On his debut EP Who Carry’s You, Lauren Auder doesn’t waste any time ushering you into his vast musical dome. Cello strings coil and curtsy around his voice on opening single “The Baptist”, the story of a man yearning to confess his sins but even god isn’t listening. On the final song “For Those Who Patiently Endure”, racing synths stand in for the rev of an engine, while a real life car crash the songwriter relives turns love into a game of guilt. It is at this particular junction — where large ideas and sonic expansiveness meet stories of emptiness, isolation and misery — that Auder exists on his own.
“I like the sound of 70s movies, where soundtracks sound like old motorbikes,” the nineteen-year-old tells me, parting his willowing fringe. “A lot of vibrating. All that kind of shit. Pasolini.”
We meet at the entrance of an old museum, the house of obsessive art collector John Soane, and soon get lost in a labyrinth of mid-century portraiture and Roman catacombs. The size and impact of the building reminds him of a church he grew up near in the French commune of Albi — the largest brick cathedral in the world, and the place where Auder became accustomed to true solitude.
“There’s a sense of isolation where I grew up which has a lot of positivity to it, it was inspiring” London-born Auder considers. The southern gothic-style tower was built to proclaim the power of Roman Catholicism after a crusade against a Christian sect called the Cathars. It was so imposing in the town, Auder recalls, it’s as if it followed him everywhere he went. “Being surrounded by a huge cathedral seeped into my subconscious, just the power of it,” he says.
“There’s a sense of isolation where I grew up which has a lot of positivity to it, it was inspiring” — Lauren Auder
Like much of his past, religious symbolism haunts every corner of Who Carry’s You. On “These Broken Limbs Again Into One Body” Auder becomes Christ resurrected, pondering allegorically of the sacrifices he made to keep a relationship alive. “Darling do you know I took pieces of our souls / dug up little holes / buried them so they may grow?” he questions over painterly, fogging feedback. “I think using religious symbolism resonates hard with people because of the grandness of it, the importance people put behind it.”
For Auder, comprehending his heartbreak using everyday imagery wouldn’t do justice to its otherworldly magnitude. “(Swiss psychoanalyst, Carl) Jung says that often we see symbolism in a lot of elements of our lives, to justify a lot of things we can't understand about ourselves or the world that surrounds us… It was really interesting to me to find a more poetic way of figuring out the way we really feel, and what we see that’s often confusing.”
The most important name in Auder’s cultural cannon is, presently at least, Maurice Duruflé. The French avant-garde composer — who became a semi-recluse after a car accident — was a cornerstone for the spacious, slow-moving orchestrations of Who Carry’s You. Produced in collaboration with French songwriter DVIANCE, the pair fed off Duruflé’s calmly isolated signatures in a small house in the Jura mountains, where sounds of the surrounding forest bled onto record. “I love the way (Auder) creates dissonant beauty through noisy and gloomy textures,” comments DVIANCE. “I remember a time we wanted to create a drone from an harmonium chord progression. At first I thought I would give him the MP3 source file, but he said, ‘Just play it from your speakers, you'll see’. I admire the fact that Lauren doesn't want any rules for creating his sound. He is not afraid.”
But it isn’t just French composers and modern philosophers that shape Auder’s work; he grew up tracing the metamorphosing sounds and style of Marc Bolan, David Sylvian and Bowie. “Prince too, he was the coolest fucker in the world. I guess I liked people who felt boundless in all senses — be it fashion, music or whatever.”
From head to toe, Auder dresses like he takes cues from some of the dandies we see engraved into the stained glass windows at John Soane’s. Part 18th century church eminence, part musketeer, in press shots he’s seen in leather driving gloves, kitten heels and billowing Tudor blouses. Today, his look is 90s black metal soundcheck guy meets Norman Bates’ mother: hair covered in a silk head scarf, he’s wrapped in a Faith No More hoodie and a leather jacket that's coming apart like Swiss cheese. It’s no surprise that one of his favourite Albi hangouts was the Musée de la Mode, a vaulting fashion collection housed in a converted convent that spans 300 years of clothing trends.
Though Auder is by no means self-obsessed — his aesthetic is more intuitive and feels-based than forced — he admits he often interviews himself, posing questions he always wanted to answer. The day we meet, British magazine NME announced the historical closure of its 66 year-old print run — and the news gets us talking about the singer’s music journalism heritage. “I think my kind of analytical style of thinking about music is probably inherited from my parents, even subconsciously,” says Auder, whose father once edited NME while his mother edited the rockier Kerrang! “It's kind of funny because I’d talk to someone about that on my team, and they’d be like, ‘You’re the only young artist I know who really cares about press.’”
It’s press, after all, that jump-started Auder’s music career. He counts a small cluster of interviews from 2016, one with Dazed Digital, as the reason New York indie label True Panther (King Krule, Abra, Schlomo) started calling him. Often, he’d have to sneak out of his boarding school in Albi in the middle of the night to ring them back. “Most of the things that happened kind of came off the back of those one or two interviews, or at least started to,” he reflects. Before that, he was contemplating a career as a painter: “I went to New York and True Panther were like, ‘Do you want to make a record for us?’ At that point I was very surprised and flattered that a label like them wanted to give me chance, because I certainly did not know where I was trying to go.” In person, it’s clear Auder puts pressure on himself to articulate thoughts, especially in the presence of a journalist. He wants to do justice to his big ideas, to unscramble them.
In the music video for “These Broken Limbs…”, Auder lets his fingers do the unscrambling, the camera focused solely on his subtle and sweeping hand gestures. Beyond the music, Auder wants his fans to pay attention to all facets of his work. “There’s something almost insect-like about that track. The percussion is very skittering, it sounds like bugs crawling around — in a similar way hands move and jitter. That was part of the idea for the video.”
“Another is that it feels very intimate to have your hands on display,” he continues. “I think there’s lot of symbolism in hands and hand movements. The whole record is called Who Carry’s You — it has a spelling mistake that’s a reference to a Tracey Emin piece, which is of a little girl on the back of a huge dog or tiger. The caption reads: ‘Why be afraid when I will be the one who carry’s you to heaven?’”
At the end of the clip, the camera pans out and Auder finally shows his face. He looks unmistakably sad. “A lot of my stuff isn't from observing the outside world,” he reasons. “The inception of this record was in a bedroom, and most of it was written in a bedroom. And I think this is reflected: because although it’s very spacious, it’s also very much inward-turned. It was really important for me to do an introduction record this way.”
For bedroom music made while toiling with a biblically broken heart, Auder’s breakthrough record is a great flight of fantasy, one that expands in richness over time. “What was really important to me was that every word that I chose on it was meaningful,” he says. “But it’s not necessarily from something I can see.” In a perverse kind of way, I can start to see what he means.
Lauren Auder plays Le Pop-Up du Label in Paris tonight
Hair Jonathan De Francesco at LGA Management using Davines, make-up Siobhan Furlong at LGA Management using Sisley, set design Suzanne Beirne at D+V, photography assistant Jackson Bowley, styling assistants Julie Velut, Grace Nolan, hair assistant Kirsten Bassett, production Giulia Zucchetti at D+V, post-production The Editing Project