Next Wave #1013: Laufey
To associate jazz with dingy lighting, wooden furniture in smoky bars with fading wallpaper is normal, but Laufey is moving the genre in a new direction, and her blend of captivating melody, emotive vocals and romantic storytelling inspires audiences on platforms like TikTok and Instagram and radio.
With a drive to tear down conventional perceptions of traditional genres, the twenty-one year old Icelandic-Chinese singer, a cellist and songwriter brings her poppy jazz arrangements to young audiences. “My philosophy is to harness old styles like jazz and bring them into a new light,” she explains. “To tell modern stories through my experience.” That fact that Laufey only launched her career as an original songwriter last year is mind- blowing, it happened during the pandemic. A bachelor student at Berklee College of Music, who is about to graduate, her first single ‘Street By Street’ is a poignant and romantic piece, structured around modern beats.
Choosing to self-release, she recorded it after a period of feeling uneasy, just before the campus had to shut down due to Covid-19. Realising that she was breaking new ground, she talks about it as the moment when she found her sound “It took a bit of experimenting, it was like something clicked, both musically and personally.”
Her new EP ‘Typical of Me’ includes the enticing ‘Magnolia’, a track written one evening when she was feeling down on herself. Tackling a broader issue of viewing others as perfect, when all people have imperfections, she sees the subject as key, as she has friends, who don’t realise how wonderful they are. “I wanted to write a love letter to them. It was a growing moment for me to write that song. I always say that everyone is a magnolia.”
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Currently based in New York, she has been contemplating her next move. Growing up in Iceland, she became used to shift between Iceland and the States, and despite the ongoing change in location, she remains close with her family and twin sister. “We were attached at the hip,” she admits. “We are like the same person, and I lived this very protected life, in a protected bubble.”
From a family of professional musicianship, Laufey’s parents are musicians, and her maternal grandparents are professors of classical music, so it was natural for her to play. Playing the cello when she was just four, she took up a second instrument from the age of eight, and she began to seek out different styles and sounds when she got older. Having taken up singing, she wasn’t too keen on opera and she sought inspiration in her father’s record collection, and this is where she learnt about the works of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, and her father played the two singers’ records throughout her childhood and teenage years.
“I could hear a bit of my voice in theirs,” she says. “I could resonate more with their voices than I could with the pop singers at that time. There were a lot of beautiful strings and harmonic arrangements, it felt like a middle ground between classical music and something newer. I fell in love with that genre, and I just started singing that on my own.”
The Chinese side of the family influenced her a lot, it has been good for acquiring the discipline early on as a young classical musician. She gains a lot from having two cultures in her blood “I tend not to put things into boxes because I have never been able to define myself as belonging to just one country, place or identity. I feel the same way about my music, it’s not pop, it’s not jazz, it’s just whatever I make it to be. I think it’s openness.”
This openness could be what inspires her decision to move to Los Angeles this summer, her plan is to focus on working with other artists. “I’m really looking forward to collaborating with other artists through co-writing sessions,” she enthuses. “I’m new to that world, and I can learn so much from it. I love drawing inspiration from other genres and other people’s styles, and I want to take in as much as possible.”
The journey has begun, there is much to explore, and she is free to delve right into it all.
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Laufey is hosting a music series for BBC, and ‘Happy Harmonies with Laufey’ is on BBC Radio 3 & BBC Sounds now. Her new EP 'Typical Of Me' will be released on April 30th.
Words: Susan Hansen
Photo Credit: Blythe Thomas
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