Words by Stan Sy
Earlier this month, Lauv visited Manila to perform two shows in as many nights—one at the Alabang Town Center, and the other at UP Town Center. Lauv was supposed to be the front act at Ed Sheeran’s concert, which was originally scheduled for November 7, but got rescheduled due to his injury. That didn’t stop Lauv from coming to the Philippines and seeing firsthand how much Filipinos have been enjoying his music since his debut EP, Lost in the Light, came out in 2015.
With hits like “I Like Me Better” getting rotation in pop stations around the metro, Lauv’s fanbase has only grown and it isn’t really hard to see why. His melodies instantly grow on you, while the lyrics resonate with us given our country’s affinity for anything and everything romantic.
BillboardPH had a conversation with Lauv earlier this week in which the American pop singer allowed us to pick his brain on his songwriting techniques, his influences, and what he goes through when he makes music. He also shares his thoughts on interacting with fans in Manila during his quick trip here a few weeks ago.
How was your experience in Manila?
That was so fun! Those couple of shows definitely topped. They must have been the best shows that I’ve played in so far—the crowds are so crazy out there. Everybody was so amazing. Those were my first stops ever in Asia, and I just got off super jetlagged. The fact that there were so many people who knew all the words—not just “I Like Me Better”—but everything. We packed those mall shows. This whole run has been life-changing, but those two nights were particularly incredible.
What stood out to you in Manila compared to the other places you’ve performed at?
In general, I got to do some more fan interaction. I had lunch with some fans and hung out. People were so warm and passionate there. That was really surprising to me. I had no idea it was going to be like that. And by the time we were leaving, it felt like a home away from home. It was really awesome.
When did you realize you were good at songwriting?
That’s a funny question because I feel like I wake up every day and it’s different. Some days, I wake up and I start making something that I’m like, this is amazing, I’m so excited. And then, other days, I just can’t seem to make anything good and I’m like, oh, you’re the worst, you’re fake. I go through ups and downs every day. It’s always a struggle.
You’ve been writing love songs since you were 14, but if you didn’t have a serious relationship until college, what experiences did you draw from to write those songs?
I don’t know, man. I think I was just fantasizing. I don’t really know. My dad would ask what was going on because he knew I didn’t have a real girlfriend yet. I just have always liked sappy movies and there was something about it that I’ve always been drawn to. A lot of my favorite artists and songs have always had that longing feeling so I think I’d always wanted to make music like that but it didn’t become real until I actually had that experience.
Is there also a sense of catharsis when you write songs that are meant for other artists? What type of satisfaction do you get out of it?
Catharsis is really when I’m writing a “me” song. It’s like my journal and I’m just laying myself on the line. But it’s still satisfying making music in general. With songs that end up being with other artists, I’m still pulling from my experiences sometimes. Or with the Charli XCX song, “Boys,” that was just, “oh, I’m going to have some fun.” I take myself really seriously sometimes and if I’m just in my own headspace writing all these emotional songs, day after day, I get a little bit crazy, so it’s nice to be like, “Let’s just have some fun and blow some steam.”
How did you get into pitching for other artists?
I grew up wanting to be an artist myself. That’s why I started making music—to express myself. That shifted for me for a moment when I was 18, I was graduating high school, and I was like, oh maybe it’s more realistic for me to be behind the scenes more. That was when I discovered the whole idea of “maybe I can be a songwriter and producer for other artists.” That was an interesting journey of spending a couple of years when I was just writing songs that I thought people would want to hear or an artist would want to sing. But nothing really started to happen for me in a big way until I put out my own first song, “The Other.” This was just about my life, it’s real. I just had to get something out. And that’s when stuff started to change. From there, that’s when I started to get cuts with other artists and I was writing more real stuff.
What is it that you look for in writing a hook?
It’s not really tangible. You either just feel it or you don’t. I try not to try. When I made “I Like Me Better,” that was one of the fastest songs I’d ever written. I had no idea. I didn’t have that concept written down. I had none of those lyrics written down. I just sat down at the keyboard and I just happened to pull up a new synth sound that I got. And then, the lyrics and melody just came to me. It just kind of wrote itself. When it just feels natural and then there’s that magic there, that’s when you’re like, okay, maybe this is something.
“I Like Me Better” was written about that first serious relationship you had, but since you’re no longer with this partner, how can you reconcile drawing the emotions out for this song when you perform and not really taking yourself back to that time with your partner?
