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Lana Del Rey: wild at heart

‘Is this the mysterious Lana Del Rey?’ — set to release her era-defining fifth LP, pop's dream-queen shoots the LA breeze with grunge hellraiser Courtney Love

You can buy a copy of our latest issue here. Taken from the spring/summer issue of Dazed:

“Is this the mysterious Lana Del Rey?”

Courtney Love’s gravelly voice is unmistakable on the line next to Lana Del Rey’s syrupy sing-song: “Is this the one and only Courtney Love?”

It’s been a while since any of us has heard from Del Rey. She’s calling Love from her home in California a few weeks after releasing “Love”, the booming, lounge-y first single off her upcoming fifth studio album, Lust for Life. Although Del Rey’s last record, Honeymoon, was released only a year and a half ago, that particular span has felt like forever. An anti-anthem of sorts, “Love” takes into account turbulent times, offering commiseration as opposed to call-to-action. Lines like “the world is yours and you can’t refuse it” slip under a ringing chorus that proclaims, “You get ready, you get all dressed up to go nowhere in particular.” The video rockets a group of teenagers, current-day devices in hand, to a vintage-rendered outer space.

It’s a message that could easily be mistaken for nihilism. A month earlier, though, Del Rey pre-empted criticism by Instagramming the Nina Simone quote, “An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.”

Which is perhaps what Del Rey does best. Lust for Life could be called the next chapter in a long-running investigation into era-non-specific youth qualifiers that started with the self-directed video for her breakout single, “Video Games”. That song perfectly crystallised a mood and a moment, splicing an at-home aesthetic heretofore only found in webcam vlogs with imagery of a 1950s red carpet, an iPod billboard, and Paz de la Huerta falling in front of paparazzi. While Del Rey often insists that she’s lost in reverie, obsessed by the past, her music is a poignant reflection of a generation that continues to resist expectations. It’s a study, too, of femininity in general. For isn’t womanhood itself, she appears to ask, steeped in anachronism?

Both Lana Del Rey and Courtney Love write about irresistible institutions – Hollywood, mainstream acceptance and powerful men. The heartbreaking twist of each narrative is that the singers will always be outside the circles they describe desiring. While Love deftly played the unfiltered outsider as frontwoman with Hole through the 90s, in the age of infinite footnotes, Del Rey has taken up the role of oblivious misfit, more prone to a pout than a scream.

Two decades apart in age, similarities between the two women (who played eight shows together in 2015 for Del Rey’s Endless Summer tour) are irrefutable. What if Love had come of age when Del Rey did, when every professional move she made was documented on Wikipedia within moments? Or if Del Rey grew up in a time when she would have to petition for music reviews, even as the wife of a huge rock star? Would one more closely resemble the other? Either way, each has become a Cassavetes-esque tragic figure in her performed world, toeing the line between outlying cult hero and revered pop star.

“People ask me about musical similarities between our stuff,” Del Rey says to Love, who is calling from a movie set in Vancouver. “I just know it’s the kind of music I listen to all the time: when I’m driving, or when I’m alone, or when I’m with friends.”

Lana Del Rey: So, we could just talk about whatever... Like those burning palm trees that you had in the ‘Malibu’ video. I didn’t think they were real!

Courtney Love: Back when rock’n’roll had budget, you mean? Oh my God, Lana, setting palm trees on fire was so fun. You thought they were CGI?

LDR: Yeah.

CL: God, you’re so young. I burned down palm trees. In my day, darling, you used to have to walk to school in the snow. So, since I toured with you, I got kind of obsessed and went down this Lana rabbit hole and became – not like I’m wearing a flower crown, Lana, don’t get ideas – but I absolutely love it. I love it as much as I love PJ Harvey.

LDR: That’s amazing because, maybe it’s slightly well documented, but I love everything you do, everything you have done – I couldn’t believe that you came on the tour with me.

CL: I read that you spend a lot of time mastering and mixing. Is that true on this new record?

