Lauv on making it big without a record label, mental health issues and his growing fanbase in India

Amit Gurbaxani

May 15, 2019 10:45:53 IST

If the hundreds of teenage fans singing along to his songs at his concert in Mumbai earlier this week were anything to go by, then the worldwide success of American pop star Lauv aka Ari Leff is a testimony to the power of the internet. Tickets for the show, which was organised as part of event management company Percept Live’s Fly Music Festival series of gigs and was the first stop on Lauv’s ongoing tour of Asia, sold out over a month in advance. The performance marked his second visit to India after he opened for Ed Sheeran in Mumbai in 2017.

Then, he was relatively unknown to most apart from a growing but loyal community of online fans. In the intervening year and a half, his debut album I Met You When I Was 18 (The Playlist) was released and streamed over a billion times on Spotify; and he scored his first top 40 hit in the US with breakthrough single 'I Like Me Better' and his first top ten smash in the UK with 'I’m So Tired', his collaboration with fellow singer-songwriter Troye Sivan.

Lauv on making it big without a record label, mental health issues and his growing fanbase in India

Lauv. Image credit: Stefan Kohli

He has done it all without the help of a record label, by releasing his music on streaming services through digital distribution service AWAL and leveraging the power of social media to spread his work. A few hours before he took the stage to play to a packed audience of over 800 people in Mumbai’s Famous Studios, we interviewed the 24-year-old vocalist, composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist whose electro-pop chronicles of heartbreak have helped turn him into the male equivalent Adele for Gen-Y. Edited excerpts:

Q. You are among the few acts to make it big without a record label. What have been the advantages and disadvantages?

The disadvantages are that it’s definitely much more of a risk. You’re looked at a bit differently because you don’t have the stamp of an Interscope or a Warner or whatever, and people would say [getting] radio [airplay] is harder without a major record label. But [on the other hand] I own all my recordings. I own my property for real. We – me and my management team – make all the decisions ourselves and it’s just exactly what I want to do. It’s much more possible today. You don’t need infrastructure; you just need a following.

Q. How did you learn about your following in India?

Honestly, I didn’t realise it was like [this]. I heard the show sold out a month in advance, and people say that never happens. That’s crazy. I’m super stoked because the last time I was here it was with Ed Sheeran, it was such a short show, I played for half an hour and I was so nervous. We’ve seen that a lot of my monthly listeners [on streaming services] are In India and other countries across Asia. I think India is my fourth most popular market on Instagram right now. It’s really cool.

Q. You are among the growing list of musicians who are open about their issues with mental health, which seem to be more prevalent than ever before. Is this a reflection of the times we are in today?

Mental health issues have [always] been around but I think it’s gotten worse because of how much information is constantly being thrown at us at all times. I don’t think our minds are really built to deal with that and all of the comparison and honestly, narcissism because you spend so much time focused on yourself. Everybody can sort of be a celebrity in their own way. It’s not very good for you in the long run. I don’t think that’s part of the human spirit. But it’s so easy now. It’s so accessible so I think it’s important that people talk about it.

Q. As a celebrity, how do you deal with the need to be on social media?

I’ve become way more honest, which has really helped me, just to be myself. I used to overthink everything I would post to no end. I would spend hours thinking about what I want to post and what I want to caption and that was so bad. It sounds so stupid but that was what I was doing at the time. So I stopped doing that. I try to spend less time on my phone but I’m not always able to do that. Honestly for me, going to therapy and also starting mediation has been really important. I was really stuck in a bad place. I think it’s important that people look at mental health the same way you at a physical illness. Like if you have diabetes or if you have a problem with an organ, you need medication. If your brain gets stuck in negative patterns, you need medication sometimes.

Q. Has the concept of an idol changed? Is it important that great artists are also grounded?

Yes, I think it has. There are the untouchable idols that still exist, like the people who are so weird and nobody’s like them and they’re so gorgeous and perfect. There’s that but I there are way more idols that are relatable people that are just really focused and have good hearts. A friend of mine who I really look up to a lot is (American singer-songwriter) Khalid. He’s like a totally normal dude and he’s so sweet and so nice to everybody. I look up to people like Chris Martin. Even somebody like Jim Carrey. I think he’s such an interesting mind, as a comedic actor but also in his political cartoons and everything he does.

Q. You called your last release a “playlist” as opposed to an album. Why so? Is it because the concept of an album has changed in the steaming era?

I feel like people listen to music more constantly and immediately [these days so] it makes more sense for a lot of artists to put out music more often and [that] takes the pressure off: ‘This is my album’. It’s more like: ‘Here’s some music that I love that I made. Here you go. Call it a mixtape, call it a project, call it an EP, call it an album, whatever.’ With my album that I’m putting out now, 'Drugs and the Internet' is the first song off of it and I’m going to keep releasing songs off of it before it’s even done. I just want to put the music out while it’s happening.

Amit Gurbaxani is a Mumbai-based journalist who has been writing about music, specifically the country's independent scene, for nearly two decades. He tweets @TheGroovebox

Updated Date: May 16, 2019 09:46:57 IST

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