That’s an interesting thing about songs. It’s a happy song, right? But even when I wrote it, I was already out of that relationship and I was reminiscing on the beginning of that and I was processing that. There was a sad undertone where [I realized], “Damn, that was incredible. I was better when I’m with you and now here I am.” And I think not a lot of people necessarily pick up on that. So when I’m performing it, it’s always interesting because there’s a sad undertone and that’s actually where a lot of the blues stuff came from. All this first chapter of music that I’ve been putting out is a playlist called “I Met You When I Was 18” and it includes everything I’ve put out so far. It’s all about that one part of my life and a lot of it is all romantic, but I didn’t want it to feel obviously romantic on the surface. To me, the undertone of sadness in “I Like Me Better” and the whole blue thing is sort of like the subtleties and the hardships and really what goes on underneath.
What made you think of doing away with instruments and just using your vocals on tracks like “I Like Me Better” and “No Promises”?
With “I Like Me Better,” I was just in the moment and I got that melody. *hums* I got that whole thing just really quickly and I didn’t want to forget it. So I Voice Memo-ed it on my iPhone and then, I was like, I’ll probably replace it later with an instrument. But then I pulled it in and then I was messing with it and reprocessing it and doing all these crazy [things] to it. And then I was like, maybe this is actually doper than using an instrument because it’s my voice and it’s nobody else. Everybody has a unique voice, right? So I loved the idea of just being able to put that in there and have it be not like another instrument that anybody can pick up.
Is a technique like that something you’d pick up in school or is it something you picked up working with other songwriters? How’d you even think of doing that?
I don’t know, honestly. It just happened. And then it was like, oh this is kind of cool. In “I Like Me Better,” not to get too technical, but the melody’s right in the spot of my voice that breaks, so there’s an interesting timbre to when it breaks and flips up that just felt right.
Is there anybody on your wish list of collaborators? How do you plan to make that happen?
Chris Martin from Coldplay is the number one dream. I’ve just been putting it in the universe. Whenever the time’s right, I don’t want to rush it. Someday, before I die, that would be sick.
What type of music did you enjoy listening to growing up or at home?
I moved around a bunch growing up so I went through a lot of phases. Some of the big stuff for me was Coldplay, John Mayer… I went through a massive emo phase, where I listened to bands like Taking Back Sunday—that was a huge one for me. And then there’s this band, Under Oath. But the first CD I remember getting was The Eminem Show, and I lived in Atlanta, GA for seven years when I was a kid, so I listened to a lot of the early 2000s rap that was happening there. So it’s really a huge mix.
There’s a good bit of jazz music, as well, especially two guys in particular: Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass were some of the legendary jazz guitarists that inspired me. It just goes on and on and on. Towards the end of high school and when I got to college, I started to get really into interesting Soundcloud music from Cashmere Cat, Lido. Sam Gellaitry is a huge inspiration for me, as well. Tons of stuff.
What’s a typical day for you like when you’re not writing music, performing, or on tour?
It’s hard for me to have a day when I don’t do something musical, but I absolutely can’t make music today for some reason, I’d go on a run—maybe watch FRIENDS. I know it’s one or two decades late, but i just started FRIENDS, so I’m on season three. Maybe I’ll have a chicken parm sandwich. The funny thing is I live in L.A. but I never go to the beach.
Your stage name and your given name both mean ‘lion’ in different languages. Did you ever get to ask your parents why they named you after a lion?
When I was younger, I think I asked my parents why they named me Ari and they never gave me a straight answer. I don’t even know if it was something on purpose or if they just liked the name.
You mentioned in a previous interview that songwriting is therapeutic for you, and that living in L.A. has made you realize how fake the environment can be among all the creative people who live and work there. Have you ever sat down and thought about writing a song about that experience?
Yeah. I definitely have. It’s something that I have gone back and forth with a few times. I’ve sat on that idea. I’m still figuring out L.A. and a big thing for me—like “I Like Me Better,” it’s about the beginning of a relationship. I wrote it four years later. What I’ve learned about myself is that I need to experience stuff, and when it finally comes out, that’s when I’m ready to actually make what I will make out of it.
What is something about Ed Sheeran that you wouldn’t normally know about him unless you’ve gone on tour with him or spent time with him?
What I’ve noticed about him is he’s an incredible conversationalist. People get the sense that he’s down-to-earth and I had that sense. But being around him—he has a massive crew on tour with him and it’s like no matter who’s around him, or who he’s meeting, he’ll engage everybody there. He seems to be really interested in people and I think that’s awesome.
Lauv is set to return to Manila on March 10 for Wanderland 2018.
FEATURED IMAGE: via Lauv on Facebook