LDR: Oh my God, yeah, it’s killing me. It’s because I spend so much time with the engineers working on the reverb. Because I actually don’t love a glossy production. If I want a bit of that retro feel, like that spring reverb or that Elvis slap, sometimes if you send it to an outside mixer they might try and dry things up a bit and push them really hard on top of the mix so it sounds really pop. And Born to Die did have a slickness to it, but, in general, I have an aversion to things that sound glossy all over – you have to pick and choose. And some people say, ‘It’s not radio-ready if it isn’t super-shiny from top to bottom.’ But you know this. Whoever mixed your stuff is a genius. Who did it?

“I have an aversion to things that sound glossy all over. Some people say, ‘It’s not radio-ready if it isn’t super-shiny from top to bottom’’’ - Lana Del Rey

CL: Chris Lord-Alge and Tom Lord-Alge. Kurt was really big on mastering. He sat in every mastering session like a fiend. I never was big on mastering because it’s such a pain in the butt.

LDR: It is a pain in the ass.

CL: I think my very, very favourite song of yours – you’re not gonna like this because it’s early – is ‘Blue Jeans’. I mean, ‘You’re so fresh to death and sick as ca-cancer’? Who does that?

LDR: I have to say, that track has this guy (Del Rey collaborator) Emile Haynie all over it. I remember ‘Blue Jeans’ was more of a Chris Isaak ballad and then I went in with him and it came out sounding the way it does now. I was like, ‘That’s the power of additional production.’ The song was on the radio in the UK, on Radio 1, and I remember thinking, ‘Fuck, that started off as a classical composition riff that I got from my composer friend, Dan Heath.’ It was, like, six chords that I started singing on.

CL: You have that lyric (on the song), ‘You were sorta punk rock, I grew up on hip hop.’ Did you really grow up on hip hop?

LDR: I didn’t find any good music until I was right out of high school, and I think that was just because, coming from the north country, we got country, we got NPR, and we got MTV. 

CL: What I hear in your music is that you’ve created a world, you’ve created a persona, and you’ve created this kind of enigma that I never created but if I could go back I would create.

LDR: Are you even being serious right now? I don’t even know if your legacy could get any bigger. You’re one of the only people I know whose legacy precedes them. Just the name ‘Courtney Love’ is… You’re big, honey. You’re Hollywood. (laughs) Touring with Courtney Love (was), like, an Elizabeth Taylor diamond (for me).

CL: You know, I met Elizabeth Taylor. I was with Carrie Fisher at (Taylor’s) Easter party and she was taking six hours to come downstairs.

LDR: I love it.

CL: I looked at Carrie and I said, ‘This is not worth it,’ and Carrie said, ‘Oh, yes it is.’ So we snuck upstairs and, Lana, when you go past the Warhol of Elizabeth Taylor as you’re sneaking up the stairs and it says ‘001’, you start getting goosebumps. And then you see her room and it’s all lavender, like her eyes. And she’s in the bathroom getting her hair done by this guy named José Eber who wears a cowboy hat and has long hair, and I’m like, ‘What am I doing here? I’m not Hollywood royalty.’ And the first words out of her mouth are, like, ‘Fuck you, Carrie, how ya doin’?’ She was so salty but such a goddess at the same time.

LDR: She was so salty. The fact that she married Richard Burton twice – and all the stories you hear about those famous, crazy, public brawls – she was just up for it. Up for the trouble.

“What I hear in your music is that you’ve created a world, you’ve created a persona, and you’ve created this kind of enigma that I never did’’ — Courtney Love to Lana Del Rey

CL: You know what, darling? I started real early. I started stalking Andy Warhol before I could even think about it. And you kind of did the same, from my understanding. That ‘I want to make it’ thing. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

LDR: No, there’s not. There’s nothing wrong with it when you do the rest of it for the right reasons. If music is really in your blood and you don’t want to do anything else and you don’t really care about the money until later. It’s also about the vibe, not to be cliched. And the people. I think we had that in common. It was about wanting to go to shows, wanting to have your own show – living, breathing, eating, all of it.

