Ari Leff, better known as the 22-year-old songwriter, producer and singer behind Lauv, has been taking over Spotify, and for good reason. His songs are merely infectious.
Inspired by the emotions one feels towards the end of a relationship, his debut single “The Other” has struck a strong chord with its listeners, garnering over 83 million plays on Spotify since its 2015 release and simultaneously inspiring five remixes. And though Lauv states he never grew up listening to classic R&B, his childhood of moving around from San Francisco to Atlanta and eventually New York City for college, has worked well for him to create his tasteful R&B-infused late night pop sound.
If you don’t know about Lauv, now is a good time to familiarize yourself with him. Just about to finish his first headlining “late night, deep talks” tour, the eight-city tour in which he sold-out almost every night was only a tease for him.
“I’m dying to tour more,” Lauv said to me in an interview.
I chatted with Lauv before his Toronto show to talk about his music, songwriting past and plans for 2017.
Rachel Ann Cauilan: So you just played a hometown show at the Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco last May 24th. How was that?
Lauv: It was super special. I’m originally from San Francisco but moved out there when I was 4. My grandfather who’s the last grandparent I have that’s alive got to come out with my aunt and uncle and cousin, so I got to see them. It meant a lot.
RAC: What does your family think about your music?
Lauv: They’ve been really supportive. I’m super lucky. When I was a little kid they forced me to take piano lessons and from there I don’t know if they knew what they were getting into!
RAC: So you have been getting a huge amount of attention from Spotify. Did you ever imagine that would happen, especially when you first released “The Other”?
Lauv: No, to be honest “The Other” was a no expectations type of thing for me. I was basically making a lot of music that wasn’t being heard and was trying to write and produce for other artists. After I wrote “The Other” there was just something about it that was different from everything else I was doing. I just felt I had to put it out and put it out into the world.
RAC: So you just released “I Like Me Better” recently (a little more uptempo with a chill beat drop). Tell me a little about that.
Lauv: So that song is kind of like the first real happy song I’ve put out, if you will. It’s about when I first moved to New York and obviously that whole span was crazy for me because I originally didn’t think I’d want to live in a city like New York. A lot of my songs I imagine are serious and about relationships.
RAC: Bring me back to the moment you realized you wanted to pursue music.
Lauv: When I was little my parents made me take piano lessons and in middle school I picked up the guitar and started to write songs and play in bands. Next thing I knew I was graduating high school and couldn’t imagine doing anything other than music, so I continued to pursue that while I was at NYU.
RAC: So you have a very R&B electronic sound. What did you grow up listening to that led you to create the sound you have now?
Lauv: It’s funny, I didn’t even grow up listening to classic R&B. I grew up listening to a bunch of different stuff [since] I moved around so much. I think with every move I went through a new phase. The first thing I remember was when I was living in Atlanta as a little kid, I was listening to a bunch of early 2000s hip-hop and rap and I was super obsessed. And then I went through this heavy classic rock phase when I started to play guitar and all I wanted to play was rock and listen to Led Zeppelin. And I think one of the biggest things I didn’t realize would influence me but it really has was my guitar teacher who was super anal about teaching me jazz guitar and learning jazz music theory.
RAC: Oh wow, that’s some tough stuff.
Lauv: Yeah. Now I find in a couple of my songs like “Comfortable” I do a couple of weird chord progressions that I would’ve never known to do or even wanted to do at the time. So I find that it really seeps into my stuff and my melodic approach.
RAC: So you are on tour right now. Are you currently working on any projects?
Lauv: The tour’s been amazing. I’m itching to get out a bunch of songs. I have a huge batch that I’m finishing up right now. I’m always writing new stuff and putting the new stuff together.
RAC: Is there going to be another track you’re going to release soon?
Lauv: I can’t say specifically but there’s definitely going to be a slow [release] of a lot of new music, which I’m really excited about. I’m focusing on a lot more because before, I was writing and producing for other people and spending a lot of time on that, but I’ve kind of taken a step away from doing a lot of that. I also have this Cheat Codes, Demi Lovato song that I cowrote and coproduced that’s on the radio right now that I’m really excited about.
RAC: Oh wow, how did that come about?
Lauv: A lot of times my process is just to go in and see what happens — it’s very experimental. We ended up creating a song that I just thought doesn’t feel right for me. I’ve been friends with Trevor from Cheat Codes for a long time and they heard the song (“No Promises”) and were obsessed and wanted to work on it. A couple months passed and we heard Demi Lovato was going to be on it as well and we were totally mind blown.
RAC: So how did you make this shift from producing these tracks for other artists and then deciding you wanted to make your own and release your own music?
Lauv: Honestly to be totally candid, it was just getting the courage to be like I have things I want to say. I’ve spent a lot of time writing with other people and I love writing with other people and being in a room with other artists — I never want to stop doing that — but especially seeing how people reacted to “The Other” this year and seeing it catch a second life, I thought this is the time for me to go all the way in and focus now. I’m just really really thankful.
RAC: What are your current goals for 2017 and what do you hope to reach within people this year?
Lauv: My biggest one that is killing me is this tour isn’t bigger. I want to tour a lot more. I want to hit a lot more cities in the states. I feel like especially doing these shows, connecting with all my fans in different cities. For example a couple nights ago a girl came up to me and she had “Reforget” tattooed on her finger and seeing stuff like that and how real it is just kills me. I’m getting all these messages asking me to come to all these places that unfortunately are not a part of this tour, so I’m just dying to tour more.
RAC: Is there anything else you’d like to add about your music or anything we can look forward to?
Lauv: I’d just like to say, one of the things that’s been really inspiring for me and means a lot to me is that, a lot of people reach out to me and say they want to make music. I just want to share the fact that when I first started singing, I’ll never forget the fact that someone told me I was bad. I just want people to be empowered to do what they feel like they want to do inside.
RAC: I think that’s why a lot of people are drawn to you as an artist because you are a regular guy. You are someone that we can all relate to and you’re making music, you’re writing music for other people, and it’s a very honest process you do that we sometimes don’t see in a lot of artists.
Lauv: I appreciate that. The last thing I’m trying to do is be cool. I’m not in this trying to look cool or be cool. I just love making music and connecting with people.
RAC: So if you weren’t doing music, what do you think you’d be doing right now?
Lauv: Oh man that’s so hard. I would say skateboarding but I kind of stopped skateboarding. But you know what’d be dope? Being a sushi chef. I admire the art of sushi very much. Once I watched Jiro Dreams Of Sushi on Netflix and seeing top level, waking up at four in the morning to go to the fish market to select the absolute best quality fish, it’s crazy. But it’s so good.
Lauv is only at the start of what looks like to be a promising future. With chill-pop sounds, ambient electronics and a smooth-like-butter voice that melds songs about love, loss and being vulnerable, it’s no wonder his music has gotten the attention of so many millennials and older critics alike (Chloë Grace Moretz and Liam Payne from One Direction famously tweeted his music). An honest approach to songwriting with moody lyrics that are as cathartic to listeners as to Leff himself, Lauv’s R&B ballads are sure to set him apart from the rest.
His 2015 EP Lost In The Light is available now on iTunes, Spotify and Soundcloud. Lauv will be playing at Summerfest in Milwaukee, WI on July 9th and the Billboard Hot 100 Festival in Wantagh, NY on August 20th. For more information, keep in touch with Lauv at lauvsongs.com and on social media (@lauvsongs).
This article was featured on SFCritic.com.