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Leo Lauren: A World Beyond Supernormal and Los Angeles Vampires

Leo Lauren: A World Beyond Supernormal and Los Angeles Vampires

Leo Lauren: A World Beyond Supernormal and Los Angeles Vampires

Leo Lauren is a compelling artist on the rise we’ll be hearing a lot more from in these future post Covid-19 days – whether it’s through visual tapestries or auditory intrigue, Leo Lauren presents a visionary work that is wondrous to behold.  On the verge of unveling his debut EP entitled Supernormal, the creator Lauren is sure to captivate all types of music fanatics.  Highwire Daze caught up with Leo Lauren to discuss the making of Supernormal. working with Jarrod Alexander of My Chemical Romance on the EP, inspirations for his creative energies, a bit on the world of Los Angeles vampires, as well as a tribute to the legendary David Bowie.  Read on…

Where are you based out of and what is your local music scene like there?
I grew up in LA, and went to UCLA for visual art. The music scene in LA could not be more eclectic, which is fantastic. When I was younger (high school/early college) I went to a lot of folk shows, as my girlfriend at the time was playing that sort of music. After that period, most of my musical excursions were in the context of an arts community. A lot of the kids around me were in little punk bands, or neo-noise rock bands. A lot of pavement spirited stuff.. some very nice ambient music. These days (or the pre-covid days), I was going to more house shows, shows in DIY spaces, hardcore bands… shows that have been more available to me, or places I could tag along with my peers to.

What is the inspiration behind the lyrics for Supernormal?
I was in school, and my friend Shavand and I (Shavand is also a great songwriter) were both equally lonesome. We’d often have expectations for an evening, indulge in said evening (we met on my 21st birthday, sick and sharing the porcelain throne), and be massively melancholic with whatever the results were. Sometimes we’d share songs. Nights would often end the same, with everyone else asleep or with a partner, and Shavand and I sitting alone on the old couch in my Westwood apartment, shooting the shit under dull tungsten lights. He’s a little older than me, and I distinctly remember him telling me one night, you’re 21 right? Yeah, that’s about the time I got used to disappointment.” I guess that’s when I started thinking about Supernormal… but it was an evolution. It first started with a series of drawings, some of them text based, then a Smashing Pumpkins type major-chordy song, and then found it’s way to the bones of what it is now, with me writing to the arpeggiated synth line on a Roland in my bedroom. I liked the oxymoronic quality of the phrase, how it could simultaneously deal with expectations of transcendence; of actually physicalizing aspiration, and the consistent and totally numbing effects of thwarted hopes – the reminder that none of us are actually special!!! and that’s normality… But the song doesn’t totally surrender to that… it dances between that optimism and defeat. It’s a condition.

Who produced Supernormal and what was it like working with them?
Heather Baker produced it, as well as the rest of the songs. It’s been journey. I think of Heather as my rock and roll older sister of sorts… She’s been a collaborator and mentor to me. We met serendipitously a few years ago – she was teaching lessons to my stepsister between tours, and I had recently graduated from art school and was throwing myself into learning to make art in the form of pop songs. My stepdad suggested I show Heather some of my ideas (some basic demos with DI electric guitars and drum machines) to learn more about recording/arranging. I still vividly remember showing her an early demo and her just nodding her head, focussed on a distant but definitive space, the gears turning… she got it immediately, which was a huge relief since I’d been so often misunderstood. There was a visceral and inherent understanding between us, and she was both game for whatever ideas I had and brutally truthful with her feedback. She guided me in understanding some essential rules of pop music… We started working on my material at her place in Long Beach, in a series of sessions that were immensely educational for me. In the following year I demo’d out a ton of ideas in my bedroom, developing some more than others, and would send them to Heather for feedback. Eventually we selected a handful of songs and began production on Supernormal. We connected on the whole art rock thing, quoting Bowie, all the Goths, Bjork, but still believed in contemporary Pop as a valuable form that could both challenge and celebrate itself. It’s a perspective I’m interested in all my work, and partners who are down to dance the dance (and can dance it) as well as take the serious creative risks necessary are few and far between. She’s also an incredible musician (guitar, bass, synths, programmer…) and much of the sound of the record is indebted to that. Supernormal was an intense labor, we nearly killed ourselves at times. A lot of good things are like that though…

What was it like working with Jarrod Alexander of My Chemical Romance on this song and how did he become involved in the process?
Jarrod was great! He “crushed it,” as they say, and had great ideas. Heather played with him in a band a while back I think… she got him involved. She’d asked how I’d want the drums on the record to feel and I grimaced and pantomimed someone raising the sticks over their head, crashing down on the drums relentlessly like a beast. Jarrod was the first person that came to mind for her. I was fortunate to work with both Heather and Jarrod, as they understood the songs mostly from the get-go. Jarrod heard Supernormal (the song) and asked “like Labyrinth?” “Exactly!”

Photo Credit: Evan Mulling

Select any other Leo Lauren song and what inspired the lyrics.
Vampire” is the third single I’ll be releasing off Supernormal. I don’t want to spoil too much, but it deals with power – observations I had growing up in Los Angeles, youth fetishization, the quid-pro-quo and complicit abuse of consenting power dynamics, the interchangeable yin-yang of narcissism and victimization… fun stuff!

How close are you to writing and recording an EP or full length album?
The EP is done! It will be out most likely in late June :). But I have an additional 50 or so songs in the works, many of them complete. I’d love to make a full length next.

If you were invited to participate on a David Bowie tribute album, what song would you do and why? And how does David Bowie inspire your music if at all?
Wow, you really went for the jugular with that one. My reverence and severe love for David Bowie has become so integrated into the fabric of my soul that to even call him a favorite seems as superfluous as listing a bodily function. I actually really fell for David later than most. I was 20 studying abroad in Paris, had just left my most serious relationship completely exhausted with only a fragile and instinctive sense of self at best, and spoke the language of the people around me terribly. The music not only addressed those feelings of isolation, but empowered them. And the rhythm! Even the percussive nature of his guitar playing on the Ziggy stuff – it was a backbeat to walking around a metropolitan city; of moving (and these days I can always have a deeper emotional experience dancing). To me Bowie represents the pinnacle of having your cake and eating it too: he critiques, he celebrates, he is both brutal and sensitive and so fully commits to his references that he both undermines and luxuriates in them, somehow formulating a strangely new but impossibly familiar iconic. He had a long and dynamic career of making art fueled by a love for art. I can’t pick just one song… I’m sorry… I’d cover “Rock ’N’ Roll Suicide,” “As The World Falls Down,” or “Young Americans.” Or “Modern Love.” Maybe “Loving The Alien.” Honestly I’d take any of them.

What could one expect from a live Leo Lauren show?
Fog, maybe some vaseline, a few jokes, an acoustic guitar (especially right now)… Songs which were pleasurable episodes to write, and others wrought with backbreaking years of toiling. Humor! Sensitivity, some sexiness, some sexlessness. Some hip shaking. Scary stories, melodrama, earnestness, role-play, transparency.

Who are some of your artistic inspirations when it comes to painting and drawings?
I think at a time I could have told you a more singular answer. Now I’m not so sure. Everything I’ve ever loved seems equally as influential. DeviantArt and fantasy/concept art when I was younger, Tibetan kites, illustrated folktales, monster slasher comics, graphic novels, Van Gough, Monet, German Expressionism, the drawings on cereal boxes, Japanese woodcuts, Lou Reed’s studded jacket, the Cat Woman costume from Tim Burton’s Batman, Ridley Scott’s Alien and Blade Runner (a lot of movies), Helen Frankenthaler, Andy Warhol, rock ’n’ roll t-shirts… also the look of pedagogic art making (connect the dots, coloring books, educational tools for learning to paint and draw. I’ve worked primarily as an art teacher for a living). I guess Mike Kelley would be a favorite visual artist – he kind of grabs from a lot of bags like that.

Tell me about the 10 minute musical video you did called Perfect Day and what was the inspiration behind this piece? (LOVED IT BY THE WAY)
That’s so cool you checked out Perfect Day, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I started stewing on the idea halfway through my last year at school. I was in Barbara Kruger’s senior seminar, and towards the end of the year we were supposed to present a senior thesis of sorts… I somehow got it in my head to make a gothic musical, which didn’t necessarily need to function in the narrative sense. The project was pretty fluid start to finish, it had a will and design of its own all the way to the final edit. I loosely structured it around a song “Perfect Day” I’d written, which is a love song from the perspective of a ghoul whose fantasies of having a “perfect day” with their special someone are painfully at odds with the fact that daylight will reveal their true nature, destroying if not them their romance. It was the first time I could fully synthesize the different mediums I work with – drawing the backdrops, sewing the costumes (the leftovers of which became my first sewn paintings), writing dialogue and music, directing, acting, building… I was interested in inverting the classic “musical” form, where instead of producing multiple songs to support a theatrical narrative, forming scenes and interactions to report to the structure of a single song, kind of expanding the experience in someway which is not beholden to narrative, but can maybe touch on a more elusive, potent phenomenon. I’d make directorial decisions based on a costume, or write a scene in response to a backdrop I made, or plan a dance in response to three of the cast members having shaved heads – basically taking a more painterly approach to the different aspects of production, disregarding hierarchy of the script to allow as much democracy and discovery between the mediums as I could.

Is acting or musicals something you might like to do in the future? Is or this more or a been there, done that kind of thing?
I’m open to acting, if it was material I could get behind. I like some musicals, but I don’t think they’re for me to perform in. Growing up in L.A. with parents that had worked in the film business, I went to a handful of castings, auditions, and classes when I was younger. I was excited by the idea of physicalizing something like a script, but was always more excited by the possibilities of building my own world. I was transfixed by the prospect of writing my own script and performing it too; to have some hand in orchestrating the experience I was going to portray on a stage, screen, or by myself in my room. It wasn’t until I started writing songs that the realization really crystalized.

If the music of Leo Lauren was a donut, what kind would it be and why?
It’d have purple sprinkles and dripping with stalactites of glaze. At least right now. It might look/taste different in a month or a year.

What’s up next for you?
Making art! New art, new songs, art for the songs on Supernormal. I’m shooting a music video for the title track with some friends in my house in late May (conscientious of social distance responsibilities of course), and building a sort of Frankenstein/Giger/space glam set piece in my studio out back. A lot of silver paint, tubes, blue L.E.D. lights, metal drilling… I’ve got to get back to work on it soon actually, hah.
And — trying to live as presently as possible, making the time to read, meditate, go on walks, cook with my housemates, FaceTime my brothers; the good stuff.

Any final words of wisdom?
Anyone can draw 😉

(Interview by Ken Morton)

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