this debut album is a debut album because it’s the first time that really musically — and personality-wise — that I’m embracing every part of myself. It’s not just about one zone or one genre or one thing. It’s very diverse, which is why I kind of created the six different characters and one-man boy band.
I would love to hear about the “My Blue Thoughts” initiative and how that came about. I love when artists who discuss the negative impact of technology also find a way to incorporate it into something positive.
“My Blue Thoughts” originally started in my original days of touring as a box, a physical box that people could drop notes into and anonymously get something off of their chest. And it’s now turned into something where it’s a literal booth that you can walk into at my shows. That, you shut the door, you can anonymously say anything you want, it takes a silhouette photo of you — so it’s anonymous — and it can transcribe in any language what you say. It can sort by text and your location all over the globe. Then you can find people by keyword or location, and you can find stories you relate to.
Remaining independent as an artist has been a huge priority for you, can you talk about that aspect of your career and why it’s been such an important aspect?
I just feel like, first of all, it’s more possible than every as an independent artist, to be successful. Whether it be through word of mouth or the internet, people really do gravitate toward things they like. I just feel more free in an independent situation. That’s no knock to major labels, some people that’s amazing for, but for me, I felt like I didn’t want to be in that structure or that system, and I wanted to be free to build a team that I trust, piece by piece, with my management. And to have full control. So, it’s been amazing.
One thing I love about your songwriting is the honesty about things like loneliness, or feeling like the internet and substances have crept in to replace friendships. Clearly, it’s resonating based on the reaction — how do you figure out a way to turn these negative experiences into something more in your songs?
My songs are just a way for me to be honest about those things and confront them, and admit them to myself. And then it’s up to me to actually look at those things and change them. So it’s something that takes practice for me, focusing on being a better friend, step by step, when my friends call me up and making cognitive changes to be more there for them, and to spend less time on the internet, and to care less about what people think of me, and fuck with substances less. Stuff like that. The first step is admitting, but the second step is actually making change. That’s sometimes the harder part.
As far as the album title, when did you land on that for the name and how does it tie back into all the different feelings you’re expressing in the music?
I decided to call it How I’m Feeling a while back, that was more towards the beginning of the album process, and that was when I decided I wanted to release songs as I made them. Because I kind of knew I wanted the album to be sort of an open book about how I felt in every single different way. I wanted it to be not this one continuous story, but like a journal, where it’s every different emotion, every different part of what I’m going through and every aspect — I wanted it to all be expressed in the music.
You’re working with BTS on this new album, which is pretty huge considering they have the No. 1 album in the country this week. Can you talk a little bit about how that partnership came about and what you like about their music and style?
First of all, congrats! Yes, I met them for the first time in London at the show at Wembley Stadium. I wasn’t expecting any type of collab, but right after that, they asked me to do the remix for their song “Make It Right,” which is like my favorite song they’d put out probably. So I was super honored and I did that right away. And then I thought it’d be really cool to have their voices on one of my songs for the album because I just think they have an extremely unique and special tone. So I was going through demos, and I thought what would be a song that would sound a little bit different for them, but also that they’d sound amazing on. So I found a demo for “Who” and I sent it over, honestly with no expectations really, but they ended up loving it and singing on it, and I think the song turned out amazing.
I read that your stage name is based on a couple of different things, but one is your sun sign, Leo. I’d love to hear about how you relate to being a Leo and some of the background behind your stage name.
To be honest, I’m not very good at astrology. I just chose it because Ari means Leo, I am a Leo, and Lauv means Leo, or lion, in Latvian, where my mom’s side of the family is from. From what I understand Leos are stubborn, passionate, which I’m definitely both of — and I’m always right, so f*ck you — no, I’m just kidding. But, yeah.
After your breakout with “I Like Me Better,” it seems like you really took your time releasing a proper debut album. How did the success of that song tie into the story and process of this album?
Truth be told, I was under a lot of stress after I released “I Like Me Better.” I was trying to kind of follow that up in this world that I created and this hopeless romantic identity that I’d fallen into. That’s a real part of who I am, but not the only part of who I am. And I think I kind of stopped creating for fun and stopped creating with no expectations. Which is exactly how I made “I Like Me Better,” so I had to kind of have a bit of an existential crisis and go through the worst depression of my life to realize that I needed to get back to just doing music the way I love to.
How did working with Troye Sivan come about? That song is another example of a message that’s like a breath of fresh air, to realize someone else is feeling this way and isn’t afraid to admit it. I’d love to hear the process of you two coming together for that particular song.
So me and Troye, we just became friends and had no plans to collab. We met a few times at a rehearsal space, we played a show together, and then we were like oh let’s get in the studio and mess around. I think Troye had finished his album and was looking to do some outside writing. So at first, we wrote another song, it was awful. I don’t remember what it was called, it will never see the light of day. But then I had the chords of “I’m So Tired” already written, I played it for him he loved it, we wrote the rest of the song. And halfway through it, I was like, ‘Oh my god, you sound amazing singing it. would you want to?’ and he said yeah, and that’s how that collab came about.
You’re touring with Mxtmoon as support on the upcoming tour, when did you first hear about her music and what stands out to you about her as an artist?
I first heard about her, I want to say, about six months ago? Maybe a little bit longer? We have some mutual friends. And first of all, we have some mutual friends. Her voice is extremely unique. Her style is extremely unique. I feel like there’s a lot of artists in what people would call a bedroom pop-type setting, but I think she does it differently. And I also just like her attitude, her vibe — she’s funny. And I’m stoked to have her out on tour.
Is there a song on How I’m Feeling that stands out to at the moment? I know it’s hard to ask artists to play favorites, but maybe there’s one in the lead up to release that you’re more excited for fans to hear or something along those lines?
“Modern Loneliness” is my favorite song on the album, and probably my favorite song that I’ve ever made. It just says everything that I’ve felt for a really long time growing up, and never found a way to articulate. It means everything to me.
How I’m Feeling is out today via AWAL. Get it here.