“I really miss the era where the concept of a rock star was thriving,” muses Lava La Rue. “I think that one of the last Black rock stars who I was really inspired by who wasn’t making rock music but had that mentality was André 3000. It’ll be really interesting to see who is the equivalent in 2021…”
If you’re looking for modern trailblazing talent, however, you won’t need to venture much further than Lava - aka Londoner Ava Laurel - themself.
The singer grew up surrounded by soul and reggae artists; with their parents both certified ravers, they introduced Lava to music as an alternative lifestyle. “A lot of my friends at school were growing up on The Beatles and Fleetwood Mac and things that their parents listened to, and turned to hip hop to rebel,” they note. “Whereas I grew up with a lot of soul and R&B and rave music and free party culture, so I rebelled from that and went back to listening to old bands. I did it in reverse - most people rebel from the dad music!”
This love of differing genres is clear looking through their discography, which has gone from taking cues from old-school hip hop to the more psychedelic-infused indie-rock sound seen on acclaimed February EP ‘Butter-Fly’. “That was the first body of work where I was like, OK, this is the sound I’m trying to hone in on: a more alternative hip hop, psychedelic R&B mixed with indie… A lot of buzzwords!” they laugh. “From the first EP that I dropped to the most recent one, there’s an audible shift in sound, and I feel like my last project was a gateway into that new realm of where I’m trying to take things.”
A sun-drenched collection of psych-tinged queer love songs, ‘Butter-Fly’ saw Lava not only finding their feet musically, but also further establishing themselves as the queer voice that they were looking for when they were growing up. “I want there to be a point when you listen to the UK Top Ten where there are just as many queer love songs as there are straight ones,” they say. “Growing up, I’m non-binary and half-Latvian and half-Jamaican and I’ve never heard a musician who comes from the exact same background as me make a love song! I was just thinking of how many other kids out there want that…”
"Before, I was just having fun and flexing. Now I’m like, wow, shit, even if I didn’t write that song I’d want to listen to it.”
Now moving into album mode, Lava has a “catalogue” of music that’s set to form their highly-anticipated debut full-length. “It’s all still very queer, just like the last project, with elements of observing the world around me and living in London and my perspective,” they explain. "I feel like I’ve grown a lot and now I’m making the music I always really wanted to make, whereas before, I was just having fun and flexing. Now I’m like, wow, shit, even if I didn’t write that song I’d want to listen to it.”
Elsewhere, Lava still keeps the fun and sonic experimentation high when working with NiNE8: the creative collective that they helped found back in 2014. “When I write music under Lava there’s a concept and a narrative and references that I might be the only person who understands,” they smile, “whereas with NiNE8, we turn up to the studio like, ‘Fuck it, what are we making today?’ And then we just have as much fun as possible.”
Made up of other creatives and musicians (including DIY fave Biig Piig), the group met at college and began creating genre-blending bops as a way to have fun on a Friday night. Fast-forward seven years and they’re some of the most talked about young acts on the alternative scene. But what was the moment when Lava realised they were onto something special? “It would be in the moments where we’d throw our own parties, and I was barely legal! How the fuck did these people let us use their venues?!” they laugh. “The turn out would be so sick and we’d be like, ‘Where have all these people come from?’ The whole thing of NiNE8 is we’re not an elite collective, so when people were turning up it was so sick, like people actually care! And they’d turn up and sing our songs and I was like, holy shit. Whatever we’re doing, let’s just keep doing it.”
Killing it both within the collective and flying solo, Lava could just chill and soak it all in, but they’re already gearing up for what the future holds. “I’m thinking about the project that’s happening after this project,” they smile. “I’m already thinking three years ahead!”
2024 better watch out.
Lava La Rue has been nominated for the AIM Independent Music Awards 2021, which takes place as a global livestream on 25th August. For more information on the event, and to check out the other nominees, head to their website.
As featured in the July 2021 issue of DIY, out now.