Kiwi singer-songwriter Lorde is wise beyond years. The 16-year-old has her head screwed on tight, writing songs about being a regular teenager doing regular teenage things. You can skip the comparisons because Ella Yelich-O'Connor, the woman behind the moniker is her own force to be reckoned with, surpassing the clichéd female pop star and singing only about what's true to her. And certainly don't expect to see this girl sipping from bottles of Dom Pérignon or hitching rides in limos.With a debut single 'Royals' already hitting international charts and her second single 'Tennis Court' closely following, it's no wonder she's gaining so much attention. We caught up with Lorde on her recent trip to Australia and played "getting to know you".
So for most normal people it takes years to figure out what they want to do, let alone score a record deal. Here you are signing one with Universal by the age of 12. How does that even happen?
Basically, I had been singing for my whole life. I did my intermediate school talent show and it got filmed and eventually found its way to Universal and they found me. I guess it was quite weird but I didn't think much about it at the time. I just thought, "Oh, this is normal. This happens to everyone".
What happened when Universal got a hold of the video? How did things progress from there?
I guess I started the process of developing- I did some singing lessons for a year and tentatively started writing with a few people. I wasn't super enthusiastic at the time, so I left my co-writer at the time and started working with my current co-writer and co-producer Joel, and that was when I was about 15. From then on I had caught the fever of it, I guess, and didn't want to do anything else and skipped class to write music.
Did you have to quit school?
No, I'm still at school and I try and have a couple weeks on and a couple of weeks off. I just catch up on stuff when I can, which has worked quite well I think.
Did you score a few brownie points in the playground after that? How did your friends react?
They're pretty relaxed about it. Most of my friends are guys and guys don't really freak out about the same sort of stuff that girls do. But definitely a lot of the young guys at school, in particular, like to shout my songs at me when I'm trying to get to class and I'm like, "C'mon I'm just trying to get to class" [laughs].
So how did the name Lorde come about?
I basically came up with the name a while after I had written all the material. I really like the concept of aristocracy and royalty and I was looking through titles like a duke and a duchess and I came across "lord" and thought visually and phonetically it was a sweet word but it's quite masculine so I just chucked an "e" on the end of it. I liked how it looked and liked how it sounds, it's me!
That's obvious in your music too. While you have a very feminine voice, there's a lot of masculine qualities to your songs.
I appreciate you picked up on that and I guess it's because most of my favourite artists are males. I'm in an industry where women have the same or similar roles to men and I try and play with that a little and be like a young person, rather than a girl sometimes.
Who are some of those male artists that you look up to?
I'm a big James Blake fan- I think he's awesome and has been a big influence on me recently. I really like J. Cole and a lot of electronic producers.
What is it about those musicians that's influenced your music?
What they all have in common is that they all use their vocals in a really interesting way, whether it might be chopping up a vocal part or really lash or lairing a vocal. Because I don't play an instrument, my voice is really the only thing I can use. My music is quite vocal-based and there's a lot of harmonies, so I guess that's how they've influenced me.
Talk me through 'Royals' and the lyrical meaning behind it.
'Royals' came about after listening to a lot of rap and hip hop and I think the new Lana Del Rey album had just come out and I'd been listening to that. Basically my feeling was that we've been flooded with all this lavish ocular imagery of all these beautiful cars, alcohol and fancy brands, but it's bullshit. It's not in my life at all and it's not relevant to any of my friends. So we'd all been making fun of it and I just wrote what we were thinking I guess. I'm being a smart-ass, that's for sure.
What was it like filming the video clip for 'Royals'?
It was super awesome because the four guys in it are four of my really good friends. We basically just mucked around and went to a bunch of places and I was like, "cool, shoot him doing this". It was mostly places we all go together, like that train station that they're all at is one I'm at every week. I didn't want it to be glorifying anything because the whole point of 'Royals' as a song is that it's coming from a really grounded and realistic place, so I wanted to do the same thing with the video. So it's just a bunch of us doing nothing and leading really mundane lives, which I hope some people can relate to because teenagers' lives really aren't that cool I guess.
A lot of musicians do try to adopt personas in their music. So would you say that the music you're writing through Lorde is a really honest representation of yourself and your life then?
Yeah, I hope so. I've started kind of getting recognised in New Zealand and people always seem surprised but then really happy because half the time they'll be recognising me on the train or doing something really normal, so I hope I can be that person for people. So many people in the music industry or in the public eye are, for example, singing out of limos- definitely all the teenagers in the music industry are super rich and ballin'. So I hope I'm fresher for people.
You've had Grimes tweeting about you. Is she someone you look up to?
Yeah, I think she's really rad. I think the coolest thing about Grimes is that she does what she wants. I don't feel like she writes something just to get it played on the radio- she does what she wants and looks how she wants. She's a good female role model fora lot of people 'cos lots of young girls look up to people who aren't as good role models. She seems to know where it's at.
What's the plan now? Are you working on a full-length album?
Yeah, that's what I'm working on at the moment. I've just been writing since December on all that kinda stuff. It should be good!
Finally, are you prepared for Australia to adopt you as an Aussie, because you know we do that, right?
[Laughs] So many people have asked me this. I've just landed in Australia but from what I can tell, it feels not too different to New Zealand. I mean we're sister countries, right? Everyone can have me!