She calls herself London’s Last Sweetheart, but rising UK artist Laurel looks set to enchant audiences far beyond her adopted hometown. With five years of live performance and a scattering of demos under her belt, the 19-year-old singer-songwriter was already an industry veteran when her breakout hit, “Blue Blood,” catapulted her to Hype Machine fame. Now, fresh off the release of her official debut single, “Fire Breather,” and her first US tour, her distinct brand of dark pop is going global.
Laurel’s heady mix of folk-inflected vocals, slow-burning piano, and soaring strings places her somewhere between Laura Marling and Lana del Rey, but it’s her brooding and distinctly English lyricism that sets her apart. Subverted images of her rural upbringing knock against sinister love stories, a “Murder Ballads” for the Tumblr generation. Patrick Killingbeck, best known for AlunaGeorge’s “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”-inspired “Best Be Believing” clip, brought these to life in his atmospheric video for “Fire Breather,” giving Laurel a strong visual component to her haunting music. We chat with her about making the video, quirky pop, and almost breaking a Hollywood legend’s prized guitar.
You grew up in a small town in the south of England. Did that experience inform how you make your music?
I’ve written a lot of songs about living by the beach. My single “Blue Blood” is partly about living by the sea. When I started out I was making a lot of folk music about long-lost lovers by the sea, so maybe that’s where that came from. I only started producing about 9 months ago. I got fed up with having to wait around to write a song with someone. When you want to write a song you have to do it in the moment. You don’t want to have to wait to go to a studio and have someone else do half of it, you want to do it all yourself. I bought all the equipment and started playing around with it, then I wrote “Blue Blood” on my own. After that I didn’t really want to work with other people.
Your recent lyrics seem to be a lot more focused around darker themes. What caused the shift?
I just got a bit older and wanted my lyrics to be a bit more badass. I had a boyfriend a couple years ago. It was a bit of a destructive relationship and I think a lot of my lyrics came from that. I like the darker lyrics, the happy folky ones are fun to write but the dark, meaningful ones are more about what I see and come from films that I’ve seen. I love dramatic love stories and cult films. I have a different personality in my music to what I have in real life, but you can’t be dark and mysterious all the time.
The “Fire Breather” video is certainly very cinematic.
The director [Patrick Killingbeck] had the idea of filming in a caravan park. It was really trailer trash and I loved it. We wanted to make it grimy and take it to darker places. We found this old caravan park filled with camper vans and went ahead and did it.
What struck me about the video was its mix of supernatural and religious imagery, like the tarot cards and the bejeweled Madonna and Child jacket.
I’m really into religion and a lot of my lyrics come from religious works, like one of my songs is called “In My Church.” I think the words of religion are really cool. Tarot cards are an interesting subject, so I thought it would be fun to put them into video and into song, especially because they’re found all over the world. The jacket was the director’s and I tried to convince him all day to let me have it but he wasn’t having any of it. It’s his favourite leather jacket ever.
You’ve also worked with Diane Warren, who’s written countless Grammy, Golden Globe and Oscar-nominated hits. Did you feel inspired?
When I got signed, I came to LA and we experimented with different styles. I never had anyone write songs for me before, but I wanted to give it a go. It was really fun hanging out with her. I actually dropped one of her favorite guitars. I felt like such a weirdo! I definitely like writing my own music, but it was very fun to meet her. She’s an inspiring character. I’m particularly inspired by female vocalists because I seem them as role models. I love artists like Florence and the Machine because they make great pop music but in a really quirky way.
As well as songwriting, you’ve also received hype for your remix of fellow UK band Racing Glaciers’ single “New Country.” Do you envision a future career as a remix artist?
I’ve only done two remixes so far, one for “Racing Glaciers” and one for “Dan Croll,” but it’s been fun. I was quite nervous to see how they’d go down, but I really want to do some more. If someone sends me a demo I’d love to remix it. There are so many people that I love, but I’d be scared to remix their songs in case they don’t like it.
While we wait for you to pluck up the courage, what’s next on the agenda for Laurel?
I’m going on the John Newman tour this month all over the UK. After that I don’t really know what I’m doing apart from releasing the album. Hopefully I’ll get some more string players on it then play some UK festivals. I have no idea when it’s dropping, maybe at the end of this year or the beginning of next year but you can never tell.