'My Goal In Life Is To Have Met Myself' - A Q&A with Lana Del Rey
Behind the scenes with Lana in LA for her Rolling Stone UK cover.
A couple of weeks ago, Rolling Stone UK published my cover interview with Lana Del Rey. I titled it Lana Del Rey: She Does It For the Girls because when I asked her about immediately attracting a fanbase of tragic, romantic women and gay men, she said this:
That’s pretty funny. As one of these fans, interviewing Lana Del Rey was at the top of my kill-me-now-I’ve-made-it list. It usually happens this way but when the big career moments come, you’re typically going through it. I was excited in the Uber on the way to the house in West Hollywood where we were due to meet but didn’t feel on form that day, week or month.
The negative questions hover around your peripheries and you walk into those opportunities with a halo of anxiety that immediately evanesces when you begin. That afternoon the concerns were: what if your favourite songwriter thinks you’re a wretched moron? What if you touch on the wrong subject and she retreats and you can’t coax her back? She’s had a bad run with journalists – one Rolling Stone cover is fairly notorious in the fanbase – and is subsequently sensitive to being misunderstood. I was aware that the odds were probably against me writing something that she liked. What if the fanbase took umbrage at a description of her or her work too?
Those are always the risks, of course. You’re not doing it for the artist themselves or just for the fandom but from a desire to understand the person better because you find them or their work interesting and want to communicate your discoveries to the largest audience possible. But as a fan, when someone’s work is meaningful to you – and has been your whole adult life – you often secretly believe that you’d get on if you ever met.
We did get on. She’s smart, thoughtful, intuitive and spiritual. The advice she gave me about love and loss and staying or going I’d probably never repeat in full anywhere or to anyone. When an interview goes well you both leave imperceptibly changed or with something that helps you in your own lives in some way. This alchemy occurs despite the professional setting because it’s ultimately just two people (hopefully) connecting over human experiences. I felt like this was one of those occasions.
Here are four extended sections from our interview that didn’t make the cut for various reasons.
On the ‘overculture’ and going with your gut
LDR: Tessa [Dipietro, her psychic] was the person who introduced to me the idea that there was an overculture, which I always….well, my major was in philosophy so the way most philosophers have described the timing of people’s creativity is that there is a general siphon that we can all draw from that’s collective. That’s why you’ll see so many of the same types of movies come out, like three Snow Whites or three of the same type of album. It’s not on purpose it seems, it’s just in the ether but I think that’s separate from a city’s overculture. Every city has overculture. I’ve lived on Genesee [Avenue] at three different times with three different people over nine years. I’ve no idea what that pull is to the Fairfax district but once I was introduced to the idea that there is an overculture, the reason why I ever even entered the conversation was because I was talking about to Tessa about feeling that there just wasn’t really a place for me to land, physically and psyche-wise.
I think if you’re a singer and people’s opinions of the work changes so many times, you kind of realise: okay, there’s something to be learned from what you hear. At the same time I’m definitely not one who thrives from any form of outside validation other than from a few people. It was very important to me to not have any influence from the outside culture that didn’t resonate with me. I always knew that I was going to do something else as well, aside from singing. I had a few ideas. But to also be more connected to what that path was going to be, I just needed to tune in more to my gut. I don’t know if it happened naturally or not but…
HE: That makes sense. The last three albums – and this new one – you can feel it in the music. It’s distilled, it’s so about the culture but not influenced by it or in conversation with the culture in a way.
It’s so its own thing, so I wonder how that lined up.
Jack Antonoff and I are super similar in the way we know about so much that’s going on culturally but we have no idea how. We definitely don’t read that much about it or hear that much about it but all of those turning points in culture, somehow we’re always aware. I think even if I was in a remote area, I think I would always know what’s going on and I’ve always had a little bit of an intuitive finger on the pulse of culture. Even when I started singing, I knew it wouldn’t completely jive right away.
