What does love sound like? A dramatic question, sure, but one that could spark an interesting debate between two hopeless romantics sharing the same telephone wire. Laufey answers.

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“Tension”, she says, exhaling slowly. Tension and release. She’s quick. Of course she’s also quick to mention that she’s never yet been in love, perhaps wouldn’t even know it if it knocked down her door. Yet, the girl can write one hell of a love song. Take “Everything I Know About Love” for example. It’s a siren’s call of sweet, sultry melody and heavenly jazz standard. Or “Valentine”, an achingly contemporary ballad (lyrically, at least) coated in the vintage cherry-leather of classical conservatoire teaching. 


Raised on the canon of classical music and jazz, Laufey is Generation Z’s answer to Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald, voices that to her “sound just like the cello”. Now she can laugh off the way that the kids would taunt her for the maturity of her voice in her formative years. Hers is a vocal style and range that once tamed and nurtured, has become her greatest, and most treasured weapon. 


Released last year, Laufey’s debut EP, ‘Typical of Me’, is a product of divine intuition and perfect timing. “Street by Street” was taped down on a whim in her first studio session, the day before the world was changed forever, and it became possible to release music independently with the support of an audience gathered on TikTok. Writing and recording songs across various time zones, cultures and continents: Iceland, London, Boston and Washington DC, the project as a whole is made up of tiny fragments of the world as dictated by Laufey’s heart. 


Here, Laufey discusses her modern reclamation of the conservatoire’s best kept secret – jazz music.

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To you, love sounds like tension and release. How did you create that sonically in “Valentine” for example?

“Valentine” has this funny, off, almost-drunk pacing to it. The last line: “I blinked and suddenly I found a Valentine”, is a resolution. It’s holding for a time, and then it resolves in the end. That resolution feels very satisfying, it feels like something finishing or something making sense. 

You released your EP, ‘Typical of Me’ last year. What was the inspiration behind this title? 

It’s a phrase I say a lot. ‘Oh, that’s so typical of me,’ you know? Growing up, if I did something that was so typical of me, my mother would say, ‘oh that’s so typical of you, that’s so typical of Laufey.’ It was my first EP, and I was thinking about what all these songs represent. It’s all very honest song-writing, and the way I write is very much the way I talk. I don’t take things too seriously. There is a little bit of humour in everything.

Which song on the EP was the hardest to finish?

It took a while to nail “Magnolia”. Sonically, I wanted it to sound different from the other songs. The other songs were almost like a bedroom sound, but very jazzy. With “Magnolia”, even though it has many jazzy progressions, I wanted it to have a lighter touch. I toyed around with that one for a while, trying to perfect it.

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You were raised between two different worlds, Reykjavik and Washington, DC. How would you say your cultural heritage has shaped who you are and the kind of music you create? 

I grew up in a world where I would listen to my mother play violin in a classical Iceland symphony concert one day, and then the next day she would be playing a pop concert in a Church. The day after she would be playing in a death-metal group. There is so much mixing of genres. The pop musicians help on classical projects, the classical musicians work on the rock projects. There is so much mixing and matching and genre-bending, which is one of the reasons why I feel like I mix styles so much. I want to take down the walls of genre, because I didn’t grow up in a world where the walls of genre were that high. That’s culturally impacted me –  the mixing of styles and mixing of cultures. I’m half-Chinese, half-Icelandic. Grew up partially in the US. Everything is just mixed up. My music is too.

Do you find that different cities and cultures bring out different creative sides of you?

Definitely. I stay true to myself, but with every place I travel to, I experience different things, therefore I write about different things. There are people in every city to write about and experience things with.

At what point in your life did you realise that music could be a means of expressing yourself out in the world?

My mother is a classical violinist, so I don’t remember a time without music. I was given a violin when I was two, I started taking piano lessons when I was four, then cello lessons when I was eight. Music was always something I heard around the house. There was always someone practising, or I was backstage at the orchestra at the Iceland Symphony. It was something that was very much in my nature, but in the beginning it was school. It was another class that I took. I finished school, came back home, and practised for an hour or two. It was around the time that I was thirteen or fourteen that I started singing and found that it was a way of expressing myself. It felt really natural to me. I didn’t have to practise it as much as the other instruments.

