Lorde on Hunger Games, South Park and her career

Monday 13 Oct 2014 7:00 p.m.

When the dissonant hums of 'Yellow Flicker Beat' begin at The Greek Theatre in Los Angeles (yes, the titular theatre of Get Him To The Greek), the noise of the crowd swells and erupts.

Although the song has only been out for just over a week, everyone knows it - and the entire amphitheatre lights up as cell-phones are held high, waving and, yes, flickering in the air.

Earlier in the day, I sat down with Lorde to talk about the giant rush that is her life.

Grammys, South Park, Weird Al and The Hunger Games - not to mention a tour that's taken her to the biggest stages on Earth - it was hard to know where to begin.

But we sat and talked, baking in the unrelenting heat of an LA rooftop.

Through a combination of chance and luck, I've seen Lorde's show multiple times over the last month, and it's a slick, beautiful thing to watch.

Now, finally, she's bringing the tour home at the end of the month. She's set to play Christchurch, Dunedin, Wellington and Auckland.

This is our conversation.

How was your show last night at the Greek? You are playing again there tonight!
It was good. The show was great. The Greek Theatre is like a career highlight for anyone who plays it and I get to play it twice, which is amazing. LA audiences are notoriously reserved...

They're quite cool, right?
They play it very cool because, you know, they see a show every other night. But it was so much fun for us. We've been playing a lot of outdoor venues and it's such great energy. Amongst the trees, it's so nice!

It is such a cool venue. You say 'career highlight' - I mean it's almost as if each show you've played has been something new and special. Coachella... then another festival.. and another. Do you still get a kick out of playing a new venue to a new set of people?
Oh yeah definitely...

Because it's constant stimulation for you.
Totally, well I mean it's weird playing a show every night and be in that moment every night. At first I kind of struggled with kind of having to be on top, and like ready to hang out with 5000 people. But there's different things about every city, and every venue to be enjoyed. And every crowd is so different, so it's easy to kind of be in the moment of that specific show, rather than thinking about the fact I've done hundreds in a really small space of time!

And you do seem to have that ability to connect with audiences, which is a pretty amazing thing to have. You haven't been doing this for long! I saw you in Toronto [at TD Echo Park], and everyone seemed to feel they were a part of that show.
Yeah that was nice actually, that was another beautiful outdoor one. I think one of the big things that helps me connect with audiences is every night after the shows, I try and go outside and go to the gate and meet kids who are waiting. And they are all just so awesome. It's like, 'Oh man can we go hang out! Can we do this later?!' They are all cool, smart, lovely people. And I think being able to think of them as individuals and not this chunk of humans, it makes it easier for me to remember that I am giving something to them, which is really important, which they treasure.

What do they think when you pop out? Because when I was a kid, I'd wait outside shows..
You'd wait outside the Nine Inch Nails shows!

I would! Marilyn Manson one time.. it didn't go well.. they just want to get out of there! So I think for an artist to just pop up and be present - I mean, how do people react?
There's screaming, there's crying, a lot of heaving, I'm like 'Don't hurt yourself!' People are very excited.

You met that kid who went viral on YouTube...
I did! I did last night! Which was so awesome. She was so smart and so cool. Definitely hyperventilating.

Well, she was hyperventilating in that car. So when you pop up… did she keep it together, on some level?
Yeah, I mean she's awesome. She has a book published and is about to write another one, so we were talking about that, and talking about our favourite candies and stuff. Everyone is interesting!

Well, this is that weird world you live in now where we're so connected. Where you can see some kid on YouTube, then the next minute you're hanging out. To me that's crazy.
It's pretty crazy. But I rely a lot on that in my professional life as well. I have been putting together The Hunger Games soundtrack and probably half the artists on there, I sent them a DM. Or a selfie on Instagram on private, saying, 'Can you email me?' It really is easy to reduce the steps in talking to someone and people appreciate it if you talk to people one-on-one. And I do it with fans too, send them a DM. They appreciate it and it's cool.