I instinctively know what you’re saying. I don’t keep up with current music really or I’m not that on social media but I understand. It’s almost like the more you draw away from it…
…the more you know! That’s what I think. I’ve heard somewhere they call it a spiritual axiom, like a spiritual dichotomy. You think to get to one place you have to take the direct route but it’s almost like that phrase: through self-forgetting one finds themselves. It’s almost like by being in service to other people you actually find out so much more about yourself. If you were really self-oriented you’d almost just be spinning. It’s almost like doing the opposite. But yeah, I feel like pulling back somehow makes you more in touch with everything.
And has that changed your routines and life on a day-to-day level or is it more of a holistic thing?
I would say it’s less holistic. I’ve always gone with my gut. Honestly, Interscope has been kind of amazing because they’ve always….if I don’t feel like the timing is right or I don’t feel like some kind of situation or plan is right, they’ve always backed me 100 per cent.
To me you’ve always been such an albums artist too which, especially now…it seems like a lot of labels don’t care about that kind of thing, they want a hit.
Oh yeah, they do. Going with your gut is so important. It’s very inconvenient [to others] to go with your gut. But I see more and more people doing it. Even onstage with what people say, like [wistful, dreamy]: ‘I’m so glad I get to express my truth’. Oh, interesting. A little less planned and phased. Everyone seems like they’re trying to express themselves. For me, I’m a little past that point. Now I’m just sort of writing. Just writing now. Ultraviolence I was still [thespian voice] expressing myself. And that felt fun.
Born To Die was so long ago now but can you remember what was it that you set out to do with that album?
Well: nothing. Because I’d had an album out before and it was shelved for two years by this mini label I was on in… I wanna say 2007. But it did come out for three months and was shelved again. It was in the era of when labels had a small artist and they wanted to upstream them, to sell them to Sony. It was a phase. But nothing ever happened. And then I met Ben [Mawson, her manager] and I moved to London with him and I was just writing with everyone, which I didn’t actually know was a thing. You could go everyday to a different producer. So when I finally went to 130 producers – not a joke – I met Justin Parker and he just played chords and I would just sing. And from that point on, that was how I generally worked.
If I hear something, I can definitely write the whole song right away. If the chords are right. Once I found Justin my only goal for Born To Die was for it to feel classic and then when Emile Haynie did the additional production at the last hour I was like, well this sounds really really different now. Ballads sound like pop bangers. So I think that changed things that were veering left more centre. I think for that reason instead of being assessed as a more left, thought-based, diaristic or whatever artist it was assessed on a regular level, which was challenging. Because the production is more mainstream but some of the phrases are a little more unusual.
I think by the time Born To Die was finished it was kind of guess work with the remainder of songs I had I was going to put on. I think that’s why we did The Paradise Edition because there were, like, nine more songs that could’ve worked. I was like, wow, I didn’t even know you could do a deluxe edition. But in my mind that’s kind of the second record because it’s so long.
On initially writing esoteric music
You studied metaphysics at university. What was it you got from that learning experience, specifically the actual course?
I graduated with a degree in philosophy, almost with a minor in Spanish. I specialised in metaphysics. In the Bronx.
What was it that fascinated you about the questions and the concepts you were thinking about?
Well, I had four years of studying metaphysics in high school, because you can have a focus in high school. Basically when I was younger I would have moments or flashes of deep concern about the fact that…I had fun playing sports, I had fun meeting new friends but I was concerned about why there was no television shows or talks from people and parents about where they thought we came from and why they thought we were here. It deeply troubled me from the age of four. So my parents did have their hands full with a lot of esoteric questions. I think that’s just a predisposition. My friend Jen who lives up the street, it’s why we’re so close, she actually had the same thing, where you start thinking about the fact that the autonomic nervous system controls your breathing and your heart rate but what if it didn’t? It’s almost like you get into the nuances of…basically if I don’t have a problem my brain will find a way to make me feel like I have to do something, so…there’s a lot going on up there.
