Pop culture

The New Masculinity: Interview with US-Pop Sensation Lauv

He embodies the modern form of masculinity: On his new album, the American singer Lauv talks openly about mental health problems, loneliness, self-love and about keeping his inner child. Thomas Clausen spoke exclusively with him for L'Officiel Austria.
Reading time 8 minutes
© Lauren Dunn

"Modern Loneliness" is written in simple, almost fragile-looking letters as a tattoo on his arm. Two simple words that could also sum up the creative drive of Ari Staprans Leff aka Lauv. Since the release of his debut album "How I`m Feeling" two years ago at the latest, the singer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist has been celebrated globally as a new pop hope who conveys completely new masculinity on his bittersweet earworms: Nontoxic, soulful, vulnerable.

With his music, Lauv creates a sonic safe space for himself and his average 18 million monthly Spotify listeners: inside Gen Z, who can find themselves in his songs, which have been streamed over eleven billion times to date. Lauv tells of heartbreak and of being abandoned, of insecurities and being an outsider. And again and again also about mental problems; a topic to which he is also privately committed with his support of various organizations in the fight against Mental Health-Issues.

Close to his 28th birthday, a new album of the Californian is now released with "All 4 Nothing".

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© Lauren Dunn

Your album is titled "All 4 Nothing". Not a very optimistic view!

At first glance, certainly not. The record is about reconnecting with my roots and my childhood. When you're a kid, you have this special self-confidence that gets more and more lost the older you get. On the one hand, I had so many beautiful things around me, I was successful and really couldn't have complained. Nevertheless, I wasn't doing well because I had become too distant from myself and was no longer at peace with myself. Everything I had achieved was somehow worthless.

How did you find your way back to yourself?

Through meditation and by facing some really hard truths. It took quite a while to get grounded again and get back to what makes me an individual. In the beginning, I wrote songs just for myself. The more successful I became, the more I racked my brain about what other people might think of me, what I was doing, and who I was in the first place. My brain was boiling over with these questions. I literally tore myself apart; with this album, I'm putting myself back together again.

 

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Sounds like a self-discovery process that came with some painful realizations!

The most painful self-realization I had was the moment I wrote "Bad Trip". The inspiration for that song was based on a pretty hard drug experience that made me face some really uncomfortable things. I just wanted to try it out and see what it felt like. On one hand, it was nice to let myself go in that state. At other moments, I almost lost it and felt completely cut off and alone. Basically, you can compare this split feeling to the ups and downs of a relationship: Sometimes you harmonize perfectly and have an incredibly fulfilling time together, other days you're so alien to each other and seemingly worlds apart.

A contrast that is also reflected in your sound mix of often bitter lyrics and disturbingly cheerful melodies.

I am a torn person and find one-dimensionality boring. It doesn't appeal to me to make music that is either only sad or only happy. Life is not consistently beautiful or terrible but has many facets. This break has always been in my songs. The new pieces have something very hopeful and are my attempt to free myself from my black hole.

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"Deep inside me, there is a romantic. I just don't always find the right ways to express it." - Lauv
Lauv Interview

Lauv scored a mega-hit in 2017 with his hit "I Like Me Better. His YouTube videos have been viewed over half a billion times.

At least on the current single "Kids Are Born Stars" you show your somewhat more light-hearted side...

I would like to show all facets of my work. Depending on the emotional situation, which is also constantly changing. I like it when a song goes stylistically in exactly the opposite direction to its predecessor. The track oscillates a little between happiness and sarcasm. Like a dialogue with the boy from back then, telling him that he can do anything and encouraging him for the future.

A hopeful twist that also runs through the thoughtful "Hey Ari", on which you wrote a touching letter to yourself.

"Hey, Ari" was born out of the frustration of going through the same dark thoughts over and over again and not being able to break out of that loop. I kept subjecting myself to the same sick crap, only to feel good for a short time and then fall back into a hole. I questioned myself and everything I was doing. I wondered what I was actually running from and why I couldn't just let my feelings be. When I first heard the finished version, I completely fell apart. I sat on the floor next to my girlfriend in the studio and started crying without restraint.

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In the song, you ask yourself whether you are really happy - and immediately give the answer: Yes, for sure. A whole new attitude to life?

You could say that. And it wasn't at all easy to get used to it. At the moment I'm living in a happy and stable relationship with a great woman by my side. In the song, you could also interpret it in a slightly sarcastic way. But it's kind of strange. I don't have to be sad today to feel good and secure. I've realized that tearing myself apart over and over again doesn't lead anywhere.

On the album cover, you can be seen floating in the sea. A motif between drowning, the feeling of being lost, and deep peace.

I'm still struggling with this feeling of being somehow lost. On the other hand, I like to surrender to that lostness. There is something very comforting about it. Maybe it stems from the many moves I made during my youth. Looking back, it seems to me that there have been very few constants in my life so far. Nothing was really permanent. That has certainly left its mark on me. I'm always looking for ways to fill this inner emptiness, even though I don't really want to.

Lauv
"To be honest, L.A. brings out the worst in you." - Lauv

Dealing with mental problems has always been an important topic in your songs...

Already as a child, I noticed these mental illnesses in my environment. The topic took on special significance when I was later affected by it myself. I noticed different emotional patterns in myself and researched that they were panic disorders, anxiety, and depression. When I reached my personal lowest point, I decided to talk openly about it. I remember the exact day I first posted about it: I wrote this interminable message on my phone and was insanely nervous when I finally posted it. The feedback really blew me away. I got a flood of messages from people who felt the same way. Up until then, I thought I was the only person in the world who felt this way. That reality check was kind of scary, but also comforting.

Moments you live in Los Angeles; a place not exactly famous for its inclusivity and openness. How are you doing there?

To be honest, L.A. brings out the worst in you. Especially if you want to make the jump into the entertainment business. This city eats you alive. When I moved here, it took me almost two years to build up a circle of friends. You almost forget what real friendship means there. In the meantime, I feel a bit more comfortable thanks to my girlfriend and my dogs.

As you can also hear on the last album track, the ballad "First Grade". Sounds almost a little romantic!

Deep inside me, there is a romantic. I just don't always find the right ways to express it. It then expresses itself in sometimes very strange and weird forms. Whereby I also have the classical program very well on it: Lots of flowers, balloons, rose petals in the bath water, spontaneous outings and, of course, romantic dinners for two. The tragic thing is: that every time I make precise plans for a romantic day or something special, I totally screw it up. Something always goes wrong ...

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