Behind the Music: Interview with Lu Wright

‘I’m inspired by people, life, and positivity, so it’s been hard to write songs this year, but releasing ‘Notes to Self’ has kept me going.’

With her debut EP ‘Notes to Self’ on the way, and a gig at Hoxton Underbelly (24th June), we put in a call to Lu Wright. Discussing everything from the creation of latest single ‘Lovely’, to how she is shaping her career as an independent artist, you’ll definitely need a brew for this one!

Hi Lu, thanks for taking time out of your day to chat with us. When did you first know that music would be in your life? So I grew up with quite a lot of music around my house and when my mum drove me to school we’d always have Radio 1 on. There were always CDs playing in the house too and my parents loved soul like Nina Simone and Sam Cooke. I think this really influenced me as well as artists such as Eminem and Outcast who I just fell in love with, followed by the likes of Adele.

I suppose those influences are going to naturally make their way into your tracks then? Yeah, I’m just imagining what would have happened to my musical journey if they were into heavy metal – I reckon it would have been a very different story haha! I have two older brothers and they love Red Hot Chilli Peppers and hip hop, and I would always be the younger sister gagging for attention and say ‘Yeah I’ll listen to that too.’

Clearly your family has an interest in music, but is there anyone else involved in your tracks? I write with my producer Jacob Page, who’s an incredibly talented guy and has an amazing voice. We wrote about half of the EP together and being quite new to all this, it was really nice to have someone for support. If I got stuck musically or lyrically, I’d say something like “I’m not sure if we should tweak this.” and he’d be like “Lu, don’t tweak it. Stop!” Being a perfectionist is a nightmare. Every creative has it in them a little bit so he’s very good at being strict. I’ve also got amazing photographers and creatives who can do my socials, amazing guitarists and instrumentalists too. Me and CIVIL, who featured on ‘Lovely’ met at university so we’ve always been sort of doing bits and bobs together. I used to feature on his songs, so said “You need to work for me now haha!” He’s super talented and predominately rap-influenced, so it was amazing to combine this with my love of hip hop and R’n’B.

Yeah, the blend in ‘Lovely’ works really successfully. Thank you for that. Someone actually DM’d me the other day saying: “I was listening to the track thinking there’s an opportunity for something new to come in – like a rapper. Then one came in and it was perfect!” We didn’t want to introduce CIVIL till a bit later on, and I think people were pleasantly surprised. I said to him, “CIVIL you would be perfect this.” and he said, “Yeah, I’m down”. Within a couple of hours, he sent me a verse that was melodically the same as the one you hear. He just nailed it!  It’s really rare to find artists who have such similar themes in their music.

‘To have ‘Lovely’ featured in Wonderland Magazine, as well as on Spotify’s New Music Friday UK and Fresh Finds: The Wave was just amazing.’

So was it was a very quick process in other areas too? In terms of lyricism, I was listening to a voice memo of a beat Jacob had done while I was driving over a bridge in London. It was such a nice day and I felt so content after doing such a productive studio session – it’s actually my favorite place in the world so I’m always happy if I come back from that. I was thinking “I’m in a lovely way, it’s a calm, cool, sunny day…” I hadn’t finished the lyrics when lockdown hit, but I wanted to pretend I was in that same spot of being content. I said to CIVIL, “I really want to talk about when you are in a more positive headspace and you’re looking back at why you’ve got to that point.” I feel like everyone goes through highs and lows and they make you grow. When I was younger I really struggled with overthinking and I was quite anxious, so I was just looking back at my younger self thinking: “Well done, you got through. It’s all good.” I always have a little blurb of “For when you need to…” with my singles and for ‘Lovely’ it was “For when you need to recognise how far you’ve come.” I’ve really recognised the need to congratulate yourself on the little things more than ever this year.

Yeah, it’s a great concept to have those pointers for people to draw on when they’re listening to it. Definitely. Every time I write, I usually get to a certain point and feel the need to backtrack and think “What are we doing? What do I want to achieve? What are we talking about?” When I wrote ‘What I Like’, I was alone on a peaceful evening, but for the other ones, and definitely ‘Lovely’ I thought “What are we talking about here? Let’s focus” and, that’s when I started writing these little explanations.

