The artist talks about being on MySpace, curating Spotify playlists, and his upcoming release.
Before he was LAUV, Ari Staprans Leff was just some 13-year-old who had the knack for making music. “It was this gradual process where I just kept writing songs and playing in bands or touring before I thought, ‘this is the only thing I ever want to do,”’ he says. Ten years later, the artist is now 23, with his rapid rise to fame bolstered by hit singles “I Like Me Better” and “The Other.”
How did you first get into music? I started playing piano when I was 5 years old. And then I picked up the viola because my sisters were playing violin, cello. But I really started writing songs when I learned guitar. I think I wrote my first song when I was like 13. Since then, it was writing, producing, and kind of just learning how to do the whole thing. At that point I was just exploring. I was too young to know exactly what I wanted my career to be.
What was the first song that you actually produced and released? As Lauv it was “The Other” but way back when I was 13 I actually released a song on MySpace. I had such a big MySpace phase then and I used to just release random songs online.
Did you write about anything specific? The first thing I wrote was like a breakup song even though I’ve never been in a relationship. I genuinely don’t know how it makes sense but I’ve sort of have always been writing love and breakup songs.
Looking back at the first song that you ever produced and released to the artist that you are now, what similarities or differences do you see? It’s been 10 years. Hopefully, the songs got way better. But the way I see my songwriting existence was sort of like I was writing like this and then there’s a few years where I stopped thinking about being an artist. I thought, “maybe I can’t be an artist.” I moved to New York when I was 18, and thought of finding a more practical route. And I was like working at studios. I thought of maybe writing and producing for other artists or be a recording engineer or something. When I was in that mindset for a few years, I wasn’t writing about how I really felt. I was just writing what I thought people wanted to hear.
So by then you already knew who your audience would be? My thought process then was, “oh I should write a song that I think that Katy Perry would want to record” or something like that. So I was trying to write hit songs because I needed to make this a business for my life. That’s sort of where I was at and I was forgetting to be an artist. When I wrote and produced my song, “The Other,” I was like, “Oh I should just write about how I feel and just be honest about my own experiences.”
What’s your songwriting process? I like to, at this point, just be in the moment and sit down and not even really know what I want to write that day. When I wrote “I Like Me Better” I had no idea I was going to write that song. I just sat down with a new synth when I was playing some chords and like most of the song just came to me really quickly. It was sort of like magic honestly. Everything just comes out and you’re not trying and it’s not forced.
Let’s talk about your Spotify playlist. What’s “I Met You When I Was 18” all about? I wrote that about when I moved to New York when I was 18. That was the time I was trying to figure out how I was going to be an artist. I fell in love for the first time out of nowhere and it was a long relationship. This whole playlist is about that time of my life, about everything I went through in that relationship and how I was figuring out myself.
Will the story continue? I feel like there’s more we haven’t heard. Yeah, it’s an in-progress kind of thing. I have a new song coming out November 17 and I’m finishing a bunch of other songs that will come out soon.
How did you curate this playlist? I don’t like to plan things too much. I’m finishing up a lot more songs which are all about that time in my life. This is where I could put them in order. I write songs out of order and I release them out of order. You just never know.
So, what’s the next step? I’ve been thinking a lot about my identity. I moved around a lot growing up so I never had a hometown. And I’ve always moved to towns where people were all from there so I couldn’t really fit in. So, I’ve been very existential and trying to write about the human experience which is really important to me. I’m still figuring it out as I’m living life. Also, I’ll be doing dates with Ed Sheeran, which is really crazy. I’ve never played in an arena and soon I’ll be able to. And aside from joining a bunch of music festivals, I’m going on my first world tour next year so I’m really excited to announce that.
Alyssa Castillo is a freelance writer and is concurrently Rogue Media'sEditorial AssistantforThe NBHD. She reads for fun, writes for a living, and wastes too much time entertaining the possibility of a zombie apocalypse. Find her on Instagram as @lysscstll.
The children’s book author and illustrator on feeling small in a city of millions.
In 2006, a polka-dotted elephant appeared for the first time in Mike Curato’s sketchbooks. Over 10 years later, Little Elliot the elephant and his adventures in 1930s New York have spanned three (soon to be four) children’s books translated into over 10 languages. Curato makes a quick stop in Manila to talk about his evolving style and stories.So how did you become an illustrator?
I was in art lessons very young, and even in my own time, I would just draw all the time. Just drawing a lot, everywhere, all the time. That’s really important! As a teenager, I wanted to make comic books, but in college, I rediscovered my love for children’s books, so that’s what I focused on. That was my goal. After I graduated, it was very hard to break into the industry. So I got an internship with a graphic design firm and started a career in that field to, you know, pay the bills. It took me 10 years after graduating to get my book deal with Little Elliot.
Where did the idea for the character come from?
It’s a combination of two elements from my childhood. One was a stuffed animal that my grandmother gave me; the other was a polka-dotted elephant from an American Christmas film. But Elliot just started out as a doodle in my sketchbook that just made me happy. I started doing some personal work featuring him, making some new pieces, experimenting with my style. It’s a sophisticated cute. You know, this really adorable character in this austere setting. It’s all pencil drawing, just pencil, paper and digital color. I experimented for a long time with digital color.
The colors are very cinematic. Do you take inspiration from movies as well?
Definitely. I love film. I would say one of my favorite filmmakers is Wes Anderson. I get lot of inspiration from his work. I’d say the color palette is also very inspired by Edward Hopper. A lot of his subject matter dealt with the American cityscape. It had this kind of melancholic quality that always resonated with me. And I’m a New Yorker, so it always attracted me.
You started with Big City—how did the stories come about?
A lot of the stories come from personal experiences, in a way. In the first book, Elliot is small in the big city, and he has challenges from being small, like he loves cupcakes more than anything, but he can’t buy one because they can’t see him. He’s unnoticed. That happened to me as a child. I tried to place an order at a deli counter, and because I was too small, they couldn’t see me. I think a lot of children feel overlooked. It was that feeling that I want to evoke in the book and let kids know—and not just kids, but anyone—we all feel unnoticed at times in our lives and in different situations. Sometimes it takes meeting someone else and understanding their problems to get perspective on the big picture. Even though you feel small in certain situations, you’re big in other situations. You still are capable of affecting change for the good. Friendship, compassion, empathy—that’s what the books are about.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON MIKE CURATO, VISIT HIS WEBSITE AT MIKECURATO.COM.
Patricia Chong was cursed at birth with a common name and now goes around calling herself Pacho. She hides out in her cave with an anime or the Lord of the Rings extended trilogy, and comes out for good food, spontaneous adventures, and (ugh) work.