That soundtrack, curating that, with those people - I mean that must be a dream! Because the film itself is a great film, and then you can swoop in there and they've given you, I understand - pretty free reign...
Yeah the whole thing!

Where do you begin? Are you just drawing up lists of names and people and…
Well yeah, where I started with that was the director and I had a conversation, and he had this idea of this kind of Appalachian-folk vibe. And I kind of extended that... obviously I am not going to write music which is rooted in Appalachian folk! But I found some awesome 1920s spiritual standards, folk songs, like 'Lonesome Traveller', 'Wayfaring Stranger', 'Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child', all these kind of beautiful haunting, really intense songs that I thought were a good starting point for me. Then I wrote my song inspired by those. And then when I was going to other artists I sent references to what I was vibing, and I broke down the film from my perspective and what I felt it needed musically, and took it from there. So we built it from the ground up.

And as far as writing 'Yellow Flicker Beat', was that done on tour buses? In strange cities? When you were back in New Zealand? Because for your fans they just suddenly have this thing.. whereas for you..
Yeah it's a whole process! Well the lyrics in the beginning of that were based on something I'd written about myself, and I hadn't thought about them being in the world of The Hunger Games, and then Joel [Little] and I went into the studio and we knew we wanted the song to start with these haunting, cracked hums.... because straight away you feel you're inside a head, which is what I wanted to do with Katniss. And I stumbled across this lyric and thought 'That's kind of interesting'... the idea of repurposing everything that is kind of flawed, or wrong with Katniss, and making her this princess, this warrior. And she's a cool character to write for.

She's a cool cat.
She's a cool cat for sure.

Those hums work though, right? It's like you're in a brain.
Yeah, that's the vibe!

And it goes off live. I saw a video someone had taken of it the other night, and it's pretty haunting and it works pretty well.
People have been super into it live, it's been a fun one for us.

How does that single work? I mean a year ago, when you first put stuff online, it burbled away.. and now it's like wildfire!
Yeah, I mean I am definitely very thankful that I have the platform and it is picked up by people, and talked about. Pure Heroine came out a year ago. A year and 5 days ago now, or something… to the day!

You're keeping count!
Yes! And that impacted quite fast, but nothing compared to this. So much has happened in the year since that came out... that I don't really think about! But I did realise once I put that song out, I could feel the ripples of that. And so I was grateful people were still around to talk about it... people are still there to be supportive.

Obviously they are. I mean, you get feedback direct on things like Twitter, and when you bring it out on stage the response is huge.
I am excited about it. I'm happy I got the chance to write it because I feel it's very... it goes hand in hand with the film and the project. I don't think it would have been a song I would have written on my own. I needed to draw on someone else's well of aggression and trauma and all that sort of thing, to try and write this really intense thing.

How do you cope with your schedule? I mean I just came over from New Zealand [to LA] and I'm tired and I've been here for a day. How are you coping?
It's kind of a feat. Everyday. And it doesn't help that I've been on a tour of America, and every day we cross and state line and lose another hour, or gain an hour, and so it changes day to day what time-zone we are in - by a little bit, but it still throws you. It helps if you are here for an extended period. I would struggle with a couple of days. Timezones are crazy with New Zealand, you can't go anywhere from New Zealand and be normal time-zone wise, so we just... we go swimming, we walk when we can be bothered, we drive around and find the cool parts of cities.

Are you devouring television as well when you're moving?
Right now I have hardly even had time to watch TV, because I have been playing a show and getting back at midnight and working on the soundtrack until four, and then going to bed. So it's been so all-consuming. But I've been doing Gossip Girl pretty hard. Quality television. It's so good. I actually met one of the girls from Gossip Girl and she was like, 'Hi Ella' and I was, 'Oh my God! It's you!'

Which one?
Jess Szohr. She plays Vanessa.

