Lana Del Rey isn’t going to be your role model; she doesn’t want to. The 24-year-old singer, who first tried out a career under her given name, Lizzy Grant, shies away from directly interacting with the public, which is one of the reasons she’s received so much attention since her summer debut, “Video Games.”
After capturing the hearts of indie boys and bloggers, Lana Del Rey’s stint as Lizzy Grant became an outed “secret,” which she didn’t seem to take responsibility for. To her advantage, conversations about her authenticity and where her music belongs made more noise than her songs, “Video Games” and “Blue Jeans.”
As skittish as she was when we spoke on the phone, Lana Del Rey is at least consistent. And alluring, considering her handful of singles have sustained her fans and critics while her debut record is still months away. No less wide-eyed than when she started as a watering hole performer in Williamsburg, Lana Del Rey/Lizzy Grant seem to awaken the same question: How much control should female performers have within their work?
We posed this question to her and hashed out her thoughts on faith, suicide, and Bon Iver.
You've sang in church choirs and wear a cross in promo photos. Is your faith something that you want people to associate with your music?
I don’t really think that my faith is something I planned on people associating with my music. Although I did sing in church choirs when I was little, it was more because it was a small town and that was what you did. The faith that I have now doesn’t really come from organized religion. That’s such a hippie answer. But it comes via my own experiences in life, praying my way through hard times. It’s my understanding of a universal power. I’m not sure how much of it comes from the church. I do wear a cross but it’s because I like the image of it. I guess all of those points together might culminate into a sort of type you might think I’d be but they’re kind of just coincidences.
When do you pray?
I hope people don’t make me out to seem like some kind of evangelical. It’s not like that. I pray when I feel I need help, if I’m in trouble. Last night [I prayed]. I think when you go through a lot and you sort of run out of all of your resources, and you’re laying in bed at night, you don’t really know what to do, your last alternative is to pray to whoever is out there.
What inspired you to pray last night?
I’ve been nervous about the way things are going. I don’t want anything big to happen to myself; I just want to maintain the peace I’ve sort of had for the last five years of my life.
Peace with your career, or mental peace?
Definitely mental peace. I didn’t have peace with the way things were going at first but I just settled into it. I wanted a career where I could make the music that I wanted and sort of tour if I wanted to, but that is actually a huge ambition! I had no idea. I thought if you were a good singer that was in reach. But there’s so many good singers out there and it’s hard: it takes money to tour, and it takes money to make records-- especially if you want to do them the way you want to do them.
I did become at peace with the way that things were going, which was sort of singing in New York and having my friends and my own small fan base. I had mental peace because I’ve felt like I’ve been doing the right thing with my life, and being a good person, and that gives me mental peace.
You said you wanted to make music in your own way. Are you going to retain complete control over your record?
It looks like that’s possible. Four weeks ago I signed with a couple of big labels but, from what I understand, the reason that they signed me was because what I was doing was working. So, in the last four weeks everyone has just been helpful in letting me get what I want.
I’m tired of making my own videos, I don’t want to do it anymore. So, I met this French movie director [Wood Kid] who I really loved and wanted to work with me and the label totally supported that and thought he was the right choice. He seems like a much better extension of what I was trying to do alone. And I wanted to continue working with my best friend who’s a film composer in Hollywood-- not in pop music but movie trailers and things-- and they love him too. I think making the record is going to be the easy part actually. It’s the other stuff that comes with it, which is what I’m not to sure about.
I feel like it’s a step in the right direction: still working with people who have a lot of integrity but they’re just much better at shit than I am.
It seems like the character in “Blue Jeans” lacks agency. What is your relationship to that character?
The more that I do interviews the more that I’m understanding that that is the impression people are getting, with the combination of “Videogames” and “Blue Jeans” together. But I think what I was trying to do with that song was more of an homage to true love. The fact is that I don’t actually let men rule my life. I’ve kind of learned the hard to way to live by my own values and do things for myself, but in that particular song I did find someone who I loved very much but in the end couldn’t be with. It’s the same premise in the third single for January, which is just honoring true love even though destiny brings you apart and not jumping into another relationship even though your old love has to be over. For me, it was more about paying tribute to a person who visually affected me at first and then also became a real soul connection. And it was like regardless of the way things turn out, in my heart I know that I’ll be true to you. I know that people think there’s sort of a masochistic thing but in a way I was trying to be wholesome about it because I felt like I would stick with him even if he wasn’t there, and maybe some people wouldn’t agree with it. But I think if you’re the kind of person who’s particular in love, that’s what you do.