CL: Can I ask you about your time in New Jersey? Was that a soul-searching time?

LDR: Oh, I don’t even know if I should have said to anyone that I was living in that trailer in New Jersey but, stupidly, I did this interview from the trailer, in 2008.

CL: I saw it!

LDR: It’s cringey, it’s cringey. (laughs)

CL: You look so cute, though.

LDR: I thought I was rockabilly. I was platinum. I thought I had made it in my own way.

CL: I understand completely.

LDR: The one thing I wish I’d done was go to LA instead of New York. I had been playing around for maybe four years, just open mics, and I got a contract with this indie label called 5 Points Records in 2007. They gave me $10,000 and I found this trailer in New Jersey, across the Hudson - Bergen Light Rail. So, I moved there, I finished school and I made that record (Lana Del Ray a.k.a. Lizzy Grant), which was shelved for two and a half years, and then came out for, like, three months. But I was proud of myself. I felt like I had arrived, in my own way. I had my own thought and it was kind of kitschy and I knew it was going to sort of influence what I was doing next. It was definitely a phase. (laughs)

CL: But you have records about being a ‘Brooklyn Baby’. You can write about New York adeptly and I cannot. I tried to write a song about a tragic girl in New York, going down Bleecker Street – this girl couldn’t afford Bleecker Street, so the song made no sense, right? (laughs) I did my time there, but it chased me away. I couldn’t do it because I wouldn’t go solo. I had to have a band.

LDR: I wanted a band so badly. I feel like I wouldn’t have had some of the stage fright I had when I started playing bigger shows if (I had) a real group and we were in it together. I really wanted that camaraderie. I actually didn’t even find that until a couple of years ago, I would say. I’ve been with my band for six years and they’re great, but I wished I had people – I fantasised about Laurel Canyon.

CL: I wanted the camaraderie. The alternative bands in my neighbourhood were the (Red Hot Chili) Peppers and Jane’s (Addiction). I knew Perry (Farrell, Jane’s Addiction frontman) and I went to high school for, like, ten seconds with two Peppers and a guy named Romeo Blue who became Lenny Kravitz. I remember being an extra in a Ramones video and he stopped by, when he was dating Lisa Bonet from The Cosby Show and it was a big deal.

LDR: See? You didn’t really see that in New York. When I got there, The Strokes had had a moment, but that was kind of it. LA has always been the epicentre of music, I feel.

CL: LA is easier. People have garages. And then as you go up the coast, in Washington and Oregon people have bigger houses and bigger garages, and people have parents. I didn’t have parents, and you – well, you had parents, but you were on your own.

LDR: Yeah. You know that song of yours (‘Awful’) that says, ‘(Just shut up,) you’re only 16’? I think there are different types of people. There are people who heard, ‘What do you know? You’re just a kid,’ and then there are people who got a lot of support (from the line), like, ‘Go for it, go for your dreams.’ (laughs) And I think when you don’t have that, you get kind of stuck at a certain age. Randomly, in the last few years, I feel like I’ve grown up. Maybe I’ve just had time to think about everything, process everything. I’ve gotten to move on and think about how it feels now, singing songs I wrote ten years ago. It does feel different. I was almost reliving those feelings on stage until recently. It’s weird listening back to my stuff. Today, I was watching some of your old videos and this footage of you playing a big festival. The crowd was just girls – just young girls for rows and rows. I was reminded of how vast that influence was on teenagers. And – going back to enigma and fame and legacy – you know, those girls who have grown up and girls who are 16 now, they relate to you in the exact same way as they did right when you started. And that’s the power of your craft. You’re one of my favourite writers.

“In the last few years, I feel like I’ve grown up. Maybe I’ve just had time to process everything. Singing songs I wrote ten years ago... It does feel different. It’s weird listening back to my stuff” — Lana Del Rey

CL: You’re one of mine, so, checkmate. (laughs)

LDR: What you did was the epitome of cool. And there’s a lot of different music going on, but adolescents still know when something comes authentically from somebody’s heart. It might not be the song that sells the most, but when people hear it, they know it. Are you a John Lennon fan?

