A Letter From Lana Del Rey – The Full NME Cover Interview

Back in September, we optimistically emailed Lana Del Rey a bunch of questions about life, love, Twin Peaks, Courtney Love and “intergalactic possibilities”. Three months later the answers turned up. Here they are in full.

What kind of place in your life were you at while writing ‘Honeymoon’? What was going on for you personally as you wrote these songs?

“I guess the first thing that was going on was that I really wanted to have one more record out that was able to speak for me, even if I wasn’t in a place where I felt like speaking about myself. Aside from that I was happy and not really feeling like the album needed to be too cathartic. It felt like a good time to have fun with some elements of psychedelia and surrealism, production-wise.”

“On Monday they destroyed me but by Friday I’m revived… I’ve got nothing much to live for ever since I found my fame,” you sing on ‘God Knows I Tried’. Is life in the spotlight as crushing for you as it sounds? What are the most extreme situations you’ve found yourself in because of fame?

“There were unusual situations I found myself in that I didn’t know how to extract myself from, situations that needed more attention than me or the people around me knew how to handle at first. I think that song was a reminder to myself that if you don’t want the problems that come with being in the spotlight the best thing you can do is try and take yourself out of the spotlight when you’re not on stage. I think my two big goals with work are to make great records, and stay out of the press for the wrong reasons, so that song lyrically and melodically is especially poignant for me when I listen back to it. My family was traditional, and some of my extended family used to say a gentleman is only in the paper two times in his life: when he’s born and when he dies. Obviously, it’s a little too late for me when it comes to that sentiment.”

‘Freak’ is maybe my favourite song on the new record – those bassy trap rumbles are something I’d not really heard in your music until now. What music were you listening to as you plotted this album?

“I really love Rae Sremmurd so that might be a surprise inspiration. Also Sage The Gemini. I really love listening to some of the people that came out of Atlanta in the last two years. I don’t think I was trying to emulate that sound, but I had elements of it in ‘Freak’ and ‘High By The Beach’.”

Your music, this album included, has always had a Bond-theme kind of feel to it. You were hotly tipped earlier this year to record the theme song to the new film. Were you approached?

“I would’ve done it if I was asked but I wasn’t asked. I love all the Bond music that’s been put out over the years and I love soundtracks in general. There are a couple of songs on this record that have a Bond feel, like ‘24’ and ‘Swan Song’.”

There’s such a timeless, intensely personal, glamour fantasy element to your music. How plugged into ‘real life’ stuff are you? Did you follow what was happening in Ferguson [the protests and riots following the fatal shooting of a young black man by a police officer] last year, for example?

“There is a high fantasy element in the music, but I’m incredibly plugged into what’s going on politically, socially and pretty much in every way except pop-culturally. I’ve had a very real life, and there have been a lot of things that took a lot of strength and wherewithal to figure out… things I’m still figuring out. That’s probably why the music has such an element of escapism to it.”

David Lynch is making a new series of Twin Peaks – a show that seems to have had an impact on your music. Are you excited?

“I would love to do anything with David Lynch. I don’t know too much about what’s going on but I certainly love the original TV series and his movies since then.”

Your three Lana Del Rey albums have been very Californian in sound and imagery. But Lizzy Grant is from New York. Will you ever make a New York record?

“I feel like ‘Born To Die’ had a lot of New York in it because I was in New York leading up to the time that the record came out, except for the time I was in London while I was working on it. I find it very easy to go back and forth between a New York state of mind and a California way of being, so I could see me making another New York record. I think it would be different just because it would be a little harder, faster, more upbeat and less dreamy.”

You toured with Courtney Love earlier this year. How was that? Did you hang out much after shows?

“Touring with Courtney was great – we have some things in common that might not be visible from the outside. I did spend some time with her, and I still see her now and then. I think the most important thing I learned was that some people just have it when it comes to performing. She’s totally entrancing, a born performer.”

