Artist Spotlight: Lou Roy

    Lou Roy is a singer-songwriter who hails from the mountainous LA suburb of Topanga Canyon. Now 29, she’s delved into a wide range of musical styles since falling in love with music as a kid: she sang in a metal band in high school, got more into R&B as a college freshman, and gravitated to indie folk a few years later. (Even as the singer in a metal band, she never really stuck to the conventions of the genre – “genre” being a term she continues to have a natural aversion for.) She spent the second half of the 2010s recording and performing as Huxlee, but a bad experience in the music industry left her self-esteem at rock bottom. She ended up relaunching her project in 2019 under the Lou Roy moniker – a combination of her parents’ middle names – and eventually released a promising EP, Your Friend,, in 2019.

    Lou Roy’s sound has evolved significantly since then, but it’s the newfound confidence brimming through her debut album, Pure Chaos, out Friday via Balloon Machine, that really stands out. It’s not that her life has stopped being chaotic, but the way that she channels that chaos – first by addressing traumatic experiences and strained relationships, then learning to have a sense of humour about it all – is something altogether new: “Chaos reigns, all is permitted,” she sings on the opening track ‘Valkyrie’. It’s that kind of creative freedom that runs through what is not only a vibrant debut, but one of the most uniquely striking indie albums of the year so far. Co-produced by Sarah Tudzin of illuminati hotties, the record juggles gentle and dynamic sounds in a way that almost magically suits the vibe of the songs – many of which also followed an unexpected journey – while centering on Roy’s powerful voice. Whether she’s being uncompromisingly honest or simply playful, the result feels like something of a triumph.

    We caught up with Lou Roy for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about her musical journey, working with Sarah Tudzin, embracing chaos, and more.

    When do you remember falling in love with music?

    It’s such a lame answer, but I was a toddler and I was singing along to Disney movies. It was singing, first, that made me over the top thrilled with joy and excitement. My first album that I ever truly loved was Spirit by Jewel, and I sang the songs in the talent show in kindergarten. Disney movies, Jewel, super young age, just totally enthralled, totally addicted. And then when I started studying music seriously in middle school and high school, the more I learned about it and my taste changed away from vocalist music. It’s like when you get to fifth grade and you’re like, “Ever heard of The Beatles?” [laughs] It was a whole journey to really discover music past being a singer.

    When you look back, what would you say you were like as a teenager? What role did music play in your life at the time?

    As a teenager, I was so emo. And so, I don’t know, idolizing of counterculture, I hated pop music. But to be fair, pop music in like 2006 to 2011 was not very good, and I stand by that. But I was on a high horse about genre and taste, you know, being like, “Ugh, you’ve never heard of Elliott Smith?” I was kind of a snob as a teenager about music. And I say that with love and empathy, I was a struggling depressed teenager and I didn’t know what the fuck was going on. And all I know is that music made me feel like I had a sense of myself and I was carving out a personality with a soundtrack, and the soundtrack was so important.

    I was in a metal band when I was a teenager, also. I was in a metal band with four of my friends. But I wasn’t like screaming or singing in a way that was typical for metal bands, I was singing my R&B-style bullshit over like progressive metal, so it was a chaotic band. But I was loving metal and getting into the deeper corners of music and discovering more and more music as a teenager, while being bummed out all the time. Being a teenager is hard, and I imagine right now it’s probably even harder.

    In a way, that chaos has kind of persisted in your music. It might not be metal, but it’s chaotic in its own way. When did you start writing your own songs?

    I guess in a serious way, I started writing my own songs when I got to college. I was 18. I went to music school, everyone around me was starting an artist project, and I hopped on the bandwagon. I was like, “Yeah, I can do that too. I want to do that too.” My early songs are wild, but you have to write the bad ones in order to get to the better ones. People say that it takes a long time to discover what you sound like, and that was super true for me. I think for a long time I was imitating writing styles or different artists and not really feeling comfortable because I hadn’t established my style or my preferences of what I wanted to say or how I wanted to say it. It took a long time, but here we are.

    I know you had a project before called Huxlee. Do you mind talking about what you learned from doing that and your time in the industry up until now?

    Yeah. I’m so grateful for all of the stuff I did as Huxlee, I learned so much stuff. One of the main takeaways from that is, the people that I was playing with in my band – actually, I don’t think I want to talk about the band members. I do want to talk about the industry though, and boy oh boy. So, I put out some music that did kind of well, it went a bit viral and I got some attention from some people. I was signed to an imprint of Sony, and I was like, “Cool, I was thinking I want to change my name.” And they’re like, “We were gonna tell you to change your name anyways, so great.” I fired my manager that I was working with after I signed, and then the label said that we don’t want to put out your EP until you find a new manager. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t find a new manager. I didn’t have any music out as Lou Roy and I had already been signed, so there was no money that they would see right away. So it was hard to pitch and I didn’t end up finding somebody. It took Sony almost a year to begrudgingly put out that EP, and then when it did come out, I had to pay for my own PR, which is cuckoo bananas.

    So I learned that, first of all, when you have a team around you, you have to follow up as the artist with every single person on that team. Even if there are – like, God bless Paddy [Kinsella, manager and publicist], who is the most wonderful, I love him so much. But my career is not up to Paddy, it’s up to me. I am the engine for this whole thing, and it is deeply my responsibility to stay connected with everybody and make sure that the team moves as one whole, and that’s on me.

    You know, I will talk about the band members for a second. It’s so important to have a band that is loving and kind and supportive and excited. And I feel that the bass player and the drummer that I play with now are just these angelic, incredible humans that I feel really, really lucky to play with. And I just hadn’t really had that experience previously with other bands.

    Also, in the creative process, in the making of music as Huxlee, there were so many people involved that I’m not sure I was comfortable for such a long time making that music. And it made me sort of freaked out to get into the studio to make more music because I just wasn’t comfortable. But after that, I decided to make my album with Sarah who’s my friend, and she also happens to be one of the most talented people alive. But mostly, I just love spending time with Sarah and I can be vulnerable with her and I can be silly with her and she’s always matching my energy. I know that she has my best interests at heart all the time. So I’ve learned to surround myself with the right people for me, and not the people who are pitched as the big fancy music industry people.

    I hope we can talk more about your collaborators on this album, but just for context, do you feel that the previous project had ended and you started something else, or was Lou Roy sort of born from Huxlee?

    No, I do feel that it had ended. I felt like what I was writing didn’t really fit in the Huxlee world. I wasn’t resonating with the with the artist name, it just didn’t feel right to me anymore. My name is Lou – that’s not my government-issued name, but everyone in my life calls me Lou now. So it wasn’t just an artist’s name change, it was also a personal name change.

    Can you talk about the significance of your name change? I know the moniker is also a combination of your parents’ middle names.

    Exactly, yeah. It’s a combination of my parents’ middle names. I wanted to honour my parents because they chose my government name, but it just didn’t work for me. It never worked for me my whole life. Every time I would introduce myself to people, I would kind of say my own name wrong? [laughs] I always had nicknames growing up through different phases of my life, almost no one called me my government name. Now it’s just very natural, I feel very calm about it. I imagine most people feel that way about their name, like this is not a big deal, but it kind of was a big deal for me to not feel like I suited my own name. But I wanted to still involve my parents in the process of naming me. And it just so happened that both of their middle names, I was like, “Yeah, these are fucking cool.”

    From what I understand, the song ‘If We Were Strangers’ is a reflection of your relationship with your parents?

    Yeah, with my mom.

    Did you have any reservations about releasing the song on this album?

    Yeah, definitely. But my mom, she’s an artist, and she’s very emotionally intelligent. I’m not sure that she’s going to dive into the lyrics in a big way, I don’t know if she really does that. So, in a way, I’m kind of gonna get away with it and she’s not really gonna know. [laughs] I remember playing the album for her in the car and I was like, “Oh god, we’re gonna have to have a talk about this.” Not that it’s even like a scalding hot take or anything, not that it’s punitive about our relationship, it’s just acknowledging that it gets complicated. And I guess it can be painful to talk about that with people and acknowledge the reality of a relationship. We only ever do that like once every year or something, get that real with each other. But most of the time, we’re just trying to have fun with each other. Because I’m an adult, she’s an adult, and our relationship at this point is kind of more of a friendship. I just want to have fun with her, as much fun as we can have right now. So I’m glad that that song exists so I can get that out and talk about it with somebody – myself, whatever. But we’ll see. Maybe she will pick up on the lyrics and maybe we’ll have a different conversation, you and I.

    What was it like listening to the album together?

    Stressful. [laughs] Because she also historically doesn’t really rock with my music all the time. And there’s always this part of me that’s wanting to please the parents, so it can be sort of like, “Do you like it? Do you love me?” [laughs] And then when she doesn’t respond with “Oh my god, wow, this is incredible,” it can be sort of like, “Ow.” We were also in the car on the way back from going to a botanical garden, and it was hot and she was tired. But ultimately it was sweet and every now and again she would turn to me and kind of go like, “That’s cool.” And I’d be like, “Yeah, it is, thank you!”

    The album title, Pure Chaos, is inspired in part by your admiration for Las Vegas. Could you talk about other places or things that make you appreciate chaos?

    Yes. I’m sorry, my dog is woofing at me right now. My dog has cancer and he’s being all crazy right now. I think he’s pretty uncomfortable. Hey, what’s up? You okay? You okay over there? I’m sorry. He’s like… [laughs] You know, it’s hard to say sometimes. You know what, this is a chaotic moment right now, and I’m choosing to just be transparent about it. I could talk about probably a lot of things, but I guess I’m gonna talk about this. [turns camera] This is Tillman  – there he is. He is precious and he is so wonderful. To be honest, it’s been so wild to care for him when he’s this sick and I don’t know how to help him a lot of times.

    And it’s chaotic for me to be this vulnerable with you, Konstantinos, who I’ve never met, but I think that that’s also kind of an element of the album, is just saying exactly, very plainly what I mean. Like the ‘Uppercut’ verses that are very colloquial, like “Nothing better than a late night Fred’s With Mads, