30 Minutes With Lorde

The song she tried to get Nicki Minaj to make, swapping earbuds with Taylor Swift, and what Yeezy taught her.

Photographer Emily Kai Bock
November 18, 2014

It's weird and cool that an 18-year-old is qualified to oversee the soundtrack to a very soon-to-be billion-dollar-grossing franchise, and that she can do that job so much better than most. The quality of the Lorde's handpicked Hunger Games album is a testament to her artistry—Miguel collaborating with the Chemical Brothers is not something many people probably wanted, but it's a thing many people will enjoy; "Yellow Flicker Beat" is good both ways. Watching her get Kanye remixing, make South Park thirsty, and put Diplo in the doghouse lately says mounds about the New Zealander's ascendance as a cultural gatekeeper for #teens. At different points in the following interview, conducted over the phone from Hong Kong, she says "hashtag-blessed" and cringes at her own use of the word "organic." Raw transcript, no filter.

Wait, you're in Hong Kong right now? I'm just kind of stopping over. It's beautiful here, and I'm into it because the only other Asian city I've been to is Tokyo. But I'm going to New Zealand, and I came from London, and the jet lag is going to be really real. I'm in a bad zone with times now. I sew Christmas decorations until 3AM then I take a melatonin and go to sleep.

I feel like you probably have a lot of vitamins in your life. You're wrong, and I feel sad saying that you're wrong because I should have so many vitamins, but they just rattle around in my suitcase and split open, and I get annoyed dusting vitamin C off my clothes.

What did you do for the soundtrack that you might not have done for a Lorde album? Something like "Meltdown" was pretty far outside my comfort zone. I contacted Stromae early on asking if he had anything, and he had this amazing instrumental from his record. I was, like, "Oh my god, when I listened to your album the first thing I thought was that someone should do something over this awesome instrumental." I thought, "Wouldn't it be cool to get a bunch of rappers on it?" And once you say that, nothing can dissuade you. It ended up being one of my favorites on the album.

Were you all in the studio? I wish. It was me and Haim. I'd been in the studio for 20 hours doing everything that needed to be finished, with me and my producer scarfing burgers. It was this big Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur, and Haim couldn't eat all day. Before they came to the studio, we were like, "Put everything away! Light a candle! No one can know this happened!" When the girls showed up, we did awesome gang vocals for an hour. You feel so much cooler around them than you are. When they leave, I'm like, "The light just got turned off and all of a sudden I'm a loser again."

"Before [Haim] came to the studio, we were like, 'Put everything away! Light a candle! No one can know this happened!'"

Part of today's Pitchfork review of the soundtrack—which is really positive—is the idea that your effort is extra-winning because any Hunger Games soundtrack would do well commercially, even if it wasn't good. But you's is good. Did you think about that guaranteed audience when you were making it? I think for one second I thought that was true, and then I realized that the kids who are fans of these movies are very devoted. It's everything to them that everything is perfect, and I just had visions of the entirety of the fandom turning their backs on me and the album being number 400 on iTunes or something. I'm lucky enough that I never put pressure on myself making my own music, but with this I definitely felt the pressure of making it cool but also commercially viable. I'm glad about the reviews. In the back of my head, I was like, "The Pitchfork review is going to come out, and I'm going to weep."

How did you manage the artists on the soundtrack? Were you involved after getting them to agree? Oh, yeah, oh my god. Basically I didn't realize how hard working with other artists was. I only have to deal with myself, and I know how bad I am at meeting time goals. It was basically me being like, "Hey! Sorry to bother you again!" Like, super-obnoxious A&R kid. If anyone would try to do that to me, it'd be like, "Ungh." It'd be the biggest eye-roll that someone was trying to choreograph my creative process. It was kind of funny being on the other side of that and being like, "We have deadlines, we have budgets, we have different demographics to think about." But most people adhered to the time really well and were really lovely about getting it done, and I think they realized how much it meant to me, based on the intense vocab I used in my emails.

Tell me about the David Lynch song that got cut. He'd tweeted a long time ago that he was a big fan of a New Zealand artist called Tiny Ruins, who makes this beautiful, delicate, well-written music. I thought, "Wouldn't it be cool if I could get them together?" They headed off and they recorded a beautiful, beautiful song for the soundtrack, and it was one of the hardest decisions I had to make not including it. It was so dear to me, but it was an outlier in terms of tone and style, and I thought it would be better suited for one of their projects at some point. But there's nothing weirder than having a David Lynch song on your computer and not using it.

Did you ask anyone to do the soundtrack and they said no? Oh, god, so many people. When I first approached the project, I thought I would choose 15 artists and they'd be the 15 artists I was with three months later, but obviously it evolved like crazy. Nicki was going to do a thing, which was going to be amazing, but she's obviously super-deep in her album, which is going to be awesome and even if I couldn't get a song I'm happy we're going to get a new Nicki Minaj album to listen to at the gym for six months.

So… Diplo insulted Taylor's butt on Twitter, and you called out his dick-size. Major Lazer is on the soundtrack, so it wasn't like you were taking shots at a stranger. Were you surprised the way people got worked up about it? I mean, I think often I say things and realize that Americans hear what I say differently to how I hear it. I love Wes and he's a big brother to me and one of my first friends in the industry, and part of having a friendship with someone like that is not letting them say stupid shit. Taylor's my friend as well, and I'm a girl, and if I see some weird body-shaming on my feed I'm going to be like, "Hey man…" We do still love each other, hopefully.

