You might have seen Laufey strumming her cello on YouTube or scatting on TikTok livestreams. A beautiful blend of genres, she skilfully reinvents jazz and classical instrumentation with her relatable storytelling, adapting these sounds to the contemporary music world. The multi-talented singer-songwriter has just released her debut full-length album, Everything I Know About Love, and it’s just as dreamy and introspective as you’d expect. In this interview, she discusses social media, her songwriting process, and bringing ‘older music’ to a modern audience.
Firstly, could you please introduce yourself for those who might not know you?
I’m Laufey and I’m a half Icelandic, half Chinese singer-songwriter and cellist currently based in Los Angeles.
Let’s start from the very beginning. You grew up in a very musical household – your mother and sister both play the violin, and you yourself are classically trained in cello and piano. How does your upbringing inspire your sound?
Classical music was the music I played and listened to the most growing up along with jazz. I definitely try to implement melodies and chords from those 'older styles’ of music in my own recordings – especially in this upcoming album! I play the cello on over half of the tracks! My goal is to keep these styles of music alive through modern stories and recordings.
On social media, you often post acoustic covers or host live jams, where we get to hear snippets of what you’ve been working on. Here, we get to see your work in its rawest form – why is that important to you?
It’s so important to me to show my audience what inspired the songs and what the stories behind the songs are so they can fully understand what I’m trying to convey. A lot of my fans are also musicians and writers themselves and I love getting feedback from them as well as sharing my experiences! It’s like a little community!
Do you ever get nervous putting your music out there for people to perceive in real-time? How do you overcome that?
Occasionally, I get a little nervous thinking about the number of eyes watching and ears listening, but I always tell myself that I really don’t have too much control over how a song will be received by the public but I do have control over what I decide to put out and as long as it’s a song that I one hundred per cent believe in and love, I’m on the right track!
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Your music itself is already quite intimate, and with social media, we get to see the behind-the-scenes process of your songs. How do you think social media adds to that intimacy between you and your fans?
I think that social media is such a blessing in the way that I get to connect to my fans directly. I love answering messages and comments and giving advice and receiving advice from them. I share a lot of my life on social media in hopes that it brings visual context to my music and writing!
Now, let’s dive into your music. You draw inspiration from jazz, pop and classical music, which are all very different genres. How do you navigate these three very distinct sounds in your own work? Do you ever feel pressure to conform to one genre of music?
I’m not even sure how to navigate them! (laughs). I think they’re all woven so deeply into my musical subconscious that it just comes out somehow. Some days I’ll lean more towards one genre and other days I’ll be more inspired by another – it really depends on what I’m feeling. I don’t feel too much pressure to comfort to any certain style. My fans are so kind and open to whatever I do. It always ends up sounding like a Laufey song because it’s my voice and writing!
On the flip side, do you feel a sense of responsibility to bridge the gap between these genres?
I do feel a sense of responsibility, but I also enjoy it so much. I think that these older styles of music are so beautiful, and I don’t see many young people advocating for them and I have an audience of young people that are willing to listen!
Last August, you released your song, Let You Break My Heart Again, with the Philharmonia Orchestra. How did it feel like to see your worlds collide and be able to work on your music with a symphony orchestra?
It felt like a dream. I’m kind of still in shock that I record with them.
You graduated from Berklee College of Music last year, and you said that before you entered college, you had never really created your own music before. What was the process like transitioning from a performer of music to a creator of music? What were some challenges that you had to overcome?
It was so hard for me to transition. I felt awkward trying to write my own music because I had been trained to read music and follow the instructions on the page. I felt like I was breaking so many rules all the time! Then I realised that I had to allow myself to break rules to be able to create something unique.
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Recently, you released your debut album, Everything I Know About Love. While each song explores a different sound, from mellow cello features to groovy bossa nova, something that they have in common is they all sound quite mesmerising and dreamy. How do you go about creating these sounds?
I think what gives these songs a dreamy quality is the instrumentation and arrangements that are borrowed from jazz and classical music that aren’t as common in contemporary music. We layered a lot of strings and fun instruments such as harp, bassoon and celesta, and experimented with different textures to create a timeless, cinematic experience
One reason why your music is so attractive is because of how relatable it is. For example, Beautiful Stranger is about developing a crush on a stranger on the train, which I’m sure we’ve all experienced. Where do you draw inspiration from?
I draw all of my inspiration from my own life and experiences! I love to journal about my thoughts, so a lot of my songs are born out of journal entries.
Something I love about your lyricism is that it really situates the listener as the protagonist of a story, bringing us through the ups and downs of romance. What does your writing process look like?
Thank you! That’s truly what I’m trying to do. Before I even write the first lyric, I always know what the song is going to be about – what the message or the title of the song is going to be. That way, I always have a sense of direction.
Your songs are a very honest show of emotion. For example, Fragile really delves into how it feels to miss someone and Falling Behind, while more upbeat, talks about the inevitable feeling of falling behind when everyone around you is getting into relationships. Is it difficult to put yourself out there like that? Or is it liberating?
I’ve always been a very open book and expressive about my thoughts and feelings. I think it’s quite liberating to put my thoughts out there and if anything, it’s quite validating when somebody hears one of my songs and says that they’ve felt the same way before.
What’s your favourite song on the album and why?
Probably Fragile. The lyrics just mean so much to me and the song just mixes in every element of music I love.
Lastly, love can come in many forms from many different places, such as family and friends. Keeping with the title of your album, what is something that you know about love?
I know that it exists in many forms and it exists for everyone!
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