A Way With Words

Ari Leff, the man behind Lauv, is making waves in the music industry with his unique sound. His single “I Like Me Better” went platinum all around the world including in New Zealand. Leff is a humble, grounded and talented musician and those traits will take him far. We got the opportunity to talk with Leff, between back-to-back shows during his I Met You When I Was 18 tour. He speaks about the joys and challenges of touring and creating music as he rides the life-changing rollercoaster he is on.

Tell us where the name Lauv comes from.

It actually means the same thing as my real name, Ari. They both mean lion – I’m a Leo. My mum’s side of the family is from Latvia, and the Latvian word for lion is lauva, so I got rid of the ‘a’ and got Lauv.

You are on tour at the moment, and have been on the road for about a month now; how has the whole tour experience been so far?

This is the first time I have been on a tour where I feel like it has a big story to me. The I Met You When I Was 18 tour is all of the music I have put out, in chronological order, about experiences that I went through from when I moved to New York when I was 18, and was trying to figure out who I wanted to be and when I fell in love for the first time. And I was like, damn that’s the last thing I expected to do when I got to college – to fall in love. But of course, that happened. I tried to make this show feel like a story. I especially love going to shows where its like super, super-intimate, and people are right up on the stage. All of the music I have put out has been [about] the most intimate parts of myself, so I like feeling that energy and sharing that open energy with the audience.

What have been some of the best moments of the tour been so far?

Pretty much every night something weird or unexpected happens. Like either I go out on some random tangent or somebody does something stupid or there will be a funny moment with me and somebody in the audience; and last night was full of those moments. But in terms of emotional moments, one night when I was playing my song ‘Breathe’, this one girl, who I had met earlier at the meet and greet – you know, she had been going through a really tough break-up and had some really tough stuff going on, and she just broke down crying in front of me during the song. And I just, like, got down and gave her the longest, biggest hug and it was a beautiful moment. You know when you have a really good hug with somebody and you just don’t care at all? And you’re just in the moment? So, that was really beautiful. And sometimes people come up to me with tattoos of my lyrics or like: “can you write this so I can get a tattoo of it?” and I’m like: “are you fucking crazy? but yeah!”

What are some of the challenging things of being on tour?

Oh man… well, we’re on a little bus and my back hurts a lot, because I have always had lower back issues. Lack of sleep, definitely. Lack of laundry. And then, also, I have been finishing up new music while being on the road and that has been hard because my attention is all over the place. But even though it’s been hard, I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. Even the hard parts have taught me lessons about myself, and they are just training me for the future, so I’m excited about everything.

Your latest single is ‘Getting Over You’. Tell me a little about that track.

That is something I wrote back in LA… a little while ago. I was basically in a time where I had just moved to LA, and I was in a cycle of going out and, like, not really… I don’t know… being who I was. Like trying to escape, you know, when you’re trying to get over somebody, and constantly trying to distract yourself. And you’re like: is this ever going to stop? Am I ever going to stop feeling this way? And when am I going to move on?
I take a while to process feelings sometimes, like when I wrote ‘I Like Me Better’, even though that was about the beginning of a relationship and when I first moved to New York. I wrote that song like four years after that, when I moved to LA.

You are only 23, how did you get to where you are today?

You know I feel like one of the most important things for me, since I have been playing music for a long time, was to decide that I was never going to let it go. And I have been lucky that my parents have supported me. I can’t make some dramatic story that I had to struggle really hard, but I think that a lot of people give up on themselves before they even realise their full potential. I have just been playing for years and making heaps of songs, and playing in bands when I was in middle school and high school, and we would beg our friends to buy tickets to the shows so we wouldn’t have to pay the venue, you know? Part of the reason that I decided for a while to focus a lot more on writing songs for other artists was because I kind of had a lack of confidence, and I thought maybe the safer route was to work at a studio or to just make songs that other artists want to sing. And then I realised that I felt satisfied when I was sharing parts of my life through music and that, hopefully, though doing that I could inspire other people to feel more confident in sharing whatever they’re going through. I found the only way I could really do that and take control of that was to be the artist.

