Before Lana Del Ray

About three/four years ago, I wrote an entry for the Def Jux Blog (that I eventually posted here) about me working with a female vocalist. It basically just described the frustration of trying to make music with people when outside influence won’t let you do what you want. That girls name was Lizzy Grant. About a year or two after we had that studio session, I saw some new videos of hers pop up on youtube under the name Lana Del Ray. Flash forward to the present day and this girl is a huge star.
For a reference point, here’s the original story:

I’ve been kinda wrestling with the idea of whether of not I should write this piece. Part of me feels like it’s cheap cause, now that this girl is famous (and notorious) , it’s seemingly just a easy way to get readers. However, considering the bad press she’s been getting lately, I don’t think it would hurt to just shed some light on some things from my perspective.

So, I’m still “friends” with Lizzy on facebook. It’s not like we ever speak but you know how facebook friendships are. There are people on there who you met once at a drunken party that, because of befriending them, you know what their kids look like. Anyway, the other day, Lizzy Posted an urgent plea to all her Facebook friends to please not accept any interviews from people trying to dig up dirt on her. This was shortly after the Saturday Night Live debacle and, honestly, I can’t imagine what kinda hell this girl was going through.

Yes, the SNL performance was fucked up. I was extremely surprised. Once that aired, it would seem like shit hit the fan. I mean there was a fucking front page article on about “Worst SNL performance ever?!” (Did they forget the existence of Ashley Simpson?). Suffice to say, coming from what I knew , I felt like Lana Del Ray was getting an extremely bad rap.
Now, I can only base this on my brief experience with her, but there is no doubt in my mind that that girl is talented. I’ve worked with all sorts of people over the years and she was one who stepped into the studio with a game plan and the ability to knock it all out in one take. All I can guess is that she’s got terrible stage fright or something. Cause I know, for a fact , she can sing. Not to mention, I realize her inflated lips are strange. They certainly weren’t around when we met. In fact, she was way hotter without them. But, in a way, I gotta think it was all part of her plan. “Lana Del Ray” was a character and those lips were part of that plan. The thing is, I’ve read a ton of shit about people saying this character was manufactured but that’s bullshit. Sure, it’s not her real name but the idea behind that person was in Lizzy before I even met her. Hell, just how she was dressed coming into the studio was enough for me to know that. She looked like a pinup model straight out of the trailer park. She always seemed to have to idea of this throwback Nancy Sinatra meets “Madmen” meets current white trash thing as her entire theme. She was obsessed with images of swimming pools, drinking tab soda and just a certian low brow elegance that wasn’t common in music. Even on the song we did (That I’ll be getting to briefly), her lyrics were trying to paint a picture of something very similar to where she eventually went with her new music. So, to be clear, all the detractors saying she’s some made up by the machine pop star are full of shit. While it’s impossible to keep the businesses hands out the pop when creating a pop star, the roots of where this all comes from are firmly inside of Lizzy Grant.

When I first got word that we were gonna do music together, I did some research. She had tons of youtube videos (which have since been taken down). The videos were made up of old stock footage cut up with shots of her singing…that was her thing. It created a very specific mood of nostalgia. Lo and behold, when the official video for “blue Jeans” dropped, it was the same thing

My point in this being, she had a vision of how she wanted to present herself and her music far before the foreign press was licking her ass or before anyone put her on SNL.

Anyway, I write this not as a “Leave Lana Alone!” manifesto. Nor as any sort of “Lana Del ray EXPOSED!” cause, honestly, I’ve got nothing but good things to say about her. I feel the anger towards her is unjust (especially in a era of super stars like Rihanna who can barely sing in tune without a studio to fix it) I figured now, more than ever would be a great time give you guys further insight into the music we made.

In my initial post, I wrote that Lizzy had picked beats and wrote a bunch of songs to them. She then came to a studio , where she, two engineers/studio musicians, and me planned to make those songs. If you read the earlier post, you know how they turned out in my eyes. But, hey, I’m one man and maybe too involved in it…So , I figured maybe I’d let you judge for yourself…
Here’s the original beat that she choose to write to:
(sorry, the link is down and I can’t find the original beat)
Now, to be honest, I always though this beat was pretty mediocre. But, it had a certain ruggedness to it that I thought could work well with some singing on it (if not rapping). She picked it, and wrote something cool to it, so we went with it.
Here’s the song that came out of that:

This is a rough mix but you get the idea. A little different, huh?
Here’s where I get a little bitter. The idea of bringing me in to work with her was to hear her sound in a different light. At the time, she was signed to a small indie label and still trying to find her sound. I can 100% accept that I was not the right sound for her. But it definitely bummed me out that we went into work on some shit that could have been interesting and it came out to a very typical , almost “bar band” kinda vibe. All that was left of my beat was a fading horn, a little of the guitars and a simple bass line. The rest was replaced with corny drums sounds, lame rhodes progressions and some guitars riffs. I realize this sounds like I’m shitting all over the other two dudes who did all the instrument work but I’m not. They did they’re job. They made it a more pop friendly song. Those dudes are far more talented musicians than I’ll ever be, we just have a different take on music, that’s all. I think I was just under the assumption that’s what we weren’t there to do. I figured Lizzy and I were bought in together to try and see what happens when a girl like her sings over beats like mine. But, to really the fault of no one involved, it just didn’t happen.

It’s funny to hear where Lizzy went with her style cause it was so far from both my sound and the sound of that song we made. She choose wisely. I don’t know what the future holds for her and really hope the SNL debacle doesn’t bury her. I’d imagine she’s got a full length album dropping soon and I’m definitely curious to hear it. I think both “Blue Jeans” and “Video Games” are really good songs so it gives me hope that she’s committed to moving forward in that direction and we won’t be hearing her do any dance songs full of bad synths and triton drums anytime soon. I suppose we’ll see. regardless, I wish her good luck and think motherfuckers need to let her breath a little.

