Interview: Lauv Talks Music, Fans and Success

We spoke to American singer-songwriter Lauv while he was in town.
Lauv Singapore Ed Sheeran Ari Leff Joel Lim ZYRUP
Photo: Joel Lim/ZYRUP

The day has barely started, but it’s go time at the swanky Ritz Carlton, where US singer-songwriter Ari Leff, better known as Lauv, is putting up.

The 23-year-old pop singer is in town opening for the Asian leg of Ed Sheeran’s Divide Tour, and had just performed the first show last night at the Singapore Indoor Stadium. He is scheduled for another this evening, before jetting off the next morning for Kuala Lumpur, but still agreed to give me 20 minutes of his time.

“We are working on a very tight schedule today,” his handler informs me. No pressure there.

This is Lauv’s first time doing an arena show – but just three weeks ago, the tour was in jeopardy.

On October 17, Sheeran shared on social media that he had fractured his right wrist and left elbow in a bicycle accident. Several tour dates were cancelled or rescheduled, while the remainder of the tour hung in the balance. Lauv went on to plan promotional tours in Manila and Jakarta, but whether he would come to Singapore depended on – as Ed put it – “how the healing progresses.”

Millions, presumably including Lauv and his team, heaved a collective sigh of relief when just nine days later, Sheeran confirmed that he was “good to go,” with the Singapore shows kicking off the Asian leg of the tour.

Lauv Singapore Ed Sheeran Ari Leff Joel Lim ZYRUP
Photo: Joel Lim/ZYRUP

Our party makes our way upstairs, where Lauv is waiting for us. He walks up to me and introduces himself, looking way more energized and fresh-faced than I am on this early Sunday morning.

Looking unfazed by his schedule’s frenetic pace, Lauv is laid-back and easy-going in person. He seems like a regular dude, the average college mate you would chill out and crack open a cold one with – except he’s not.

I first came across Lauv’s music in New York earlier this year, when his breakthrough single ‘The Other’ had been gaining momentum from streaming. I managed to catch one of his shows at The Studio at Webster Hall in the East Village, which hosted a modest but respectable crowd of about a couple hundred people. Even back then at that show (which sold out), Lauv seemed genuinely in awe of the support he was receiving.

Fast forward a mere few months later, and he has released ‘I Like Me Better’ – his biggest hit to date – while appearing on DJ Snake’s ‘A Different Way’. In October, he announced his own headlining tour, slated to begin in 2018, which has already sold out multiple shows.

Not that his burgeoning success is at all surprising, though.

Like Ed Sheeran and Coldplay, Lauv’s appeal lies in his ability to connect with listeners on a deeper level through his music. The coupling of raw and honest lyrics about love – the one universally understood theme – with catchy melodies is something he has managed to grasp.

(Being musically gifted doesn’t hurt, too. Case in point: that instrument-like sound throughout ‘I Like Me Better’ is actually his voice. No kidding.)

His talent has not gone unnoticed by his peers either. Kickass star Chloe Grace Moretz and former One Direction member Liam Payne have both tweeted their admiration of Lauv’s music.

Lauv has repeatedly referred to 2017 as his best year so far. ‘I Like Me Better’ has chalked up an impressive 250 million streams on Spotify. He helped write ‘Boys’ by Charli XCX as well as ‘No Promises’ by Cheat Codes featuring Demi Lovato – both of which have become huge hits, to say the least. And now he’s travelling the world with his own hits and opening for Ed freakin’ Sheeran.

During our interview, we spoke about the overwhelmingly positive response from fans, the emotional roller-coaster over the status of the tour and, well, Coldplay.

Lauv Singapore Ed Sheeran Ari Leff Joel Lim ZYRUP
Photo: Joel Lim/ZYRUP

ZYRUP: Hi Lauv! Thanks for joining us. You just performed your first arena show yesterday, what was that like?
Lauv: Really surreal. It’s unlike any other show I’ve ever played, obviously. Totally different vibe. It was amazing, though!

How’s Singapore for you so far?
It’s cool, I wish I got the chance to explore more but I mean the views are amazing, people have been really nice and uh, good food.

‘Lauv’ means ‘lion’ in Latvian so, fun fact: Singapore stands for the ‘Lion City’.

Yeah! ‘Singa’ means ‘lion’ in Malay.
No way! I had no idea. So then it’s fate that my first arena show is in Singapore! That’s awesome.