CL: When I hear ‘Working Class Hero’, it’s a song I wish to God I could write. I wouldn’t ever cover it. I mean, Marianne Faithfull covered it beautifully, but I would never cover it because I think Marianne did a great job and that’s all that needs to be said.

LDR: I felt that way when I covered ‘Chelsea Hotel (#2)’, the Leonard Cohen song, but when I was doing more acoustic shows, I couldn’t not do it.

CL: I don’t have your range. I’ve tried to sing along to ‘Brooklyn Baby’ and ‘Dark Paradise’ and this new one, ‘Love’. You go high, baby.

LDR: I’ve got some good low ones for you. You know what would be good, is that song, ‘Ride’. I don’t sing it in its right octave during the shows because it’s too low for me. But I’ve been thinking about doing something with you for a little while now. Then after we did the Endless Summer tour, we were thinking we should at least write, or we should just do whatever and maybe you could come down to the studio and just see what came out.

CL: When we were on tour, our pre-show chats were very productive for me.

LDR: Me too. That was a real moment of me counting my blessings. I just wanted to stay in every single moment and remember all of it, because it was so amazing.

CL: Likewise. It was really fun coming into your room. My favourite part of the tour was in Portland, getting you vinyl that I felt you needed. (laughs)

LDR: When you left the room, I was just running my hand over all the vinyl like little gems, like, ‘I can’t believe I have these (records) that Courtney gave to me, it’s so fucking amazing.’ And we were in Portland, too. It felt surreal.

CL: Yeah, I don’t like going there much but I went there with you. We have this in common, too: we both ran away to Britain. If I could live anywhere in the world, I’d live in London.

LDR: If I could live anywhere in the world other than LA, I’d live in London. In the back of my mind, I always feel like I could maybe end up there.

CL: I know I’m going to end up there. I know what neighbourhood I’m going to end up in, and I know that I want to be on the Thames. I subscribe to this magazine called Country Life which is just real-estate porn and fox hunting. It’s amazing. OK, so, if you weren’t doing you, what would you do?

‘‘I subscribe to this magazine called Country Life which is just real-estate porn and fox hunting. It’s amazing” — Courtney Love

LDR: Do you have a really clear answer for this, for yourself?

CL: Yeah, I would work with teenage girls. Girls that are in halfway houses.

LDR: That’s got you all over it. I’m selfish. I would do something that would put me by the beach. I would be, like, a bad lifeguard. (laughs) I’d come help you on the weekends, though.

CL: Do you like being in Malibu better than being in town?

LDR: I like the idea of it. People don’t always go out to visit you in Malibu. So there’s a lot of alone-time, which is kind of like, hmm. I’m not in (indie-rock enclave) Silver Lake but I love all the stuff that’s going on around there. I guess I’d have to say (I prefer) town, but I’ve got my half-time Malibu fantasy.

CL: The only bad thing that can happen in Malibu really is getting on Etsy and overspending.

LDR: Oh my God, woman... (laughs) Tell me about it. Late-night sleepless Etsy binges.

CL: Regretsy binges. OK, so, lyrically, you have some tropes and one of them is the colour red. Red dresses, scarlet, red nail polish... I kind of want to steal that.

LDR: You need to take over that, because I think I’ve got to relinquish the red.

CL: Well, I overuse the word ‘whore’.

LDR: You take ‘red’. I’ll trade for ‘whore’. I’m so lucky.

CL: I love this new song (‘Love’).

