Lauv: "Even though I'm making my music out of my life experiences, I felt like I built up this whole outward persona that constantly needed more from me."
Alice Gee | 19/07/2022
“These are my favourite kinds of interviews in all honesty,” exclaims Lauv as he sits down next to me in London. Having just returned from a day of shooting, he remains energetic and eager to speak with me about mental health awareness month. Having experienced his own struggles with mental health, Lauv has on numerous occasions bravely opened up publicly about his experiences in the hopes of changing the stigma that surrounds mental health. As I ask how he’s fairing from the jet lag from his flight from California a day prior, he replies saying “I'm not good with sleep” in a self-accepting tone. It’s an interesting foot to start the interview with, as I highlight the effects sleep can have on mental health, myself knowing all too well. As we touch upon our personal sleep confessions, Lauv mentions how with the help of medication he’s begun to find a balance. It's one of many moments in the interview with Lauv that I will get the chance to praise his honesty. Over the years I’ve met many who have shared their anxiety and disappointment with having to rely on medication, but it’s the voices of those like Lauv that are helping others come to terms with it.
Before we speak further about his experiences with mental health, I’m keen to hear about his musical beginnings. “I guess I've just always been around music, but it kind of started with piano lessons, that classic childhood thing. I have two older sisters, who played like Violin and Cello, so I started playing Viola before I started playing guitar. But it was once I started playing guitar around 11/12 was when I started writing songs, and I really started loving music.” I love hearing about the love he has for his classical beginnings, telling him about my classical training and love for the flute when I was younger as he quickly remarks “the new Lizzo eh? She’s brought so much pride with the Flute to this generation.” Since his early teens, Lauv tells me about his passion for Jazz before realigning his focus on electronic music. “From there, it just was my total escape. The more I did it, the more I fell in love with it, and the more I was just like, this is what I want to turn my life into.”
Having later studied at New York University’s Steinhardt School, Lauv seems to have come into his own, with music seemingly being his most comfortable space. “It is, which if I’m honest, in a weird way became almost a bit of a problem during COVID. On one hand, I was so thankful that I had music and that I was at home in my studio. But on the other hand, I was able to go so deep into it that I felt at one point, that I had nothing else in my life. Nothing existed to me at all, except for music. And that put a strain on it.” His honest declaration about balance and the reality behind him making music in the pandemic is something I wonder if he’s seen a change in since writing his latest album. “I'm learning now. After making this album I've learned that balance is a big thing. So I’m finding ways to try to figure it out. It's easily done. It's honestly like a drug to me. I can sit here and do it all day, even if it's making me unhappy. It's my comfort. It's my safe space.”
In finding his safe space, and having attended the prestigious Steinhardt School, Lauv signed his first record deal in his junior year before deciding to stay and finish his degree, a decision I curiously ask what was behind the decision? “I feel like I was lucky enough to go to NYU. And I was already three-quarters of the way through the course so I might as well finish for the degree because it's not a cheap school to just up and leave” something warming to hear. I speak with him about the pressures so many feel when it comes to feeling like they are missing up a chance, to which he replies it was the right decision for him at the time with New York still holding a special place “Honestly, sometimes being in LA. I'm like, I want to go back to New York. I loved it there.”
As an outspoken advocate Lauv has worked on providing safe spaces virtually and by physically donating funds from his earnings in the hopes of creating a community from the very beginning of his musical career. “I guess it just felt like a natural thing for me to do. I wasn't aware of my mental health as something like anxiety or depression when I was younger, I didn't really understand or pay much mind until I went into a really bad, horrible, horrible pit of it. It was fast when it snowballed. I had to learn what was going on real fast. That's when I got diagnosed with OCD and depression and got put on medication for the first time. So I want to be able to help”
Lauv tells me about surrendering to process as he learned more about the depths he was in. He tells me how by witnessing others' experiences, he felt he could understand the finer details, allowing him to open the door and dive into ways to create outwardly from it. “That’s when I started my foundation,” he tells me. “It was originally centered around when I first put my song ‘Sad forever’ out. I realised I could take money from this and start putting it in the foundation, finding ways to distribute it to different organisations.” The foundation he bashfully talks about is one that has helped create safe spaces for those struggling in the US, and an admirable endeavor with the help of Microsoft that he seems to initially underestimated now something that fills him with pride from the smile on his face. “It's cool to look back at as something that we've done to help others.” As we take the next few minutes talking about the chaos both have felt when trying to deal with our experiences, it’s interesting how we both feel in the way of coming to terms with medication.
“The medication thing was super weird for me because when I was actually in college, I went through a period where I just saw the school psychiatrist, and they were so quick to just prescribe medications to me. I remember I filled the prescription and never took it, but then when I hit this other point at the beginning of 2019 I felt as though there was nowhere else for me to go. I was going to have to give this a try.” It’s brutal, I remark as I mention the trial and error that takes place when trying to find the right one that works for you. “Tell me about it. I had one of those situations where I would become obsessive and do a lot of research. It took a while for me to feel anything but when I went the other way and I almost had this hypomanic stage, I don't want to like officially call it that, but I was not right on the other end of the spectrum. People in my life would say I went from being the saddest person to the opposite end of the scale which meant I had to face the feeling of my mood going down before adjusting the medication to end up in a more centered place.” As someone with Bipolar, I feel I can empathise when it comes to the swinging of the pendulum. But it seems from these experiences that Lauv has found comfort in not just speaking openly to fans but in how it intertwines so naturally in the songs he writes.
“It kind of comes out in any song. I feel for me when I write I specifically go in with nothing as much as I possibly can because I find that if I have an idea of what I want to write about I already think about it too much. Then I can't make the song. So I have to go in as free as possible and go with whatever comes out naturally.” It’s a routine that works, having had over 1.1 billion streams on tracks like ‘I Like Me Better.
With Lauv embracing his method of writing and how he’s able to connect to each track emotionally, I ask how he’s come to connect with ways to help his mental health whether it be therapy or spirituality, “There's been a therapist but I'm not super consistent with it. I’ve learned to try and check in every day with myself, which is good” he explains to me, “Over lockdown part of my journey unfolded on a much more spiritual path. I found myself not just going down the traditional/normal meditation route for a lack of being more articulate. I found myself on a weird journey with a spirit guide. I feel like I've opened myself up a lot more than previous.” Lauv describes to me how at the beginning of lockdown he found himself in a moment of crisis “I realised that everything in my career had taken me so far away from my true self. I still didn't fully understand I'm still trying to understand everything in my career. Even though I'm making my music out of my life experiences, I felt like I built up this whole outward persona that constantly needed more from me. I was just sitting there feeling constantly anxious in my body because I was just very unsettled. So I found I had to dive deep into things like nature and meditation to help.”
I find myself nodding in agreement over the difficulties that come with traditional medicine as I open up to him about my experiences with Lithium and feeling zombified. As we openly speak to one another, I wonder how he’s felt being so open and vulnerable to the point of full transparency online and in person.
“I feel like I'm a person that seeks open communication and direct vulnerability. It's been really important in my career. I've also found at some points doing that can feel really rewarding because I'm showing people my true self and they get to know what's going on inside of me. That part is cool knowing I'm not hiding in any way. But it can also be exhausting which then becomes this loop. To me sharing is beautiful, but I do wonder what it's doing for me oversharing and how that's gonna affect people including myself. I’ve been trying to weigh it. For me feeling like I’m holding something inside means I can't even be my genuine self.”
Not that Lauv needs the encouragement to be his genuine self, I think it’s the purest way he can connect with those who love him. As I tell him that and ask about his mental health following a pause in his life schedule pre-pandemic he tells me “It's honestly made me realise every little moment is a reminder of something that was almost too easy to take for granted before the pandemic happened. Now I'm relearning to have gratitude for things in much bigger ways.” With his new album dropping in August, I ask if he’s excited to get back to touring and if we can see any more pop-up gigs outside his hotels?
“It was so fun. It was spontaneous. The night before I sent it like a mass text out to like this app. I was just like, tomorrow, this time, this place, I’m gonna play some of the new music. It was super fun. I want to do more stuff like that. And as for touring the album, I can't wait to put the whole thing out. I've been holding on to it for so long.”
As the dystopia of the past few years seems to be finally at the end of playing out, I ask Lauv what’s on his mind when it comes to mental health month and what our efforts could go towards.
"I feel something that could be super simple could be apps for self-therapy. Maybe somehow more funding for more people to be able to access those resources. I'd also like to see how some of the more spiritual things can crossover. It’s all about accessibility. I hope we continue to become more continued in terms of better access.”
If Lauv's previous effort when it comes to trying to support those in the communities mental health is anything to go by then I'm sure we can expect more advocacy from him, but for now I hope the pressure is off and he gets the chance to enjoy his new album, its release and what looks to be an exciting 2022.