story / Erica Russell photo / Pip
As Laurel’s voice rolls mistily through the crests and troughs of the brooding synths and heart-wrenching strings of “To The Hills”, her recently premiered new single, a sense of distant melancholy washes over. In song, Laurel is a mysterious fairy-child from the English countryside, completely encompassing with her bewitching spellsong, yet ever out of reach. In contrast, however, over the phone the 19 year old singer-songwriter and burgeoning music-fashion darling is as warm, sweet and inviting as a slice of freshly baked homemade pie, and unlike her somber musical incarnation, is a bright, friendly and engaging teenager ready to chat excitedly about her favorite rappers and dreams of sound-tracking a film.
If this is your first time hearing of her, get acquainted, and quickly. The lovely British ingénue, recently having popped onto major radars with her stunning and cinematic debut EP, ‘To The Hills’, crafts spellbinding music that is a smart, eclectic fusion of piano balladry, electro-pop, and gloomy hip hop beats. But Laurel doesn’t only sing. She also writes all her own music, and produces it as well. And unlike many other contemporary pop offerings, Laurel made certain to record live instrumentation for her music as well, injecting it with a raw, nostalgic energy.
I chatted with Laurel about her gorgeous new EP, what it’s like being compared to Lorde, the process of recording live strings for her single, and more! Read on below to learn about this enchanting young artist, as well as for a FIRST LOOK at a behind the scenes video of Laurel in the studio with her orchestra, premiering exclusively right here on Ladygunn.
Your new EP, ‘To The Hills,’ just dropped this month. Can you talk a little about the inspiration behind it?
Around the time I wrote the song “To The Hills”, I was actually coming to America, to Los Angeles, so I think that’s where I got the idea for the name of the song from. At the time I was really getting into dark hip hop, so I was like, “How can I incorporate this into one of my songs?” I love hip hop and dark beats and dark music in general, so I tried to infuse it with some of the other tracks I wrote.
Something I really aimed to do with the EP, and with my album especially, is for it to be a collective piece of creative work instead of just an album full of singles that could be from many different albums. I wanted it to be a piece of work instead of just a bunch of songs. I think they all fit together really well in the end.
Your lyrics tend to have a storytelling vibe. Would you consider yourself a storyteller?
I’m used to writing my music as stories I guess since the songs focus on my life; my life is a bit of a story. It’s basically me writing a diary and singing it.
You mentioned you love hip hop. Who are some of your favorite artists?
I really like Tyler the Creator at the moment. My boyfriend played me one of his songs. He’s got the darkest songs. If you listen to his whole album, by the end you feel really dark and stressed out. It’s quite heavy! I really like hip hop that’s heavy and dark like that. I definitely like the grungier side of that world.
Would you consider your music dark as well?
Yes! It’s really bad though, I can’t write happy songs! As soon as I start writing and it starts getting happy, I go to a dark place in the song and I’m like, “I can’t do this!” [Laughs.] I love moody music. All the English are so moody so it definitely comes out in the music.
What do you make of comparisons to contemporaries like Lorde and Lana Del Rey?
It doesn’t bother me too much because you’re always going to be compared to somebody and they’re really great artists to be compared to. They’re doing something great for the music industry that not a lot of artists are doing. But at the same time, it’s unfair for people to say I’m taking my influences from Lana and Lorde. We’ve only being around for a couple of years, you know? What’s more likely is that we’ve all grown up with the same kind of music and that inspiration is coming out in our own music now. I can’t change what I listened to when I was younger. This is the kind of music I love, and we’re just making it at the same time.
What other music do you like to listen to?
Personally, I enjoy women’s music way more than I enjoy a man’s voice. That’s just a personal thing though. I listen to Bjork a lot and Florence and the Machine and Santigold.
I read that you grew up in a sleepy sea-side town on the English countryside, is that right? Do elements of that environment seep into your music?
I did. The town is mainly loads of houses and suburbs and there’s nothing else there. There are a few songs on my EP and album that are inspired by the fact that I come from somewhere that there’s not much going on. You can even hear it in “To The Hills”: it’s me trying to get away, go on the road, go to the hills or somewhere else to get higher than where I am right now. There’s a lot of stories on my album which are about me and the guy I’m in love with and my friends and how we’re all like, “Oh, we’re dying in this town! Why are we here?”
You also self-produce your music. That’s impressive. How does that work?
I’ve got a tiny room in my house and I’ve been producing the whole album which has been quite a big task. Sometimes I’m like, “Oh my god, why am I doing this? Why am I not letting someone else help me?” [Laughs.] I wouldn’t mind working with other people. But when I’m on my own and when I’ve got control to do whatever I want is when I get the best out of myself.
Do you find that self-producing allows you to really express what’s going on your head?
Yeah, I feel like when you write a song with somebody else, it’s more about crafting a song for the public, but when I write on my own it’s about me just feeling and writing exactly how I feel in the moment, and if it turns into a good song, then that’s great! That’s my main priority. If you write with someone else you’ve usually both got an idea of what kind of sound you want to make. It’s not really as spontaneous.
I watched the video of you in studio watching the orchestra record the strings for your record, which we’re premiering here. Tell me about how that was for you.
It was amazing! I’ve been recording the strings on the computer, so to go in and hear them played live with the mastered string section was insane! It was incredible. I hadn’t experienced something like that before. Not many people are recording real drums or real strings anymore because it’s easier to do it the other way, but it just brings this amazing energy to the music.
You also have your own record label imprint. Can you tell me a little about that?
There was a number of different ways I could put out my EP, and someone said to me, “Why don’t you make your own imprint on the label?” And I was like, “Hell yeah, I wanna do that!” It’s really amazing. I named it after the first song I wrote under the name Laurel. It’s called Next Time Records, and it’s a toast to the song that got me here.
Someone who’s never heard your music asks you about it. How do you describe it to them?
It’s very cinematic. It’s quite like film music. It’s not music you will find instantly catchy and be singing along to like a Katy Perry song. It’s music that makes you feel something proper rather than music makes you sing along. It’s music that moves you and makes you think.
I love that you called it cinematic. Would you ever consider writing for a film?
That’s my really big dream! I’d love to write the soundtrack for a movie.
And where are you at with the album right now?
It’s pretty much done. It won’t be released for a while though. I think we’re going to do some more strings on the album. I’m actually in my studio right now working. By the time the album gets released… we’ll see how it goes. I think early next year or the end of this year, but you know how it goes. You can’t really tell!