ZEITmagazin: You’ve become famous at quite a young age. Was your sudden success and global fame a bit terrifying?
Lorde: Definitely, that was a deep shock! I am absolutely not made for being famous. I’ve never been one of those kids, who’re able to entertain their families or classmates. I was an introverted teenager, who foremost just wanted to be left alone. It took me a long time to get used to my new role and being able to handle the craziness of the media as well. At first it was a daily challenge for me to move comfortably through my new life. Having the center of my life in New Zealand helped with that.
Z: Do you still live in New Zealand?
L: Yes, in Auckland, I’ve already bought a house there. It’s only half an hour from my parent’s home.
Z: What’s different in New Zealand?
L:It’s the center of my life, there I’m eligible to vote. New Zealand keeps me grounded, the people there don’t really care about my career. At least they act like that and that’s wonderful. In New York, where I just spent 9 months to record my new album, it actually was quite similar: I took the subway almost every day and went out to eat in simple restaurants. If you don’t want to stand out, you won’t stand out, it’s as simple as that. There are a few people now and then who recognize me, but most people don’t care.
Z: It seems like you’ve got used to sharing private things with the public. After all your new single Green Light s about the end of your first love. Where do you draw the line with songwriting to preserve your privacy?
L: Everything that could be interesting for outsiders,I work into songs. The rest is boring: Who cares, if I go to the beach or bake a cake? In general I like artists, who make lots of room for their personal experiences in their work, but I also believe you don’t need to know more about them, than what they share about themselves. The author Miranda July, for example, is someone who I admire, but I don’t want to know at all what she’s got going on at home.
Z: How long did it take you to find the right words for Green Light?L: Quite long, actually. After all it’s about my first breakup. Some critics thought I’m too cool for love songs, because love was never the subject on my first record, but I just lacked experience back then. Only after I’ve been in love for a long time, and that whole thing didn’t work anymore, I’ve had something to say. It was then that I realized how fascinating it is to write about love. There’s a reason why most songs address it.But when you make something so intimate public with a song, you really have to think everything over, you have to consider each detail, whether you make it public or not. The end of a relationship concerns two people after all, but in Green Light it’s only about me. The other person is barely present. That really helped me, because while I was writing the song, I definitely wasn’t over the breakup.
Z: Did your ex-boyfriend react to the song?
L: (laughs) No comment!
Z: Which songs help you with lovesickness?
L: Don Henley’s The Heart of the Matter is genius, that one really helped me. Each line is wise. I feel similar about Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart by Alicia Keys. Roy Orbison’s Crying always gets me and Don’t Come Around Here No More by Tom Petty struck a chord with me for some time, especially with the message: Get lost, get out of here! Enough talking! (laughs) Only someone who has experienced that themselves understands what these songs are about. Most of the songs on my new album are about what it’s like to be alone.
Z: To write these songs in complete isolation, you took a helicopter out to an island two years ago.
L: Right, I flew to Waiheke Island, an island near Auckland. One half of the island is inhabited, the other one is absolute wilderness, you can only get there with a helicopter. I lived in a small, remote house in the middle of nowhere, which I booked online. I saw no one for three days, that was eerie at times. One morning a stray dog was creeping through the house, I forgot to lock the front door. If it would have attacked me, I wouldn’t sit here right now.
Z: In comparison to many of your colleagues in music you don’t work with one of those teams of songwriters, who have been responsible for several huge global hits in recent years. You don’t really like to have someone else telling you how to do your thing, right?
L:In theory, I find the concept of a room full of people working on one song fascinating, but that’s just not for me. If I had to play my ideas through with too many people, I would end up with a product that has little to do with me. What I love to do instead is to bounce off ideas on one single person, that gets me going. One person can help me to focus on the intimate details I care about.I want my songs to sound like me and my lyrics to carry my tone.
Z: Ringo Starr once complained in an interview that he couldn’t enjoy having a beer in the pub with his old mates after his first successes with The Beatles, because they were suddenly living in different worlds. Can you relate to that?
L: I guess I was lucky in that manner. Sure, at first a few relationships see an end when your life changes drastically suddenly. Some just can’t deal with that. In situations like these you realize, who will stick with you in the long run and who will not. My close friends live normal lives, they are lawyers or cooks, some of them also make music. I’m sure that I’ve also stayed pretty normal. Everything I write comes from that place
.Z: Excuse me, but your life isn’t normal anymore: You’ve sold more than five million records and one of your friends is Taylor Swift ...
L: ... but I’ve never gotten into the lifestyle that allegedly comes with that.I didn’t move to Los Angeles or New York, but I’ve stayed in New Zealand, which was a very conscious decision. Of course I experience a world of glamour, but through that I only realize more, how strange it is to me.
Z: Is your friendship with Taylor Swift a different kind of relationship than the ones you have with your old friends in New Zealand?
L: Yes, those are completely different types of friendship. It already starts with the difference between what I do and experience with these groups of friends. The parties, I go to with Taylor Swift, are of course nothing like the parties I go to with my friends in New Zealand. Most of the time these friends act like they don’t care even a little bit about what I’m experiencing in the US. With them I go to the beach or have a beer, with other friends everything is about work, but I enjoy all of these friendships thoroughly.
Z: After the global success of your debut album you’ve retreated from the public eye for one year. What did you do during that time?L: Normal things: I went out with friends, cooked for my mates, bought vegetables at local markets, which I couldn’t prepare, went to parties, and threw several parties myself –and all that in New Zealand. What I didn’t do during that time was: going to the hair dresser on a regular basis and wearing make-up. It was an amazing time, but like everyone knows, free time flies by fast.
Z: You’re now 20. How much of that teenager, who became famous with songs about the fear of getting older, is still in you?
