Personal tragedy and a strict religious upbringing in Arizona form some of the grist for her debut album's artistic mill. Listen to single "Crash Dive" to get an idea of her unruly vibe.
After years of schlepping as a freelance songwriter in Los Angeles, the Phoenix-raised artist Luna Aura has produced a raw, unapologetically personal statement, produced and co-written by JT Daly.
Speaking to Popdust from California, Aura diagramed the personal experiences which led to the creation of Three Cheers for The American Beauty.
So, you're coming out with your first album. How did you go about recording it?
I was doing a lot of writing for television and film for other artists, and I wasn't sure what I was doing for myself. So one day I got sick of writing for something I didn't really care about, and I went into the studio and decided to create something really bratty because that's what I felt like writing. I wrote a song called "Baby Be Cool" with my friends Amit and Sam. It ended up getting passed around to a bunch of people, including JT Daly. He fell in love with the song (which was the most "me" thing I'd written in a long time) and my sound, and so we got together for about nine days and wrote nine songs.
Wow. A song a day.
Yeah, sometimes we did two a day.
That's a good work ethic.
We weren't fucking around. Also, he had a very busy schedule, so we only had a tiny amount of time.
You mentioned that song, and the album as a whole, as being more "you" than anything you'd done. What does that mean?
It's just…in your face. It's who I am as a female: very rebellious, a lot of sexuality. And when you see me on stage performing it, it's coming out of my veins. I've never felt this way about any music I've written.
You started writing songs at 14, correct?
Actually, I started writing when I was 11. I wrote a lot of melodies and lyrics.
What were those early songs like?
I'm sure I was listening to a lot of Kelly Clarkson, Jessica Simpson, and other bullshit. [laughs]
What year were you born?
That is SO rude. Age is for wine and cheese and I'm neither one of those! [laughs] I'm just kidding. I was born in 1993. I was listening to whatever was on the radio and trying to mimic that. And when I started moving into music professionally I was writing pop. And I still write pop!
What does "pop" mean to you?
I have a theory that every five years, pop changes into something totally different. You had the Mac Martin and Dr. Luke thing, with Kerry Perry, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, and now you have Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter, who have totally flipped pop music onto its head. They basically wrote all of Selena Gomez' last album.
So what was the dominant songwriting paradigm when you were getting started? Was it the Kerry Perry thing?
Yeah, it was something closer to that. But of course, I was still me, so it had my own twist on it. But I was also very young, making what I thought I was supposed to be making.
I've come across that theme many times interviewing musicians: they started out cutting their teeth as songwriters for hire, and it was a valuable experience, but it was a factory-like mindset, where you're pumping out all these tunes for someone else, and end up finding it unfulfilling. Was that roughly your experience?
Definitely, yeah. Also, I had dealt with the death of my brother when I was 22. He was very young, 15, and it was very traumatic for me and my family. I started asking myself a lot of questions about my own life, how short life can be, and what I was doing with it? If I had this talent, was I using it in the correct way? I took some time out to figure out what my voice was, and what it was I wanted to say, what my story was, and how to say it.
And in terms of what to say and how to say it, who have been your biggest influences?
I was raised to be a very strong, independent woman, but at the same time, I was raised in America. For women here, it seems like if you're not a sexual creature as an artist, you're not interesting. So I always looked up to really strong female artists: Fiona Apple, Alanis Morissette, Janis Joplin, Gwen Stefani, Shirley Manson - huge female powerhouses. I wanted so badly to be that girl who did it better than all the boys, my whole life.
And you grew up in Phoenix, not the most liberal of places.
Yeah, well, I grew up nearby, in Gilbert, Arizona, this tiny little Mormon town. I was the only girl among a bunch of brothers and boy cousins. I was definitely a tomboy growing up. But at the same time, I was going to church, and the things the Mormon church teaches young women are incredibly skewed and close-minded. So my whole life I've been figuring out my identity as a woman.
Was there music during the church services?
Yeah, I sang in church all the time.
Did that influence your music in any way?
[laughs]. Um, no.
Assuming that you no longer adhere to the tenants of the Latter Day Saints, when did your transition away from the church happen?
It happened around the age of 19. I could see there was such a stark difference between how men and women were treated. There was no way that a woman would ever be as important as a man. Women in Mormonism are baby makers, homemakers. So, I had to leave.
Was that when you left for LA?
