Processing his sudden rise to fame and coming out the other side with increasingly honest and connected second LP ‘All 4 Nothing’, Lauv is learning as he goes along.
“I always wonder,” Lauv begins to muse on a warm early summer’s day in London. “Do people ever feel like the person they seem on the outside? Because [there’s] often times I don’t feel like who I seem on the outside…” It’s perhaps a heavy sentiment for the Thursday midday sunshine, but it’s something that Lauv clearly finds himself thinking about with increasing regularity.
You see, while the American singer (real name Ari Leff) is often outwardly the infectiously upbeat life-of-the-party, alternating between showing off his latest Bratz logo tattoo and freestyle rapping while taking sips from a can of White Claw during the space of today’s conversation alone, he’s also still just a 27-year-old who’s trying to figure shit out.
First thrust into the spotlight when his 2017 track ‘I Like Me Better’ shot up the charts in both the UK and US, our chat comes as the aforementioned song celebrates its fifth birthday, as well as a newly-achieved five-times-platinum status. “That’s fucking nuts!” Lauv laughs as he reflects back. “Making a song in your bedroom and that happening, it’s just like… ‘What the fuck?!’”
Before that hit, Lauv had previously had some behind-the-scenes success, co-writing tracks for the likes of Charli XCX and Demi Lovato. But it was ‘I Like Me Better’ that propelled him directly into the spotlight as a solo artist in his own right - whether he was entirely ready for it or not. “When I released that song I’m pretty sure I was still trying to not show my face,” he recalls. “I was definitely still nervous. [But] I feel like I’ve been forced to grow into myself. Whether or not I’ve fully accepted that is another thing.”
Following that early success with the 17 track, not-quite-debut album ‘I Met You When I Was 18 (The Playlist)’, his debut record proper ‘~how I’m feeling~’ landed in March 2020, just before the initial COVID-19 lockdown. It reached Number Nine in the UK and proved that Lauv was a genuine contender, delivering big hits like ‘Fuck, I’m Lonely’ with Anne-Marie and ‘I’m So Tired…’ with Troye Sivan, alongside an appearance from K-Pop titans BTS.
But while Lauv was soaking up the rewards of this breakthrough, his growing fame didn’t come without its problems. ‘~how I’m feeling~’ may have been all about embracing himself and presenting the different sides of his personality, but it was a different story in real life as he navigated being increasingly in the public eye whilst still trying to personally figure things out. “It’s easy to become obsessed with who you’re portraying to the world,” he explains, stating that his struggles were only amplified by the ever-growing number of eyes on him on social media. “That’s super self-destructive to me.”
Having hidden behind different characters on his first record, Lauv decided that it was time to look inward and delve into who he is as a whole for its follow-up. “I just need to do me and figure this shit out instead of spreading it to this version and this version and this version,” he recalls thinking. “At this point, I’m just trying to play the long game in life. It’s not so much about finding yourself as it is about accepting yourself.
“For so long I would prioritise Lauv, and what it means to be Lauv, over just me the person - and I was just a fucking kid!” he continues. “As soon as my career started to happen, any normal progression of just being a person was less important than my career. You can’t really be fully authentic if you’re doing it that way. The pandemic and being at home meditating made me realise, ‘Shit, if I’m not feeling good on the inside, this shit will mean nothing to me’.”
Sitting down to write during Christmas 2020, Lauv started to think about confidence and self-acceptance, beginning work on what would eventually become next month’s second album, ‘All 4 Nothing’. Album opener ’26’ - a synth-driven slow-burner - is perhaps the clearest indication of what Lauv was going through. “He made a couple songs and they got big / He thought that he could do whatever he wanted / But it all left him with a hole in his heart,” he sings, explaining in an accompanying press release that the track “marks the moment I’m stepping back into the world and taking control of my narrative again."
“Having gone from having no success in music to getting there but not really understanding all the pieces of it and being like, ‘Wow all this crazy shit is happening’. And then being like, 'But fuck, how ME is this?’...” he remembers questioning while writing ’26'. “I feel like I was always questioning how authentic this is. It hit a breaking point when I was just like, ‘Let’s remove everything and reflect inward’. I feel like now I have this other understanding. I can understand what it’s like to go all the way inward and really tear myself apart versus collaborating with people in a different way. [Whereas] with some of the people I’d write with in the past, I’d make music that hit but maybe it wouldn’t be quite as stripped down in terms of what I was saying, [even though it] would maybe reach more people.”
After years of proving he knows how to make a big pop hit, for ‘All 4 Nothing’, Lauv wanted to prioritise truth above everything. “What I’ve come to learn about myself is there’s two parts,” he begins. “There’s the straight-up, super raw truth. But then there’s also the part of me that loves connecting with people in a universal way. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Like maybe this line would reach more people if I said it like this, and there’s nothing wrong with doing that. I think for a while I resented the idea of making music that was connecting I guess.
“I love melodies and shit that feels universal, but I think my intention and the way I made [‘All 4 Nothing’] was very much like I don’t want to compromise anything,” he adds. “If I hear it and it sounds true, I’m just gonna go with it.”
To find his truth, Lauv found himself looking back to his formative years as a child. “I kind of became obsessed with the ideas of confidence and childhood because I always felt like, in my life, I was faking being confident. I feel like a lot of people probably feel that way,” he explains. “I was making this album about when you’re a kid, before you get told what’s cool or go through various trauma that shapes you into the adult that’s scared and shit. I was like, ‘Fuck, I want to go back to that feeling.’”
The album was originally going to be called ‘Kids Are Born Stars’, and that name now lends itself to one of the record’s tracks, which finds Lauv turning back the clock as he looks towards his future career. ‘Hey Ari’, meanwhile, provides a glimpse into this self-reflection as he addresses himself and his self-destructive actions, asking “Hey Ari, are you happy?”. Meanwhile the thumping track ‘Bad Trip’ - Lauv’s favourite on the album - pushes his vulnerability to the forefront as he urges “don’t let me die in the dark” before landing on his favourite lyric: “Thought my ego died, but I guess it’s too strong.”
Exploring the darker side of life that he’d previously shied away from in the past, Lauv describes the record as “the least dressed-up” of all of his music. He attributes his willingness to let out all his feelings to his newfound love of learning how to freestyle rap. “It kind of started as a joke at first,” he laughs. “I was just listening to so much Drake, and I was like, I want to learn to freestyle rap. Every fifth night I’d be good, but most of it was so bad. I was just rapping over YouTube beats and then I started working with different producers for this album and took that approach and brought it to singing.”
His new hobby has proved healthy in more ways than one too, allowing the vocalist to react instinctively to situations rather than over-analysing them. “Because I’m a person who can easily think so much, that takes me away from my truth sometimes because my mind is making all these stories,” Lauv says. “Like, what about how you just feel? So I was like, fuck that, I’m not going to think so much, I’m just going to get on the mic.”
He even stepped away from the production desk this time around, something he’d been passionate about keeping control of while creating his previous projects. After touring for so long, Lauv no longer had time to make beats every day and was getting tired of what he was producing. For ‘All 4 Nothing’, he recruited some friends to help him out instead. “There was only a certain amount of people where I felt like it was an extension of what I would do, but didn’t know how to at that point,” he states. “I used to always sit at the computer in the studio, but this time around I was just drinking White Claws and on the microphone!”
Still rife with pop hits yet with an increasing depth below the sheen, Lauv says that, this time, he’s been focussing primarily on the feeling. “I want to feel more directly connected to the world and to my audience,” he smiles. “I think the only way to do that is to just strip everything else away.”
‘All 4 Nothing’ is out 5th August via Virgin.