With his latest project, alt-pop polymath Lauv is tearing things apart to rebuild again.

Ari Leff is entering his Saturn return – though he wasn’t so clear on the terminology up until very recently. “I became aware of this term the other day, I’m literally feeling these things [without knowing it].” For those not so well-versed in astrology, at the ripe, not-so old age of 27, Ari has reached a celestial turning point where he’s making pivotal decisions about who he wants to be, what his values are and how he wants life to play out. A big deal, basically. Yet speaking to him over Zoom from LA, shortly after St Patrick’s Day – sporting a simple hoodie and fresh, forest green buzz cut, with his pet Pomeranians popping unexpectedly into frame – it’s clear he’s taking things at his own pace, even if the stars (and fans) are pressing him for action. Hell, at the time of writing, his TikTok bio even leisurely reads “album coming don’t u worry”.

 

The album in question? His sophomore effort, ‘All 4 Nothing’, which marks the San Francisco-born artist’s second full-length under his alt-pop alias Lauv. It’s a major artistic milestone for anyone, but you’d imagine the pressure to be particularly intense for Ari. From his very beginnings as an artist, he’s been able to craft a reliable stream of viral hits: danceable yet downbeat tracks which seemed to emerge out of thin air only to effortlessly capture the spirit of a very online, very anxious generation. The expectations – from fans and peers in the music industry, where Ari also enjoys a prolific songwriting career – must be intimidatingly high for what comes next.

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Understandably, then, the road to creating the album has been less than straightforward. Like everyone else, Leff was thrown off balance and into turmoil by the pandemic. “Having so much time to myself during Covid, when lockdown started, I felt like I couldn’t sit still with myself at all,” he admits. With the imposition of physical constraints, he turned inwards to seek solace in creativity and begin a process of thinking, and then rethinking, how he wanted to approach the project. “The album honestly went through so many different titles and versions. At first, I was like, ‘OK, I’m making an album about confidence, finding confidence in yourself ’. Then I was like, ‘No, no, it’s an album about childhood’.” From there, his ambitions continued to grow. “I realised it was bigger than that. It’s about getting older, believing in yourself, exploring who you think you are and who you’ve always been, since you were born.”

 

Blossoming from these larger-than-life intentions, it’s interesting to hear Ari explain that the album process itself wound up being pretty low-key. “I’ve just been kind of experimenting more with the process of letting go,” he confides. “I wrote the album in a much more raw way [than I have done before], freestyling a lot of the lyrics and melodies.” To have deviated from his writing process – one which has won him so many accolades thus far – is brave, but a decision that speaks volumes to the bold attitude he’s embracing for album number two. And the newfound spontaneity feeding into his latest work is mirrored by a sense of lightness when he talks, too, with a soft speaking voice that picks up the tempo whenever he becomes particularly enthusiastic. When discussing music or his journey with mindfulness, this is frequent.

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  • TROUSERS DANIEL W. FLETCHER
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“I haven’t reached this new version of my life yet. But I know it’s coming. And I know it’s great.”

When it comes to mindfulness, nowadays he’s a fan of therapy and meditation (which he says “really saved my life”), coping mechanisms picked up alongside a sudden and rapid rise to success. And what a rise it has been: before he had even graduated from his alma mater of NYU, Ari had scored a publishing deal off the back of SoundCloud single “The Other” – which hit Spotify’s Global Top 100 – before, in 2017, “I Like Me Better” hit the sweet spot with streamers and went platinum. What followed in the intervening years included a supporting slot with Ed Sheeran on tour, collabs with Troye Sivan and Conan Gray and a far-reaching, experimental debut album. And then, there are the songwriting credits: he’s penned hits for the likes of Demi Lovato and Cheat Codes, Charli XCX, Khalid and even Celine Dion.

 

By his own admission, he’s come a long way from the 12-year-old who “wanted to be a musician so badly” when he first began writing songs. As a teenager, he approached his early creative journey with a hungry, scrappy ambition: playing in bands, self-promotion on MySpace, booking gigs with his best friend and convincing his sister to drive them to the venue. With all those years of unspoken, unglamorous graft, his career highs so far have been surreal for him to witness: “It’s taken me a long time to wake up and realise that these things have happened.”

 

We can hear this newfound clarity – like jolting awake from a deep slumber – on All 4 Nothing with lyrics that speak with a stinging self-awareness. Take lead track “26”, where Ari tells the story of a boy who “broke his own heart” by forsaking spiritual growth for his own ambition. ‘He made a couple songs and they got big,’ he sings; ‘He thought that he could do whatever he wanted/ But it all left him with a hole in his heart.’ Parallels may easily be drawn between these words and Leff ’s lived experience, the hard-won passage from a precocious boy brimming with promise to a world-wise young man who’s learned that success isn’t a salve for pain.

 

  • LEATHER JACKET HARLEY DAVIDSON
  • RING (RIGHT) 8 OTHER REASONS

But when asked if the new project is a coming-of-age album, Ari is hesitant. “I feel like [All 4 Nothing] is about growing up and growing down at the same time,” he muses. “I hope I’m finally becoming an adult in all the right ways but also becoming a kid in all the right ways.” The answer, at first read, might seem confusing but it sums up where the artist’s head is at the moment. Not only is he looking ahead to a new phase of his career and breaking new creative ground, he’s hoping to reconnect with his past, too. Throughout the duration of our conversation, he makes multiple references to his “inner child” – a commonly evoked figure in analytical psychology and healing work that holds the key to some of our rawest memories and emotions.

 

The way that he wants to celebrate his inner child? Cutting through the overthinking and instead embracing the joy of making, doing and experimenting with his craft. While this sounds easy in theory, anyone who has followed Ari’s journey, and seen him talk candidly about his struggles with OCD and depression, will know that it’s more difficult in practice. “I have an extremely overactive mind, I have OCD and [that comes with] a lot of mental blocks and self-judgment,” he explains. For Ari, chronic worry about how his work might be perceived fed into a psychological need for control – one which he feels has held him back. “Obsessing over my career and thinking I need all this control has actually, I think, hurt myself and made things harder,” he reflects. Now he still battles with the same doubts but his mission is to do all he can to “go in the other direction and have faith.”

“I had a moment where, all of a sudden, I felt like I was my own childhood hero”

Sometimes, he has moments where things feel like they’ve come full circle, when he can step outside of himself and see how his younger self might feel in his shoes. He recalls one such instance, when shooting the video for titular single “All 4 Nothing (I’m So In Love)”. “I was just on set and I had a moment where, all of a sudden, I felt like I was my own childhood hero,” Ari explains. “It was a moment where I stopped thinking ‘Am I cool? Am I this? Am I that?’ and quit worrying about how I was being perceived and just got into how amazing it is that I get to make this music. It made me so excited.”

 

For Ari Leff, his musical and personal progress are intrinsically linked: his music serving as a mirror to his psyche and a way for him to put complex, sometimes overwhelming emotions into words. Having turned a corner with his healing, it makes sense that his latest album will offer a new, exciting direction to his fans. “I’ve been going through a lot of changes myself, a lot of tearing things apart to rebuild them again or to realise that maybe they weren’t like they weren’t broken in the first place,” he muses. All 4 Nothing offers some of this internal dialogue up for external consumption, but where he’ll go next, once this album is in the rear mirror, is still being decided. “I feel like I’m in between two different dimensions, like I’m floating,” he explains. “I haven’t reached this new version of my life yet but I know it’s coming. And I know it’s great.” JU

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