How close is the character of Lana Del Rey to who you are off stage? Your songs are full of doomed heroines, hopelessly devoted to bad boys who treat them badly. Are you similar in real life?

“I guess the biggest difference is that when I’m on stage I’m the centre of attention and when I’m back at home I try to blend in. Obviously I’m singing the songs because they relate to my life. When it comes to guys, I haven’t courted bad guys into my life but I think because I was artistic I never settled for anyone who wasn’t completely enthralled with life or with being different, and that didn’t lend any clarity to my world, although it was enriching in other ways.”

Have you grown more or less like that character in the time since ‘Born To Die’?

“I think sometimes as an artist it’s difficult to know where your unique aesthetic comes from… real life and imagination and art all bend in and out of each other to create your records. I’ve found, about five years down the line from writing the first song for that record, that I am surprisingly similar to the person in those songs – mostly in the way that I have a strong sense of who I am but not a clear idea of where I’m going.”

Are you that character full time? The character in your songs and videos and photoshoots is so fully realised that it’s hard to imagine you doing normal things – laundry, lazing around in front of the TV. Do you ever lead a normal life, doing normal things?

“I do lots of normal things, and I never feel different from the person I am on stage to the person I am when I’m driving or cleaning or talking to my friends… I guess I know what you mean about the world being so fully realised that it’s hard to imagine anything going on outside of it, but even with the highly stylised videos it’s my hope that my intentions and soul come through.”

Can you ever imagine releasing music without that persona? Returning to Lizzy Grant?

“I definitely don’t need a persona to create music, it’s not a David Bowie type of thing necessarily (maybe that’s not a good reference, he may be completely as I imagine him to be). I just put music out under a different name with a fully realised sound and texture.”

You covered Nina Simone’s ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ on ‘Honeymoon’. What is it about Nina, her story and her music, that you’re drawn to?

“I love the song I covered and I love the song I covered of hers [‘The Other Woman’] on the last record… I’m drawn to her melodies and words. Personality-wise, we’re quite different. We may have had some of the same issues, but I picked that song just because it resonated with me.”

The song ‘Art Deco’ is rumoured to be about Azealia Banks. Is that true?
“Definitely not. I have no idea where people got that from. I just don’t know what the correlation is. That song is actually about a group of teenagers who go out every night.”

You’ve expressed an interest in “intergalactic possibilities”. How serious is that interest?

“It’s not only intergalactic possibilities that interest me, it’s the exciting technological horizon we’re looking at right now. There are a lot of people I’m interested in, but I like what Sergey Brin, Yuri Milner and Mark Zuckerberg are doing with the Breakthrough Prize Awards in fundamental physics and life sciences. I think it’s important to have the same amount of attention, focus and glamour (if that’s what’s needed) to bring science to the forefront of people’s everyday lives in the same way that politics or celebrity culture do now.”

Your live shows are powerful, emotional experiences – you sometimes seem to become overwhelmed by them, often leading you to the brink of tears. What goes through your head before you go onstage?

“Every show is different, I’m not always overwhelmed by my show, but sometimes I am. It’s not dependent on the size of the crowd, it’s just how I’m doing that day… Touring for six months out of the year is so different from doing anything else; it’s freeing, but there’s something strange about it in the way that it’s such a transient experience.”

You’re quite prolific – three albums in four years is some turnover. Do you worry about burning out?

“The best thing I can do is let the music speak for itself. So it’s probably time well spent other than the time I spend on the road. I’m pretty happy writing and recording.”

When writing, do you ever feel the pressure to deliver another ‘Video Games’-sized hit?

“Not really, I don’t ever even think about that actually. That song didn’t feel bigger than the album was or the experience continues to be for me.”

How long do you think you’ll wait until the next record? Any early thoughts on where you’d like to go with it?

“I do have early thoughts about what I’d like to do with it. My label, Interscope, is pretty flexible and open to my records coming out at any time, so I don’t have that pressure. I’m just happy to be able to keep on making music I can stand behind. That’s enough for me.”