A few years ago, I took my sister to see Lana Del Rey perform on her Endless Summer tour. I'm certain we weren't the only sister pair in the crowd. That show remains one of our favorite concert memories and so I was excited to tell my sister I would have the chance to interview Lana for World Cafe. She wrote back, "Wait, what? I thought Lana was a hologram."
Jokes aside, I think many people share that impression in a way. Maybe it's because there's an ethereal quality to the way Lana performs, and a vintage glam about her look that can make her seem like more of a beautiful apparition than a real person.
Lana Del Rey came in to World Cafe the day after playing a show in Philadelphia. We spoke about her latest album, Lust for Life, and its contributions from Stevie Nicks and The Weeknd. We also talked about how her perspective on her older lyrics has changed, what she's willing to share in her music today and getting advice on celebrity from Eddie Vedder. Hear our conversation in the audio link and read an edited transcript below.
Talia Schlanger: When you announced the new record, you released this video that is beautiful and very clever. Can you describe what we see in this video, where you are?
Lana Del Rey: I had been thinking about this idea of broadcasting from the middle of the "H" in the Hollywood sign in California. So I asked my director ... to help me set up this whole space to look like the H. In it, I was sort of looking at all of the mayhem in the city below and beyond — but I also wanted it to have sort of a B movie twist on it with the narrative.
That song features The Weeknd, but you've got some other really wonderful cameos on the album: A$AP Rocky, Sean Lennon, Playboi Carti. I want to talk about Stevie Nicks, who sings on "Beautiful People, Beautiful Problems." There's such a great interplay between your two voices: You open the song and when she comes in, you can really hear the saltiness in her voice in a different way. I know you're really involved in mastering and and mixing your music, and so you have your hands on her raw vocals. What's that like?
Funny enough, I had wanted her to open the song — 'cause, you know, she's Stevie. But she didn't want to. She wanted to take the second verse and step into it. So, yeah, she was full of surprises. She gave me a little golden diamond H, cause she always joked about how when I got older, I would live in the H and she would live in the W of the Hollywood sign — turn it into a little A-frame house. I was like, "Really? Let's do it."
When you first met her in the studio, what was going through your mind?
I remember so many different things about that session. She wanted me to go in and do something at the end, like a little tag. I got on the microphone and I had, like, red-light fever because she was watching me. I said, "That was bad, my voice was breaking." And she's like, "I like that it was breaking. I'm gonna try and do it like you now."
There's a lot of energy that floats around you as a famous person; I've seen videos you've posted where you're walking through an airport and there's flashbulbs going off everywhere. The song "13 Beaches" seems to capture some of that — tell me a little about the inception of this song.
Gosh, call it luxury problems, but it's about passing every beach from Santa Monica until you get to Ventura — 13 beaches. That's where the paparazzi stop. And so it's about finding that place where you can just be quiet. There's so many layers to this song for me: This idea of "dripping peaches" kind of reminded me of a Dali painting, and I'd have to sort of sing it to make it make sense.
My intention with that song was literally finding one quiet physical place to spread out on and just be, without anyone looking at me — especially on a beach, when I'm in a bathing suit ... [and] kind of doing whatever it takes to find that quiet place, no matter how far you have to drive. My songs really do come to me when I'm, like, in nature, and usually by myself, at least the beginning of them. So for me, it was sort of like another commitment to finding that place where I can be creative.
There's something to be said for that when you live the kind of life you live: I read that you've had people break into your house. That's got to be the most terrifying thing in the world, and there are lots of people who manage to go through a career and not have that happen.
Absolutely. In fact, when I played for Eddie Vedder at his Ohana Fest, he actually came up to me and was like, "How ya doin'? I bet it's pretty f****** crazy for you." And he recounted a couple of stories, told me about a few times he had to move.
I guess I could see a similarity with Eddie Vedder where people really feel like they know you, or like you owe them something that is personal, and so feel entitled to be in your space.
The way I've come to see it over the last seven years is, I think the people who are interested are very interested, and they would love to just be in the house. It's not like they take anything — it's like they love to just see what's on the wall. I can laugh now, which is so good; it took me a minute, because it's been a bit of an ongoing thing, but I just really have come to terms with the fact that I am in such a unique situation.
I read a tweet that you sent around the time of the 2018 Women's March in January — the one-year anniversary of the inaugural Women's March on Washington -- that said you had dropped your sister off, but didn't feel like you could go because it would be a distraction to the women you were bringing there who wanted to be there. I would think that's incredibly disappointing.
That was last year's Women's March. I was a little disappointed in myself for that: I dropped my sister off and I started it, but it quickly became distracting with the younger girls marching — it sort of became a little yarn ball around me. And I thought, you know, it's not about me. It's not about a famous person marching today. So I got back in our van and I waited. That being said, I would say there's a time and a place for everything, and there's no reason why next year I couldn't be right in the middle and feel comfortable. It really just depends on the moment. You can tell right away whether something's gonna work or not. That day it didn't work.
A good handful of women who make music have sat here with me in the last year, and it's been interesting to talk about what this all means. When St. Vincent was on, we were talking about the sort of latex costume she wears on stage, where she looks like Wonder Woman or Catwoman. She said it makes her feel incredibly powerful, and that "This is what feminism is, is getting to decide what power looks like for you." It reminded me of your attitude, which is sort of unabashed saying what you need to say. I think that's a very powerful thing.
In a way I did what I had to do in terms of chronicling my own stories. You know, I wasn't happy with how a lot of my own story went up until recently, so I didn't always like the way I was putting things, but it was just the way it was, you know? I don't know if that's feminism, but it is what it was. One of the issues I had over the last 10 years was there weren't that many options to be super vocal and powerful without a lot of backlash and repercussions. It was a very male-dominated environment at certain times. That's why I think this whole movement is so important — the people that don't get the #MeToo movement are just, I don't get them. I don't get those people. It's like, do you not get how hard it is sometimes just to sort of be safe and have your own voice as a woman?
What I really appreciate about the movement in general right now is that a lot of behaviors or things that are normalized, women are realizing are not normal.
I would totally agree with that.
I wanted to ask you about the song "Ultraviolence," from 2014, and the lyric "He hit me and it felt like a kiss" [a reference to the Crystals song by that name], which in 2014 might have felt like a really different thing to sing than it is now. This song hasn't shown up on a lot of set lists recently, but we're recording this the day after your show in Philly, where you did play it. What made you want to sing it last night?
I usually bring it back every third show. That's the part of my show where I switch it up with one of five songs. It's usually just about whether I can hit some of the notes, or if I want to sing the line. Sometimes I don't.
What does it feel like to sing it or to hear it sung back to you? Does it feel different than it used to?
Yeah. Now, I don't like singing it.
What I appreciate about it is that it's like an artifact of something that might have made sense at a time. Does it take you back to something in your own memory, or did you see that modeled somewhere?
I guess I would say I didn't have a great reference for what a really nurturing relationship would look like, and I kind of realized that was going to have to start with me just imagining what that would be like, and then meeting other people who had relationships like that. So I had to grow a lot for that not to feel like a comfortable song to sing, but luckily I've done that.
There's a huge difference between condoning something and reflecting something, which is why I think it was important to talk about "Ultraviolence."
I agree. ... I had a really tough interview with The Fader magazine where this guy was hammering me on feminism, the word, and I knew he wanted me to say I'm not a feminist — he was just jabbing away at it. And what I wanted to say [is], this is just my experience in my own relationships thus far. ... It's not going to be my full story. I mean, that's why I've been polarizing, because people don't want to look at the broader picture sometimes, they want to just stick to the facts. But that's been a really good lesson for me, because I think when I was younger I thought, "I'm not going to edit my own music. This is just what came out." And now I'm like, "What the hell am I doing? I'm not gonna say that."
I want to end with the song that ends the record, "Get Free." You sing, "This is my commitment / My modern manifesto / I'm doing it for all of us / Who never got the chance." Never got the chance to what?
For Amy [Winehouse], and for Whitney [Houston]. "And all my birds of paradise / Who never got to fly at night, / 'Cause they were caught up in the dance." It's about people who don't get to reach their full potential because they let controlling people stop them from being free.
It has a line that's so evocative: "I wanna move out of the black, into the blue." I'm wondering what the black is and what the blue is.
Well, in my head, the black was negative thinking, and the blue was a bit of a retreat into nature. So visually, I was thinking the ocean, but also just the connotation of the words: I think of the sky, like a new horizon, something fresher.
What's the key to getting free?
I think going deeper, you know? Knowing that you're your own doorway to the answers and not looking for answers in other people.