With the release of her addictive, awesome new album – Ultraviolence – Lana Del Rey has no intention of glossing over her troubled psyche – rather, she hypes it up.
With Lana, it is often hard to separate the real woman from her controversial David Lynch-ian ‘femme fatale’ public self – the stunningly beautiful singer with the pouty lips and storytelling gloomy outlook on life. Yet she has parlayed her angst and gloriously melancholy music into a massive career. She first attracted worldwide attention with the 2011 release of Video Games on YouTube, then her 2012 album Born to Die shot to the top of the charts in the UK and other major markets, selling 5 million CDs. Her video clips have been viewed over 100 million times and fans treat her concert appearances with fanatical reverence. Not that she particularly enjoys performing live.
‘Getting on stage is the part I like least about my job,’ Del Rey says. ‘I love to write and produce music, but everything that comes after that is difficult for me…’
Regardless the 27-year-old has certainly proved herself a genius ‘in-the-studio’ can do hitmaker. Not surprisingly Ultraviolence is already attracting enormous buzz and generally positive reviews. The first single from the album, West Coast, and its accompanying vidclip have already given strong indications that the new album is a strong and compelling follow-up that will likely debut at No. 1 in most international markets.
Coming off her hyper-successful Young an Beautiful ballad from last year’s The Great Gatsby soundtrack, she was chosen by Angelina Jolie to sing Once Upon a Dream in the trailer for Maleficent. In May she serenaded Kanye West and Kim Kardashian at their wedding rehearsal dinner at the Palace of Versailles. The performance was rumoured to have netted her about $3 million though Del Rey protested that she would ‘never charge her friends’.
Despite raging controversy about how contrived her sad persona may be, Del Rey’s eerily nostalgic music has enthralled millions of fans around the world. Fame and fortune have done little if anything to assuage her downbeat view of things. Ultraviolence will doubtless silence many naysayers but the bigger question is whether Lana herself will take any solace from her success:
Lana, you recently performed at the pre-wedding reception for Kim and Kanye. What was it like being part of the Kim and Kanye wedding celebrations?
LDR: It was beautiful. I’m a huge fan of Kanye’s – he’s so talented. I’m genuinely happy for them that they’ve found something so amazing in their union. When Kanye wanted me to come and sing and surprise Kim I definitely wanted to be there. So we flew from the AMFAR reception at Cannes to Versailles and it was pretty much what you expected. It’s Versailles! (Laughs)
There is so much nostalgia and sadness and world-weariness in your music. Why is happiness so difficult even though in person you seem pretty happy?
LDR: I haven’t yet found that easy path towards happiness. It’s been years since I’ve felt at peace…That’s been my theme in life: trudging the road to happiness. Definitely a happy destiny, but it’s trudged. For me, there are moments of pure happiness, but you can’t achieve that over a sustained period of time… You try to make those as many as possible. Happiness is not a static state, it’s an active state. That’s the ancient Greek definition. It’s not a state of rest, it’s a process.
How are you trying to find that kind of happiness?
LDR: By being a patient person, surrounding myself with those I love and by being generous and seeking serenity… In general, I have found that devoting your life to the people around you and caring for them is the true road to general happiness.
You’ve spoken about believing in alternative ways of being. What do you mean by that?
LDR: My life has gone through various incarnations, mostly transitions. But I don’t consider myself to be someone very provocative or radical – I embrace a lot of traditional things. But I believe in in alternative lifestyles and in alternative relationships. I think we’ve lost the kind of cultural and personal liberation that we were exploring in the ’60s when people were talking about experiencing a new concept of freedom. That was a much more exciting notion than the freedom we talk about now.
Are you still very interested in philosophy?
LDR: Yes. I also studied theology because I went to a school where the Jesuits were teaching the philosophy classes. I was fascinated by the basic question ‘Why do we exist?’ I enjoyed thinking and talking to other people about basic questions like why are we are and what kind of meaning can we find in life.
You’re also interested in God and faith?
