09 May Introducing Lauren Norstrom
Norstrom is an unlikely ingénue, beautiful in the way that is “all eyes”. And then there is the sultry voice: a kaleidoscope of textured whispers, unfulfilled promises, sad goodbyes and intense declarations that also invite knowing winks, a sense of humor that belies her age and is effervescent in its authenticity.
Intriguing is the best way to describe the arrival of South Africa’s most fascinating songstress, who released her debut album in July. The WIRE brings you Lauren Norstrom in this, her first definitive interview.
Tell us who is Lauren Norstrom?
Although it’s a simple question I always find that one ends up sounding like a walking sales pitch! I’m sort of careful to not indulge in that kind of thing. The essentials I guess are that I’m 6ft tall, I’m a Pisces (not that that means a great deal to me but it may reveal a lot for someone else). My parents are my everything, my art is my everything and I am constantly dancing – for real. If I’m not, believe that I am thinking about it.
Have you always been writing songs or are they fleshed out poems?
Both. I started writing when I was quite young but of course at the time I didn’t know that my destiny was music. It’s quite strange to look back, at a young age I had quite a talent for creating melodies with mature vision and sound. Then, separately to that, I loved to write. A wild imagination would lead to poems with really unique narratives and/or perspectives. Oddly, I never thought to put the two together. I had these beautiful-sounding songs with lyrics that made no sense at all and then I had these beautiful poems which were trapped on pieces of paper. And so, I don’t think I became a songwriter until I was old enough to know to unite the two.
Explain your creative process in creating songs?
I used to think I didn’t really have one but as time goes by I’m seeing a pattern unfold. Without trying to sound romantic, my music is the soundtrack to my daydreams. It embodies a question I constantly ask myself: Is it possible to change who you inherently are? It’s something I choose to believe as I am in a constant state of re-invention, even though I’m still writing songs the same way I used to when I was 7.
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It’s amazing what you can do with a phone torch and an empty toilet roll 😂 I felt like doing something a bit more upbeat on this quarantine session so I hope you enjoy it 💁🏽♀️ Oh and p.s. you’ll be pleased to know that there isn’t a single extreme zoom in this one – That is what I call growth. Beat: @hookage_official #CreateAtHome @jsomethingmusic @converse.za
What was the first song you wrote?
The song was called ‘Dream Girl’. I was 7 and Britney Spears ruled the world, the song was a vivid combination of good melodies and nonsensical lyrics. Catchy but silly and a hit with my parents.
What are your musical influences?
I listen to everything really. A lot of commercial music but, then I have those tracks that are fixtures in my playlists. Jeff Buckley, Sampha, Tracy Chapman, Fleetwood Mac and Frank Ocean. I think as a musician it’s important to expand your musical ear broader than the genre you write in, for obvious reasons. As for most impactful influence? Lil Wayne’s ‘Carter IIII’. A lyrical treasure house.
Of the songs that you have written, which one connects with you as an artist and you the music lover?
I love this question. This links to one of my biggest battles I’ve faced as a writer and an obsession with the meaning of what a ‘true artist’ is. I think in society there is a negative connotation of the mainstream and it’s almost embarrassing to admit that you listen to commercial or popular music. But I’m glad I can finally just say I love pop music without it shaking my confidence in my own music tastes.
What comes naturally to me is writing pop music. I know that sounds misleading when my pop ear informs my soul and R&B music, but if you listen to my songs, you will hear the genre bending. Whether there are pop culture references made in the lyrics of a soul track, or if I flip my flow and start lightly rapping, it’s there.
So, to answer your question, as an artist it’s the songs I have written that focus on the poetry and the challenge of being emotive, conveying a story while maintaining a sound that’s pleasing. As a music-lover, it’s the ones where it’s fun. Where I can dance to it and I see my friends and family light up to it.
What lyric from an artist do you admire most and do you wish you wrote.
I suffer from writers envy big time. There’s two types of writing styles that I admire most and they are extremes apart. One of my favorites, Sampha- Plastic 100°, which is the epitome of visual metaphors. It’s meaning is complex and rhythmically satisfying. He sings:
“A magnifying glass upon my face…
It’s so hot I’ve been melting out here. I’m made out of plastic out here…
you touch down at the base of my fears… harness our pain, close it up and hope it decays”
I’m in awe. It’s complicated. But then you have the other end of the spectrum. Des’ree‘s – ‘I’m Kissing You’. From ‘The Titanic’. It is so sparse, 3 words at a time;
“My soul cried…The aching…Oh I’m kissing you”
She says very little, it’s simple, the words aren’t wrapped up in a double meaning. It’s there in plain sight and I cry. I hear the song and I cry. Her voice bares herself. Now that’s cinema. That’s what theatre is. That’s all I want to do. That there. That’s my passion.
How does your background in musical theatre translate into your live performances?
On a very basic level, it’s trained me to be a good performer. Michael Jackson was theatre and you can’t argue with that. He was a musical theatre legend. When you master musical theatre, you master performance. Musical theatre allows us to tell stories by song, regardless of genre. It’s about getting up close and personal with the meaning of the lyrics.
You had an interesting and artistically intimate working relationship with fellow artist Giulio Beltramo. What did that entail?
I did. We did. We met at the university. We fell in love with each other. The closest thing you can get with someone without being connected by blood. A defining moment on my journey as an artist and forever leaving its mark on my art.
Any other local artists you’re keen to collaborate with.
Jimmy Nevis. I’m a fan. He’s great. I’m thinking of a Nelly and Kelly Rowland Dilemma moment.
Tell us the story about the single “Drip Dry”.
It was born in an interesting way. Someone sent me the beat. I got my phone out and recorded a freestyle. I still have the original video and you can hear all the melodies I kept, the words I used and it’s the same story line. I’m proud of that song. It’s a good reflection of who I am as an artist right now, the poetry, my sense of humor and the genre bending. I’d be happy if someone used ‘Drip Dry’ to define me as an artist.
The image of you in the bath to accompany ‘Drip Dry’ is quite iconic. Explain the image and what your thoughts were behind it.
There is something magical and terrifying about water. I have nightmares about drowning all the time. But then, when I’m sad or stressed I go take a bath and wash my skin clean. Like a baptism, all to be new again. There’s so much to denote from the water, the bath and wet clothing. I can’t tell you exactly why I was drawn to taking that image but, I knew for sure that’s what I wanted. To be soaking wet and sing about dripping dry. It’s like “Woah, what do you think that meant?”