A Beautiful Contradiction
SLT sits down with Lana Dey Rey
As Sur La Terre begins a conversation with Lana Del Rey, she admits it’s been a hectic year. Sure enough, this year she’s been spotted in dressed-down chic all over Europe; from the balmy shores of Italy to glamorous Monaco and the pyramid stage of muddy Glastonbury festival. The past four years have been a whirlwind ride for the 28-year- old musician, who was catapulted from the indie scene to chart- topping fame back at the start of the decade. Since then, the American singer has truly conquered the continent.
Lana Del Rey’s twenties may be keeping her busy, but her younger days were hardly uneventful. Raised in upstate New York, Del Rey – then known as Elizabeth Grant – was sent to a strict Connecticut boarding school aged 14 to conquer her adolescent habits. After what she refers to as “the wilderness years”, she returned to New York City at 18-years-old, and enrolled at Fordham University to study metaphysics, simultaneously entering the unpredictable New York music scene: a time in her life she calls “troubled but creative.” After two years of small-time gigging, Del Rey was offered every aspiring artist’s dream: a record contract. The singer upped sticks to a New Jersey trailer park and, two years on, her first EP Kill Kill was released by 5 Points Records, followed by her first full length album, Lana Del Rey, which was available on iTunes in 2010. But the singer withdrew her album just months later, buying the rights from her label. Then came a brief hiatus before she re-emerged with a new label and ‘debut’ album number two – the melancholic Born To Die. Since then Del Rey, complete with her sensual pout, long lashes and mane of thick, dark hair, has successfully cultivated a collection of well received tracks and a finely tuned retro-glam aesthetic. Whilst having a stylised presence is hardly new in the world of entertainment – take Beyoncé’s Sasha Fierce, Miley Cyrus’s provocative stage rebirth, or even the brilliantly bizarre world of Lady Gaga, Del Rey’s signature look and ‘story’ have been a source of contention. Some critics have judged her trailer trash riches-to-rags-and-back turnaround as a constructed image, but the singer is hardly short of admirers. She’s sold out arenas with her moody numbers and sensual voice – Summertime Sadness, Born to Die and of course, Video Games – and developed a devoted following. What’s more, if there’s ever a sure sign that someone has broken into mainstream popular culture, it’s being personally asked to perform at the Kimye wedding. “Kanye wanted me to come and sing and surprise Kim. I definitely wanted to be there”, she smiles modestly. “So we flew from the AMFAR reception in Cannes to Versailles, and the wedding was pretty much what you expected. It’s Versailles!” These days, though, you could substitute Del Rey’s ‘It’s Versailles!’ for any continental city. Hers is a cigarette-in-hand global whirlwind lifestyle, one where time is divided between the stage, the studio and the road. This may be ‘the high life,’ but the singer has been known to struggle. Of late, Del Rey’s romantic life has received a hefty wedge of column inches – there’s been her rumoured engagement to Kassidy musician Barrie- James O’Neill, an on/off split and now her supposed ties to 31-year-old Vogue photographer Francesco Carrozzini. Speculation seems to follow Del Rey like a sickly sweet aftertaste.
So, it’s to be expected that whilst the American singer does noticeably relax when talk turns to music, she keeps quiet when it comes to her relationship status. Sur La Terre expected to meet a singer on the defensive – after all, the backlash after English newspaper The Guardian printed an interview where she stated “I wish I was dead already” has added to her already-awkward interview reputation. Her public image of unease may make conversation harder, but it bleeds deliciously into her lyrics.
“I haven’t yet found that easy path towards happiness,” Del Rey shrugs, when asked about her melancholy tunes. “It’s been years since I’ve felt at peace.” Calling her trudge to happiness “the theme in my life,” she goes on to describe her uphill battle to contentment.
“Happiness is not a static state, it’s an active state. That’s the ancient Greek definition,” she reflects. “It’s not a state of rest.” Instead, it’s “a process,” and one she’s steadfastly pursuing, “by being a patient person, surrounding myself with those I love and by being generous and seeking serenity.” It seems we could all take a leaf out of Del Rey’s book.
The singer explains how, like many artists, she’s inspired by everything around her – as the saying goes, life imitates art and vice versa. So why the uncompromising title for her new album, Ultraviolence? “I found the title before I had written almost any of the songs that are on it now,” she says. “I love the idea of having a one-word title because I think that has a beautiful simplicity.”
An admirer of not only simplicity but also of opposing elements, Del Rey can find further similarities between herself and her titular art “my essence is sweet but I also have this violence in my life that I’ve experienced over the last four years.” What’s more, the singer who battles “static negativity”, often finds the inspiration for her music when she is inside a moving vehicle. “I spent a lot of time driving around by myself and sitting in my car just thinking,” she says, describing the labour of love that resulted in Ultraviolence. “A lot of the music I’ve written over the last several years is a reference to the feeling I had when I was inebriated – which felt good for a while until it started to not work any more and became very destructive.”
The album’s development was spread over three cities and inspired by an unlikely partnership. “I started putting Ultraviolence together at Electric Lady Studios in New York before I met Dan Auerbach at a club one night by accident.” Auerbach, the guitarist and vocalist for The Black Keys, took a listen to Del Rey’s work-in-progress and opted to tone down the classic rock feel. With Del Rey looking for a “West Coast fusion with an underground jazz culture” mood, the duo headed to Nashville to re- record the album live.
Jumping from East Coast to West then venturing South, the singer’s 1981 Mercedes convertible has bought some consistency to Del Rey’s nomadic lifestyle. She’ll spend hours sitting in her car in L.A. facing the shore. Calling herself a “nocturnal creature,” the real Del Rey comes to life after dark. “From 11:30PM in L.A., it’s amazing to drive down Sunset Boulevard towards the ocean. There’s pretty much no one on the road and you find that you’re in your own little world on this historic street driving for miles and miles by yourself.”
Close your eyes and picture Del Rey, smile on face, racing through the twilight hours. With an album emitting “West Coast vibes”, and a tendency to “just light up one cigarette after another,” it sometimes seems that Del Rey’s life is drenched in a sepia wash. The Lana Del Rey we meet is at once world weary, whimsical, and a breath of fresh air. A young woman inspired by an inner world of beautiful contradictions, she’s certainly getting something right…