PHOTOS / NATHAN MOAS
It’s hard to pinpoint what compels an artist to share their most vulnerable moments with the world. For 20-year-old artist Lupa J, it was her nagging unhappiness that forced her to come to terms with some uncomfortable truths.
“I had a lot of unrealized desires, and maybe also a lot of sadness, but it required me to make an overwhelming change, so I didn’t permit myself to fully feel any of it,” Lupa J explains. “And I think when you choose to not feel things that need to be felt it’s difficult to feel like anything is real; life gets put on hold. That’s what this song is about: Feeling like everything is washing over you, like you’re living in some kind of dream.”
But her new single, “Drift”, isn’t a sad song. It’s a ethereal synth pop celebration – the light at the end of the tunnel once you go through it and come out the other end victorious. The victory is put on full display in Lupa J’s DIY music video. Filmed at Sydney’s Mardi Gras Festival, a camera follows colorful scenes of Lupa J publically embracing her queerness.
It’s a theme that she promises to continue on her debut album, Swallow Me Whole, due out in 2019. We spoke candidly with Lupa J about her new music and finding lightness, even when you’re in the thick of a major life change.
Who is Lupa J and what do we need to know?
I started Lupa J when I was 15, (back then it was just Lupa though, had to change it at the request of another artist with the same name) basically after being introduced to electronic music through artists such as Grimes and realising that I didn’t need to know how to play guitar to write songs. I was a classically trained violinist at a prestigious music school, and up until that point I had believed I would spend my life as an orchestral violinist. But after a somewhat emotionally tumultuous year I realised that playing pieces written to show off the skills of my fingers didn’t satisfy any kind of desire to actually express myself, and once I figured out how to use Garageband I threw myself into producing my own electronic music and haven’t turned back since. I guess because Grimes was essentially my baptism into that sound world her earlier work (Visions, Halfaxa) has remained a key influence on what I do, as well as other creative producers such as FKA Twigs, Arca, & Bjork. Grimes also planted the seeds for my ethos around the importance of women producing their own music and having creative control over every aspect of their project that they can – I see that as a really vital part of what I do.
Tell us about the new single “Drift” and what inspired the writing process.
“Drift” is the first single from my upcoming debut album, which to date is the largest body of work I’ve produced, somehow in the shortest amount of time. At the end of last year I decided I was going to just start on an album because if I thought too hard about it I never would, and without any concept in mind I just wrote, non stop, for about 4 months. And I found that the “themes” sort of just wrote themselves because several things in my life were on the brink of major change, but I wasn’t quite aware of it yet, or I wasn’t ready to admit it – and so they just kept coming up in my songwriting, because that’s the one place I’m always brutally honest with myself. “Drift” is about feeling a nagging unhappiness with the way things are but having no idea how to make any kind of change – and everything just starts to feel like it’s washing over you, like in a dream how everything happens really fast without your control.
How would you personally describe your music?
It’s always evolving, I think my new work is quite a progression from what I’ve done in the past – I guess now depending on the song I would say it sits somewhere on a spectrum between dark pop & industrial techno
What other artists or genres inspire you?
Aside from the obvious Grimes + Twigs influence, recently I’ve been really excited by current experimental electronic pop like Arca, Smerz, & SOPHIE’s latest album, as well as becoming really obsessed with Alice Glass / Crystal Castles after opening for her at her Sydney show this year. But a really big thing for me right now is the local techno/electronic dance stuff happening at the moment in Australia, like Friendships, Rebel Yell, Habits, & Enderie – going out to live events like that on a regular basis has really shaped my new album towards a more dance focused direction.
Tell us about the video for “Drift”.
In thinking about the song’s theme of feeling kind of passive and dissociated as everything is moving and changing around you, I had decided it would make a lot of sense to insert myself into some kind of huge crowd / event and just film it. And it happened to be just days before Mardi Gras when I thought of that – which is a crazy coincidence considering this album is very much about me coming out to myself. “Drift” isn’t a “queer” or “coming out” song, but it did stem from the dissonance I felt within my life after realising I was more attracted to women than men whilst in a long term straight relationship. So this video feels really lucky because everything lined up like that without me having to think about it; I feel like it unintentionally came to symbolise this progression of me learning to embrace and live out that part of my identity. It was actually lucky in a lot of ways – I didn’t have an official pass or anything so the Mardi Gras security tried to turn me away multiple times, I had to sneak in to get all those shots of people getting ready for the parade. My friend who filmed the shots of me came later in the afternoon when the security was more intense and had to lie to a bunch of police – we were quite prepared to come away with no shots at all.
What’s in store for Lupa J in the near future?
A debut album!
What’s the favorite show you’ve played?
Opening for Alice Glass at her Sydney show this year!
Who is your dream artist to tour with?
Alice Glass or Grimes (Both of which I’ve opened for but not toured with!)
What was the first instrument you learned to play?
Do you have a favorite lyric from “Drift”?
That’s hard! Because I feel like each line plays an important part of painting the whole picture if you know what I mean? But maybe these ones –“Drift forward in routine/In this endless hangover hold me” because I think using the word “hangover” to express a way of feeling emotionally is really weird, but it also just made a lot of sense to describe a relationship that leaves you feeling exhausted and sickly but also dependent on the way it comforts & distracts you – like alcohol does for some people.
Australian food everyone has to try?
This is hard for me because I actually don’t like most traditionally Aussie food? Vegemite, pavlova, all that meat… no thanks. Maybe I’d say Australian coffee, as a barista I’ve learned that Australians are actually really particular with their coffee in comparison to a lot of countries.
Favorite part of Australia?
Favorite music venue in Australia?
This is tough, but maybe I’d say Hugs & Kisses in Melbourne, went to an amazing club night there… but sadly it’s closing down soon!!!. For live music though I would say Oxford Art Factory is my favourite place to see bands.
CONNECT WITH LUPA J: