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Lauv Opens Up About Writing Charli XCX’s ‘Boys’ and Moving to ‘Strange’ Los Angeles

Lauv interview
Courtesy of Jack McCain

Lauv wrote the book on falling in and out of love—and getting caught in heartache’s icy web. “There’s never been a way to make this easy,” he weeps on his viral hit “The Other,” which recently collected more than 100 million streams on Spotify, an achievement that even he didn’t see coming. “It’s totally surreal. I don’t know how to conceptualize the idea of that many streams on a song,” he shares.

The folksy, brittle single anchors his 2015 debut project, the Lost in the Light EP, which set the stage in a big way. Now, with “I Like Me Better,” also armed with more than 100 million streams, Lauv’s trajectory is a marvel to behold. The song, packed with glossy finger snaps, trembling guitar chews and clacking synths, pushes his style forward to fit the 2017 trends but never compromises his singer-songwriter mentality. “I wrote the song a few years after living in New York. At the time, when I was living there, I was going through it all and processing it. I didn’t have the perspective of really how much it changed my life,” he says, reflecting on how the track mirrors the shimmery glow of New York City.

“Once I moved to LA, I had a lot of time to think about those four years I spent in New York and how I originally didn’t even want to live there,” he continues. “I was pretty sure I was going to hate it, and it was going to be overwhelming. Those four years have been the most important of my life so far.”

In the accompanying visual, which features an elderly version of him and his girlfriend, Lauv perfectly captures the thrill and escape of true love. “I knew I didn’t want to do something that was just moody shots of me and a girl in New York. Visually, that could have looked cool, but the idea of an elderly version of ourselves struck me,” he muses.

“It evolved from there. At first, it was starring entirely an old couple living like they’re young. It’s not only about growing old with somebody and having all those beautiful years together but also by the time you get there, you still feel young. Then, it was like, ‘oh, the old couple could be us’ back and forth.”

After talking to “a lot of different people to try to figure with whom our visions aligned,” Lauv turned his attention to Alex DiMarco (Khalid, Wiz Khalifa) for assistance. “From the first time I got on the phone with Alex, I had a gut feeling. We didn’t have to say too much. He had such excitement for the project and really wanting to push it. It was great [working] together.”

“I Like Me Better” is just the tip of the iceberg for “much bigger plans” coming later this year. Naturally, he’s tight-lipped about exactly what that means: “I’m in a place where I’ve been working on a lot more music than ever. I am going to be releasing a lot of music throughout the rest of this year. The format remains to be determined. There will be some singles…”

Below, Lauv examines what New York City taught him, the newfound “strangeness” of Los Angeles, writing Charli XCX‘s man-hungry new track “Boys” and when it’s okay to give a song away.

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What did you learn most about yourself while you were living in New York?
I realized the limitless possibility I had within myself. Before New York, I was living in the suburbs of Pennsylvania. I had moved around a lot growing up but had never lived in a downtown city. I was so inspired by the energy and all the different kinds of people and the hustle. Every time something new and exciting was happening in my life, I was like, “Oh wow, I can do this.” Like everybody else, I went through self-doubt, too.

What do you miss most about New York?
There are a few things. It’s really the overall feeling of the city. Living in L.A. has been really good for me, as a creator and musician. There are so many people to collaborate with. I miss the energy of New York City and being able to step out of my apartment and see so much unique culture all the time around me without having to seek it out. In L.A., I have to sort of seek out everything I’m trying to do. It makes it less spontaneous.

How has Los Angeles impacted you differently?
A lot of it has been that I’ve spent a lot more time with myself. When I was in New York, I was in school, so I was balancing music and class. L.A. has been more isolating. In some ways, that’s bad, but it’s been good to spend so much time just in my house thinking or working on music alone. It’s been a lot of reflecting.

What are some other pivotal life moments you might write about?
It’s tough to know what I’m going to write about. I never really know until it starts happening. Every time I moved growing up, it was sort of ⎯⎯ I was born in San Francisco and moved multiple times before New York ⎯⎯ and I never really processed that. I was just like, “Well, here’s my new life with totally new friends.” The older I get and the more people I meet who were born and raised in one place, the more I realize, “Oh s—, I took for granted how interesting and unique that experience is.” Next, a lot of the stuff I’ve been writing is the strangeness of L.A.. I’m still figuring that out.

What do you mean by “strangeness”?
I just find myself in strange situations with strange people who I don’t really know or feel connected to in any way. Everybody in L.A. is a songwriter, producer, actor, creative. For some reason, you’re supposed to go to a bar and all hang out and act like you like each other. There is a lot of fake stuff that goes on. You kind of have to expect that. Everybody understands that. But it’s so interesting.

How do you navigate that scene?
I try to be honest with myself. When I feel like I’m about to go into a situation like that, I’m like “Okay, can I deal with this right now? Or would I much rather just be doing something else, like hanging with a couple close friends or writing or taking it easy?” I’ve found, in general, when I was in New York, I’d love to go out at night and do the thing. The more I’m here in L.A., I feel like I’m much more focused on the productive things in my life and things that actually bring me growth as a human and less so excited about going out.

How does life experience equip you to be able to write betters songs covering a wider range of emotions?
It’s everything. I’ve been writing songs since I was like 15 years old, maybe a little younger. I was always writing love songs in some way. Since I never had experienced it yet, something didn’t quite click. Falling in love and everything I experienced in New York and onward, when I sit down and am writing a song, I’ll have moments when I’m really excited about what’s happening in the room. I’m like, “Oh, yeah, I feel this on such a deep level.” That’s when I know the song is actually going to mean something. A lot of songwriters, myself included, have bad days, and the song is about something real but you just don’t feel it. Most of the time, those songs, even from a surface level, feel like they could be good but just aren’t.

With your new music, did you have any parameters or things you wanted to accomplish?
I guess there are three most important things. I’m just trying to go places, personally, I haven’t gone to yet, in terms of topic and angle. Since I produce all my stuff, I’m always trying to push the sonic envelope, so everything that I’m working on doesn’t sound the same⎯⎯but there’s always that thread. My goal is to take classic sonics and re-purpose them in ways maybe other people haven’t done before. I was just working on a song yesterday, and something didn’t quite feel like it was fresh enough. It’ll be the smallest thing that I do that’ll change the vibe of the entire song. Lastly, I want to show people there are a lot more sides to my personality than have been out there so far.

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How do you know when a song is right?
It’s tough. Sometimes, I have songs that I feel like I can continue to tweak them after everybody else is like, “No, it’s perfect.” Usually, it gets to a certain point where I go, “Okay, I could continue to tweak it but I know that as I continue making these tiny adjustments, every time I think they’ll help, they end up not helping.” When I get to that point, the song is done. I then just lay it to rest and put it out there.

Do you have songs you still have never finished?
Oh, definitely. I have a lot of ideas that started out really amazing. Usually, when I stop writing a song, it’s because I feel like I can’t reach the standard I’ve set for myself thus far. I’d rather not give something that’s only partially really there to someone else. One of my songs on my Lost in the Light EP, I started a couple years before and then came back to it and finished it. I didn’t really know. I had the beginnings of what I wanted to say but I was still going through some important parts of it that I didn’t have the right perspective to finish. I came back to it and it was like, “Oh, okay, here’s what I want to do…” It all became clear.

What was it like writing “Boys” with Charli XCX?
It’s been really interesting writing songs with and for others. Sometimes, it’s a situation where I’m in the room with another artist. Other times, it’s an idea I write with a couple other people, and it ends up getting to the artist. For the Charli XCX situation, we weren’t in the room together. But she ended up hearing the bones of the song and loved it. That’s really exciting in and of itself.

Whenever you hear a finished song, do you ever think, “Man, I should have kept that for myself”?
I haven’t had that… yet. I’m a huge over-thinker. I’m very careful about songs that are important to me. I’m pretty stubborn, too. [Laughs] If I have a song I’ve written with some other people and feel really strongly about it, I’ll make that known.

What else goes into the decision to keep a song or to give it away?
It’s a few things. First, it’s actually honest for me. I’ll write songs that I can relate to but I don’t think I could get onstage and do it every night. Everything I’ve put out so far is straight from my life. I haven’t put out a song that’s been based on somebody else’s idea or story. I’m in a place where I want to keep that going. Then, sonically, if I give a song away, I don’t think it’s where it makes sense for me at the time. Again, I produce my stuff. I’ve had songs that I love that have been with other producers, and production is important. If that doesn’t quite line up to what I want it to be, then it’s OK to give away.

How often do your outside sessions influence you or change how you approach your own work?
This is even a bigger life thing. Yesterday, at the beginning of my day, I was in a horrible, really anxious mood. That changed. If I’m in the studio and someone does something I just did not expect at all, I’m like, “Oh wow, you don’t know everything and you can’t solve your problems by thinking about it over and over and over.” That applies to songwriting, too. When I feel like I’m stuck, I have to consciously be like, “You have to take a step back and throw out some of your ideas and maybe start further back.”

In life, that’s important for me. That’s why songwriting is so therapeutic. It’s symbolic of my life struggle. People inspire me to get out of my head and realize not everything in life is in your control. You have interact with other people’s desires and ideas and what the world throws at you. You can’t predict everything or control everything.

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