So I studied that in high school and I did enter into business school my first year and then I realised after reading the book that I think is the most important book I’ve ever read with the kind of misleading title but an absolute must-read, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill who collected all his information from Nikola Tesla and Carnegie and Rockefeller and all these different people and inventors and there’s a phrase in there that said you have to burn your bridge to every single path except to that one passion that your heart is oriented towards and at the time it was definitely music, so I switched into philosophy because I knew that you couldn’t get a job – it’s so different now, now you can do anything – but at the time you would only be able to have the option to be a teacher within philosophy and I did not want to do that. So I tried to get as many questions answered in four years as I could and then I was taught that philosophy was a study of questions not answers, there were no answers, which almost made things worse. It was taught by the jesuits, the jesuit priests and you got to study everything: every religion, every philosopher, what the major immersive points that everyone agreed on – was there a God? Was it a ‘ghost in the machine’?
When I started writing it was very esoteric, but the people I was writing with were really straight edge so it became more poppy. Then when I met Justin Parker I got to sink back into thinking about each day and the minutia [she says this slowly to a back-and-forth rhythm] swinging in the backyard / pull up in your fast car / whistling my name. Stuff that wasn’t esoteric but it was certainly more a ‘day in the life’ motif. And then now where I’m at, it’s just all the thoughts I’ve ever had in my head from the beginning that I can remember until now, like in a song called ‘Fingertips’. That would be my song that would be my least favourite song I’d ever want to talk about…
Where I’m at now, if I’m lucky enough to get the impulse where a song comes at all, it might be once a year, in its entirety, I’ll just sing it into my voice-notes and I’ll send it to Drew Erickson who’s an absolute living legend in Echo Park. He does the orchestration for Weyes Blood, Father John Misty, Jonathan Wilson, a couple of other people and he sent me back my own voice-note with all of my pauses and breaths taken out. Every now and then when that happens, you’ll think to yourself, ‘I got it.’ I got it!
‘Fingertips’ is not a good song or a big song but it definitely explains everything. I felt like that was important because everyone was always like [whispers] explain yourself. And I was like, ‘Okay, let me do this really quickly, I’ll tell you everything I’m thinking in two minutes in a seven minute song and just rip through it and edit it.’ That song kind of says it all. Between that song and ‘Wildflower Wildfire’ on Blue Banisters, you can get a lot [whispers and laughs] of everything.
On her next poetry collection
I was going to ask: what exactly happened with your laptop being stolen with your second book on there?
I was on Melrose Place going to SEV Laser and I was there for an hour and I came back and all my truck windows were smashed in and my floral backpack with my medicine, my two Sony handhelds, my laptop and my backup... It’s so funny, it was taken and I had also just gone to xiv karats for the first time in ten years to take some jewellery out of the safe, whatever. And it’s the one and only time I haven’t taken my backpack with me and as I shut the door I thought, ‘You should take your backpack with you.’ But it was four o’ clock and sunny and I thought, ‘I’m not going to live like this where I have to always take everything with me, up to a laser place, you can’t live like this.’ I thought you really should take it but I just shut the door and locked it and that’s the one time that happens.
Your brain or something always intuits that you need to do this thing and if you ignore it, that’s the one time it happens.
Ever since then, if I have a feeling like ‘you shouldn’t go to that place’, I just don’t go.
It’s like splenic information. I definitely receive information in that way too, something in my gut, quick and instant, tells me if something is safe or not, you should do this thing or not.
I think there are five different types of sixth senses: there’s clairvoyance, clairaudience, clairsentience, which is a feeling, and then there’s claircognizance, which is a knowing. It’s inexplicable, like, ‘I know this person’s a bitch.’ And that’s more what I resonate with, it’s like a pop up block, where it’s like ‘no’. My sister has that too.
I have that for sure. And that was your second book of poems and all of them are gone?
