Whether it be a musician, rapper, fashion designer or producer; Lava La Rue does it all. With a clear vision and DIY attitude, London’s most intriguing underground artist gave us a glimpse into her creative world.
At just the age of 16 whilst in foster care, Lava La Rue began making music in college after meeting a group of like-minded individuals. Collectively, they inspired her to sculpt her creative path leading to the formation of NiNE8 — a collective of musicians, producers, artists, and designers all of which utilise their talent to collaborate and promote each other’s work. Her musical sound is a selected blend of lo-fi hip hop and neo-soul, but there are also important issues being addressed in her music. From systematic racism to queer representation within the UK rap scene, she uses her upbringing and identity as an openly gay woman of colour living in London as inspiration to inflict change through the creation of art.
What places Lava La Rue in a league of her own is her do-it-yourself attitude and authentic delivery. She tells us that ever since she was young she’s had a goal to leave a mark on this world, with distinct creative energy that arose from her own self-experiences. She founded the arts collective NiNE8 when she was in college as a result of her working-class background, with no funding and zero connections to the creative industry. As creative kids, they collaborate and combine their skills together encompassing a DIY attitude which enables them to share their work and visuals with the world. Her art, as well as the collective NiNE8, are an accolade to the year that many of its current members were born and represent the heart of West London. Their sound, work and aesthetic are all influenced by the aspects of London that are less represented or frequently pushed aside but are still a crucial part of its history.
We sat down with the creative herself and delved deep into how it all began ahead of Lava La Rue’s ‘Stitches’ mixtape dropping on September 18th!
Cal McIntyre: How did you first start your creative journey?
Lava La Rue: That’s a good question. I think when you’re a creative person as a kid you start experimenting with different styles and figuring out what your aesthetic is. You have visual dreams and you start drawing them on a piece of paper in the back of the classroom. When I started approaching it in a way where I realised it was what I wanted to do, I was probably in college and knew I wasn’t going to have a typical nine-to-five or academic job. That’s when I started putting my all into it and treating it like it was my real job.
CM: What advice would you give to young kids who have these massive creative tendencies?
LLR: As a creative, you should never try and pin yourself down to one thing. All the most amazing and creative people I know do a bit of everything and what they’ve learnt to do is channel it so it all leads to the same goal. That’s the difference between doing loads of things like a jack of all trades, master of none or doing stuff that all basically contributes to the wider vision. The music I do and the art I make is for the music, the visuals, the clothes I make are all to wear on stage and all the creative things I do all contribute to this universe I’m trying to make. By all means, be creative in all different fields but figure out what path you’re trying to build and build it towards the wider thing.
CM: Did growing up in West London have an impact on these creative visions of yours?
West London is the most diverse place in London. There’s a lot of different communities here, with lots of different cultures that come together to create different subcultures and I feel like a lot of my sound is reflected in that.
CM: In London, there is such a generational gap particularly in wealth — do you think a lot of wealthier kids are trying to profit off less wealthy subcultures who have paved the way for a lot of trends?
LLR: Of course. I think the capitalisation of different subcultures has basically led to the increased policing of it. For example, in nightlife culture people can’t just throw a rave and wear loads of iconic UK looks anymore. Now, to get a license you need to have that privilege and the money which means a lot of things can only be backed by brands rather than it being more community-focused like it was before — it shifts the narrative of what those parties are actually for. I think a lot of movements and collectives like NiNE8 kind of balance that out and give voice to those communities. Late 90s babies and millennials feel like they missed out on that whole scene because all of the parties that happen in London nowadays are brand-focused, but I think it’s all about shifting the narrative back and having true representation.
CM: How do you actually take time off to recharge your creative batteries?
LLR: I don’t. That’s the actual answer.
CM: Do you think it will become a priority at some point to take a rest?