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What did you learn from your mother as a musician?

Everything. She taught me all of the basics, both on piano and on cello. I have a Chinese mother. She’s a strict musician mom. She instilled in me so much discipline and appreciation for the art. I think that’s what it is – appreciation for music. No matter how hard we practised or drilled, at the end of the night you’d put your instruments away and you’d just enjoy the music. That’s the biggest lesson that my mother taught me.

What do you think you taught her?

I’ve taught her a lot of niche TikTok humour. I’ve taught her a lot of jazz. I’ve taught her to let go of classical rules. That music can be created. The player can also create. That’s the idea.

Are there any classical traditions that you dislike or that you choose to reinvent in your own music?

It’s less so about tradition, but one thing I’m passionate about is changing the snobby air around classical music. There is a certain academic approach to these forms of music which I grew up around and honestly studied within the walls of, which I think are to the detriment of the art.

Are there any classical traditions that you dislike or that you choose to reinvent in your own music?

It’s less so about tradition, but one thing I’m passionate about is changing the snobby air around classical music. There is a certain academic approach to these forms of music which I grew up around and honestly studied within the walls of, which I think are to the detriment of the art.

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You’ve recently collaborated with dodie, Adam Melchor, and the Philharmonia Orchestra. Do you find it easier to write music alone or in the company of others?

I find it easier to write alone, but I think my music is a lot better when I collaborate. Music to me, is meant for collaboration. My musicianship opened up so much when I started to work with other people and to gain new insight. Through collaboration not only do we introduce ourselves to new styles of music, but we introduce our audiences to new styles of music. Collaboration is one of the most magical things, and has been one of the most important aspects of my career.

On ‘”Valentine” there’s a lyric where you sing: “Maybe I should run, I’m only 21 / I don’t even know who I want to become”. What have your twenties been like for you? 

My twenties have been…I grew up very…honestly, I was a classical music nerd. All I did was practice and study. I didn’t drink, I didn’t go out, I didn’t party, I didn’t date. I was the cleanest, most straight-edge kind of girl. My eye was completely focused on getting into a good university or conservatory. I feel like I didn’t entirely live life in the way that a lot of teenagers let loose early. That all came, I swear to god, the day I turned twenty. It was right around that time I started dating, drinking a little, experiencing different things with friendships.

It was as if life all came flowing at me at once. It was so much. I was away from my family for the first time. I’d moved to go to college in Boston. I went from being a child to an adult in a second. I experienced anxiety and depression for the first time. I always try to tell myself that it wasn’t that bad, that people have it worse, but I definitely experienced life, and then the things that follow it, all at the same time. These episodes come in and out, and learning how to handle them is a huge part of growing up. It’s not something that will ever go away, it’s more so how you learn to take it, and what you can learn from it. My twenties have been my experience of living for the first time.

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What did you learn about yourself in that period of transition and growth?

The greatest thing I’ve learned in these past few years is to dare to take risks. I came to Berklee College of Music as a cellist, and I was so scared to jump into a career in music. It made no sense to me, I thought it was unrealistic. I could see very linear paths with certain career choices, and very linear ways of achieving them. Nothing about a career in music seemed linear to me. I almost didn’t believe that I could be one of the lucky ones. It seemed too fun to me. Like really? People do that for a living? Life became more fun when I learned to let go – truly let go.

What did you let go of?

I let go of trying so hard to get good grades, or to please people, or to do something that makes sense to people.

What happened then?

I gained my dream job the second I let go and allowed myself to believe that I could become a musician, and do something so crazy. Artists are so lucky that they feel that calling and that passion. Not everyone feels that, so if you do feel something, even if that’s just an inkling, you owe it to yourself to try to pursue it. You can always go back to school, you can always go back and do something different. Everyone expects you to be stupid at this age. Nobody expects you to be smart when you’re twenty-something. You literally get a free pass to be dumb, so you should take it, you know?

Stream "Everything I Know About Love" below: