Lorde: Behind the success story (+audio)

By Charlotte Ryan

Kiwi FM's Charlotte Ryan writes about New Zealand's break-out star of the moment, Ella Yelich-O'Connor, aka Lorde

Ella Yelich-O'Connor aka Lorde. Photo / Supplied
Ella Yelich-O'Connor aka Lorde. Photo / Supplied

I felt strangely nervous meeting Ella Yelich-O'Connor. Was I supposed to call her Lorde, her stage name? Or Ella?

Considering the hype Yelich-O'Connor has already received, this North Shore 16-year-old has been something of a mystery.

Like so many others, from the moment I heard Lorde's single Royals and her The Love Club EP in December, I became addicted to it. I found myself playing tracks from her EP each day to fuel my habit. It also made me want to learn more about her - see who she was.

Initially, there were no videos, no press releases, no photos - just whispers of her attending Takapuna Grammar, being signed to Universal Music at the age of 13, and a drawing of a girl with long brown hair and a snake, an illustration by Sam Yong, founder of the I Love Ugly fashion label. They had been discussing her new website over a coffee and she spied his drawings, which she loved, so asked him to whip something up instead of a traditional press shot.

And the name Lorde - "Lord with an E," she proudly explains. "I was interested in aristocracy and royalty at the time."

She considered Duke but it was too masculine (and of course, Prince was taken). She liked Lord - but decided to add the "e" because it "sounded nice and looked nice". And she wants to confirm to everyone her stage name is not religious. "Lorde is like a character, something I can switch on and switch off when I'm on stage"

I meet Yelich-O'Connor in the Golden Age studio, run by her co-writer Joel Little, and where she recorded the EP.

She seems right at home in the small space, playing with the heat pump, settling into the couch, staring intently as we talk. She has spent a lot of time in this space writing and recording - 10 to 12-hour days in sometimes 50 to 60-hour weeks.

In the early days of her record label "development", her management paired her with other local songwriters, none of whom worked out very well.

"It was really uncomfortable," Yelich-O'Connor says, adding that she felt they didn't take her seriously because of her age. "People thought because I was 14 they would do all the work."

She also had to be convinced that music was for her. That didn't happen until she met Little who, she says, was not an immediately obvious person to write with, considering his background in pop-punk outfit Goodnight Nurse and electropop duo Kids of 88.

But their partnership has proved successful. She likes him because "he doesn't want to put his huge big signature on the music". The writing process starts with Yelich-O'Connor coming to him with lyrics written on her laptop. She has very little technical knowledge but he pushes her, which she needs - and loves.

She talks passionately about lyrics and words. They fascinate her; she reads lots of books, she admits this probably comes from her poet mother.

She says signing a record label contract at the age of 13 was very weird. "Its such an alien thing to think about your life and career at that age. I wasn't even sure if it was music that I wanted to do with my life."

Universal discovered the artist when her now manager, Scott Maclachlan, also a Devonport resident, saw a video of her performing at a Belmont Intermediate School concert when she was 12.

Maclachlan contacted Yelich-O'Connor and her parents and started talking about her future.

Four years later, the Royals single entered the national charts at No1 in March - and hasn't moved far from the top spot since. It has now gone platinum.

Royals was written in a week during the school holidays, along with two other songs on her EP. She says she is now is sick of listening to songs from the Love Club EP, though. "When you're my age, a year ago, you're a completely different person to the one you are now ... so I listen to the EP and think it's so terrible and I'm so embarrassed about everything that's on here. It's that part of me that makes me want to move on and make better stuff."

She is still recording at Golden Age, but can't confirm whether it's an EP or an album she is working towards. She looks coy and excited when talking about her new recordings and it's her new music that will define her future, and get her past the initial hype.

Talking of which, she laughs and says how crazy it is that the likes of celebrity blogger Perez Hilton have blogged about her, and lists other musicians who have tweeted her or started following her too - including the very hip and cool Grimes.

She has recently been signed to Lava Records (US label and home of Jessie J) and has two sold-out shows in Australia to add to her shows next week in Auckland and Wellington (the Auckland ones sold out in minutes).

Performance and playing live to an audience is a new thing. Even though she studied drama and performances at school and she tells me she is a great public speaker - it wasn't performance that attracted her to become a musician.

From writing the songs, it has been a process to figure out how to translate her music to a live performance.

She'll be backed by a live drummer (Ben Barter - Kids in Space and the Wyld) and keyboards (Jimmy Mac - Ruby Frost and the DHDFDS) but Yelich-O'Connor didn't want to play any musical instrument on stage, so she can focus on her vocals and performance.

"There's something very classic about a female singing alone," she says. She credits herself as the worst dancer and says she just goes with the vibe: "Everything comes to life on stage." She hopes her performance will be an experience for her early fans.

Her future? She lists goals - to play festivals such as Glastonbury, Coachella. She wants to collaborate with artists like James Blake (who she cites as a huge inspiration), Thom Yorke, Burial, Major Lazer and Flume, all left-field acts rather than chart-oriented pop producers.

But right here on the couch, Yelich-O'Connor comes across as very down-to-earth and grounded. And she intends to stay that way, especially with the tight team and family behind her.

"As soon as you think you are cool you start acting crazy. I don't have a gauge of how big a deal I am. My life is very much the same," she explains. "It's just weird when people want to take photos of me at parties."

WHAT'S WITH THE DOG?

"I was fascinated with aristocracy and royal families - especially their family portraits. The type of photos where they are all sitting straight, looking awkward with their animals around them and a sheaf of wheat or something sitting there strangely representing their farm or whatever.

"I wanted a big dog - so asked the photographer and he had a stylist friend who brought one in. I hope it doesn't look too awkward ..."

Who: Lorde
When and where: Galatos, Auckland, May 9 and 11, Wellington's Mighty Mighty, May 10 (all sold out)
Listen to: The Love Club EP, out now

The full interview::

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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