We were thinking about what a week it has been for Ella Yelich-O'Connor when it dawned on us that it has been less than a year since we gave Ella her first proper fashion shoot, and second ever interview for Black Magazine Issue #19. It was obvious the day of the shoot that she was a special talent and a very centred, smart and interesting young woman. 10 months later and the world now knows this too. So, to unequivocally celebrate the success of the phenom known as Lorde, here is both the interview in full, and the two shots we ran in issue 19 of Black back in April 2013. All power to Ella, Joel, Scott and her entire crew. Love us proud Black kiwis xx
Interview: Grant Fell Photos: Charles Howells. Styling: Rachael Churchward Hair: Lauren Gunn at Stephen Marr. Make-up: Carolyn Haslett using M.A.C.
Grant Fell: Where were you born and where did you grow up? Lorde: I was born on Hororata Road in Takapuna, and I grew up on Beresford Street in Bayswater. We had a big backyard and a sandpit and a lot of animals and books and paints. It was good. What was the very first thing you remember? I remember running downstairs when my little sister was born, she’s two years younger than me. How old were you when you wrote your first song, and what was it about? I was maybe 12 or 13, and it probably sucked. I think it was about this girl in my year who was off the rails in a way that was embarrassing to watch, it might have been a diss track, ha ha. Your mother Sonja Yelich is a celebrated poet, and your lyrics are clearly poetic in places. Has she influenced the way you write lyrics? I guess my mum influenced my lyrical style by always buying me books. She’d give me a mixture of kid and adult books too, there weren’t really any books I wasn’t allowed to read. I remember reading Feed by M.T. Anderson when I was six, and her giving me Salinger and Carver at a young age, and Janet Frame really young too. We’d always discuss what I had read, which helped me form this really strong understanding of what I did and didn’t like about the ways different writers used words. I think that’s a smart thing to raise kids on, and I’m glad she did.
Describe your song writing process; do you start with any particular instrument, a melody in your head, lyrics..? I tend to start with lyrics – sometimes the seed of a song will just be a word that I thought was rad, one that summed up a particular idea I’d been trying to pin down (there’s a line in a Kanye song that goes ‘me found bravery in my bravado’, which was kind of exactly what I needed to hear when trying to tackle my chronic shyness as subject matter in a track). I guess I’m first and foremost a writer; lyrics and melody are always the first things I process. Some people construct music and then put a lyrical idea to that, but my music is shaped by what I’m trying to say, which feels like a more cohesive way of working to me. I don’t play any instrument well enough to write on, so I just use my voice. Usually I’ll be doing dishes or something and playing with a melodic idea vocally, but I forget there are people around me so the situation generally culminates in my sister throwing something at me. And then I guess there’s always the times when you get hit with this kind of white-hot inspiration that pushes you into a bathroom to record mouth drums. You worked and wrote with Joel Little on The Love Club e.p. Talk us through working with Joel, how does your musical partnership work? What has he brought to the table as it were? Lots of great writers have these incredible relationships with their editors – Raymond Carver’s editor Gordon Lish is kind of the reason Carver was a big deal, and there’s this nice thing that T.S. Eliot used to say of his editor Ezra Pound as a dedication in his books, he’d say ‘il miglior fabbro’ which means ‘to the better craftsman’. While I’m not gonna say there’s a better craftsman in our partnership, I think what Joel’s so good at doing with me is refining my raw potential to end up with this kind of strange magic. Joel and I met maybe eighteen months ago; I was this weird kid who would wear nighties to the studio and make up strange words, and we started writing together almost straight away. I think in our second week-long session we wrote Royals, Bravado and Biting Down. If we’re onto a good thing it’s very intense (I like to work twelve-hour days more often than not and I forget he has a family to go home to, but he’ll match me for hours every time). Joel is one of the coolest adults I know, he gets me and my vision totally, never treats me like I’m half his age, and somehow manages to comply when I ask him to make a high hat part more insect-sounding or whatever. I like to think that I challenge Joel because I’m a super-minimalist with arrangements and I have a very clear idea of what I want… we tend to spend a day looking for just two sounds that make a track click into place. So that’s why I work with Joel. Oh, and he has impeccable taste in funny YouTube videos.
'Royals' comes from a very grounded place, a young woman not necessarily impressed with glitz and glamour, celebrity, money and material things – how refreshing. “We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair”, would it be safe to assume you have a number of friends who think the same way? Ha ha. It’s definitely safe to assume that… At the same time I don’t think that grounded, realistic place is any kind of epiphany – all my friends were like ‘this track is awesome, but no shit’ – it’s just one that’s frequently ignored by a lot of mainstream musicians because it’s very difficult to market the mundane. Hearing about the Murcielago Kanye owns is a nice way of switching off reality and pretending you own a Murci. Which is fine! It’s just really irrelevant to us, and that was the point I was trying to make with Royals. A lot of adults forget that people my age are actually tastemakers, but because we don’t have any money to buy pretty things, or an ID to get in anywhere cool, we’re kind of moored...it’s a frustrating place to be sometimes, so hopefully having someone batting for the team who gets played on the radio and stuff is nice for people. I’ve had a couple comments on Tumblr or Facebook saying ‘Dude, that song makes so much sense to me!’ and if I can get that response from my peers, I’m doing something right.
