Interview: Lana Del Rey Goes From ‘Maleficent’ to ‘Ultraviolence’ Up to the Top
By Scott T. Sterling
Talking to Lana Del Rey about her music is like trying to grab smoke with your hands.
Her contemplative nature makes her muse on tangents, from Elon Musk to the Jesuits to the Laural Canyon sound of the ’70s when trying to put the meaning and inspiration behind her songs into words. All the while, she remains open and honest.
During a sit-down interview in a quiet studio at KROQ in Los Angeles (a Radio.com station) Del Rey’s demeanor in person was disarmingly relaxed and quite charming. Some critics have been quick to dismiss her as an inauthentic fabrication, but as she talked about her new album Ultraviolence (due out June 17), she came across as someone in complete control of her music and rapidly accelerating career.
How did the album come to be called Ultraviolence?
I think the album was called Ultraviolence before I even had the songs. That’s because I just really love words. I’m kind of inspired by just a one-word title. For this one, I had a motif of hydrangeas in mind. Mainly because these flowers I love are in shades of blue and violet, and when I was talking to [producer] Dan [Auerbach of the Black Keys] about inspirations and color tones, this sort of high violet vibration was on my mind. Maybe because blue is connected with jazz and also sorrow.
What inspired the album’s first single, “West Coast”? It definitely expands the dimensions of your sound.
“West Coast” as a demo sounded really different, and I never felt like it got where it was supposed to be until I met Dan Auerbach. I was telling him that I was really interested in…that my heart was in jazz, and my mind and my roots were in jazz and that I wanted to make a record that was sort of this mix of beautiful jazz undertones and a West Coast fusion, kind of inspired by the Eagles and the Beach Boys and this sort of Laurel Canyon revival thing that was happening in the ’70s. So I went to Nashville and he reproduced “West Coast” and yeah, I don’t know…I loved it.
Dan said that everything on the record, all the songs have this kind of narco-swing. So whereas the beat and the verses on “West Coast” were really direct, the chorus naturally slipped into this half-time beat. I just remember everyone at the label being like, ‘God, it’s getting slower at the chorus?’ And we were like, yeah!
On your most recent U.S. tour, one of the highlight of the shows was when you would go out into the audience to meet people, sign autographs, take selfies and accept gifts. What inspired you to have such intimate moments with your fans during concerts?
I mean, it’s definitely different than what I ever expected a tour would be, if I even was lucky enough to tour, you know, in my head when I was imagining what I’d maybe be able to do. I was a shy performer for years. I never really dipped into that well of excitement that the audience brought, not until I went to Europe last year for my four-month tour. I think when things are more difficult personally, you find yourself genuinely turning to the audience for support. It’s not something that I thought I’d ever do, so yeah, it is overwhelming and it’s touching. People bringing letters and they really want to talk. Because I always feel that my energy level stays the same during shows, it’s kind of at this mid-level, but everyone in the audience is at this manic high-level. For me, the show is always about them. I find myself just getting lost watching them, because they’re so animated.
When you return to the stage, you’re usually just laden with gifts from the fans. What’s the most memorable gift you’ve been given by a fan during a show?
A boy brought me a silver jewelry box, and etched in it was this T.S. Eliot poem that had been my header on Twitter. It was just this comment about a rose that had the look of a flower that was always looked at. So he knew that that was one of my favorite quotes, and I found that to be so very thoughtful.
In your current cover story with The Fader, you talked about having a keen interest in science and technology.
I majored in metaphysics in college, that’s what I got my degree in. And the reason I chose that was because the Jesuits who were teaching that subject, they weren’t just theologians, they also had backgrounds in science. Obviously the quest for peace, the quest for knowledge of something bigger is…that’s the end game. That’s what I’m really interested in. But technology, I believe, is bringing us closer to maybe figuring out some of those questions, and I think we’ve really seen that in the last ten years. I’m interested just like probably anybody else is. I guess meeting people like Elon Musk and people involved in the tech world in different ways has been interesting to me.
I wanted to ask you about the Ultraviolence song, “F—-d My Way Up to the Top”…
In an interview with Grazia in Germany, you inferred that it was in part a response to another popular female artist who’d said derogatory things about you in the press.
What do I say… I put so much time in putting a narrative to the track listing together, and then I’m so stupid because I should just know that it’s totally gonna be disregarded because I just set myself up. Let me put it this way, every track that I put on there and every track name and the order that it’s in tells a story that is important to me. In my mind, the narrative for this record ends with the last track, not the bonus deluxe stuff, all that business. It ends with the cover of Nina Simone’s “The Other Woman.” And without even really saying more about that, the decision to end with a cover of a jazz song and the content within that, it’s kind of telling in its own way.
And so is “Having F—–d My Way Up To The Top” being toward the end of the track listing. I would say the track having more of a hip hop heavier beat, whereas the rest of the album is live and organic…it kind of drives this one particular point home. It’s hard when you’re doing something in the studio, you kind of feel like your story about it is going to end there, but then in interviews you’re never really sure how far to elaborate…there’s not much I can really say about it that’s going to help you understand. I’ll just wait for you to listen to it.
In addition to Ultraviolence, you’ve had immediate success this year with your version of “Once Upon a Dream,” from the Disney movie, Maleficent. What are your memories of that recording session?
It was great, because I did that song with my best friend for the last ten years, Dan Heath, who became one of my producers. He and I have such a great thing going. We did it at home actually, at his home studio. We recorded on the same mic we’ve used on a lot of my other songs that we’ve done together. It was exciting, because we love Disney. We love the history of Disney. So, it was really natural and nice to be involved in a project like that.