I don’t think that power is a stable thing in relationships. Often it changes hands, and people can look at a relationship at one moment, see a bad side, and take that away. But how important do you think it is that women have agency in the songs they sing?
That’s a good question and I’m not really sure. I think it’s important to have agency within your own life, very important because otherwise you’ll get into trouble. But artistically I’ve explored different routes. I think what we’ve all learned is that you have to be accountable for yourself and inspired by music, but maybe not look to it for direction and guidance. It’s not usually a good source for fucking life 101. Everyone ends up killing themselves.
Have there been times when you’ve looked to a song for guidance, even when you were trying to get through the breakup with whomever this guy was?
I’ve sought comfort in melodies that inspired me, or reminded me of the beauty of things, and maybe saw inspiration in things, but in terms of guidance, no, I don’t look for guidance in music. I look for particular role models-- I think that’s a much better idea. If I wanted a life like someone else’s I would probably study their life. I know music is powerful but it’s not my biggest power.
Would you want girls to look at Lana Del Rey as a role model?
I don’t know. What do you think?
I think one of the most inspiring things about Lana Del Rey is that she doesn’t try to mask her femininity at all, which is something I think a lot of indie singers do.
I think that’s true. I certainly enjoy my femininity but I don’t take advantage of it in my everyday life. I also didn’t plan on using it as a vehicle to get further along in music, because I’ve been singing for a long time and if people aren’t interested, they’re not interested. Looks don’t change that, I know from personal experience.
The pictures I’ve seen of your career as Lizzy Grant seem a lot less sexualized than promo shots for Lana Del Rey.
Maybe, but there are only a few, and they were taken by my sister. It’s hard to know from the inside looking out. I don’t think I was going for sexualized because I’ve found that sex isn’t a long lasting power. I think I was going for something beautiful, my own version of what I’ve found aesthetically pleasing.
What do you think the idea of femininity is within the indie community?
It’s hard for me to figure out what the indie community is. Like, Bon Iver is considered indie but everyone knows who he is, so he’s not really indie anymore.
There’s different levels of the indie community. There’s the real indie community, the super fucking underground people like who no one knows about-- that’s the real indie community. And then there’s people who have sort of blown up and there’s a lot of information out about them and they tour and that’s like the A-level indie community. I’m trying to think of what girls are in that community, I don’t really know.
I kind of feel like I’ve been operating as a sole agent for a long time. I wanted to be a part of the indie community, but I wasn’t really in the indie community because I didn’t really have a community. I don’t really know about that stuff. It’s only recently come to my attention that people are trying to decide where this genre would fit.
It seems like you have a community now.
Yes, it does seem like I do. I’m not really sure who they are. All I know is that three months ago nothing was happening. I’ve been talking to a lot of people in the last few months and something has changed. I think people really like that one song and maybe “Blue Jeans” too. I guess I’m finding where I belong, but it doesn’t really matter because I’m just going to do my own thing anyways, and it looks like my managers and my label are okay with that. I’m not really sure where it’s going to go.
Do you feel pressure to look a certain way in the community you’re in now?
Not within this community or within the entertainment business. I have my own visions of beauty for a woman or a man. I have my own taste and preferences. But, do I feel pressure? Sometimes. I’m pretty happy though. My press shots are kind of glossy or whatever but, I don’t know, I cared about telling my story-- not for anyone in particular but just ‘cause I wanted to, for my own sake.
You’ve said that you didn’t try to create a persona. How important do you think that persona is within music?
I think it’s important to some people. I think it was important to me a long time ago, when I was like 16 and I wanted to have fun with it, but nothing is that important to me now. I want to sort of do my thing. I sing and I like making records, that’s what I think about. I want to make my records and that’s sort of it.