The enigmatic star captivating a generation of listeners rarely gives interviews and hates the press, now preparing to unveil her latest album, Lana Del Rey turns over a new leaf, as she tells her good friend James Franco, this is the Honeymoon of her life.
James Franco: Last year when I was doing ‘Of Mice and Men’ on Broadway, I watched Lana Del Rey’s video for ‘Ride’ while I was waiting to go onstage. I was immediately taken with Lana’s magic. The video features an American landscape and a soundscape pushed to the extremes of loneliness: a lost soul sings from lonely motel rooms in desert wastelands about the kindness of strangers that she has met on the road. I later learned that the song was a testament of all that is Lana: a contrast between innocence and experience, light and dark, life and death. Almost every one of her songs features a lovelorn angel who has commingled with a devil, and as a result has tasted the highest passion, even though the relationship will also lead her doom. After watching the ‘Ride’ video I asked my friend Keegan Allen for Lana’s number. By coincidence it was her birthday, so I texted her birthday wishes while she was on tour in Europe. When she returned to the Sates two weeks later she came to ‘Of Mice and Men’ and we quickly became friends over our mutual love of music and film. One of the constant subjects of conversation is persona versus the true self. As an actor I see art as a performance, and even life as a performance. Lana as a singer-songerwriter sees her work as an expression of her reality. I try to argue that even if her songs are confessional, they are contributing to a creation of Lana’s making – that her “reality” is largely of her own creation. This view disturbs Lana because she sees herself as a creative reporter of her experience, rather than an active sculptor of her persona. She asked me to interview her for V Magazine because the regular interviewers inevitably ask the same questions about her love life and her death wishes. They read too literally into her lyrics, and generally try to denigrate her for reasons I can’t fathom, but suspect have something to do with her being a successful woman, albeit one who writes songs about the dark side of life rather than uplifting anthems of positivity. Lana has outlived the live fast-die young period, if only because she is now older than James Dean ever was. The tragic heroines in her songs might live tragic lives and die for love before their time, but the real Lana has endured. Her songs might involve broken figures living in the dark, beautiful realms of the shadows, but her career is the opposite: a feminine triumph against all odds amidst an uproar of critics who purposely misread her. Lana is an enigma that after a year I am still unable to untangle. She seems to want her songs to be read as confessions, while on the other hand so much of her work is a conscious creation. As always, I tried to get to the bottom of the mystery that is Lana Del Rey.
James Franco: I saw a headline that said that you and I were secretly dating.
Lana Del Rey: Is there something you want to clear up in print?
James Franco: Well, I wonder why people think that.
Lana Del Rey: I think it’s natural for them to think it, because we have common interests and we’ve spent time together. We’re of the same ilk. It wouldn’t be far-fetched for somebody who was looking in on it, right?
James Franco: I remember how we became friends. You came to my play and I felt like we just really got along.
Lana Del Rey: Definitely, me too.
James Franco: Tell me about your videos – when you’re performing in them, it seems to me like you’re supposed to be a character.
Lana Del Rey: I was surprised at how much you thought that it was a character, and looking back I do get it. I think it’s so hard to tell what facets of a person go into what you see on-screen. I’m hesitant to divulge further because when you’re in a certain position you try to keep part of the story to yourself even though you feel compelled to share it artistically. I think that’s been a little bit of a roadblock for me, feeling like I was writing about things autobiographically and following in that wein visually. There were things I wanted to say but didn’t want to comment on them any further than in the medium that I put them in.
James Franco: With songwriters, a lot of their work is read like it’s fact.
Lana Del Rey: When you write a record, lyrically, completely yourself and then you conceptualize these videos, people have no other alternative than to take them at face value. I think considering the content of the videos and the songs, that’s where the criticism arises from. But I do have a colorful past, and I’ve been pretty candid about that.
James Franco: So, what about a song like “Florida Kilos”?
Lana Del Rey: It’s funny you should bring up that song because that’s actually the only co-write on “Ultraviolence”. And that is Harmony Korine. He wanted me to write a tune about this movie that I think you’re going to be in [The Trap]. It’s about cocaine cowboys. So for fun, that was something where he was just spitting off insane lyrics and asking me to put them into melodies. That song in particular is not autobiographical.
James Franco: But there is that expectation, that people will read into it.
Lana Del Rey: I mean, that’s the risk!
James Franco: Maybe you didn’t consider these kinds of things as much on your first album because you had this naive freedom.. but then it got so big. Does that change the way you write?
Lana Del Rey: A little bit. I didn’t monitor myself on Ultraviolence because, with how tumultuous my trajectory has been, I felt even more of a need to be candid. You have to select things within your own body of work for a record if you want a concept record – which they all are, in my mind. For instance, for Ultraviolence, I really felt the need to get back to my roots and back to something that I felt a little more feral and wild. That’s why I asked Dan Auerbach to help me – that’s the kind of world he lives in. He does whatever he wants. I had a lot of freedom to do a song in one take. Even if it’s not perfect and my voice is breaking, it’s special to me because it’s the moment it was captured in. The concept with that record was to be as raw as I wanted to be.
James Franco: Even though you had been criticized?
Lana Del Rey: The luxury is that you get to continue to tell your story. The reward is in documenting your life, if that’s something that’s important to you. I’m not really a director, but I do like to write and for a writer, you don’t know any story better than your own. In some ways making the record is easy, and then talking about it is hard. With Honeymoon, I got to feel a little more playful. I didn’t feel the need to delve into personal issues as much, but to indulge in a more jazzy feel for the opening and closing of the record and then get a little bit grimier in the middle with some mid- to up-tempo songs.
James Franco: Charles Barkley would say, “Look, I’m an athlete I play basketball really well. I’m not a role model.” When you get criticized for not putting out a positive message, it’s weird to me.
Lana Del Rey: First of all, when you’re writing a record alone, you don’t really think about the effect your music is going to have on the people. I’m not really the type of person to condone any behavior that would end up being harmful to anyone else but at the same time I’m not going to limit my lyrical content to things that don’t really relate to me or sing about things just because they rhyme. The further away I get from each record the more space I have to think about wether it’s important to be responsible. I still don’t know. I’ve been influenced by things I’ve read – that’s why I’m a writer – but I don’t think it’s ever made me do something I wasn’t going to do anyway. I always bring up Allen Ginsberg and “Howl” and how interesting it was that it resonated with me at 14 and that it didn’t with most my classmates. In fact, it didn’t with any of them. There was a reason why Beat poetry was important to me as soon as I discovered it. But people would stay up all night on amphetamines at that time and churn out novels and it didn’t make me want to do that! It made me want to play with words. Some people listen to music and they don’t really think about it too much further than that they like to hear it in the car. Some people listen to it and they think, “God, thats appalling, Im not going to let my daughter listen to that.” The luxury we have as a younger generation is being able to figure out where we want to go from here, which is why I’ve said things like, “I don’t focus on feminism, I focus on the future.” Its not to say that theres not more to do in that areas. Ive gotten to witness through history the evolution of so many movements and now im standing at the forefront of new technological movements. Im not undermining other issues. But I feel like thats obvious, like I shouldn’t even have to bring that up.
James Franco: Theres something about singer-songwriters. You get a particular kind of pressure.
Lana Del Rey: But we need to be taken at face value. At the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement were the folk singers, because of what they were saying.
James Franco: In old movies, the gangsters would have to be punished.
Lana Del Rey: Being a writer is more like being a director than it is like being an actor. You’re directing the script. Nobody’s telling you what to do and you choose where that lyrical story is going to go. As you’ve seen with the stuff I’ve gone through, you can’t control anything else that follows it. The story is in the record its your decision as to whether that person is your taste or not. I mean, you can’t be everybody’s cup of tea.
James Franco: Your songs are evocative because they capture human circumstances so well. You’re articulating things in a very clear way.
Lana Del Rey: Thank you. I think you hit the nail on the head because clarity is key. A lot of people have good ideas, but its all about communication. With a lot of my songs, you don’t have to look much further. Im right there. Its right here. We could almost talk about anything else because im putting all out there already. Any time you have a question you can always refer back to the songs. Therein the story lies.
James Franco: The new album is a little less dark, but it is dark.
Lana Del Rey: So is life!
James Franco: And art is the place for that kind of thing. It needs to be talked about. It needs to be put into psalms. I look at something I’ve done, like Spring Breakers. The character I play in that film is not a role model. He’s a murderer, he’s a drug dealer, he’s crazy, he’s kind of a clown. But on another level, he is sort of a liberated figure and almost a guru if you look at the film as a piece of art that uses extreme circumstances to talk about the human condition, then I’m very proud of it. We captured something unique and I feel thats true of your songs as well.
Lana Del Rey: You have to remember that historically, cinema is where people go to be entertained and to escape. It’s the truest form of entertainment that America knows and loves. And music, historically, is where people have gone to look for truth, if you’re talking about roots singers, folk singers, jazz singers, and the origins of rock and roll. But that being said, music has gotten to a very different place now where stars of all sorts are all on the same shelf to be looked at by the same eye. I don’t mean that in a demeaning way. I think my music has gotten to the point where the visual are just as important.
James Franco: You told me that you never wanted to be a live performer, at least not in huge venues, but it sounds like “The Endless Summer Tour” was a really positive experience.
Lana Del Rey: It was amazing. We played 40,000 capacity shows. Being in America, that definitely blew my mind.
James Franco: So you’re getting used to it?
