Modern Renaissance Woman: An interview with Lola Young
Music — 08.05.20
Words by Anastasia Solovieva
At just 19, Lola Young possesses her own uniquely raw take on music. Both dark and witty, her style is deliberately elusive. It encompasses candidly sharp and socially aware lyricism that usually lives in hip hop, tender storytelling more known to folk, as well as velvet neo-jazz sensibilities, spiced up with South London twang. Her music is not one thing, nor is she – a good caution to remember and live by.
Growing up in a musical household filled with the sounds of Joni Mitchell, Prince, and Alanis Morissette, Lola began writing music at age eleven, later adding Avril Lavigne and Eminem to the list of heavy influences. Total infatuation with music led Lola to refine her craft at the prestigious Brit School, whose alumni include Amy Winehouse, Adele, Freya Ridings, FKA Twigs, Leona Lewis, Loyle Carner, and Rex Orange County.
Exploring the human condition through songs that resonate universally may seem like a sweet gift, but this skill is equally a product of extremely hard work and determination. In conversation, Lola is as powerful in her thoughts as she is in her vocals, having fierce opinions on love, the education system, and pressure that her generation experiences from society and the music industry.
Tell me a little bit about growing up in South London and the influence it’s had on your music.
I’m really inspired by music that has come from London, and growing up here definitely has a big part to play in terms of my own music. It’s important to me that not only my accent but also the feel of where I am comes through in it.
How did your relationship with music start?
For me, like for most people who do music, it’s a form of therapy, because it’s very cathartic. It is also a form of self-expression. I always wanted to have an outlet, and music was that. I found that when I was confused about something, down, or needed a bit of time from it all, music is what I turned to. It helped me make sense of things that were happening to me.
Your new EP Renaissance is out, congratulations! What does it feel like to let go and have it exist in the world?
It’s always a strange feeling because the moment it’s out and someone else hears it, it’s no longer yours. People can comment and temper with it, and you have no control over what someone thinks of it. Once released, music (and any art) becomes very open to evaluation. Sometimes it gets interpreted completely not in a way you intended it to or watered down, or people just take it for what it’s not. It’s really an amazing feeling to have people finally hear my music but it can also feel weird at times.
Scary, too, not only because it’s so very personal, but because you never really know what people are going to connect to and what’s really going to pop. Sometimes you do the calculations and predict what will sell well, be it a movie, a sneaker, a song, you bank on it, and when it comes out it just doesn’t resonate with people.
Completely, and when you drop something and it’s not taken the way you wanted it to be taken, it can knock people’s confidence quite a bit. All my music has been quite consistent, I dropped “6 Feet Under” first, then Intro came out, and all those songs did equally well, which is a blessing. It’s all about streams as well, and back in the day it never used to be like that, it’s a lot of pressure nowadays I think.
There is a lot of storytelling that goes into your songs. Each track on this EP is really strong. Let’s talk about them. How did “Pick Me Up” come about?
“Pick Me Up” is my least favourite song on Renaissance, maybe because I listened to it too much. I had the lyrics and we ended up writing it together with my producers Conor and Will to the beat that they had. I think the reason I don’t love this song as much as the other two is because the meaning of it is quite unclear to me. I know for some people it’s quite obvious, it being about a relationship where you feel as if they continue to let you down but there is also a conflicting feeling about you still wanting them around. But I wrote it at a time when I didn’t have much inspiration in terms of love, I just jotted down things trying to make sense of them, and now the meaning feels a little bit blurred to me.
What about “Same Bed”?
I wrote it literally 4 years ago. We went through so many versions of it with my producers, eventually getting to a really cool place, but when we took it to the label, they didn’t think it was right, so we redid it again. There is a lot going on in this song production-wise, representing the feeling and emotion behind the song. That repetitiveness of waking up in the same bed, having the same shitty relationships and moving through life feeling quite confused and lost, that’s what the song is about and it really works I think.
“None For You” is a candidly heartfelt powerhouse. The emotions in it are unreal. Tell me a little bit about where were you when you made it why it exists?
I wrote it after a breakup, getting to a place of no longer having time for that person, finally moving on, even though moving on is the most difficult thing in the world. And it’s funny because the song is a total contradiction of itself, I’m saying, “I’ve got no time for you,” yet the whole song is written about that person. I wrote it first and foremost for myself, but also for those people who are desperately trying to get over someone and just need that one song to have one good cry to. Not a shitty, oh I’m really heartbroken cry, but a wholesome, freeing cry.
You filmed the video for “None For You” in the echoing halls of London’s V&A museum, which I believe marks the first time ever that an artist was permitted to film there. Pretty special. And fitting for the renaissance themes of this EP, actually. Was it a memorable day?
It was really amazing. I only had two or three takes, and the history and power of the environment helped to get back into that feeling of burning hatred and at the same time desire for someone. It was a really beautiful experience.
Does performing extremely personal music, whether in front of a live audience or on IG Live, transport you back to those painful and intense emotions every time, or does it at some point become quite compartmentalised?
