Music Interviews
1:30 pm
Sat July 19, 2014

Lana Del Rey: 'I Don't Have Other People In Mind'

Originally published on Sat June 21, 2014 1:43 pm

Lana Del Rey is one of the biggest names in music right now. She packs venues around the world, sings in the new Disney movie Maleficent — all of this from a woman who used to be known as Lizzy Grant, and remade herself in part with a viral video sensation called "Video Games."

Del Rey is about to embark on a European tour, but first, she spoke with NPR's Scott Simon. Hear the radio version at the audio link, and read an edited version of their conversation below.

SCOTT SIMON: Allen Ginsberg was an early influence?

LANA DEL REY: Yes, he was an early influence — the whole beat poetry movement, and Vladimir Nabokov, and Walt Whitman.

Do we hear this in your music, do you think?

I think the thing I really got from Ginsberg was that you can tell a story through kind of painting pictures with words. And when I found out that you could have a profession doing that, it was thrilling to me. It just became my passion immediately, playing with words and poetry.

Not everybody has thought it's a good idea to have lines like "He hit me and it felt a kiss."

Definitely. But that's been the theme of my career. The thing about me is, coming from an alternative music background and singing for nine years, being basically invisible, I'm so used to writing for myself — and at the end of the day, I do it because I feel like I have to. So when I'm recording or writing, I don't have other people in mind. It's not always comfortable for me, but I don't not say what I want to.

You're perfectly entitled to say, "Listen to the song" by way of answering this, but since this is an interview, what are you trying to say in a song like "Ultraviolence"?

There are so many things, really. I guess one of them is a personal experience I had with a person who believed in breaking you down to build you back up again. And although that mindset didn't really agree with me, there was something freeing in letting go, for me, [with] this particular sort of guru-esque character. It's a little bit about being in love with the act of surrendering, about being confused whether that's a good idea.

There are some people who are very uncomfortable with the idea of women surrendering.

I know. It's just that I don't feel uncomfortable with it. The act of surrendering sort of puts me in a different mindset that allows me to be more of a channel — because I'm not holding on so tightly to things, I'm letting go, and I find that in letting go I become more of a channel for life to really happen on life's terms. I mean, maybe that sounds sort of metaphysical, but that's honestly how I feel.

I want to ask about another song: "Pretty When You Cry."

The way you heard it recorded is the way I freestyled it. I made it up on the spot with my guitar player and left it as it was with that session drummer, and just called it a day on that song. Like the vocal inflection has its own narrative, it's not all lyric drive, it's just kind of moments in time that are meaningful to me left as they were, kind of untouched. The fact that I didn't go back and try to sing it better is really the story of that song, because that's sort of me revealing to you a facet of myself: I don't care that it's not perfect. That's why that song is more important in that way than what I'm actually saying.

Is Lana Del Rey a character played by Elizabeth Grant?

No. Lana Del Rey is exactly who she's supposed to be: Free enough to be her own person, and that's exactly who I am. I'm not like a persona. I'm not a caricature of myself.

When you have a gift — and even people who can be a little exacting with what they think of as your lyric content, part of it is they believe you have a great gift. Do you feel it's something you owe to yourself, you owe to the world, to keep in good repair and to give people something?

Not really. I feel a strong relationship with God and I feel my ties are with him. That's how I honestly feel. Everything I do, I do it for somebody I've never met before, something in the great beyond. That's my primary relationship, really, is with something divine. I feel a connection as real with that as I've ever had with anybody on this earth.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

In Virginia, the new state law doesn't require cemetery owners to set up a joint pet-human burial section. It merely allows them to. And Don Wilson of Mountain View Cemetery in Vinton says, he has no plans to create one. He doesn't have enough land. But Wilson says, if there's enough interest, he'll reconsider. For NPR News, I'm Beverly Amsler in Roanoke. >>SIMON: Lana del Ray is one of the biggest names in music right now. She packs venues around the world. She sings in the new Disney movie, "Maleficent." And now her latest CD, "Ultraviolence."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ULTRAVIOLENCE")

LANA DEL REY: (Singing) Down on the West Coast, we've got a saying. If you're not drinking, then you're not playing. But you've got the music. You've got the music in you, don't you? Down on the West Coast...

SIMON: All of this from a woman who used to be known as Lizzy Grant and remade herself, in part, with a viral video sensation called "Video Games."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VIDEO GAMES")

DEL REY: (Singing) Singing in the old bar, swinging with the old stars, living for the fame. Kissing in the blue dark, playing pool and wild darts, video games.

SIMON: Lana del Ray is about to embark on a European tour. But first, we're so glad that she's come by to chat with us from the studios of NPR West. Thanks so much for being with us.

DEL REY: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Allen Ginsberg was an early influence?

DEL REY: Yes, he was an early influence. The whole beat poetry movement and Vladimir Nabokov and Walt Whitman.

SIMON: Do we hear this in your music, do you think?

DEL REY: Well, I mean, I think the thing I really got from Ginsberg was that you can tell a story through kind of painting pictures with words. And when I found out that you could have a profession doing that, it was thrilling to me. And, I mean, it just became my passion immediately, playing with words and poetry.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ULTRAVIOLENCE")

DEL REY: (Singing) He used to call me DN. That stood for Deadly Nightshade. 'Cause I was filled with poison, but blessed with beauty and rage. Jim told me that he hit me, and it felt like a kiss. Jim brought me back. Reminded me of when we were kids with his ultraviolence, ultraviolence...

SIMON: There's some tough stuff here.

DEL REY: Yeah.

SIMON: And not everybody has thought it's a good idea to have lines like he hit me and it felt like a kiss.

DEL REY: Definitely. But that's been the theme of my career. The thing about me is, like, coming from an alternative music background and singing for nine years, like, being basically invisible, I'm so used to writing for myself. And at the end of the day, I do it 'cause I feel like I have to. So when I'm recording or writing, I don't have other people in mind. It's not always comfortable for me, but I don't kind of not say what I want to.

SIMON: You're perfectly entitled to say, listen to the song, by way of answering this.

DEL REY: (Laughing).

SIMON: But since this is an interview, what are you trying to say in a song like this?

DEL REY: Well, there are so many things really. I guess one of them is, like, a personal experience I had with a person who believed in breaking you down to build you back up again. And although that, like, mindset didn't really agree with me, there was something freeing in letting go, for me, in this particular sort of guru-esque character. It's a little bit about being in love with the act of surrendering. It's about being confused about whether that's a good idea.

SIMON: There's some people who are very uncomfortable with the idea of women surrendering.

DEL REY: I know. I don't feel - it's just that I don't feel uncomfortable with it. The act of surrendering sort of puts me in a different mindset that allows me to be more of a channel, because I'm not holding on so tightly to things. I'm letting go. And I find, like, in letting go, I become more of a channel for life to really happen on life's terms. I mean, maybe that sounds sort of metaphysical, but that's just honestly how I feel.

SIMON: Let's play a little bit of another song, if we could.

DEL REY: OK.

SIMON: "Pretty When You Cry."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRETTY WHEN YOU CRY")

DEL REY: (Singing) All the pretty stars shine for you, my love. Am I that girl that you dream of? All those little times you said that I'm your girl. You make me feel like your whole world.

The way that you heard it recorded is the way that I free-styled it. So I made it up on the spot with my guitar player and left it as it was with that session drummer. And just called it a day on that song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRETTY WHEN YOU CRY")

DEL REY: (Singing) 'Cause I'm pretty when I cry. I'm pretty when I cry.

Like, the vocal inflection has its own narrative. You know, it's not all lyric-driven. It's just kind of moments in time that are meaningful to me, left as they were - kind of untouched. You know, the fact that I didn't go back and try to sing it better is really the story of that song, because that's sort of me revealing to you a facet of myself. You know, I don't care that it's not perfect. And that's why that song is more important in that way than maybe just what I'm actually saying.

SIMON: Is Lana del Ray a character played by Elizabeth Grant?

DEL REY: No. Lana del Ray is exactly who she's supposed to be. Free enough to be her own person. And that's exactly who I am. You know, I'm not, like, a persona. I'm not a caricature of myself.

SIMON: I'm interested in the dramatic quality in your songs. And let's play one more, if we could.

DEL REY: OK.

SIMON: "Old Money."

DEL REY: "Old Money."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OLD MONEY")

DEL REY: (Singing) Blew hydrangea, cold cash, divine, cashmere, cologne and white sunshine. Red racing cars, sunset in vine. The kids were young and pretty. Where have you been? Where did you go? Those summer nights seem long ago. And so it's the girl you used to call the Queen of the New York City.

SIMON: When you have a gift - and I think even people that can be a little exacting with you...

DEL REY: Yes.

SIMON: ...On what they think of your lyric content...

DEL REY: Yeah.

SIMON: I mean, part of it is they believe you have a great gift. Do you feel it's something you - you owe it yourself, you owe it to the world to keep in good repair and to give people something?

DEL REY: Not really. I feel a strong relationship with God, and I feel my ties are with him. That's how I honestly feel. Everything I do, I do it for somebody I've never met before. You know, it's something in the great beyond. That's my primarily relationship, really - is with something divine. I feel a connection as real with that as I've ever had with anybody on this earth.

SIMON: Lana del Ray - her new album, "Ultraviolence" - speaking with us from NPR West. Thank you so much for being with us.

DEL REY: Thank you. Thank you for your questions.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAD GIRL")

DEL REY: (Singing) Makes me so sad, girl. His money on the side, money on the side makes me so sad, girl. I'm a sad girl. I'm a sad girl. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.