"If I see some weird body-shaming on my feed I'm going to be like, 'Hey man…'"

Did you develop the confidence to call people out as a result of you career? I wasn't always that type of person. I've been notoriously quiet my whole life, so it wasn't until I started to be able to run a board meeting and direct people in the way I wanted things to go that I gained confidence as a leader. As a businessperson, I got confident in saying, "Hey, this is whack."

Has knowing Taylor taught you about that, too? She's probably the most graceful person at being famous that I've seen. You never want to be the kind of person who is like, "It's really hard sometimes!" What we do is awesome. It's fucking amazing. You can't not feel lucky, can't not feel hashtag-blessed. She's really good at being aware of that, and whenever I'm struggling with something, whether it be a loss or privacy or extreme exhaustion, I remember her way of thinking about it. You can't have something this awesome without it also being challenging.

When she was recording 1989, did you weigh in? She heard "Yellow Flicker Beat" super early on and was, like, a massive champion of that, which was very reassuring to me. I think I was kind of nervous to play her many album songs. She played me a bunch of 1989, which I was obviously very happy about and impressed by. We were on a road trip and we swapped headphones in the backseat and listened to a bunch of each other's projects. They were all called "Title Rough" and random things, and it was nice to hear each other's projects in that state.

In some way, I think her changing style owes something to you and what people like Haim were doing. I think what Taylor does is so singular musically. It doesn't sound like anyone else, and if I heard that it sounds like me, I just listen and I'm like, "This is Taylor." The landscape of pop has changed quite a bit. I guess I can hear the trickle-down of the stuff that we came up with, but that records makes you feel like it's so her.

Whose idea was it to have Miguel rapping like Drake on a Chemical Brothers songs? There was this very early beat that the Chemical Brothers sent me. They sent me 10 beats, and that was the one I kept coming back to. It had no melody, and I was trying to dream up this amazingly melodic person on this amazingly melody-less beat, and I thought of Miguel. I said, "Are you a fan of Chemical Brothers by any chance?" He was, and he was able to deliver in that style. I hadn't heard Miguel in that way, and I haven't heard Chemical Brothers in that way, so it was pretty cool for me. Someone called it "playing god" earlier, which is a weird way of thinking about it, but it really felt limitless to me to sit in my bedroom on the tour bus and think up dream combinations of people who deserved to be in each other's presence, people who I thought could learn from each other.

Do you think the fact that you got Kanye to do the rework means you're a step closer to interviewing him for Rookie? How do you know about this?!

Tavi did an interview and said it was, like, her dream. Who knows! If you're reading this, Kanye, let's talk. He actually just spoke to us in this amazing way for 40 minutes about what it's like to be him. I didn't blink for 40 minutes. I'm trying to remember every part of this monologue because it's one of the most amazing things I've gotten to witness. I should try to make an interview happen. But what do you ask him? You just end up feeling like a dweeb. "Got any new stuff coming out? Playing any gigs?"

"If you're reading this, Kanye, let's talk."

How'd you get him to do the song? Did it take convincing? We had wanted to do something separate of any project. We just wanted to sit in the studio and try something out. I didn't know it was going to be the "Yellow Flicker Beat" rework. It was cool that he was into the song, and he reimagined it in this different way as it was produced. He sang it to me—I guess he made the sounds with his mouth—and I was like, "This is not going to work. This doesn't sound like something that's going to be cool." But of course it was cool, and it worked as the other side of the coin as my version.

Will the experience of working with him change your own approach to music? I fall into a routine a lot. I enjoy making pop songs, and there's a formula to it, and it comes easy to me. I find myself making a lot of simple, easy, cool songs, whereas he doesn't put a limit on it. A song can take him six months; it can take him two years. He lets things germinate quite organically—oh my god, I said "organically," I'm such a fucking retard. Stuff's not always done to him. So when I'm writing and I do three songs structurally similar in a row, sometimes it's good to step outside of that mindset and look for something that's never been done.

I read an old interview of yours, and you said that Lorde was a character and Ella is who you are most of the time. Has that changed? Now that more people on earth know who Lorde is, are you Lorde more? I think that when I gave that interview, my way of being Lorde was, like, I would walk onstage and a wall of terror would go up for that 45 minutes. I'd be in complete fear, and when I got offstage, it'd be like I'd awoken from a dream. That was my way of being around people and showing them what I could do. I guess I'm more confident in myself and the work I'm making. I think that I'm Ella most of the time, but Ella is Lorde now. Right? The Venn diagram is overlapping more, whereas before it was like: switch on a light, walk in the room. Now I'm in the room all the time. Now I can be both people, or be one person and have multiple shades. Another thing that helped me become more comfortable is meeting people after shows and realizing that, like, what I was doing was super-serious and super-special to them. It's not fair for me to disengage in this environment. I have to be there all the time for them.

Below, watch the video for Lorde's original contribution to the Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One soundtrack, "Yellow Flicker Beat," directed by Emily Kai Bock.

30 Minutes With Lorde