Interview: 19-Year-Old Singer Laurel on Her Classical Training, Quickly Evolving Sound, & Self-Producing Her Album

Female singers with single-word monikers—Lorde, Banks, Kelela, MØ, Elliphant—seem to be having a moment, and now you can add Laurel to the list of future stars. The 19-year-old singer has taken her buzz to the next level with breakout track “Fire Breather,” but she’s not new to this.

Don’t let her teenage status fool you—Laurel has been singing since she was 11 and performing since she was 14. She is a classically trained vocalist who has tried different musical styles, including folk, before settling on her current cinematic sound. It’s working out well, but don’t expect her to stop trying new things. She’s been spending most of her waking hours writing new material and experimenting as a producer, but we caught up with her during a brief moment of downtime before her first US show at the Bardot in Los Angeles.


So, this is your first show in the US?
Yeah, I’ve never played in the States before. I’m pretty excited. I’m wondering if it is going to be the same sort of vibe as it is in England but I can’t imagine that it is.

Have you been to the States before?
I went to the States about a year and a half ago in August. It was summer so it was nice and warm but I was just writing and visiting, just trying to get a sense of America. This is the first time that I’ve come and had a proper work schedule doing gigs and stuff. It’s really fun.

Walk us through what it’s like to be Laurel right now. You’re 19 and getting ready for your first US gig…
It’s crazy! It’s definitely fun. I mean, this is what I have wanted to do since I was about four years old. I’m definitely happy with my life right now. It’s quite exciting. I’m getting to start to travel more which is something that I’ve always wanted to do, and I get to write music every day. So to be Laurel right now is pretty good if you’re in the same sort of mind frame as me! Some people might hate it. [laughs]

How would you describe your music to a stranger?
It’s quite cinematic I think. It’s a combination of strings and orchestral influences mixed with dirty, hip hoppy type beats, a bit grungy at times. There are lots of contrasts. You’ll have a nice song and then it will have a dirty subtext. I’m addicted to bass basically.

 It’s a combination of strings and orchestral influences mixed with dirty, hip hoppy type beats, a bit grungy at times.

You’re a producer as well right?
Yeah, I’m producing the whole album. It’s a big task, so there might one or two songs that I’ll do co-production on, but most of it is all my production. Which for me is a big step up from last year when I was kind of co-writing. I wanted more time to explore doing it on my own. It’s fun to work with other people but I have always loved just hiding away and doing it myself.

I just took some time off so I could work on my production skills and it’s definitely the best thing that I have done in the last, like, three years! I just delved into it from the deep end and we’ll see what happens.

So you’re a completely self taught producer?
I took a few classes in production while at college but I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t really that interested in it. I was always interested in music but all I really wanted to do was write my songs. I didn’t really care about the production side of it so I didn’t pay that much attention in class. So, when I decided to do it seriously I basically had to start from scratch. I kind of knew the basics but I have just been trying everything out. I think it’s the best way to learn music. Though, I do kind of wish that I had listened in my music technology classes now.

Isn’t that always how things turn out?
I know! I wish I had listened in my French classes too. I would love to speak a foreign language now.


Are you interested in producing for anyone else or sticking to your own material for now?
I would love to do that. It is definitely on my list of things that I really, really want to do in the next two or three years, but right now I’m just trying to focus on getting my album done. Then I’m going to start doing some more remixes for other people which is really fun because it kind of takes you out of your own little box and gives you a chance to go crazy in a different area. I would love to produce for someone else one day. I would love to find a new artist and just, you know, help them get to the next level.

I read that you’re a classically trained singer?
Yeah, I studied classical music in school and I am a classically trained singer. I started taking singing lessons when I was about 11 so I have basically always been a singer. I didn’t really enjoy classical singing at all. I always wanted to be more creative. Then when I went to college I decided to study performance and music technology, and funnily enough they were the subjects I got the least marks in. It’s so crazy because I am a musician now when I almost failed almost all of my music classes. But it’s a creative subject so I don’t think you can mark it very easily. [laughs]

It’s so crazy because I am a musician now when I almost failed almost all of my music classes.

Well, a lot of musicians that are famous now either failed or dropped out of their music schools so maybe it’s a good sign!
I hope so! I’ll just have to keep that in mind, it makes me feel better.

What do you do when you’re not writing and producing?
I don’t know! I feel like my life is so consumed by music. I love films, I watch lots of films. When I’m not making music I’m usually hanging out with my friends but to be honest I’m usually making music all the time. It sounds crazy but I am so obsessed with it.

How do you feel about the comparisons people are making between you and Lorde and Lana Del Rey?
It doesn’t really bother me too much at all. Those artists in particular are very credible female artists who are doing extremely well. So, being compared to two extremely successful artists that are dominating right now is definitely not hard for me. Obviously I think every female will always be compared to other females in the business until you’re someone like Rihanna.

You kind of just have to suck it up and go with it, at least I’m not being compared to people that I don’t like!

Do you come from a musical family?
There is no one in my family that is an actual musician but they all love music. My mum is so supportive of my decision, she loves music. I think she could have definitely been an A&R scout, I think I’m going to have to try and find her a job! They love coming to my shows, I’ve got really great family and friends.

It definitely helps. There are moments throughout all of this that you really need a support group of people that believe in you. Not just people that you’re working with.


Where did the inspiration for “Firebreather” come from?
All of my songs usually come from experiences I’ve had or my surroundings. I wrote it at a time when I was with someone and I thought that they were so beautiful and that they outshone me. I loved them and I was with them, but I always felt like everyone was looking at him and no one noticed me. No one would pay attention to me because this other person was outshining me. Then, as time wore on I started to resent that person a bit because they were the one that was beautiful—that’s where the track originally came from.

Then when it came time to make the video the director came in and said “I’ve got this wicked idea guys, let’s put it in a caravan site.” And I instantly thought “Yes! Let’s put it in a trailer park!” [laughs]

I don’t know what we were thinking but here we are. We could have filmed it anywhere and we picked the coldest day in a trailer park but it was so fun to make and it’s my first video so I’m really pleased. I’m ready for the next one now!

What is the next track to get a video?
I’ve written a new song called “To The Hills.” We recorded a 24-piece orchestra on the track with a big string section and of course the drums and bass. We’ll make a video for that and hopefully everyone can hear it soon. It is definitely one of my favorite songs so I hope that everyone likes it as much as I do.

Now that we’re in the Hollywood Hills I want to come back here to film the video. I don’t want to leave, I need to find a reason to stay.

How has your sound changed since you started making music as “Under the Laurels?”
My sound has changed dramatically. I am basically doing the polar opposite of what I was doing before. It still has some folkiness to it but before I was making pure folk music on my guitar and I loved it. It was so fun and that was a time in my life that was so great, but I just got bored with it.

I just wanted to do something that was a bit more mature and a bit more me. I think there are still parts of my old music in the new stuff. There are some songs that I used to play that I want to rework into my album, but it is kind of hard to make them sound different because I have sung them in a certain way for so long. Now it’s a lot more ballsy I think. It’s a much bigger sound with drums and it’s based around production.

Okay, last question—are you really as much of cheese addict as I’ve read that you are?
I do tweet about mozzarella cheese a lot. I am a huge fan of cheese, everyone knows that I am a really big cheese fan. You can never take life too seriously! [laughs]

Well, what is your favorite type of cheese?
It changes every month! Right now I am having a mozzarella phase last month I was on Boursin. I love all cheese, though, I can eat all cheeses in the world, I guess it is my unique selling point.