21-year-old Rachel Lu (moniker: LVRA, pronounced loo-rah) was born in Edinburgh to Chinese parents. Her musical journey began as a teenager, writing angsty songs at the piano in her parents’ home. In her creations, LVRA braids an electro-pop/R&B base with traditional Chinese instruments and her soft but intoxicating vocals, and her music speaks to anyone navigating identity and relationships as a young adult, regardless of background. With the pandemic bringing about a spike in racist abuse towards Chinese students in the UK and beyond, her debut EP LVCID, released in June 2020, sought to “paint a positive image of Chinese culture in the wake of COVID-19,” as she put it in a press release. The EP encapsulates unexpectedly reciprocated love, thirst for adventure, and the difficult but worthwhile choice of prioritising your own happiness. The up-and-coming singer recently gave fans a first taste of her second EP, set for release this summer, with the vibrant new track ‘Dead’. The single marks a transformative moment in LVRA’s sound, the heavy bass foundation and unapologetically bold lyrics demonstrating the singer’s successful foray into the darker, more experimental corners of pop.
We caught up with LVRA for our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about her creative process and sources of inspiration, the struggles and rewards of self-production, memorable travel experiences, and more.
Hi LVRA, how have you been doing lately? Where are you currently based?
Hey! I’ve been doing pretty fine thanks, things are moving slowly but surely. I am literally just about to move from my family home in Edinburgh to London, so that should be fun.
Tell us a little bit about your background. Has your sense of national/cultural identity fluctuated over time?
Both my parents are Chinese and moved here before I was born, so I grew up in Edinburgh in a suburban area and the schools I went to were very white-dominated. It’s so funny that the question of identity has kept popping up throughout my life. I remember being like 8 years old in the playground and the kids would ask me whether or not I was Scottish or Chinese, being born here and all, and I used to say I was Scottish – because I thought, or wanted, to be like the other kids, I guess. And for the most part, I felt like I was like them. But it was leaving Edinburgh and moving on to university, growing closer to people with similar experiences to me, growing apart from others, that made me realise how naive my younger self was. I feel like through my music I can embrace the side of me I think I neglected for a long time.
You finished writing ‘Wall’ in China and have expressed that the natural beauty and generous locals you encountered there left you in a state of awe and wonder. Which places that you visited in the country left the strongest impression on you?
My favourite place on earth is Guilin, Guangxi Province, which is known for its beautiful karst mountains. I took footage there which ended up in the visualiser for ‘Wall’. We were riding through long and empty roads between these huge, green peaks that looked straight out of a movie. It was getting really dark and we stopped by a local family’s house and asked for water – they ended up inviting us in for a drink and food, and then guided us back down the mountain to the nearest town. They were so interested in our experiences because of their isolation from the rest of the world, and their kindness along with many others deeply affected me.
Wow, that sounds like a really special experience. You’ve mentioned you used to write songs at your parents’ house. Was there a specific moment you realised you wanted to share your pieces with wider audiences, or was it more of a gradual process?
I was always too scared, as a kid, to get up on stage and sing. It was producing that really unlocked my confidence to release music, and a positive reaction from a few things I released on Soundcloud led on to other things. I have a lot of individual people in my life to thank for that.
What artists have recently been on repeat and/or influencing your own music style?
I’ve been listening to a mixture of alt-pop and electronic music, lots of female artists and producers like Grimes, SOPHIE, Yaeji, Rina Sawayama, Park Hye Jin, FKA twigs. But I also like a lot heavier electronic breakbeat/techno/bass music – my playlist ‘east goes hard’ on Spotify is filled with some awesome eastern producers from the Chinese underground scene.
On a similar note, what’s an album you think is underrated?
Mura Masa’s first album, Soundtrack to a Death, is less well known than his bigger collaborations, but was really the first time I’d heard such strong east-Asian influences in Western music. Similar case with Flume’s self-titled debut studio album that came out in 2012. I grew up with those two albums, and I still listen to them regularly for production inspiration.
You’ve released several music videos to accompany your songs. Do you have a favourite?
It’s got to be the video we just released for ‘Dead’ – I felt like the video and song were meant for each other. Super happy with the result thanks to the amazing work of Oscar, who basically solo filmed and produced the whole thing, start to finish.
That’s lovely, the song and video for ‘Dead’ really do complement each other. I was hoping you could talk us through the creative process behind the new single. How did it all come together?
‘Dead’ began as a pretty experimental demo where I wanted to create heavier sounds whilst using traditional Chinese instruments – the main hook of the song – “off with his head – huh – dead” – kind of came first and then I built the rest of the song from there, adding that really meaty bass sound you hear in the chorus. The bridge was really the last part of the song that I added, because for a while I didn’t really know what direction to take it, but I really like the idea of taking on multiple personas and bringing different kinds of characters and voices into the mix, and so I ended up with something a bit messed up and creepy. This was heavily inspired by the theatrical nature of artists like Lady Gaga.
I also find the video for your live version of ‘u should be in love with me’ insanely beautiful. What was the atmosphere like on set?
Thank you! It was super chill – we recorded it in the back room of a big warehouse! It’s always fun to play around with the arrangement of songs for live versions.
How did it feel to release your debut EP LVCID? Was the process complicated and tiring or exhilarating – or maybe a mix?
Yeah, it was both to be honest. I recorded LVCID over the span of two years, so to finally have it out there was more a relief than anything. Because the EP was self-produced, it gave me a lot of freedom with creative decisions, but there was added pressure to create something that lived up to my own expectations. It was a shame that it ended up dropping during lockdown and I wasn’t able to perform it live, but I’m super happy with how it turned out and my growth as an artist and producer during the process of creating it.
You’ve described LVCID as “a documentation of the process of learning while navigating through those important young years of self-discovery; realising the mistakes you make, finding the people you trust, discovering what really makes you happy”. Do you feel the EP you’re working on now has a different vision and mission, or will that only become clear when everything’s wrapped up?
The upcoming EP is something pretty different, and whilst it definitely still documents a period in my life of self-discovery, it’s a whole new kind of energy. The production takes a lot more from my influences in electronic music and more experimental pop. This change is a reflection of my becoming a more confident person and artist, freeing myself of judgement from others and exploring the darker side of the human condition in my writing.
Thinking back to a time before lockdowns… Do you have a favourite venue you’ve performed in? What made it special?
I loved performing at the Bullingdon in Oxford, it’s just such a sick venue and I’ve had so many incredible nights there listening to some talented artists and DJs, so performing there felt great.
What are some live concerts you hope to see once the coronavirus crisis is over?
I really want to see Rina Sawayama and Lady Gaga whose tours were both postponed last year! But also would love to see Grimes do her thing.
Finally, do you have any tips for young musicians worried about getting started?
Show your music to people who are both supportive and helpful in giving pointers and constructive criticism. Reaching out and making contact with other musicians who are similar to you is also a great way of working out where exactly you want your sound to fit into what’s out there already. Also having a basic understanding of production is really helpful even if you are a writer. The earlier you start the better – it takes time to grow into your sound and develop your skills, so just go for it and don’t really give a shit about trying to make music the ‘right’ way, just make what makes you feel good!