Lana Del Rey. Photo by Nicole Nodland.
ASCAP chanteuse Lana Del Rey is inescapable. Half a year before she released her breakthrough album Born to Die on January 31st, newspapers and websites were raving about her riveting single "Video Games." Now she graces the covers of magazines, teens profess their love for her online by the thousands and bloggers parse the authenticity of her image and the role that femininity plays in her music. Del Rey's woozy, noirish pop is clearly connecting - Born to Die sold 800,000 copies worldwide in its debut week, and hit #1 on the iTunes album chart. But despite all the digital ink spilled about Del Rey, precious little attention has focused on her approach to songwriting. We spoke with her about just that.
Have you always co-written songs? Was the writing process fairly effortless on Born to Die, or were there some songs that went through birth pains?
I've written every word except for two lines on this record. What I usually need my producers to do is to act like composers and soundscapers to enhance the beauty of my lyrics and glamorize the atmosphere around my voice. The writing process for me is always effortless but often slow. My muse comes rarely but when she does, she whispers words clearly and loudly into my ear.
How did you meet Emile Haynie? What about him convinced you to choose him as a producer on nearly every track of Born to Die?
Before I signed to Interscope, John Ehmann, who was an A&R man there, wanted me to meet Emile. When we met we knew quickly that we were musical soulmates, just like when [Born to Die co-writer] Justin Parker and I met. An example of how I work with Emile: I bring him a song that I've already written and I say to him "When you hear this song, I want you to feel like you can see 16-year-old girls sneaking out in the middle of the night in Miami." Then he would start to lace the track with samples of car alarms blaring and cicadas chirping like they do on a hot summer night. Then he would replace whatever drums were there with heavier, more dangerous beats - he knew I needed those to emphasize how dark things used to be for me. He knew how to translate that in a fresh and sexy way.
I hear Born to Die as way more consistent in tone and style than the first album. Was that intentional?
Born to Die is definitely not more consistent in tone or style. In fact my first record was a concept album about living back and forth between New Jersey and Coney Island, and was an exact documentation of my life up until that point. My only intention ever is to write exactly what happened.
Is there a song from Born to Die that you feel best captures who you are as a woman? What about as an artist?
I don't know about as a woman, but as a person the song "Born to Die" best represents me. I felt I lived most of my life divided into two states of either fear or love, and the change of mood between the verse and the chorus represents those two worlds merging together. In the verses, I'm begging myself not to give up and working through my confusion of being alive. But in the choruses, I let go and start talking to him and playing with him, saying "Come and take a walk on the wild side / Let me kiss you hard in the pouring rain."
There are a lot of themes that pop up again and again in your music, but the one I’m most curious about is "The Star-Spangled Banner." You’ve got a song called “Oh Say Can You See” on your first album; you make reference to the National Anthem on “Mermaid Motel,” and of course you’ve got a song called “National Anthem” on the new album. What interests you so much about "The Star-Spangled Banner?"
We used to live in Kate Smith's old house called Camp Sunshine on Lake Placid lake. For a decade, she was the most famous singer in the world and she sang our nation’s theme song, "God Bless America." She broadcasted her popular radio show out of the top of that house. Referencing "The Star-Spangled Banner" is my homage to her.
Do you think of your music as dark?
Who is the ideal audience for your music? Has that changed over the years?
I wouldn't really know. I never had an audience before except for the people I talked to on MySpace from 2005 onward and the people who came to hear me sing on the downtown scene. From what I remember, we were definitely a darker group of characters who all lived life very untraditionally.
Your songs and image seem so informed by the glamor of classic movie stars. Have you considered acting yourself?
My music is not informed by the glamor of classic movie stars at all - it’s informed only by what I've been through as well as my visions for the future. I put clips of the occasional star in my video montages if I can relate to how alone they look. And "No" to the latter.
What sort of music do you think Elvis would be making if he were alive today?
Beautiful music - he'll always be the king to me.
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