LDR: I went to a Catholic school called St Agnes and I loved going to church. I was very interested and curious about the idea of a divine plan and that there was something bigger than us out there. I don’t have a traditional Catholic view of religion or God – but I enjoy the feeling of being looked after in the spiritual sense.
Let’s talk about your new album, Ultraviolence. What’s the title all about?
LDR: I found the title before I had written almost any of the songs that are on it now. I love the idea of having a one-word title because I think that has a beautiful simplicity. I was thinking of flowers at the time and since I love flowers that are shades of blue and violet I had this idea of ultraviolet and that kind of vibration. That was the basis for the title and of course it became more suggestive [smiles]. Ultra is a sweet sound and completely opposite to the sense of violence. It also summarises some of the contradictions I find in myself. That my essence is sweet but I also have this violence in my life that I’ve experienced over the last four years.
What inspired the songwriting?
LDR: I wanted to make a record that was sort of this mix of beautiful jazz undertones and a West Coast fusion, kind of inspired by the Eagles and the Beach Boys and this sort of Laurel Canyon revival thing that was happening in the ‘70s. I would spend a lot of time driving around by myself and sitting in my car and just thinking. I didn’t really start laying stuff down and writing until last winter in New York. But I often would be thinking about what I wanted to do even before that, just sitting in my car. I’ve got this old 1981 Mercedes convertible and often I would be thinking about my music when I was in the car in New York in the cold. Now that I’m living in LA I find myself sitting in my car at the beach a lot (so as to avoid being approached). But I’m still screwed because there’s no top on the car (laughs). After 11:30 pm in LA, it’s amazing to drive down Sunset 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 and driving for miles and miles by yourself. I’ve got my own world going on.
Production wise, there’s fantastic, edgy, vintage tones that we love on this album. How did the record come together?
LDR: First of all I’m in love with the record and I’m so happy to be able to feel that way about it. I started putting it together at Electric Lady studios in New York and I met Dan Auerbach at a club one night by accident. He listened to the record and really liked it but thought it had too much of a classic rock feel. But when I told him that I had this idea for a West Coast fusion with an underground jazz culture for the mood he said he felt that he could deliver that. So we went to Nashville and recorded everything there live and it had a really good feel to it.
How would you best describe your West Coast, slow-groove signature sound?
LDR: When I met Dan, something that he really tapped into was that all of my choruses slipped into half-time beats and half-time swings and he called it ‘narco swing’ every time the West Coast chorus would kick in – that’s a good description of it. It has a late-’70s feel but there’s also a nod to the West coast ’90s synth sound that comes in.
How do you find living in LA now as opposed to NYC?
LDR: LA has been an escape and I’ve been inspired by how casual everything is over here. I love to swim, I love going to the beach every day. And I spend hours and hours during the week driving up and down the coast listening to music. I love listening to the soundtracks of films like American Beauty, The Godfather, Scarface… But I also love grunge – Mark Lanegan, [and] especially Nirvana. And jazz: Chuck Baker, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday. Then Bob Dylan and all the musicians of that period.
I’m a pretty nocturnal creature. I write at night, outdoors, and often with a lot of noise in the background.
What’s your earliest musical memory?
LDR: I remember when I was 15 or 16 years and my parents sent me to Kent School, a private boarding school in Connecticut so I could fight my addiction to alcohol. I had a very young teacher, Gene Campbell, who introduced me to hip hop… That kind of set things in motion for me and my music evolved over the course of the next few years especially after I moved to New York which was a very troubled time but also a very creative one as well. A lot of the music I’ve written over the past 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 anymore and became very destructive.
You’ve gone through many ups and downs in your life and work and of late you’ve enjoyed great success. What’s been the weirdest part of your experience of late?
Del Rey: It happened in London – I thought I saw something strange or a ghost while staying at a friend’s house. I swear to God these three apparitions appeared above this deck on Kingsland Road and I actually called 911 and I realised that there was no 911 [the US emergency phone number] in London [laughs]! I didn’t know at the time that 911 doesn’t work in England. [It’s 999 – Editor.] I learned later that it was light coming from Chinese lanterns that people light up in the summer. It was really humiliating! [Sister… what are you smokin’?? – Editor.]