Is that where the EP title ‘Notes to Self’ comes from as well then? Yes, exactly. I started writing these songs when I was doing my dissertation which was to write an album, and wrote ‘What I Like’ for it. I think I actually called my dissertation ‘Notes to Self’ because every song had a meaning to either me or someone else. I remember thinking “I really want to make an EP where each track has a note to self, and use that as what the songs are about”. They interlink together as a positive message, which is a collective of me, growing as a younger woman, and that was the idea behind the title. I don’t think it’s too flashy, or too out there, just “This is me, this is what I was thinking at the time.” and if I can help anyone with anything and how they feel then I’ve done a good job.

So were you creating music before university? So when I was 11 I was desperate to get into the school choir – which was hilarious as while I really liked singing I wasn’t very good. When we were singing more contemporary songs I loved it and totally loved harmonies. I was the annoying person that would always say “Can we do this one…” I also played flute for about five years, but hated it and wanted to stop. My mum said I could but really wanted me to keep doing something musical – that’s when I absolutely fell in love with singing. I was really into musical theatre too and started writing my own stuff, dabbling about on the keys and the guitar. I tried to put these into a studio and even though they were rubbish, it was great fun and I learned to make mistakes. I was always songwriting but I wouldn’t even finish them I’d just sing a bit. They were so sad which is so funny as I was actually a really happy kid. As soon as I got to university, I had the studios and all people who could produce for me and actually wanted to.

‘I’m just starting out and making a ton of mistakes, so I just go with the flow and ride the wacky rollercoaster that’s music.’

That must have really benefitted you? Going to BIMM London really helped because I was around other musicians who were seriously passionate about music and it’s rare to find people that are that obsessed. The teachers understood you too and had experienced it all so it was nice getting advice from them. They were also really caring about their students’ mental health. Creative minds can struggle to focus on things sometimes and they really understood. The songwriting tutors were amazing and at one point I had to write and perform a song in front of students every week. It was quite a lot, but it was so good because if the song was rubbish, you would get told it was and you didn’t take it to heart.

When I did musical theatre, I was auditioning all the time and got rejected constantly so I was quite used to rejection. It’s a very, very good thing to get used to,  you just have to take it with a pinch of salt. The feedback on the tracks so far has been amazing and I wanted to get 10,000 streams for British Daisy, followed by airplay on BBC Introducing and placement on New Music Friday UK. It’s hard to get onto a Spotify Playlist, so much that when it happened I cried as it brought clarity to the fact that what I’m doing is right. I’m nervous for all the haters though because there will be haters.

Are you worried about the reception the unreleased tracks are going to get then? No, I think it’ll be okay. I think they make sense as they’re not really random – one of the songs is a bit more of a ballad, and it’s a lot slower, chilled, and relaxed. That might not be for someone, but I played it to a friend of a friend who is a heavy metal rocker, and he said that was his favourite!

Yeah, I have a favourite too – which is one that hasn’t been released yet and is contrasting to the rest. They’re all really beautiful tracks though. That’s really kind, thank you. So, with the EP I was thinking they could all be happy and upbeat, but I’ve been writing them for three to four years of my life and not everything can be happy and upbeat. One of the tracks that’s a lot more as more of a ballad and is actually about my best friend. She has been going through a really tricky time and that stood out more in the last couple of years. It was quite therapeutic for me to write the song with her in mind. There’s still a positive message – we can have these moments, but things usually get better – so I really wanted to write a song about that. We recorded it simply, with just keys and the vocals really close mic’d like Billie Eilish. When recording that you can hear everything she sings and I wanted that to be the case. There isn’t too much on my vocals, they are just really warm, and while I think a few people may feel it’s more ‘boring’ – because not everyone wants to hear a sad song – it’s not sad, it’s more mellow. Some people love that though.

I wrote the last track on the EP about three years ago, and never wanted to produce it fully. I really liked singing it to people and put a live session on YouTube for my dissertation. I don’t want to do anything to it, and I can’t imagine what else production can do to it, but people ask: “Where’s the produced version?” I don’t think anything else needs to be done as I wanted it to be raw, honest, and for you to experience the expression as well as how much it meant to me and how I was feeling at that moment. 

