Ella Yelich-O'Connor loves a good celebrity downfall. The 16-year-old singer, who performs as Lorde, used to spend her time as a little kid reading stories about messed up aristocratic marriages. Now she says she's outgrown historical drama and is more likely to be on TMZ or Perez Hilton getting caught up on Amanda Bynes. That is, when she's not in the studio, which is rare these days. The Auckland native is recording her debut album, a record that's been in the works ever since she signed a development deal at 13. She'd been perfecting her smoky, soulful sound in secret until late last year when she released "Royals" (above). Now with almost 800,000 plays on soundcloud, the minimalist, harmony-heavy pop track paves the way for new material like "Tennis Court" (below), which dropped last week and drips with sophisticated swagger. Noisey nabbed her to talk talent shows, onstage attire, and the perverse affects of fame.
Noisey: Hey, Ella. Where are you calling from right now?
Ella: Right now, I'm literally calling you from a weird little prison conference room in my record label's office [laughs]. I'm in the middle of recording my album right now.
How is it going, recording an album while you're still in school?
Well, I'm taking a little bit of a break at the moment from school in order to finish this. I'll go back afterwards, but it's been really nice to go into the studio and write and really focus on this. I feel so lucky to have that luxury, and I've really enjoyed it. It's sort of cleansing, in a way.
You signed a record deal when you were only 13. Did you always want to sing professionally?
I've sung my entire life, but I didn't start writing music until I was 13. That's when I began tentatively writing crazy s**t about what was happening at that moment. I actually went back through my laptop the other day and found all those songs, and it's super embarrassing! There's this six-minute track I made that was about slipping off a rock and drowning, quite dark stuff! But it was around that time when my record company heard me singing at my school talent show and signed a development deal, so I've been writing with a bunch of people and honing the craft.
Your song "Royals" is a big hit online, and you just dropped your new single "Tennis Court," which is getting tons of love, too. How does that feel?
It's pretty rad! I had a really positive response first in New Zealand, and then just recently I started seeing it blow up elsewhere. It's weird, though, because I feel like if you chase something super hard, it doesn't always work. Instead of expecting success, it's better to improve upon your own terms.
And you did this for your EP, The Love Club?
Yeah, I put the EP out for free because I wanted people my age to be able to listen to it regardless of whether or not they have a credit card. I think that's bulls**t that you need to have one in order to buy songs. I also made my Facebook page and just invited my friends, and then they started listening and the word spread from there. When I realized that people who weren't my friends were talking about the EP, that's when it started to get crazy.
How did your sound come about?
I actually didn't really have a specific sound in mind when I started recording. I've always listened to hip-hop and electronic music, and also full-on top 40 pop. I really like minimalist music, too. James Blake is an artist who does that really well, using something like three sounds on a song and somehow making it explosive. I don't play any instruments, so my voice needs to have the focus. My vocal-scape is really important.
Where did your obsession with royalty come from?
I've always been into that stuff since I was a little kid. I used to write out all their family trees and everything! Now, though, I'm obsessed with really high profile celebrities who get really f***ed up; I think you know who I'm talking about! I find it all so interesting, such tragedies that stem from being put on a pedestal.
You're coming to America this fall for the first time….
Yes, I'm so excited! I've never been to America before. I've actually only played five shows at Lorde my whole life, but they've sold out every time; I feel like it's better to have a smaller number of really great shows that sell out, rather than tons of okay shows that don't.
What about your onstage style?
I love fashion, and I like wearing something that makes me feel grand. Onstage I want something that has an element of theatricality to it, like long dresses and chunky shoes. I love designers like Rodarte, Alexander McQueen, Rick Owens… I would have trouble playing a show in my t-shirt and jeans! Although I will say, since I've been in the studio so much, I've gotten to the point of where I just don't wear makeup and come dressed in whatever. I'm not that cool at the moment!
Liza works and plays in Brooklyn, NY. She tweets. Mostly about her dog - @LizaDarwin.
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