No, I actually stayed in Phoenix for a bit. I grew quickly as an artist in Phoenix and hit a ceiling very fast. Then I started going to LA because I had to. I had to bite the bullet and pay the giant rent and deal with traffic.
And you had to get humbled by jumping into the deep end of the swimming pool.
[laughs] Yeah, I'm not a toe-dipping bitch. I jumped right in.
So what was your entré in the LA music world?
I just started writing with more and more people, for myself, for others, pitching. And, eventually, it got overwhelming traveling back and forth between LA and Phoenix.
So it wasn't like you just packed up for LA, got off the bus with your bindle and a beat-up guitar. You had already made contact and established yourself there.
Yeah, I figured that was the smartest way to do it. Phoenix is so close to LA, so I figured that when I needed to be there I'd go there, and the rest of the time I'd be next to my family. It's the push and pull factor: if it was gonna pull me out there I would go. But I wasn't going to move blindly. I'm generally very strategic when it comes to my career.
Is Luna Aura your given name?
It is not, no.
You mention being strategic. What's the strategy behind your name?
It's basically…I have two sides to me. One is Angela (my real name) the girl who grew up in Phoenix, who loves to be with her family and do simple, everyday things. And then there's the other side of me, this monster of a being - strong, powerful, loud. If you see me live you definitely see it come out. It's basically my "bad bitch" side, one that I decided to slap a name on. But I eventually just started calling myself that, because I wanted to embody that more in my own life.
Sort of like Clark Kent deciding not to put the glasses back on and just remain Superman.
You mentioned your live show: listening back to the album, I hear a lot of analogue, but with plenty of electronica mixed in. What does your live show look like? Do you travel with a full band?
Yes, I do. But first of all, I want to say that JT Daly is the mastermind behind the whole production. He was able to take everything that was in my head and paint the picture properly of what I wanted to say. A lot of our mutual influences are people like NIN, Garbage, Rage Against the Machine. We really wanted to bring that energy back into music, because it's obviously missing right now…but anyway, the live show itself: I have a guitarist, a drummer, bassist, and me. Lil old me, five-foot-two. [laughs]
And you're purely a singer onstage?
Right now, yes. But eventually I'll be playing guitar onstage, and synths.
And then in the studio: what is your process like? Are you thinking in terms of your influences, or are you able to just let the music flow?
When I write and produce, I'm like a reference queen. I'm able to hear a sound and be, like, "That is so 'Toto'," or so this or so that. I'm able to recognize when certain sounds have been used before, but then take it and turn it into something new, and have it be something you've heard before - but haven't at the same time. That was the approach we took to the music side, but when it came to the melody and lyrics, that was all me.
Crash Dive - Live @ Valley Bar - Phoenix, AZ youtu.be
Yes, funny enough, the EDM scene! I met a lot of my best friends in that world. I was writing for EDM producers, as well. That's how I landed a song with a producer name 3LAU. I met a lot of people in the festival world, too.
What's your preference between playing festivals and clubs?
I love festivals. The way artists get treated at festivals, it's just….[makes kissing noise]. I would love to do just a festival tour. But I also don't mind playing little venues. It's almost more fun to play for five people because you really have to give it your all, whereas, with a ton of people, there's already so much energy that it's almost effortless.
Right. People come to festivals pre-primed to have a blast.
Yes. And the way the organizers treat the artists is always phenomenal. It's like they're competing with each other to see who can treat their artists better.
Are you planning a tour to support the new album?
Yeah. I want to hit the road with somebody I really like and who complements the project. We're still figuring that out.
What's your wildest dream of a matchup, that you could actually see happening?
That's a good question. I would love to tour with somebody like Grandson. Do you know Grandson?
I'm not familiar, no.
[gasps] Grandson is blowing up right now! Hobo Johnson is another one I'd like to tour with.
I've heard of him. Great fucking name!
I know! He's awesome. And then honestly, I'd love to tour with some of the incredible women EDM producer/DJs, like Whipped Cream. There are some EDM girls out there who're are producing the hardest shit.
An artist who comes to mind when you say all that is Grimes.
Yes! I don't know how that woman does what she does. I'd DEFINITELY tour with her.
Well, I'll give her a call for you.
[laughs] Thank you, I appreciate that!
Matt Fink lives and works in Brooklyn. For more of his work go to organgrind.com.
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