It’s definitely much easier for me to get back in the zone when there is the audience I can connect to and feed off of. I’m quite a strong believer in a human connection, so when I’m with real people, it’s easier to get back in touch with my emotions and really feel them. Performing on IG Live or in the room with just a couple of people, for example, is quite difficult for me, because it just starts feeling really repetitive. I often think about performing through the lens of acting. When an actor does a scene, again and again, a hundred times, the last take won’t be as good as the first few in my opinion. So the hundredth time I perform a song is less and less emotional than the first or second time, it becomes much more diluted. I think the trick is to have a break from songs, and come back and look at them in a different light. Sometimes the emotion can come right back to you, and if you are going through something similar that you did maybe a few weeks ago, suddenly that song resonates with you more than it did, but it all just depends, doesn’t it?
Would you talk a little bit about your creative process?
I typically write a song on piano or guitar, then I put it down on voice memos in my phone and type it out in my notes app. I’ve been trying to write in the last few weeks, sometimes I can grasp it, sometimes I can’t, but I never want to force writing, because once you force something it becomes very disjointed, and not intentional. Typically I have to have had a particular experience that inspired me or if not that, I have to be in the right frame of mind and to be feeling the song. If there is no inspiration it’s hard to get something out of the thin air.
Is the inspiration anything random?
It’s literally anything random. If the weather isn’t good it can affect the writing, if I haven’t eaten that day it can affect the writing. It’s the same with everything. Everything is relative and connected.
Much like taking a break from a particular song, do you ever feel like you need to take a break from music, and do something else creatively, using a different medium?
I have nothing else, it’s just music. If I don’t do music, I’m a different person. Writing, performing, going to see my label, having meetings, that’s my job and I love doing that. If I don’t do that for a month, I become weird. This quarantine has been difficult because I can’t do a lot of it, but I’ve been writing and keeping myself busy musically otherwise.
That’s excellent because I feel like even though we have all this time on our hands at the moment, there is a lot of pressure for artists to be productive and creative, when in fact a lot of people are finding it really impossible.
It’s such an anxious and unstable time, and a lot of people struggle with it. I know there is someone else being way more creative than I am, but it doesn’t matter. You can be spending this time literally doing nothing, and you shouldn’t feel ashamed. We are all just people at the end of the day, and there is no need to be competitive with yourself or others in terms of what you are doing or not doing.
Who would you most like to collaborate with?
Knucks and A2 are definitely the artists I’d love to work with. Also Jelani Blackman.
You’ve been pretty open and outspoken about mental health. While it’s finally becoming a subject that people are feeling more comfortable opening up about and talking about, in some ways it’s also become this culturally “cool” thing to be like, “sorry I’m bipolar, I just had a panic attack”, which is not cute at all, and is very offensive.
That’s so accurate, I couldn’t have said it better.
Why is it so important to you personally and for young people to create a dialogue around it?
I suffer from a mental health condition. I know heeps about it now, but then I had no knowledge, and I was just as confused as most people are about it. Before I had my own real experience with it, it was just that thing that people talked about and it made no sense to me. Having days when I couldn’t get out of bed, having manic episodes was very very confusing, because no one had told me how real it is, and it is as real as breaking a leg or having any other physical illness. Not having an open dialogue about it enables people to use it to their advantage not having an idea of what the fuck they are talking about, but also the lack conversation means more people are living in fear of it.
It’s the real pandemic we don’t talk enough about.
There is still so much stigma around it, and I can’t wait for society to move on from that.
What do you think are the biggest issues pressing young people today?
Education is a big one, it’s at the core of everything. I don’t think our current education system is progressive enough, and kids get lost within it, because of how and what they are being taught and what they are not being taught. There is a lot of pressure for every single person to complete education, and I just think it’s not for everyone. There are other ways of learning, and I think once you associate learning with school, it becomes very boring. I don’t really read books, because it reminds me of an English lesson. We are also surrounded by technology, and I think the other real issue is social media.
An actual elephant in the room! What’s your relationship with it like?
Not great, to be honest. Unhealthy. Like everyone? I’m blinded all the time by pretty women, and I think that’s damaging. Especially when it comes to your relationships with women and men because it makes you feel less than those images, even if subconsciously. It’s become such a relevant thing in my generation, to be the prettiest, and I’m trying to overcome that because I’m trying to do more than that with my music.
It’s amazing how many choices we have, be it on Spotify every week, or on a dating app, or retail sites, but I get a sense it might be making us less committed and thorough with our choices, having things be quite disposable.
And linking it back to music, it’s a bit of a shame. People are less inclined to listen to albums. It’s more about the singles now and that one song. Back in the day, you wouldn’t even get the choice. You would’ve gone to the store, bought a record, gone home, having to listen to the whole thing. There are always pros to all these things of course, and how fast the technology is moving. Hopefully, sometime in the future, we start realising that the speed at which things are happening doesn’t mean that we have to neglect all of the things we had before, the roots of things, and what at the core makes us human. Hopefully, that doesn’t get lost among technology, because it’s going to be shit otherwise I think.
It’s hard to know when life might resume again, but is there anything you’d like to get out from the rest of this year?
Releasing my album is my main focus, figuring out when people might want it, and when the right time is. I really miss performing, so I hope this blows over soon. Now that I’m signed, one of the goals is to increase my following and build my community. Goals always change, I remember a time when all I wanted was just a few streams and a couple of people liking my music. Dreams always grow bigger, but the one thing that will always remain is people enjoying and connecting to my music and that I’m surrounded by people who don’t fixate on what I’m doing in my personal life but rather what I’m making.
You can also stream her EP Renaissance in full below: