LAUREL on DOGVIOLET, Australia and her future: "I'm really excited for the next step."
Catch the UK rising star touring the east coast this May, proudly presented by Live Nation AU/NZ and Pilerats.
Amongst the strength of our home-grown indie-pop scene, we don't have much time to venture internationally anymore. It's something we only ever find ourselves having the dedication to do when an artist is standing in a league of their own, either doing something completely different to the rest or doing their thing so good, that it stands out from amongst their peers - a hard task, considering the saturated, over-sensory feeling the music world can often give off. The combination of these is why we're so drawn to LAUREL - known to friends as Laurel Arnell-Cullen - the London-based indie-pop star-in-the-making we're stoked to bringing over to Australia later this month with Live Nation Australia.
LAUREL is an artist we've slowly fallen in love with, initially discovering her in the midst of the roll-out of her 2016 EP Park, but in the last twelve months or so the musician has completely elevated herself, stepping forward as a breath of fresh air. It primarily came through the release (and accompanying build-up) of her debut album DOGVIOLET, which arrived mid-last year through Counter/Ninja Tune; a twelve-track release that showcased the many sides of a musician amongst the most versatile of her genre, welcoming us into the life of a multi-faceted musician and the very real and complex woman behind it all.
DOGVIOLET is an album as haunting and intimate as it is triumphant and tall-standing, delivering a package of emotive reflections and thoughts that feel very raw and persona. Perhaps it's due to the album's rough, crackling tone - recorded using a reel-to-reel tape recorder that captures very creak and sigh - or the natural closeness and familiarity that sways with LAUREL's every breath, strengthened by the album's theme on bittersweet love. "I wrote these songs at home often locking myself away for period of time in order to capture the true mania that comes from love," she said of the album when we chatted to her before its release last year. "Although a beautiful feeling, it can often feel a lot uglier."
Using this theme as a conjoining factor, the record is able to open itself up and blossom, often finding LAUREL experiment with different sounds and tones, each bound together by their soft drawl and haunting presence. Lovesick, the album's lead single and initial tease, for example, is lush yet sparse all at the same time, with layered, emotionally-charged vocals finding intricate guitar grooves and soft percussive rhythms as she sings. Crave, "a song about needing a level of attention you will never be able to receive from one being", takes an almost-Beach House-esque drive, while Same Mistakes sees LAUREL toy with more energetic and punk-infused melodies as she sings about "thinking of your ex with somebody else."
Live, she's said to be just as intimate and personal, making every person in the room feel as important as another as she brings this close-knit feeling to her live show - almost like how Florence Welch is able to make large arenas feel like small, fireplace-lit loungerooms with her striking live show. "Personable, funny and honest, Laurel has managed to package her distinctive songwriting skills into a hugely satisfying musical style all of her own," says toomanyblogs in a live review of one of LAUREL's earlier shows on the DOGVIOLET tour, while The Independent comment on her "spine-tingling, attention-grabbing chamber pop", deepening the comparisons to Florence and the Machine and Beach House.
We're bringing her over for a pair of shows in Sydney and Melbourne this May with Live Nation AU/NZ; her debut shows in Australia after hinting at appearances in Australia in our initial interview. Speaking on the phone from her London home ahead of the tour, the relatability and openness LAUREL emits on her debut album only feels more genuine and authentic, speaking of the year since DOGVIOLET's arrival, having musical control and her next steps after a busy, busy year. Read it below, dive back into DOGVIOLET while you're at it, and catch the pair of east coast shows at the end of this month - more information and tickets HERE.
Since DOGVIOLET's arrival, things must have obviously changed a lot for you, and must have been pretty chaotic now you're coming out with your album under your belt. How has the experience been?
Yeah, it's been really fun. It's crazy to have my album out finally. I'm pretty happy about that. I'm really happy to have that out and be working on new music now; DOGVIOLET was an album that was in the making for quite a few years, so it feels just like a bit of a relief really. That said, to see that people paid so much attention to it when really that album was largely just for me, in a sense, is so amazing. It was exactly what I wanted to make and I wasn't compromising anything to make it - it's really cool that people were so into it.
You mentioned that it was exactly what you wanted to make, which is a really hard thing to do for your first album. I know a lot of people struggle with that experience because it's such an unknown frontier. How did you find the experience?
Yeah, it's difficult. Honestly, it was challenging actually to do this album because it's such a hard thing to share something like that to the world. Everybody that was around me was trying to give me so much advice and, if anything, any of their advice should have been that I do my own thing a little bit more. I did it all on my own; mixed it and produced it and wrote it. It was just a lot of hours on my own, and it was a very taxing time. When it's just you and you've put so much into it, you have a lot of questions: Is this right? Is this really what's representing me? But at some point, it just felt like it was right, and that's exactly what I wanted to say and be done. That was a really good moment because I think a lot of people struggle with getting that moment - feeling accomplished with it and wanting to get it out there - but I was just so ready to have it finished.
Being the sole writer, producer, mixer and so on would give you a lot of freedom then to say, "Hey, I'm happy with it." Or, "Hey I'm not happy with it." It's in your control, really, which is a stark contrast to many artists I interview.
Yeah, I think so. That was it really. It was really my call and I was very lucky to have people around me that just let me go in there and let me decide, which I feel like if they hadn't done, we wouldn't be quite finished yet.
It's obviously a very personal album and there's a lot of themes on love and the bittersweetness of everything. How does it feel to dig into those personal, inner-feelings and stories in such a public space? Is it something that's quite difficult for you?
Yeah, weirdly I find it really therapeutic. I'm a bit like that. I have a lot of emotions, but I really like expressing them; even if my friends and family around me aren't so happy about that. When I was writing the album I also did a book - The Mutterings of a Laurel - and the book is really... probably even more exposing than the lyrics because it's very detailed. At no point have I ever felt uncomfortable with sharing that information at all. It's strange. I don't know why but I really love expressing it.
Also, I feel like they're the type of feelings that everybody feels. So yeah, it would be a bit different if I was naming and shaming people in my songs. It feels nice to let it out.
And that ties into what I was about to say about the relatability of it because I feel like, at least I've seen anyway, that a lot of people have really come forward and related to the vulnerability and the stories on DOGVIOLET. What position does that put you in? How does that make you feel knowing that these are your stories that everyone's relating to?
Yeah, it's absolutely incredible. Somebody will message me or come and speak to me at a gig and they say something like "That's exactly what I was feeling, exactly what I went through. That song was written about me." It's quite nice because in times, especially at some of the songs which aren't so happy - it is nice to know that you weren't the only person feeling like that and that's probably why people relate to these songs so much, because in a time when you feel like nobody can understand and it's the worst feeling in the world, there's somebody singing a song and it's exactly how you felt, and it's comforting to know that you're not the only person going through a load of shit.
Is that relatability something that you seek out from music?
Yeah sometimes. I do really like lyrics, especially if I'm having a bit of an emotional time or going through something I will definitely listen to songs that I find that I can relate to. I think there's a bit of a self-destructive part of us in humans, and when we're a bit sad we like to dwell in it and enjoy the sadness - enjoy the emotion - and I think that I definitely do that with songs. It's probably why I write about them too.
One thing I wanted to talk about because I found it really interesting, was the recording process of the album and how you did it in this tape-totape fashion. Can you tell me a little bit about that and how it worked?
I recorded everything at home, half in my bedroom before I moved to a slightly bigger house, but across the whole thing, it was still pretty small setup. I really like old music and also I love live music, and when it came to recording the songs, I wanted to record them directly into a laptop so it gave that old, live energy. I was trying to figure out what I could do to liven it up and give it that energy that I think older music has.
At one point, I needed to record the drums, so we found this studio that had a load of old tape machines. I bounced off all of my recordings from my computer into the tape machine, which gives it this classic old-fashioned crackle and this absolutely gorgeous sound, and at the same time we recorded drums, we also put a bit of bass on the track to deepen that sound. I then took all of that, put it back into my computer and finished mixing it, but the process of taking it out of the computer and put it back in really livened it up.
How do you think that process livens it up? Or what is it that drew you into doing it like this and adding this touch onto the record?
Do you know what? It's just one of those things. It just sounds fucking great, and that's really it. Just the way it's recorded with old machinery, there's just such texture to it. It really adds a real magic dust. It's so much texture. If you listen to a piece of music before and after you've put it onto a tape machine, you'll know what I'm talking about. It's kind of indescribable.
It just sounds fucking great when you put it through a tape machine, and we twisted it and they would add it on the analog mixers as well - these old pieces of equipment, you just can't beat it. The laptops are great and incredibly handy to have everything in one place, but the quality of sound is very polished and clean, which I didn't really want.
Moving on a bit from DOGVIOLET, where do you think that the next step for you is from here?
Yeah, I'm trying to figure this one out at the moment. It's not an easy one.
I'm really, really excited about the next step. I have a good feeling, and I think because I've done the first step all on my own - on my own ground - I feel really like I've gone past that, and I feel a bit more chilled this time. I'm actually looking for somebody to collaborate with and I'd love to meet a producer who's had a lot more experience than me because I don't want to make the same album again: I want to progress and I want to make a better album. I'm looking forward to finally collaborate with someone and learning from them a bit more.
I've written a bunch of songs, I just need a bit of help getting them all together but hopefully, the first one will come out a quick, and then the second one will come out a bit quicker than the first one, and then so on.
You're doing the full UK run of tour dates at the moment, and then you are finally coming all the way down here on the longest plane ride ever.
I know. Pretty far.
What should people expect from you in the live setting?
Well, we have a very old band setup. There's no electro tracks or anything, which is what you get a lot these days. It's really simple, but it's fucking great. My band and I have such a great time on stage, we love it. We're not restricted by all these electronic drums and tracks, so we just have a great time and vibe that out. I can't fucking wait to come to Australia. It's a whole new territory that I've never played in, so I think we're going to be pretty buzzed to play.
LAUREL's debut album DOGVIOLET is out now via Counter Records / Inertia Music. She'll be performing headline shows in Melbourne and Sydney this month, and appearing at The Big Pineapple Festival.
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