It can be very easy for artists to get hung up on what the reception will be can’t it, when it’s really important they go with what’s right for them. Exactly, and as I’m an independent artist, I don’t have people telling me what to do at the moment. It’s incredible because I can literally do whatever. I am trying as hard as I can to focus on what I want to write about and going down my own route. The artists that are out there at the moment are phenomenal and I’m obsessed with Little Simz. She doesn’t follow the rulebook, just releases whatever she wants and bosses it every time. She creates beautiful pieces of work and I would love to do that. I hope people will like the last two tracks, and I think because it’s two tracks there’s more to take in.

‘I’m trying as hard as I can to focus on what I want to write about and going down my own route.’

So obviously the closing track was written during your course, but over what period of time has the EP been written? So if we start from the last track that’s going to be on there, it’s been written across about two to three years because I’ve reworked a couple of things. I didn’t see it going into an EP though until I thought “Maybe I should actually release some of this as my own thing after university.” I set goals quite high, which is good, but I wasn’t going to do an album I just liked the idea of doing five tracks and making them interlink. I did think I should probably put a dance track on there, but if that’s not what’s right then don’t. I’m just starting out, Iearning so many new things, and making a ton of mistakes, so I just go with the flow and ride the wacky rollercoaster that’s music.

Yeah, it can be hard for independent artists to work out what to do when can’t it? Yeah, sometimes I’ll come into the studio to do something and it doesn’t really work out that way, you just try not to force it. It’s been very hard songwriting this year as I get inspired by things such as people, life, and positivity, but I’ve been lucky enough to be releasing which has kept me going. I was planning on releasing last summer, but we didn’t want to rush it so decided to start releasing from January onwards. It’s a summery, bright EP, so let’s lead into the summer when everything’s opened again.

So have you got any live performances planned for when things open again? I do. I’ve got an acoustic gig 24th June at Hoxton Underbelly (tickets available here) which will be amazing and I hope CIVIL will join me on Lovely. I’m excited and nervous because I feel like I’m going to be emotional. I haven’t performed for about 1½ – 2 years which is insane to me because that’s what I love doing most. I had a couple of opportunities last summer to do an outdoor gig but it didn’t work out. All artists are gagging for a slot, so they’re going to sometimes choose bigger artists over smaller ones. I’m so bad at talking in between songs though. I always make the same joke so it’s either speak and be cool or don’t talk at all. I think I’m going to ease into it. Also, before I started releasing the tracks from the EP no-one had heard it, so when it came out, everyone was like, “Oh, my God, it’s so exciting to hear your music” whereas if I’d been gigging I would have tried out on all the audiences because that’s how you get feedback.

Do you think that lack of instance feedback will change how you approach future releases? That’s a good question. I think I will showcase them because I think it’s really beneficial to get an audience reaction, and when you perform live you can realise that things don’t actually work or a lyric doesn’t quite make sense. One thing I won’t do – which I previously made the mistake of – is show a couple of friends before. I’m not going to show people unless they’re musical and have an opinion. That way it’s going to be good criticism.

Yeah, as a first set of songs they’re phenomenally strong, but for artist development, it’s good to reflect as well as stay true to what you’ve done to start with isn’t it? Thank you. I feel like I’m starting to find my sound, which is cool, but I also want to collaborate with other people and experiment with lots of different elements, lyrical ideas, and see where it goes. I’ve had a few producers DM me saying they would love to like work with me so I’m going through their tracks at the moment. Also, once me and CIVIL had released ‘Lovely’ wanted to get going again. He’s also releasing music so definitely go check that out. I think we’ll work together for a while which will be great, but obviously, we haven’t really been able to do anything yet, and Zoom studio sessions are just not the one. I just can’t connect with them and everything is so tough, whereas if you’re in a studio, you’re there, the energy is in the room, and everyone’s happy. I love working with artists so I’m excited about sitting down with other creators and seeing what happens. 

Thanks Lu Wright for chatting with Listen to Discover

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