Lana Del Rey interview off-cuts
So, last week I met up with Lana Del Rey, who was coughing and spluttering after cancelling her gig at London's Koko venue the night before. Demure and softly-spoken, she was absolutely charming. More homebody than homewrecker, despite whatever impression you may have received from her lyrics.
Our chat formed the basis for a BBC profile piece, which was published over the weekend. But I thought you might like to see a fuller transcript.
Can you remember the first time you thought "I can write a song?"
I didn’t really start writing until I was 18 and my uncle sort-of taught me six basic chords on the guitar. I realised I could probably write a million songs with those six chords – so I moved to New York and I took a couple of years to just write whatever I wanted.
That's quite late to start writing.
It’s really late
Had you been creative in other ways before that?
Yes, in some ways. I don’t know if I’d say it was my focus. I never really thought about writing my own music but I did like to sing.
Do you remember the chords your uncle taught you?
It was G, C, A. It was D minor, A minor and some diminished chord as well. Some trick, some shortcut. When I learned F, which I assumed would be easy, I was like "fuck". F was just never going to happen. Four fingers? Never going to happen. It's too hard.
There isn't much guitar on the album. When did you switch to piano?
I didn’t switch because I don’t really play piano – unless it’s a Wurlitzer and I’m sort of just holding sustained chords. On my first record, I played guitar throughout most of it. With this one, I started working with this guy Justin Parker who’s never really done anything in pop music. I just started freestyling over his sustained, melancholic chords. And that was how, really, the second evolution of my style began.
You said you were always a singer... Where did that start? Do you remember singing with your family when you were young?
I remember singing with my mom and with my dad. There were musical children’s movies, like Mr World and Raffi.
In my house, my sisters loved Grease.
We loved Grease, me and my sister. [sings Summer nights] They’re really beautiful, those songs.
The movies that inspire you now come from a slightly darker place.
It’s not my fault that my inspirations are dark. I’m not a very dark person, but I find that most great works of art verge towards darkness. My favourite movie is The Godfather II – the settings alone are just so epic. The same with film noir. It’s not the darkness I’m attracted to, it’s the fact that it’s so beautiful. Visually stunning.
I’m interested in the montages you’ve made for your music videos. The clips you use don’t really bear any narrative relation to the lyrics, so what makes you choose them?
I think they must share an aesthetic, or a mood. When I go to Germany and France, people always ask me about the Hollywood imagery – but when I started putting the movies together, I wasn’t necessarily looking for clips of Hollywood. I was looking for vintage film from the 50s. I liked the texture and the colours of those films.
It’s funny, when I was putting the montages together at first and showing them to people, nobody seemed to get it. They thought it was a very weird juxtaposition, verging on creepy. It’s strange now that people think that it’s a really cohesive package, because for a long time it seemed like a really disjointed project that I was alone in believing in.
Where do you find all those film clips?
YouTube. I steal them! But I have a copyright specialist that I work with, so she reaches out to get permission now. Ever since I got sued.
Over which one?
Video Games. That was a bad day. A million views and it got wiped out.
You’ve got more than 25 million streams on YouTube now. Do you get royalty payments?
I don’t think so. Why aren’t you on my team, honey? Where the fuck have you been?
Those viewing figures must translate into some kind of material value. I mean, there are adverts streaming before two of them.
What’s the story behind Video Games?
I’ve been coming to London for a long time now, off and on. But I’d been coming for about 14 months before I wrote that song. I found one of my musical soulmates, Justin Parker. I just sat down with him and said "I’m tired of trying to be good and be noticed. I just want to write whatever I want to write." And he said, "then just write whatever you want to write". And he played out some sustained piano chords, and I leaned back and started thinking about one of my favourite times.
I usually draw inspiration back from the same few moments in my life, and so I started thinking back to when I was really happy in this one relationship and had just let go of my musical ambitions and... settled.
I was always a wonderer. I never stayed in one place for very long. I never thought I’d have the luxury of loving someone and being loved. I always hoped that that would happen and when it did, it really was what they talked about in the movies.
Geek question: What was the video game he was playing?
It was World Of Warcraft. It’s actually an all-consuming game.
Did you play it, too?
He... Well, he wouldn’t let me.
What was his character?
I think he played as a monster. You can’t really see the character when you’re in the game.
What I love about that lyric is that songs don’t usually talk about the bits of relationships where you’re just slobbing around the house doing your own thing.
People talk about me being an anti-feminist because of that song. They think it’s coming from a place of submissiveness. But in reality it was more about coming together happily and doing your own things happily in the same living space.
What would you say the theme of the album is?
You should honour love, even when it's lost.
Is the relationship from Video Games over now?
In the end, we couldn’t be together. When I’ve been separated from various things and people in my life that I wanted to stay close to, I felt pride in not sabotaging myself with fear. By staying calm and being strong, I was honouring the memory of those things and those people. I’m proud of that, and I continue to do that – try and live gracefully.
How difficult do you find that now that you’re in the public eye?
I’ve lived a really quiet life for the last decade and I don’t see that changing. I hope the record does really well but regardless of how things end up turning out, I have a really big life outside of music. I have a really big family, I have friends, I have other work and I have my studies that I’ve continued to pursue.
What were you studying?
Does the fact that this album is doing so well when the first one disappeared without trace make you suspicious of success?
Well, why would that make me suspicious? I guess I’m always wary that beautiful things that happen to me aren’t for real. Really great things are rare. But maybe sometimes they’re genuine.
What exactly happened with the first album?
People act like it’s so shrouded in mystery – "the forgotten terrible album". But if you look on YouTube all 13 tracks are available with millions of views. So it’s not like no-one’s heard them. I was the only one signed to that independent label. They gave me $10,000 and I made a record but they couldn’t fund the release of it. It’s not like it was bad. We were all proud of it. It’s pretty good.
Would you consider buying the rights back?
I already have the rights. I bought the rights upon my exit. I’m re-releasing it, maybe in late summer.
A lot of people have claimed you "re-invented" yourself after that record failed – but it’s actually called Lizzy Grant aka Lana Del Ray [sic].
Exactly! It was never really a shift in persona, it was just the name of the music I was making. The name of the project. They’re not even separate personas.
People don’t spend a lot of time criticising Florence Welch because she doesn't have a machine.
[Almighty laugh] The way I’ve lived my life is so straightforward, it’s ridiculous. I’ve been so clear and upfront about everything but most articles I see... My publicists, in their long career, say they have never seen someone be more fictionalised.
I know what people say about me and I'm not really that concerned, because those kind of problems I'm not really interested in. I'm concerned about the potential collapse of the euro, the state of the global economy. We have serious problems. Of course I hope the record does really well but, regardless of how things end up turning out, I'm not concerned about my future. I'll be OK.