LLR: This is easier said than done but it’s really important to know yourself and know your limits. Deep down you know when you’re pushing yourself too far, and for workaholics like me, you keep yourself working as a distraction for other underlying things that are going on in your life. I’ve seen it happen to me and a lot of friends as well where you just keep yourself so busy so you don’t have to think about finding who you really are, how your relationships are going, family issues, how your health is going — it’s really easy to just keep working. It takes a while to know your limits especially when you’re a young person and you’re still trying to figure out who you are but I think for me, I always try to take a moment to reflect on what I’ve done. It helps me take myself out of my short tunnel vision and notice more of what I’m doing, focusing on what the message I’m trying to say, what I’m trying to do and what impact I’m trying to have and leave on this world. Every now and then I have my moments. Usually, that means going to a four-day festival and losing myself, finding myself again and surrounding myself with great people.
CM: How do you keep yourself inspired through all these different mediums?
LLR: I suppose by making sure that I’m always working on things, taking in new information and educating myself. When I get writer’s block with music I just move onto the art, and when I get a block with the artwork I just go back to the music so the clogs in the machine are always turning. Even when I’m chilling, I’ve always got to do something that feels like it’s beneficial and productive. I can’t just sit and passively watch shit TV. If I’m watching a film it’s got to be a film that makes me think ‘I wanna make a music video just like that’ — otherwise, I’ll get five minutes into it and it’s just not for me. Everything for me is like food for thought and it’s great because you really appreciate the process and it feels way more wholesome than just sitting and eating shit food when I feel bad about myself. I don’t want to do that because, for me, that’s the exact same as smoking a whole pack of cigarettes — it leaves me feeling crappy. Stuff like that is specifically made to give you low self-esteem and make you want to consume as well. Shows like Love Island and stuff that’s very societal; I’ve seen these type of shows leave insecurities within people. Not everyone — some people like to unwind and be passive but it’s just not for me.
CM: Have you always had this really strong sense of knowing exactly what you wanted to achieve?
LLR: I was always a bit of a know-it-all. That always got me in trouble at school, though. I was a little smart arse.
CM: What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self if you could go back in time?
LLR: To be honest, if I gave my 13-year-old self advice she probably wouldn’t listen to me. I didn’t listen to anyone, I was just like “No. GCSEs? No. Am I fuck? No.” Honestly, nothing because I wouldn’t have listened to myself.
CM: What’s been one of the highlights of your year so far?
LLR: Very good question. I feel like when I played Parklife in Manchester that was just an incredible crowd. It was insane and the vibe was just amazing. Also, I’ve just made a music video with two of my best mates and nothing was forced. There was no budget whatsoever, we were just like shooting around my area and at my friend’s place and the visuals came out so beautiful. It was amazing because you’d look at it and think there was a budget and we had a casting of all these models, but it was literally just our friends. Everybody was in such a good mood. You know when you catch the magic and it just sets itself up and all you have to do is capture it, it was so amazing. I’ve seen people rack out huge budgets to try and emulate having a good time but we didn’t even tell our friends we were shooting a video, we just told everyone to come round and have a good time and then captured it.
CM: Do you have any life mantras that you tell yourself if it ever gets a bit too much?
LLR: I always try and bring myself out of a situation. It sounds like a weird thing to tell yourself but detaching yourself from immediate emotions and feelings can really help to refocus what your actual purpose is. Especially in situations where you might have a creative disagreement or you’re just not really feeling yourself, you sometimes need to look at it as a third person and realise what you’re trying to achieve in the long-term. A lot of the times if I’m doing a really long shoot or I’m in the studio I’ll think to myself “at the end of today I’m gonna be in a nice bath, burning some sage” and I know that’s what I’m working towards. I know I’m going to be in the bath looking back at what I did today and happy I got this process done.
CM: How did you find your creative tribe of people — did it happen really organically?
LLR: Yeah. I always say the best way to find your tribe, and I know this sounds so corny, but the moment you find yourself and you’re not looking for anything else other than your own gratification, that’s the moment all the amazing people you’ve been looking for your entire life suddenly jump in. It’s the type of energy and frequency you transmit — the moment you radiate those vibes they’re gonna come right back to you.