42 thoughts on “Before Lana Del Ray

  1. this is honestly the first time i have heard about this woman and while i’m not going to go and buy her record or download her songs, i really don’t see what the big deal was with the SNL performance, I’ve seen worse. Bands i love that once you hear live you understand that while they are skilled musicians, the sound they crafted in the studio they just can’t reproduce live.

  2. by the way, the result of your work together isn’t bad at all.
    Maybe it’s not your cup of tea but i think it’s always a good learning experience, allowing others to listen to what you do and add to it, and take your contribution in different directions while still somehow allowing it to retain some of its initial flavor. I liked it. Post more like this if you have it, i listen to a lot of your stuff almost everyday, I am crazy about uncle tony’s coloring book and Music by cavelight, but whenever i hear stuff like this or 1993 with signify or other stuff that feels like you are going out of your comfort zone and collaborating, it takes your work to a different level in my eyes. BUT HEY, THAT’S JUST ME

  3. Her performance didn’t sound that much different than her recording to me. I don’t understand why people are saying her performance was that bad, I think some people just didn’t know what the hell she sounded like. She’s definitely out there like an quirky indie singer should be. I’m surprised she was able to get onto SNL in the first place, she doesn’t sound like anything they’d normally have.

  4. I just seen her performance on snl and I’m no musician but just a common listener of music and her performance wasn’t as bad as people make it seem. I think as an artist at some point in your career you have to decide whether to go “mainstream” or not. I can fault those that do it but I know there is better music out there. It seems like college radio is the only place you can turn on the dial an absolutely hear some new shit and be like, ok…who is this.

  5. I fail to see what is bad about this. Brian Williams is a fucking idiot. And Juliette Lewis hasn’t been relevant sine she dated Brad Pitt.

  6. I think Odd Future’s (or Syd’s to be exact) remix of “Blue Jeans” was one of last year’s best remixes. Excellent stuff:

  7. i personally dont really care about her backstory or her millionaire father. sometimes authenticity isn’t everything (i like her lips). Yes, the snl perfomance was wack but her recorded material is actually pretty good. i think it was her first national tv appearance so i think her nervousness is more than understandable.

    • Yeah. I honestly don’t know shit about her back story and don’t really give a fuck. The truth of the matter is most artists come from some sort of affluent back ground cause those are the type of people who can afford to become artists in the first place. All I care about is if the talent is there. I mean, if people took the same approach to rappers backgrounds as opposed to the persona they sell, it would shut the entire music industry down.

  8. I haven’t been paying much attention to this whole thing, but I have to say that reading about your experiences TOTALLY made my day today. So interesting.

  9. Pingback: Before Lana Del Ray « RanyaChantal

  10. Really terrible performance on SNL, but holy shit she’s a really good singer.

    Which ever label invested in her album that’s coming out on the 31st of this month must be loading bullets into their gun right now though.

    “Lana, we just landed you a gig on SNL! Perfect timing for your upcoming album, everyone will want it after you nail that performance….”

  11. Blimey, it’s amazin’to final hear what you were talkin’about! It’s great to have heard both the tracks like that and havin’looked into Lana she sounds alright! Interested to see what her full album’s like, and chance you might consider workin’together again but stickin’striktly to just Blockhead beats and ‘Del Ray honks?

    • Yah, I have a feeling that won’t happen. I haven’t seen or had contact with her since those studio sessions. She’s certainly in a bigger place than I am now so it wouldn’t really make sense for her to do it.

  12. Fuck critics in general…I like personally this girl’s style. She’s extremely interesting and like you said, there’s something sexy about the way she handles herself. I wish this girl the best. The SNL performance wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, much less, worse than most of the shit they book. Nerves are a mother fucker, and maybe that came through in her performance, but let’s be honest…we’ve all seen bigger shits dropped on that stage, and by much more established artists…much more. As always Block…thanks for the insight and I appreciate everything you do.

  13. I don’t know anything about her and I didn’t watch the performance but that was an interesting take. Good for you on standing up to the idiot media. Things are getting crazy in this country. Pretty soon everybody will get their 15 minutes of hate.

  14. Very interesting read and thanks for putting in your two cents. I’m curious to know what your thoughts on the new album are, especially on the production side of things.

  15. This and the other article are really interesting! I’m really glad you could provide the examples of that beat and its unfortunate demise. It’s a crime the way those drums were replaced.

    It’s such a cold shower, the contrast between indie/bedroom music production and the major studio system. I think it would be really hard for me to give up that much control, even to someone who definitely knows better than I do.

  16. Pingback: Lana Del Rey, before she was Lana Del Rey – FACT magazine: music and art

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  18. I actually started to think that this “SNL fail” was programmed to gain more buzz before the album release.
    First of all, it’s strange that immediately after the show they uploaded it on her official VEVO page… I don’t think that Ashley Simpson for example has uploaded her SNL-failure performance.
    And it’s even stranger since on her other live performances of those two songs she was always singing in a different way (more similar to the studio version).

  19. she doesnt write or compose jack shit. Looks medicore (is she even white?) whit medicore voice. Its jsut amazing what you can create whit your dads money

  20. would it be possible to take her acapella from the produced track and put it back over the original raw beat? that would be the illest.

  21. So, it’s been 4 years now. I come back to this article every now and then (as well as the first one) because it’s interesting to read how pop stuff works (from your perspective). I’m not the biggest fan of LDR, I find her a bit repetitive, but different strokes for different folks…

    Any thoughts on that from a four-year distance?

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