There are great backing vocals and harmonies on 'Bravado', did you have someone helping you with this, or did you do these as well? All the vocal layering on all the tracks is me, but there’s one part in Bravado which was slightly too low, so I got Joel on the job. Let’s talk through your influences. Who has inspired you most as a singer? I used to listen to a lot of soul, so I guess naturally singers like Billie Holiday, Sam Cooke and Otis Redding influenced me vocally for a while. Those singers are so skilled at harvesting their suffering, something I obviously can’t do but greatly admire. I think Thom Yorke uses his voice in a very smart way, almost as another instrument, which I like to play with. James Blake has a beautiful refined soul voice that also feels really relevant these days. And then people with sassy tone like Nicki Minaj and Kendrick Lamar appeal to me (closet desire to become a rapper). I like it when a voice drips with something, with an emotion. It’s a difficult thing to do, but so, so cool when achieved. As a songwriter? Eek. To name a few, Bon Iver, Radiohead, James Blake, Jamie Woon, and Arcade Fire. Writers like Raymond Carver taught me that every word counts, and sometimes five words are more powerful than twenty, which is an important thing to know with songwriting. T.S. Eliot and Walt Whitman taught me the importance of using beautiful words occasionally, and Sylvia Plath taught me not to shy away from discomfort. As a human being? My dad is a civil engineer, he’s been with his firm for thirty years, and is the most considered, consistent person I know. I try to judge tricky situations in the same way he would. Also, I think Don Draper from Mad Men is the most physically and verbally stylish person ever.
Do you have any favourite New Zealand acts? Nnnnooootttt rrreeeaaaalllllllyyyy… Hmm… Uh… I think Homebrew/@peace are good, and also this electronic musician called Totems. My friend Frano did a remix of one of my tracks, he’s super smart and will probably be way too big to remember my name in a couple years. I think that’s it. From our shoot, we can see you have an appreciation of fashion, jewellery etc. Do you have favourite New Zealand designers? JIMMY D! I’ve been going into Children of Vision and geeking out for the last few years so I was super excited to be wearing him for the shoot! I’m will be wearing Jimmy D for my first show, which is on Friday. I’m guessing I will feel like a witch princess. Stolen Girlfriends Club do great stuff too. The world of fancy brands is one I’ve only been let into recently, and even then it’s only to borrow things. I’m way too poor to pay upwards of fifty dollars for ANYTHING…I get 90% of my things from opshops. We love the artwork of you with the very large rat on the EP. Who did that and talk us through the image…Oh, thank you. That was drawn by my friend Sam Yong, I basically emailed him and asked him to give me a gold laurel wreath and jewellery and a bunch of animals and to look like a badass and as much like me as possible so when I finally showed my face people weren’t expecting Megan Fox or whatever. He complied. By the time we go to print you will have played your first live show. How are you feeling about the show ahead? I’m looking forward to it! It will be a hyper-real thing, having all the tracks kind of burst open onstage. I’m playing for mainly friends, so should be fun. Are there more live shows to be announced? You can count on it. The music world is a highly collaborative place. If you had the chance to write a song or work with anyone in the world at the moment, who would it be? I think James Blake would be super cool to work with. Frank Ocean would be fun, Abel Tesfaye from The Weeknd. I’m also harbouring this desire to make a huge banger with Flume, so we’ll see how that pans out…We hear you are working on an album. How far into the writing and recording process are you and how are you feeling about it? I’m about 5 finished tracks into the record, although it’s been over a month since I was last in studio. I’m SO pumped to get deep into that again, though. You have no idea. I’m dreaming about it right now. The studio is this special sanctuary for me, it’s my equivalent of a treehouse, I guess. I’m going in with so many musical and lyrical ideas I wanna try out; safe to say I’m going to try anything and everything I want to. It’s going to be an amazing few months! Cast your mind forward one year from today, the day you are answering these questions? Where do you think you will be? I’m in bed answering these. My bed is a single. Hopefully in a year’s time I have a double bed. That is all. In one sentence, describe Lorde…equal parts arrogant, reverent and unwashed.
A few generic questions; What do you secretly wish you were fantastic at? Whistling. Or being able to wink all sexy. If you were living in another era, which era would it be? 1700s France, because everyone wants to party with Marie Antoinette. What was your last dream about? The studio, it’s been too long…One line from a song that inspires you…In this new Bat For Lashes song, Laura, there’s a nice line: ‘You’ll be famous for longer than them’. It’s so fierce and beautiful. Flipping the script. Who would you most like to write a song about you? Can I have Burial? Even though it wouldn’t have any lyrics it’d be the coolest fucking thing and I would definitely be bragging to my grandchildren. If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be? Don’t try pin all that responsibility on me, Black…What are you listening to most, at the moment? This band called Why? that my friend James put me onto. What are you reading? ‘Battleborn’ by Claire Vaye Watkins. Do you have a favourite TV series? 'The Sopranos/Mad Men'. Film? 'Fight Club/The Virgin Suicides' Artist? I love Aurel Schmidt. Food? Sashimi Drink? Anyone who doesn’t say water is an idiot One liner? Who has a favourite one-liner? Is that a thing? Cats or dogs? Dogs. Twitter or Instagram? The gram. Season of the year? Winter. All the best musicians love winter...