Lana Del Rey: Yeah (laughs).
James Franco: Tell me about your recording process.
Lana Del Rey: I guess my process has been similar for the past six years. I took two years in London and Sweden and elsewhere in Europe to do Born to Die. That time frame came from the fact that my song was on the radio and it was time to have a full record. So I picked my favorite songs. (The Paradise Edition) was out about a year later. Then a year and a few months after that Ultraviolence came out, and now a year and a few months, I’ll have another record out. I toured for a few months. I made my record for about eight months before I mixed and mastered for three additional months. Now I’m in a great position where I can conceptualize something else if I want to.
James Franco: You’re already think about the next one?
Lana Del Rey: I’m always thinking about the next one.
James Franco: You played me one song that I wanna say was gospel influenced, from the record.
Lana Del Rey: There’s one song called “God Knows I Tried” which has a little bit of gospel feel to it. There are a few songs that are really easy to listen to, like “Honeymoon” and this song called “Terrence Loves You.” They’re beautiful melodies with a kind of noir atmosphere. The middle section of the record is pretty beachy and a bit more sexy and mid-tempo.
James Franco: Who are your early, eternal influences?
Lana Del Rey: Nothing really started for me until I was 17, and I haven’t grown out of that taste. The first would be Bob Dylan. He’s the person I always look to. He’d probably hate hearing that, but its true. I love how effortlessly his music came to him and I liked hearing him talk about when that stopped. He kept writing anyway, with different styles, from folk to electric. I love the D. A. Pennebakbr film Don’t Look back. That was a big influence for me, seeing all the people he had on the road with him, like Joan Baez and his band. I also love Nirvana. That’s been well documented. You know, Nevermind. I love Courtney. Being with her on tour was like a real-life dream. I love everything she does. Im really inspired by her and her approach to life. The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds. I love Dennis Wilson’s solo stuff.
James Franco: It’s funny, I associate you so much with the West Coast, but you’re a total East Coast baby. You were just so drawn to everything West Coast?
Lana Del Rey: I was. I didn’t even know I was incorporating so much imagery from the West Coast into my videos, even when I was 16. At that point, that was the dream life. Then I got here and it could all be real. And it is (laughs). Its a beautiful thing when that happens.
James Franco: Why did you call the new album Honeymoon?
Lana Del Rey: “Honeymoon.” I guess its the word that sums up the ultimate dream. I mean, life is a honeymoon, you know? Life, love, paradise, freedom.. thats forever. With someone, or just with yourself. It just felt right, kind of the way Ultraviolence felt right before that, when I had a little more rage (laughs). I love the concept that life is a dream and you curate your own space so that it becomes your heaven. Its all contingent upon your state of mind, which is why I don’t always do interviews – because it puts me in a bad fucking mood. I really try and keep my world beautiful but its tricky. We’re at a point in time when life truly can be what you want it to be. Is that something you think about or do you just think about work?
James Franco: I try to make my private life as stable as possible so I can do whatever I want in my creative life. And one of the most intimate things I can do is make something with somebody. I have one more question. You once said that you were more successful in Europe. Do you still feel that way?
Lana Del Rey: People’s perspectives are always changing. People change their minds. But I know that when I go to Paris and play residency at the Olympia that its going to be beautiful and im not going to be misunderstood. I never was, in France of Milan. Even for all the hard times Ive had in some of the British press it was my first home, musically. So its probably always going to be that way. But I do feel a lot more comfortable here now.
James Franco: You’re the number-one female artist here in terms of streaming. Your music is undeniably popular. (laughs)
Lana Del Rey: I guess there’s a really big discrepancy in the amount of people who apparently listen to the music and a very vocal sector of people who have a lot of negative things to say. I mean, they almost cancel each other out. Statistics are so ethereal, it’s hard to get a grasp of them. So, hearing what people say to your face if you have an altercation or if you read something in a publication that you read everyday, I don’t think you can ever have a good grasp on whether people like you or not. But that doesn’t mean they’re not listening.
James Franco: It’s not like you’re..
Lana Del Rey: A shock rock artist?
James Franco: Right! and if you could just make your music without giving any interviews, you would. You’re not asking for a lot of attention, but you strike such a chord with people. Why is that?
Lana Del Rey: I think it you take an artist at face value, you’re forced to look at the lyrical content and some of it isn’t as easy to digest. People do have bad reactions to some of the more negative scenarios I might go into musically. If its not that its something else, and what that something is, we’ll probably never know, right? But my work is my life and I feel lucky to be able to travel around with a journal and take in nature and reflect my interpretations of that in song form. I mean, its a luxury, and I know that. As uncomfortable as my interviews can be, when I’m not doing them I have all this time to do what I want. And to be able to spend your life doing what you love? That’s the ultimate goal