LDR: Thank you. I love the new song, too. I’m glad it’s the first thing out. It doesn’t sound that retro, but I was listening to a lot of Shangri-Las and wanted to go back to a bigger, more mid-tempo, single-y sound. The last 16 months, things were kind of crazy in the US, and in London when I was there. I was just feeling like I wanted a song that made me feel a little more positive when I sang it. And there’s an album that’s gonna come out in the spring called Lust for Life. I did something I haven’t ever done, which is not that big of a deal, but I have a couple of collabs on this record. Speaking of John Lennon, I have a song with Sean Lennon. Do you know him?

CL: I do, I like him.

LDR: It’s called ‘Tomorrow Never Came’. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt this way, but when I wrote it I felt like it wasn’t really for me. I kept on thinking about who this song was for or who could do it with me, and then I realised that he would be a good person. I didn’t know if I should ask him because I actually have a line in it where I say, ‘I wish we could go back to your country house and put on the radio and listen to our favourite song by Lennon and Yoko.’ I didn’t want him to think I was asking him because I was namechecking them. Actually, I had listened to his records over the years and I did think it was his vibe, so I played it for him and he liked it. He rewrote his verse and had extensive notes, down to the mix. And that was the last thing I did, decision-wise. I haven’t mixed the record, but the fact that ‘Love’ just came out and Sean kind of finished up the record, it felt very meant-to-be. Because that whole concept of peace and love really is in his veins and in his family. Then, I also have Abel (Tesfaye), The Weeknd. He is actually on the title track of the record, ‘Lust for Life’. Maybe that’s kind of weird to have a feature on the title track, but I really love that song and we had said for a while that we were gonna do something; I did stuff on his last two records.

‘‘If music is really in your blood and you don’t want to do anything else... you don’t really care about the money until later. It’s about the vibe” — Lana Del Rey

CL: Do you have a singular producer or several producers?

LDR: Rick Nowels. He actually did stuff with Stevie Nicks a while ago. He works really well with women. I did the last few records with him. Even with Ultraviolence which I did with Dan (Auerbach), I did the record first with Rick, and then I went to Nashville and reworked the sound with Dan. So, yeah, Rick Nowels is amazing, and these two engineers – with all the records that I’ve worked on with Rick, they did a lot of the production as well. You would love these two guys. They’re just super-innovative. I wanted a bit of a sci-fi flair for some of the stuff and they had some really cool production ideas. But yeah, that’s pretty much it. I mean, Max Martin –

CL: Wait, you wrote with Max Martin? You went to the compound?

LDR: Have you been there?

CL: No. I’ve always wanted to work with Max Martin.

LDR: So basically, ‘Lust for Life’ was the first song I wrote for the record, but it was kind of a Rubik’s Cube. I felt like it was a big song but... it wasn’t right. I don’t usually go back and re-edit things that much, because the songs end up sort of being what they are, but this one song I kept going back to. I really liked the title. I liked the verse. John Janick was like, ‘Why don’t we just go over and see what Max Martin thinks?’ So, I flew to Sweden and showed him the song. He said that he felt really strongly that the best part was the verse and that he wanted to hear it more than once, so I should think about making it the chorus. So I went back to Rick Nowels’ place the next day and I was like, ‘Let’s try and make the verse the chorus,’ and we did, and it sounded perfect. That’s when I felt like I really wanted to hear Abel sing the chorus, so he came down and rewrote a little bit of it. But then I was feeling like it was missing a little bit of the Shangri-Las element, so I went back for a fourth time and layered it up with harmonies. Now I’m finally happy with it. (laughs) But we should do something. Like, soon.

CL: I would like that. That would be awesome.

Lust for Life is out this spring.

Editor's note: this interview has been condensed from the print edition. 

Hair Anna Cofone at The Wall Group using Oribe Hair Care, make- up Pamela Cochrane at BRIDGE using Giorgio Armani Beauty, nails Marisa Carmichael at Streeters, photographic assistants Tyler Ash, Robbie Corral, styling assistants Katie McGoldrick, Taylor Erickson, Megan King, production Yusuf Yagci at Rosco, retouching Studio RM, production assistants Asli Akal, Damian Sanchez, executive talent consultant Greg Krelenstein at Starworks Group