How would you describe your style of music?

I guess if I was to put it in a box, which is so hard because it sounds like so many different kinds of music, I would say it is sort of minimal R’n’B/pop, but I also cringe as I say that, because I make songs that don’t sound like that. But I find that there is always some kind of romantic aspect. The two most important things for me are, first, trying to make songs that feel classic at their core; if you strip everything away and play it on piano or guitar, it’s still that classic feel. [Second is] then trying to always approach production in a way [that is] taking sounds and crossing genres, and doing things that people haven’t quite heard before.

So what is the recording and creative process like?

When I have been on tour, a lot of it has been recorded in a hotel room set-up, like I just recorded some vocals in Toronto. My manager was, like: “should we get you a studio?” and I was, like: “no.” I don’t like being in studios, they make me feel too contrived; all of the vocals in the songs that I have put out, have been recorded in my house, with me, myself and my computer – or like some of it was recorded while I was travelling and in random hotels or whatever. My process is about me kind of letting go of all of my control, and trying to get in touch with whatever is subconsciously happening in my brain. It’s about not really trying to write a song but just kind of like: just play chords and all of a sudden an idea comes, and I just see where it goes.

What does it feel like to hear your music on the radio?

It’s crazy, man. Like seeing ‘I Like Me Better’ go platinum all over the place, and, you know, all of the radio success, and seeing people all around the world singing it when I play shows and people covering it… then I might hear it when I’m in an Uber, or a friend snapchats it to me: all of those experiences are crazy to me. But it just feels, sort of, like anybody could do it. I had no idea that I was going to write that song that day. And I think it’s about just surrendering to the moment and just seeing what happens, [because] you never know what might happen. I think there are so many things that can happen, that are so small and simple, that can change your life forever, and I think they are all around us. I wrote ‘The Other’ in 2015 with one of my best friends, Michael Matosic, who is an amazing songwriter, with whom I write a lot of my songs. We were just sitting in my apartment in New York City, writing all of these songs, trying to pitch to other artists, and I was like: “I just wrote this thing and I’m just getting these feelings, can we just try writing this song?” And then we wrote this song, with just us and an acoustic guitar, and I really had no idea it was going to be a song I was going to keep. But then I kept sitting with it, and I was like: “this song is just so vulnerable for me, like I don’t want to give it away.” And then was the moment when I was like: “Fuck it, let me just try recording it myself.” You know, it was, each of these little moments kind of led to one another, then I was, like: “you know what? Let me try putting it out myself.” And then that happened. But I feel like all of the most forward-moving parts of my career have always been unpredictable moments; they have almost never come from me trying to control something and force it to happen; usually something beautiful happens and that leads to something else beautiful.

How has life changed for you since dropping your first EP?

I feel like, for the most part, I’m definitely a lot busier. I have to make an effort to try to stay focused on my long-term friendships and family, and relationships in general [as] I feel I get so caught up in everything that’s happening. I feel so excited about all of the new music I’m writing; and [about] building this fanbase that feels really real to me. I feel a genuine connection to the fans. I just feel like there has been less time to focus on the other stuff. Also, I think one of the best parts of this whole thing is that it has been a process of me accepting myself for who I am, ’cause I think in the beginning I started to write songs, and there were moments where I was being really honest but then I would go back to pretending I was somebody else. And now I feel like I’m in a place where I just feel comfortable with who I am.

What is a piece of advice you would give to someone looking to follow a similar career path as yours?

It’s really hard for me to tell somebody what to do, but you just need to decide that no matter what, you are never going to give up. You don’t know how your career is going to look, and you can’t predict it. It’s good to set goals, but also not to be tied to things having to be a certain way. For me, it was deciding that I wanted to make music, and that I wanted to be an artist and I wanted to take that to the highest level possible and connect with the most people possible. Things might look this way, or they might look that way, but let the world kind of show you, and let it all unfold.