That's the world you live in now. You can just bump into these people you've been watching!
It doesn't happen every day that I bump into a Gossip Girl! I don't know if I'd still be alive! It would be too much!

You are in New Zealand pretty soon. It's weird, as a year-and-a-half ago you were nervous to play a show, and now you don't appear nervous at all.
I mean I definitely still get nervous before a show. Um, but I have learnt to deal with it. I do yoga before the show, and put music on and just keep it kind of chill, but the good thing about touring is, you have every possible scenario thrown at you on stage: Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong, and now that I have had those experiences, I just learn to relax into it and have fun . And I can't even express how excited I am to be playing in New Zealand!You don't even understand! I've been looking forward to this for such a long time!

What is it... the fact it's home, bringing the show back here?
It's the fact it's home and like, I can relate to everyone who is there - like people from my high-school are gonna be at the shows and I am going to have people I know at every show! And I dunno, there is something about playing in your home. I felt it so strongly with the Laneway show after the Grammys. That was a real highlight for me.

I don't want to do spoilers for the show, but I like you've brought a bit of New Zealand with the show as well - you've got your mates up on screen! [As part of her show, Lorde has images of two New Zealand friends on screen]
Exactly!

And shots of Auckland, where you are from…
Exactly! So just before I came out on tour, basically when I was making the tour I had this idea I wanted it to be divided into three parts. The first part would be kind of my home and my life before everything happened to me, and be really suburban-feeling. I have these street lamps that are on stage with me, I very much wanted to anchor it in that world. And we went around and filmed in my town, and the jetty where I sit every day in summer, and the white tunnel you drive through going from Auckland to the Shore... I got them to film in that tunnel, I wanted it to be of my world. And to be showing these American audiences, this is actually my spot.

Kids playing rugby, right?
Yeah and they are from school as well, so it's pretty cool. And then the concept is it goes into my head and dreams, and all the kind of abstract emotions you have when you are embarking on something like this. And the third section is the present day, and the stage and everything kind of realised. It's three quite clear acts. And that first one was all about home.

Something I find interesting - and maybe this is a stupid question, but with what you do - you are so in control of everything you are doing, whether it's the merch clothing you are putting out, or what the show looks like, or the music you're writing. Then you rewind back to that moment where you are being taped on stage - that was like the ultimate moment of chance - I find that moment, that spark, so fascinating. It seems like the one time there was a bit of chance involved, do you know what I mean?
No, a lot of my career has been people deciding they wanted to take a chance on something, or given us a slot that could have gone to someone bigger or whatever. People have had a lot faith in what I'm doing. That's been a huge thing for me. Although it looks like it's just happened, I owe my success to so many people. But it's funny how stuff works out, I dunno… it's really weird.

I just love defining moments. Like Frank Ocean pulling out... so there you go…
That felt very like we were stepping up to something, and that we were arriving in a way. And looking back so many things have happened since then, I still look back on that and think, 'What a crazy thing'. You know, we get to this hotel which was meant for Frank Ocean, and it was the best hotel we'd ever seen, we were filming, we were taking panoramas, we were showing it to our friends. We were like, 'Look at this pool! There's a pool at this hotel!' It was such a big moment for all of us, we were so excited by it, it was cool.

So it's like this combo of you, and others, and luck, all combining into this thing...
Yeah, I mean someone said to me that if it happens for you in this business, it's equal parts talent, luck and work. You can't have it without each of those things coming into play. I've worked so hard, and I've been so lucky, I've gotten to grow as an artist and do things which challenge me and which make me do better. So.. it's been pretty great.

It is pretty good when hard work pays off though, right?
Oh yes, it's really great. And even things like.. I remember being on the Australian tour and finalising the plans for this US tour, and sitting up in bed at 5am, and I had a meeting about it the next morning with my production team, and sitting up and immediately knowing how I wanted the show to be, and the setlist and basically how it appears in the show. Moments like that - being awake at such a crazy hour - and working so hard on something and then to have it realised, and to have something tangible and something amazing we can give people every night - it's pretty cool.

How are you staying sane through all of this. Because you are incredibly sane.
Thanks! I'm glad!

Just so you know! Do you know what I mean though, because you've always got people going 'She's gonna go bloody crazy at some point! It's too much!' What do you put it down to, keeping everything together? What's the trick?
I don't know really. I mean… my Mum's sitting over there. Amber D, my make-up artist, my friend, they're a big part of it. They are doing high fives over there.. they are very proud of this! And Jimmy and Ben, the guys in my band: They are cool, straight up people who aren't going to tell you something is good if it isn't. Or not going to tell you you are cool if you aren't. I am really grateful for that honesty. But I guess the other thing is like everything has happened so fast that it's hard to adjust. For me, I don't think of myself as 'I'm a Grammy-winning artist', or 'This is why I am deserving of that...'I still feel like every single thing I am doing is me proving myself. Or I am trying to just do one more thing that will make people think, 'Oh yeah she's kinda cool. She's got it figured out', or whatever, so..

Well that's the thing, you're still working right, so you're not sitting back and going 'Oh I've made it'.
Absolutely, and again doing the soundtrack has been a big thing for me, because it's been such an undertaking, you don't realise before you do something like that how much more there is, and how challenging it is to answer to a billion dollar franchise! And I've been doing it, basically, solo.

Yeah, it's playing shows and being on that laptop until 4 in the morning!
Yeah, and that's another thing that I feel like - I dunno - it's another thing that I am just trying to put all the pieces together so I dunno, I think it's cool, so yeah [laughs]

Have you seen the film?
I am actually seeing it tomorrow. I've seen parts.

I was in the store the other day and you were on the cover of Elle magazine, South Park popped up...
That was really funny! I got off really easy!

Yeah it was great, as it wasn't you, it was some guy playing you, ya know?
I was thinking, 'Yeah he has a moustache... I mean I have a moustache, but is it that prominent?' But it was someone's dad pretending to be me. We actually, in my hotel room, went 'Ya ya ya ya ya I'm Lorde! Ya ya ya!' for like an hour, because that's why they do on the episode, so…

My friend said 'You've got to get Ella to sing that song!' and you've just done it. So.
'Ya ya ya Lorde Lorde Lorde...'

So the last month.. what's been the most surreal bit for you? Weird Al. South Park. Cover of Elle. Greek Theatre…
I gee whiz, I don't know, I am not allowed to talk about any soundtrack artists yet… I dunno.. to be honest, in Berkeley, we played two nights at another theatre called The Greek. It's on the grounds of the university and it's almost like a coliseum, its this tall theatre and people just stretch - it's 9000 person capacity - and we played it two nights in a row, sold out, and I just looked up at this wall of people and I was so grateful we were there, and I just thought 'This is the coolest thing'. I dunno. I was a bit teary-eyed. It's pretty amazing.

So back in New Zealand.. what's going to happen there? Can you have some time out? You're doing four shows…
Yeah I am gonna be in the studio, and the music awards and the silver scrolls are coming up. I always love those things. I've only been once, but I really like them. I want to do a big road trip, and go all over New Zealand and just see everything. I haven't been to the South Island, which I think is criminal! Considering I've been just about everywhere else!

I'm the same. I've been there 31 years and I haven't been to so much of it!
Exactly. So that's what I want to do this year. These holidays.

And you can actually have a holiday, and chill out?
Oh yeah. From Christmas to indefinitely… I am just floating. Until my next thing comes along.

...

LORDE'S NZ TOUR DATES:

  • October 27: Christchurch - Horncastle Arena
  • October 29: Dunedin - Town Hall
  • October 31: Wellington - TSB Bank Arena
  • November 1: Auckland - Vector Arena

Watch the full video interview above.

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