Two years ago I started working on it… in May it’ll be three years. When I started it, Jack [Antonoff] has seven of the songs that he did the orchestration to, so there’s seven of them but the ones that give context to the seven that I did were really, really, really long and very much about…one of the lines was like, ‘I know it’s an unpopular opinion in 2022 but I still wanna get married and fall in love with you’ or something but it was a long rant about what is feminism, what is da da da da da... It gave so much context too. And it’s something I could never remember. It was something where you think of it and you have to do it immediately and if you don’t do it in the first five seconds, you won’t get it. So - I’m pissed!
It’s almost like you need to have a conversation with a girlfriend at that starting point and zone out and just rant and record it, word vomit your feelings and thoughts on it and see if anything familiar comes out.
It’s hard because it’s all this stuff I would never say. So hmmmm…there’s no lesson in that by the way. And it’s not like it pushes you along to make the book. I don’t wanna make it at all now.
So will you make a new one?
I’ve got the six or seven…I remember everything I was thinking because it’s all around one concept so I’ll just have to see what happens. It was good though. The stuff that Jack still has is good.
What’s the concept?
Ahhh [laughs]. It’s called Behind The Iron Gates. I had the cover drawn by this beautiful illustrator.
I love the cover of the Violets book. I have it with me actually. I love the oranges.
By Erika Lee Sears. By far and away the most amazing painter. I wanted to see if I could get in touch with David Hockney but then I met Erika and I was like wow, oh my god.
I love that your author pic is a selfie too. Because it’s the pandemic and you’re not going to get headshots done.
Yeah, totally. And I was happy that day. I was super blonde because with the pandemic – I’m really blonde anyway, like your colour – I had to keep lemoning my hair in the sun because I didn’t want the roots to grow out really blonde so by the end of those two years I was just white blonde again.
[gets out notepad] I made some notes when I was listening through the new album for the first time…
I have the ugliest journal I’m writing in currently but it’s going so well.
That’s always the way and you buy a beautiful one and you either don’t want to write in it or you write garbage notes in it and feel it’s ruined.
On not going where angels fear to tread
Not to bring it back to this but eleven years is such a long time to not be excited about your career and life. What is that? It’s too long to be explained…
No shit, we didn’t have a turnover. I kept being like, where’s the regeneration period? No?
Was it specifically tied to finishing your debut album and feeling misunderstood?
And I think it was specifically tied to all my experiences and encounters not aligning at all with how I felt about myself. It just felt like being in an upside down land where you’re like, what? Why! Really? But there have been some particular things that have happened, not that experience with music but that were challenging like that experience with music, where had they not happened I don’t think there would have been the turnaround that needed to happen for me in the long term to see a long term future as a happy person.
I don’t think happiness is the goal but my goal in life is to have met myself, have my heart in one place and my head in one place and it’s not about being a ray of sunshine but it’s…to even have gotten to that point, I think…
My only prayer is that I always have the information I need about what needs to be done next and what people might be saying who I have intimate relationships with that are unknown to me, any conversations that are unknown to me to be made known to me, so that I have all the information that I need to be in the right place and with the right people. The challenge with that is that you don’t always get the information or the experiences that are happy. You learn things that you don’t want to hear that people that you love think about you and you’re like, okay, this is another turning point.
I think the biggest lesson that I’ve learned is that there is no lesson in these hard lessons, you just have to let it go. Not everything is going to be revealed as to why weird things happen. However, I do have a theory that if you’re trying your best and you’re willing to let go of things that you feel don’t serve the greater good of your value system, then I think you’ll always be in the right place at the right time. If you’re teetering on the edge of doing something that’s against your value system, it’s like, be careful of where angels fear to tread, they might not be able to reach you.
I’m very shy so it’s nice for me to have close friendships sometimes with men in particular where they’re not afraid to teeter on that other side so that I can experience what that shadow side looks like through other people because I don’t want to get hurt. And I think I’ve learned a lot from that but the hard part is that you have to let that go, because if they’re going to stay on that path as people naturally do, then it’s a little bit sad to let that go. But as they say, it’s the message not the messenger.
Read the full profile with Lana here.
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