The two musicians and mutual fans bonded in a conversation recently.
Growing up in the suburbs of Omaha, United States, turns out not to have been much different than growing up in the suburbs of Auckland, New Zealand, at least to hear Conor Oberst, an American, and Lorde, a New Zealander, tell it: both had to make their own fun.
The two musicians and mutual fans bonded over their similarly forthright lyrical styles, in a conversation recently. They also shared a love for the debut albums of the British acts the Arctic Monkeys and the Streets, a certain distaste for social media (although Lorde, born Ella Yelich-O’Connor, has more than 1.6 million Twitter followers), and discussed the high and low points of touring.
Here are more excerpts from their conversation.
What do you do when people assume the persona you have as a songwriter is you?
Lorde: I think people are positively surprised with me, because I have this, apparently, tough, unsmiling, teen goth exterior, and then I express myself in the songs, and I try to lay myself bare. People are like, oh, OK, you actually have a soul.
Oberst: I imagine, for you, feeling a little isolated, or whatever – I think some of the best stuff comes out of these sort of untouched places, where there’s not a bunch of outside influences telling you what’s cool and what’s not. I imagine you and your friends had to make your own fun.
Lorde: It was exactly like that, in New Zealand. You feel like you’re by yourself out there. I’m like a pretty outdoorsy person, and a lot of my friends are boys.
We would ride our bikes everywhere and jump off a lot of walls and jettys and cliffs, and [mess] ourselves up on rocks and stuff. And kind of climb these completely unreachable highs.
We just bummed around, and then as we got older, we would go to gigs in the city, which was a big deal – you had to get the boat over there, and do the all-ages thing, or the over-18 thing, you would have to hide in a bathroom [to sneak in].
Oberst: For us, in Nebraska, that’s why me and all my friends started up bands, and ended up starting our own label [Saddle Creek Records], because there was nothing to do. And it’s not like someone’s going to discover you in Omaha.
Lorde: I’m always really in awe of people who start their own labels, because I think it’s such a, like, selfless thing to do.
Oberst: It was really just a practical thing. Our group of friends, there was a lot of people writing songs and starting bands, and we knew very clearly that if we wanted to get our music into the world, we were going to have to do it ourselves.
We just started with cassette tapes, and going to Kinko’s (photocopy place) and making the covers and stuffing them at my mum’s house, and selling them at the local store, and really grew super slow and organically.
That was another question I had for you, which I’m sure you’ve probably been asked like a thousand times. But I felt like with my career, it’s been so gradual, each little step was, the tour got a little bigger, and we sold a few more records than the last one, and sort of baby steps.
And I know that you worked on that album for many years, but as far as an immediate success, and you seem so with-it and smart and rational and kind. I imagine it was pretty, and it still probably is, intense times. How do you stay so real?
Lorde: Um, it is a pretty weird thing to go through, because it kind of changes everything you thought about people, about adults, about business, about art – it’s a pretty hectic time.
Oberst: Do you have a good relationship with your parents?
Lorde: Yeah, yeah yeah, my mum’s on tour right now.
Oberst: I think that’s such a big part of people not going insane. I have a great relationship with my parents, too.
Lorde: Yeah and I have a huge family as well, so it’s cool to have this tribe to call every night and be like, the weirdest thing happened to me.
Oberst: Do you like touring?
Lorde: I do, I do. I definitely wasn’t very good at performing, when I first started as Lorde. Coincidentally, every show that I’ve ever played has been sold out, so there was huge pressure to be a performer and to love touring at a really early stage.
But I’ve grown to love it. It’s fun, it’s insane, I don’t know how we do it. I find it really rewarding, it still never fails to trip me out that I can be in Mexico City and be playing to like a bullring full of people.
Oberst: I imagine you’re the kind of person that’s pretty involved [with all aspects of the stage show].
Lorde: It’s kind of weird. I’m kind of a new pop star, but I’m still not that rich. Like I can’t really have the tour of my dreams.
The tour can grow and I can grow, as my audience grows with me. I don’t play stadiums right now. And our production is still really simple, but yeah, I’m still totally involved.
People hate working with me, because at 3am, I’m still getting everything perfect.
Oberst: And I’m sure you know when to turn it on — you go out on stage and you get your swagger on, and you kill it.
But there’s a lot of other hours of the day where you have the other, human feelings. That’s why they call it showbiz.
Lorde: You don’t really do social media?
Oberst: No, I don’t mess with any of that stuff. But I’m from a different time. I’m old school.
I don’t feel I owe my fans pictures of what I eat for breakfast or my thoughts on every pointless thing that’s happening in the world. But that’s what’s expected of people now.
They want more and more original content, or whatever the code words are, for basically self-promotion. That’s tough. I think there’s something to be said for some mystery left in the world.
Lorde: I think that’s amazing. Like if I had the will power to do that, if my agent hadn’t kind of started it, I would love to not have that as a concern.
Because I think you have a much more positive sense of yourself. The Internet is like super intense, as you know.
And the idea of releasing a record and that being everything you want to say to people, at that time in your life. In a perfect world, instead of a tweet or an Instagram, you play for people at night.
Have you had to get a tougher skin? Does that just happen naturally?
Lorde: One thing I’ve gotten way better at is not taking people’s opinions too seriously. I talk about boredom on the record a lot because I think that’s something that’s quite quintessentially teenage — so much of your time is spent not wanting to be where you are and waiting to get out and be somewhere else.
So I wanted to represent that, and I got a lot of flak for that. People saw it as petulant or something, which – [expletive] those people.
Oberst: For every single thing you do, there’s gonna be a whole bunch of people who are like, this is best the thing, and a whole bunch of people who are like, this is the worst. I’ve been hearing that my whole life.
To me, that’s better than ambivalence. Being a divisive or polarizing artiste, I would say, wear that as a badge of honour. – International New York Times