Lorde’s second coming: ‘Pop music is my number one inspiration’
Four years after she conquered the world with her song ‘Royals’, Lorde returns with ‘Melodrama’ – and it packs a serious lyrical punch
Lorde: “My writing this time was inspired by records I really admired, the classic albums like ‘Rumours’ by Fleetwood Mac or ‘Graceland’ by Paul Simon. Photograph: Brendan Walter
There’s a lyric on Lorde’s new album, Melodrama, which catches the ear. It runs, “bet you rue the day you kissed a writer in the dark,” and it’s tart, taut and right. It sounds like the work of someone who has learned the power of words.
There are plenty more standouts where that one came from. You have the “couple of Top Gun pilots flying with nowhere to be” on Homemade Dynamite or “I do my make-up in someone else’s car” on Green Light. When it comes to lyrical snap, the New Zealander is truly running things this time around.
It’s taken a couple of long years for Ella Yelich-O’Connor to follow up her debut, Pure Heroine, but the results demonstrate that it has been time worth taking. That debut and its success changed everything for her, turning the then-teenager’s universe upside-down, so it’s natural that this record seems to be about coming to terms with all those changes and transformations.
In New York, I could be Ella, getting my subway card out, sitting in diners for hours, eavesdropping on people and being myself”
In the last few weeks since she reached the end of the recording and mixing hullabaloo, Yelich-O’Connor has finally been able to begin to make sense of what the songs represent.
“It’s kind of amazing to look at things now from a place of relative calm. I was grappling with and fighting my way through a lot of things on Melodrama as I went along so I can now go ‘oh yeah, that’s what I was upset about a year ago’ and ‘that’s what I was hypothesising about’.”
Melodrama is a record about many things, but chiefly what happens when young hearts run free in a new city. “This record was born out of me going out and dancing a lot and wanting to write music that would work in those spaces,” she says. “I hope you can hear the prints of bodies and dancefloors and you can hear where the love came from. Pure Heroine was much more stationary – I was in one town and there were certain parameters to what I was doing – but Melodrama is something much different.”
She spent much of the time working on this record living in New York. For the most part, she went unrecognised in the city, allowing her to get on with the job of writing and recording, and especially observing.
“Part of why I went to New York was for that anonymity. In New Zealand, everyone knows who I am and while they’re very sweet, I was never able to forget who I was and what I was doing. I’m Lorde and I’m making an album.
“In New York, I could be Ella, getting my subway card out, sitting in diners for hours, eavesdropping on people and being myself. Anonymity like that is wonderful because you can forget yourself. Then when someone recognises you, you’re like, ‘oh, okay, that’s who I am.’ But I’ve been lucky, I don’t get recognised too often. Even if New Yorkers know who you are, they’re chilled and probably won’t say anything.”
‘All over the place’
“We were all over the place with the record,” she explains. “You might be working on a chorus for one song one day and working on the production of a song the next. We really bounced all over the place with this one.
“It all developed over time. Looking back now, I think the reason it took so long was that search for a rich and singular sonic world. There’s so much to the songs as I’m sure you can hear. It’s something much different to Pure Heroine and I definitely had certain kind of principles that I was super-interested in exploring. But the sound morphed and some things which I didn’t think would become so intrinsic to the album suddenly became apparent and true.”
The bones of it are a pop record, but it is much wilder than that and it’s like a weird, overgrown garden
With the writing, she took on the guise of a detective. Like a police investigator tracking a crime and various persons of interest, she covered a wall with notes to keep track of where the album was going with its various lyrical themes. Again and again, like a novelist at work, she edited and redrafted what she had to hand.
“I don’t know any other musicians who write like that, but I’m sure that there are some. For me, that approach worked because I’m very visual and it’s very much about the language. Because it had been such a long time since I put out an album, there were a lot of emotions that I’d experienced or wanted to write about that I wanted to squeeze in there if I could.”
Yelich-O’Connor says the album was planned and laid out with precision. “My writing this time was inspired by records I really admired, the classic albums like Rumours by Fleetwood Mac or Graceland by Paul Simon. They were records which have such a great confidence and comfort to them. They’re not long records, you’re in and out, and they’re taut. It seems to me that the planning was key and they wanted the records to be simple, clear, concise statements.”
Most of all, Yelich-O’Connor did what she’s always done and leaned on pop music in all its giddy glory to push her on. She admits she’s as obsessed by how pop music works as she was as a teen back in Devonport by the harbour in Auckland before Royals came along.
Yeah, I’m in the industry and I make music but I feel like my main role is still to consume pop music and get excited about it and tear it apart”
“Pop music is my number one source of inspiration. I’m so interested in the guts of it, the inner workings of how a song can be completely subverted and you can make something different from it. I feel like we’ve achieved just that here. The bones of it are a pop record, but it is much wilder than that and it’s like a weird, overgrown garden. On the surface, it looks tight and succinct but when you delve in, you can see that we’ve pushed the boat out.
“One of the reasons I’m still inspired by pop music is my relationship to it is that of a fan. Yeah, I’m in the industry and I make music but I feel like my main role is still to consume pop music and get excited about it and tear it apart like fans do. Being able to forget that this is a business and get away from that is really helpful and beneficial to me.
“A lot of the last couple of years was about using pop music to unpack emotions and reconcile things which have happened to me. I actually never had music help me so much as in the last few years. I definitely came out of the process feeling very grateful for it.”
Melodrama is released on Friday
Lorde’s blue book
When The Ticket spoke to Ella Yelich-O’Connor back in 2013, she talked about a couple of books. Back then, it was Sam Lipstye’s The Fun Parts (“really funny, mean short fiction”) and Claire Vaye Watkins’s Battleborn (“she strikes a really good balance between saying interesting things and saying them in a beautiful way”) which had caught her eye.
What does she recommend for our readers this time around?
“I’ve had a real moment with Bluets by Maggie Nelson. I’ve never really read a book quite like it. It’s so strange structurally and I found it really transcendent. It’s a meditation on the colour blue and her relationship with the colour blue but it gives her this opportunity to write about so many different things in her life.
“When I was in the midst of writing this record and having this all encompassing thing going on everyday, I found her writing about her relationship with the colour to be quite similar and very inspiring. She’s an amazing writer. I’d definitely recommend that.”