L: That teenager is still inside of me, but that’s not Lorde anymore, that’s Ella. I see the songs from my first record as sold diary entries, which remind me of how I’ve seen the world at that time. I often get asked if I’m sick of the album by now, if I hate it –but why should I? That’s a closed chapter of my life. I am not a teenager anymore.
Z: What kind of posters were plastered on the walls of your childhood bedroom?
L: My teenage bedroom was a dark gothic hell: I painted the walls black, nailed puppet heads onto the wall, road signs and an old milk can, that I’ve found at the side of a road. Above my bed, I wrote a dark Shakespeare quote about Lady Macbeth’s death. Total teen-drama. A big picture of Neil Young, I’d drawn a heart around, hang there as well, I’ve had a bit of a crush on him. If I think about it: My room must have looked quite bizarre to adults.
Z:Your mother, a poet, has provided you with books since you were little ...
L: ... and still does, she hands me new books to read all the time. I was always allowed to read everything and I’ve consumed an uncountable number of books, children’s books, but also books for adults early on. A lot of these have influenced the way I write lyrics. As a teenager, I loved J. D. Salinger, but not The Catcher in the Rye was a highlight for me, rather his Franny and Zooey short stories. American short fiction especially appealed to me,I’ve read loads of them until I was about 16: Raymond Carver, John Cheever, and the likes.
Z: What did they offer a teenager from New Zealand?
L: I was a kid living in the suburbs, who dreamt of foreign worlds. Carver’s alcoholic characters were mesmerizing in a strange way. The life stories of strangers, no matter if fictional or real, have always garnered all my attention. Probably, because I come from a clean, neat world, I’ve craved wild surroundings and lifestyles.The gloomy and relentless worlds of Carver and Co. were just right. When I’ve read several of such short stories I felt raunchy myself.When I write lyrics today, I let my imagination run free, for example I’ll imagine what kind of drama could have happened in the living room of a friend.
Z: People often call you the “first popstar of Generation Z”, meaning the generation, that was born after 1995. Do you see yourself as part of this generation or is that just a fantasy of aged people in the media?
L: Don’t ask me how one should define my generation, but I do have the feeling, that for a few years now there are plenty of people my age, who do such interesting things. I follow so many kids on Instagram that share exciting things, whether they are radical make-up tips, weird poems or just pictures of their hometowns. They rarely care about money or becoming famous, but rather about sharing ideas with each other. They are young people, that wander with a conscious mind through this world. Many develop an astounding mature consciousness for politics. If you look at the troubling state of the world, it’s comforting to know that there are young people, that follow what’s happening and get involved.
Z: Do you really think the youth has become more politically engaged again?
L: I’m stunned by how much interest in politics 15-year-olds show today, at least way more than they were during my time. Back then such kids would have been called boring, now they are cool. They are so informed and strong in their opinions like no other young generation before them and the fact that gender-politics or feminism are being discussed between young people so naturally is new, too.
Z: Do you feel old when you encounter 15-year-olds today?
L: Absolutely. (laughs loud) I sometimes feel like an old lady at my 20 years of age. The teenagers today are spending even more time online than I ever was and it’s a very confident generation.
Z: You’ve never lacked confidence either. You were 13, when a major record label offered you a contract. Is it true, that you’ve declined their offer to record an album consisting of covers and demanded to write and record your own songs?
L: Yes, that’s how it happened. I was absolutely sure of what I wanted to do.
Z: How often do you say No to things you get offered nowadays?
L: I’m a born nay-sayer! That has already been easy for me when I was a teenager, otherwise things wouldn’t happen and work the way they do. I do have to say No all the time, but I know who I am and what’s good for me. I’ve always had a healthy self-esteem, already way before I started making music, that indeed has always been a part of me. I’m probably self-obsessed. Z: Do you trust people easily?
L: I do take everyone at their word and sometimes believe things that can obviously not be true to the core.You can therefor trick me easily. I’ll show one guy, who allegedly got lost, where he has to go on a map while his mate takes my wallet out of my bag–something like that happens to me every now and then. I trust people a little too much.
Z: Are you sometimes terrified of the idea of getting older?
L: Back when I was younger I definitely got scared thinking about that. When I then became successful at an early age I asked myself how long it will last and what I’ll do with my life when the success isn’t there anymore. I’d puzzle my head over whether I was missing out on childhood and grew up too fast, but when I got older eventually, those worries disappeared. I’ve got plenty of friends, who are older than me, got kids and live the lives of adults. They also ask themselves what else they will encounter in their lives. I guess worrying about getting older will be part of your whole life. Do you know Paul Simon?
Z: Of course, he’s no stranger to people my age.
L: I’ve recently discovered his solo album Graceland, an unbelievably amazing record. For some time, I’ve barely been listening to anything else. What I find fascinating is that Paul Simon was 44 when he wrote Graceland. It was his seventh solo album, his career was already well established, before that he’s part of Simon & Garfunkel for years. Anyways, his songwriting on Graceland is breathtaking. He was at the peak of his abilities. He’s gone through two failed marriages and had to take other deep hits.Until the release of Graceland, he was off the radar. Then he wrote these great songs. At 44! When I realized that, I got genuinely excited about still having a turbulent life ahead of me.
Z: Upon Graceland’s release Paul Simon got attacked by some journalists who accused him of having stolen ideas and payed musicians poorly. You yourself have so far only gotten positive remarks about your work.How will you deal with the day you have to face negative voices as well?L: I’ll stick to Nicolaus Copernicus’ ways, who got called an idiot for years for stating the earth rotates around the sun. He had to deal with serious backlash, but he knew he was right, and defended his views, no matter how much resistance he had to face. As for me: I will probably be able to take criticism –as long as I’ll be able to stand behind what I do. For now I still see myself as Copernicus.