Sitting down with Ari Straprans Leff, the first thing I notice is the words “Don’t Overthink” scrawled in Sharpie on his shoes. “Just a little reminder to myself,” the American singer-songwriter smiles.
Better known under his moniker Lauv – the Latvian for “lion” and a nod to his mum’s Eastern European heritage – the 23-year-old has been making waves with his songwriting skills since the release of his 2015 debut EP, “Lost in the Light”. Not just wowing with his own material though, he’s one of the masterminds behind Charli XCX’s banger “Boys” and “No Promises” by Cheat Codes and Demi Lovato. Told you he had skills.
Now back with his first new material of 2017, “I Like Me Better” is a captivating pop number with a melody that you can’t help but bop along to and a narrative that will make your heart soar.
An exciting sneak peak at the new material he’s currently finishing off, we found out all there is to know about the magnetic songwriter. No overthinking involved…
What’s your first memory of music?
It was probably as a little kid, taking piano lessons. I was like four. I remember sitting at the piano and kind of hating it at the time.
And when did you first decide to start making music?
Well after piano, I played viola, because my older sisters, one played violin and one played cello, but it wasn’t until I picked up guitar and started locking myself in my bedroom and learning songs, reading tabs on the internet… I wrote my first song at 13 and, from there, I realised there’s nothing else I want to do.
Do you have any particular artists that you draw influence from?
It’s super all over the place, but as a songwriter, someone who has been very inspiring to me, just in the way he writes songs, is Paul Simon. The funny thing about that is that I was in college, and at that time I had stepped away from trying to be an artist – I was trying to write and produce songs for other artists and just do whatever I could in New York to get in the studios – and then I read this interview that Paul Simon did where he talked about his songwriting approach. And that really, honestly changed my life.
You just mentioned producing, how did you first get involved with that?
I was playing in bands throughout high school and I had to record one of my bands, and from there I just thought “what if I started recording songs myself”. So I just started messing around with tracks and whatever. Basically, it was this long progression of spending many hours in my room…
Back to your own music – where do you find your songwriting inspiration?
For whatever reason, I’ve always been writing love and heartbreak songs. Actually the first song I can ever remember that I wrote as a kid was called “Parting Ways” and this was before I even had been in a relationship! So I was writing about break-ups or what I thought a break-up would be like. In all my favourite songs, there is always a cathartic, longing feeling to them even if it’s not sad, it’s a kind of reminiscing. I’ve always been obsessed with that feeling. Honestly, part of me feels like I have this life goal of writing the saddest, most beautiful song possible!
“Part of me feels like I have this life goal of writing the saddest, most beautiful song possible!”
Your debut EP, “Lost In The Light” came out in 2015. How do you think you’ve changed since then?
I think I’ve just become more and more in touch with myself. At the time I was making that music, I was in the middle of being in university. There’s a lot of that same, kind of, thread through a lot of it. And I actually continue to write about that time of my life. This time where I was lost in a lot of ways, just trying to figure out who I was trying to be and what I wanted and who I was. So after graduating and moving to LA and spending a lot of time outside of school and not being so distracted, I think I’m more in touch with myself.
You’ve just put out “I Like Me Better”, can you tell me a bit about the ideas behind the track?
That song was awesome to make! I literally sat down with a keyboard – I didn’t have the title written down or anything like that – and I just played some chords and it inspired pretty much the whole chorus and a bunch of the first verse. It just happened super naturally. The weird thing about this song is that I wrote it about when I first moved to New York, when I was 18, going to school. I didn’t really know who I was. At the time I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be an artist, I think I wasn’t necessarily confident enough to be an artist. And I was like “I have no idea what’s going on with my life” but then I fell in love within the first couple months of being in school and I was like “ok, all I know is everything else is crazy but I like myself better when I’m with you.” But this song came over four years after that feeling.
And you’ve just dropped the video too! Can you tell me about your vision for it?
I guess it would have been easier for it to be a bunch of shots of me and my girlfriend, New York City, being young, whatever. But I wanted to flip that whole thing. Because, to me, something more romantic than the idea of being young and in love is being young and in love and then growing old with that person and still feeling like you guys just met.
You’ve also just featured on DJ Snake’s new song, “A Different Way”. When you feature or co-write on someone’s song do you feel as proud as when you release your own stuff?
Yeah. It’s just different definitely. There is the stuff I do 100% myself and there’s the stuff I do for other artists. It’s a different feeling, but it’s all really incredible. If I had told myself when I was in college that I would be working with DJ Snake I would’ve been like “no way!” So that’s crazy.
So you’re a massive fan?
Yeah! He’s awesome. It gets to the point where there’s so much on my mind that I am always focusing on the next thing, and inside I’m trying to realise how amazing it is in the moment.
What’s the next big thing?
I’m about to do a bunch of touring. I’m playing with Louis the Child in the the States in a bunch of cities I’ve never been to before. Then I’m going to Asia with Ed Sheeran. It’s insane! It’s playing, like, arenas. The most people I’ve ever played for in the past have been 3,000 and this is going to be like 20,000 people. It’s crazy. I’m also finishing a bunch of new music. I’m more excited than ever to put out the new stuff.
Can you give us any juicy details about the new stuff?
All I can tell you is there is way more aspects of my personality and my artistry that is shown through it. And I’m really excited.