Nine Songs: Lauv
Lauv knows a thing or two about breaking up, and how to turn such personal stories into a perfect pop song.
Born Ari Leff, his nom de plume Lauv is both a nod to his mother’s Latvian heritage and his zodiac sign of Leo, reflecting the mixture of his love of nostalgia, romance and a desire to lead from the front.
“To be young and in love in New York City” is the opening lyric from “I Like Me Better”, the first song on his 18 track full length project I met you when I was 18. Released as a playlist rather than a conventional album, it tells the story of Lauv’s first relationship, taking in its humble, drunken beginnings at NYU to its bitter end, which prompted a move to LA
When we spoke to Lauv earlier this year he explained his decision to collate his releases as a playlist was due to his insistence to remaining as independent as possible. Now his next cycle of releases has begun. First with the stripped back “Superhero”, inspired by a fan’s message from his box of blue thoughts - an anonymous confessional where fans at his shows have the opportunity to vent, reveal or just share something, anything that has been playing on their mind. His latest single "There's No Way" is a duet with fellow alt-pop songwriter Julia Michaels, that tells the story of the inevitability of mutual attraction, with the pair proclaiming “there’s no way that it’s not going down with the way that we’re looking at each other.”
The songs that inspire Lauv mix stories of the endings of relationships - where songs become a musical diary - as well as new directions in music, where less is infinitely more. Taking in storytellers and innovators, from Drake, John Mayer to Paul Simon, Lauv is an artist who wants to keep moving, whilst always remembering exactly where he came from in the first place.
“I’m a massive John Mayer fan, but there’s just something about this song. It’s the detail in which he reminisces on this relationship and compares it to a new situation; it hits me really hard and it always has. A lot of my favourite songs have very specific memories attached to them and there have been lots of points in my life where I go back to this song when I’m feeling down. It’s a very connective song for me and it connects a lot of different parts of my life.
“I also have a song called ‘Comfortable’ on the playlist and it’s actually the opposite approach. Mine is “Are we just in this because we’re comfortable?” and John Mayer’s has a feeling of having taken something for granted. In the song there’s this new girl that he’s sleeping with - she’s so perfect and so this and that - but the old situation was much more real.
“I feel like I look at a lot of things in life like that. I’m a very reminiscent and nostalgic person and I tend to glorify things from the past a lot. Even when I wrote “I Like Me Better”, I wrote it reminiscing because it’s about when I first fell in love and I wrote it thinking back to that feeling. That’s often where my heart lies.”
“Paul Simon is a big favourite of mine, I saw him live recently and he’s an absolute legend. ‘Still Crazy After All These Years’ is really big for me, but Paul Simon in general is really inspiring. I read an interview with him and it showed me part of my whole song writing approach, the way he talks about not trying to say anything or going in consciously with an idea for a song, but discovering what’s going on subconsciously. I read that interview the summer I wrote “The Other” and “Reforget”, which was the first time I’d written songs for the Lauv project.
“With the hook in this song he has the perfect combination of something that’s so simple and impactful. ‘Still crazy after all these years’ is such a simple phrase and it can mean so much. I’ve talked to my friends about it and it means something different to everybody. Then you go into the verses and they’re so specific, his lyrical style and the way he tells stories is very conversational and that’s really inspiring.
“There’s a part of me - especially having been in a four year relationship and written the whole project about that - that has these mini fantasies about something like this happening, running into an old lover and what that would that be like. I went to the art museum in LA a couple of months ago and I was “What if I randomly meet my future wife here?” It’s the feeling of random occurrences and why they’re so important.
“And I don’t know anyone today, except for maybe in country music, who can use the word ‘beer’ in a song and make it sound dope. “And we drank ourselves some beers” sounds perfect, even though it’s not, I love it.”
“My friend first showed me this song when I was working out, when I was at school studying abroad in the Czech Republic. One of my roommates would bring his little bluetooth speaker down to the sketchy hotel gym, he’d show me music and I was teaching him to work out, it was hilarious. Randomly he showed me this song ‘California’ by Delta Spirit and I remember almost tearing up in the gym when I heard it for the first time.
“I don’t really know what the story truly is of this song, but it came at a time in my life where I knew I was going to be moving to California and that was going to be the end of my whole era in New York. Hearing that from the first line, “I want you to move to California for yourself, I want you to find whatever your heart needs”, there’s something about that and it just hit me. It’s one of those songs that from the first line, it fucks you up.”
“Every time I listen to ‘True Colors’ I hear a new, subtle detail in the production that I’ve never noticed before. It’s so simple, it leaves so much space for the song and it has such good use of silence, which is something I look up to a lot.
"I feel like that’s rare, that you only hear a few songs a year where the production and the song are really that perfect together and makes such a sonic statement. The production of this song really pushes me, and is super-inspiring sonically.
“That’s one of my favourite things in terms of my music, when I can make a song and there’s not too much happening; where there’s the right amount of silence and everything has a purpose. There’s so much noise in the world today, we’re constantly being bombarded with brands and all this stuff 24/7, so I love more minimal art.”
“I think that ‘Faded’ was the first time I’d heard of Lido. I was in college, I'd hear his remixes on SoundCloud and this was probably the first one, me and my friends would sit around and listen to all of his remixes. He put out an album that’s also really tight and he does other stuff with other artists too which is really awesome. He’s a big influence on me sonically.
“This song also totally changed my life the first time I heard it, it’s incredible. If I ever produce a song and it’s like this! It’s so minimal, it has such a good use of silence and cool sound effects. It’s one of the songs that totally raised the bar for me.”
“Drake is a fucking icon. The Take Care album came at a really important time for me, I remember it being my last year of high school and that album hit me so hard.
"‘Doing It Wrong' is about the end of a relationship, you know the line “When a good thing goes bad it's not the end of the world / It’s just the end of a world, that you had with one girl”? From the first lyric, the song so fucked me up. The harmonica solo at the end from Stevie Wonder is incredible, it’s very sonically unique and a game changer for R&B music. It started a new era.
“It’s funny, because when I first had the playlist idea, Drake’s More Life wasn’t really the reason I did it. Honestly, I’m surprised more people haven’t done it, but to my knowledge it’s just me and Drake, although I guess the difference was mine was ongoing, whereas he put all the songs out as a whole playlist. People are still doing mixtapes, so I’ll be curious to see if more people start calling things playlists.”
“This song is so sad, the lyrics are really sad, but it also feels so good, I feel like it’s a ‘You can get drunk and party to it with your friends’ song. The lyrics are like ‘Whatever, we should let this whole thing go’, but there’s also sort of a peace to it, being at peace with the truth and a freedom in that.
“I used to jam this song over and over and over the same summer that I wrote “The Other”. I was going through the break-up and ‘Burn’ was on repeat and also “Climax” by Usher. It’s just such a good song.
“I’d randomly rediscovered it. I was working at a restaurant in New York and it was a weird time for me, going through this break up. I would ride the subway home, walk from the subway to my apartment and it was late at night, as I’d normally finish my shift at 10 or 11pm. I’d just be bumping this song on my headphones and trying to keep my head up.”
“I honestly don’t really know what this song is about, but I love songs like this where the lyrics don’t force you to see it as one thing, because “Let’s go dancing / I do believe we’re only passing through”, that lyric to me is ‘fuck it.’ Whenever I’m feeling emotional or stressed, listening to this song is like letting go and telling me to not take things so seriously. We’re only passing through life, so let’s have some fun and I think ‘Time Is Dancing’ has a really beautiful way of saying that.
“It was a song I discovered at the same time as ‘California’ by Delta Spirit. The funny thing is I don’t even know if my friend knows he influenced me so randomly with those songs and I don’t know if I’d have heard these artists or songs without him playing them. It’s really cool how a little moment like that can have such a big impact and now I listen to lot of Ben Howard, that whole album is awesome.”
“Last up and it wouldn’t be a ‘me’ list if I didn’t have a Coldplay song. This is another incredible end of a relationship song and it also has a sort of peace to it, it has such a beautiful way of accepting something is over and letting it go.
“For a lot of people the common opinion is that they only like the old Coldplay, but this is on Mylo Xyloto and I feel that’s when they started to move away from the normal band production. Their old stuff was very guitar, drums, bass and strings, but with this album they started to do some really interesting things electronically and I think they killed it. They did it and I don’t know of any other artist who’s been huge and really touched that sound in the same way.
“‘Up In Flames’ is another one that’s so minimal and beautiful, there’s only a couple of drum sounds and they’re so interesting, there’s the piano and the bass and I think that’s mostly it. It’s so simple and to the point. I’ve been a big Coldplay fan for a long time, but they really, really hit me with this album when I was a freshman in college, that’s when I was like ‘holy shit.’ I’d been listening to them for a few years, but there’s something about this album that affected me in a big way.
“Chris Martin is someone I’d love to work with - he writes the best songs in the fucking world. It’s weird, because they’re sad but they feel upliftingly sad and they make you feel beautiful. I don’t know if it’s the melody and combination of the lyrics, but they’re just magic. He’s so good at creating music that’s super beautifully tragic and that’s one of my favourite things ever.”