Walk me through your thought process when you found out that you’d be opening for Ed Sheeran.
So I was back in LA, just taking a run, normal morning, and I got a call from my manager. I was like, “Let me call you back.” And he said: “Wait, wait, wait. What do you think about opening for Ed Sheeran in arenas in Asia?” [laughs] Obviously the craziest news I’ve ever received on a run, ever.

How did you react? Did you start running faster? Did you start screaming?
Oh, yeah. After I got off the phone, I sprinted faster than I’ve ever ran in my life. And then I got home and I called my parents and they were super excited. It was crazy. Soooo crazy.

How did it happen, linking up with Ed Sheeran?
I didn’t know that it was even something that was a possibility! You know, obviously with my team I’ve talked about people I’d love to open for and Ed’s been a huge inspiration – it was really cool seeing him last night do his thing. So yeah, when I found out, it was just crazy.

Of course Ed got into an accident prior to the tour, and the fate of the tour was dangling for a little bit. Some of the shows had to be cancelled. What was that like for you?
Yeah. [laughs] I was touring the States at the time and I woke up one morning and saw the news and I was like, “Ohhhhhh, damn.” It was definitely a bummer. Honestly, I was nervous that he wouldn’t get better in time, so it was amazing that he did. Yesterday was his first time playing the guitar again.

Lauv Singapore Ed Sheeran Ari Leff Joel Lim ZYRUP
Photo: Joel Lim/ZYRUP

Both ‘Breathe’ and ‘I Like Me Better’ reference New York City. It’s pretty clear that the Big Apple is a creative muse for you. What is about the charm of the city that inspires you so much?
Definitely. New York’s a really special place for me because growing up, I moved around a lot. I would always move to a town where everybody was from there, and they all already kinda knew each other, and I always felt like I wasn’t really a part of that. So when I got to New York, it’s like a city full of tons of people that are from everywhere who were all just kind of struggling, trying to figure their shit out and become who they want to become. Of course there’s tons of people from New York as well, but I think just the energy of all the people from everywhere, all doing that, was really inspiring for me.

Why do you write so many love songs?
I don’t know, some sort of psychologist needs to tell me! The first song I can remember writing was a breakup song. I was 13 and I had never been in a relationship. All my favourite music has always been kind of that way.

What is one song that is your go-to love song?
You see, I actually prefer the sad songs more. I always go back to Ghost Stories by Coldplay. That whole album, it’s like, [gestures] over and over and over… Or Mylo Xyloto! Those two albums.

Give me an honest answer. What’s your reaction when you hear your songs on the radio?
It’s weird! Yeah! It’s awesome, obviously. But it’s really, really, really surreal. You kind of picture something for so long and you work so hard for it and you think about it and obsess over it. Then that just happens and you’re like, “Wait, how am I supposed to feel?”, you know what I mean? It’s just crazy.

Massive names like Charli XCX and Demi Lovato have appeared on songs that you’ve worked on. Is there any dream artist that you’d kill to write a song for?
I would just love to work with Chris Martin from Coldplay. I don’t know if I could ever take the honour of writing a song for Coldplay, but if we could just get in the studio and do something together, that’d be amazing. Just going to put that into the universe.

What is the best thing about having your music reach out and touch people?
I think for me, the whole process has been so freeing, to be able to share that. All my songs are just about my life and just so honest. Getting that energy back from fans has been really special. The first time when I put out my first song ‘The Other’, I would see messages on Instagram from people all over world just being like, “You’re helping me with my breakup” or “You’re helping me come to terms with a tough decision of my life.” I think that’s really special [to see] your music have [the] power to get [them] through really hard times, and [it] also just make you more honest with yourself.

Is there one particular fan interaction you remember the most?
I think one of the craziest was when I’ve seen my lyrics tattooed on somebody. The one I’m thinking right now is this girl who had [the word] ‘reforget’, the song title, tattooed on her finger.

How’s the response you’ve gotten in Asia?
Awesome. It’s been amazing. Some of my biggest markets in terms of streaming and everything are here. I just got to go play a couple of mall shows in Manila and that was literally a life-changing experience. The energy was so wild – everybody knew the words to every song, not even just ‘I Like Me Better’.

Were you surprised at the reception?
Yeah! You have no idea what it’s going to be like until you’re actually there, you know. You see stuff online and that’s incredible in its own right, but then to actually be there in person and feel the energy is a whole other thing, you can’t compare it.

One last question. Justin Bieber has his Beliebers. Do you have a name for your fanbase?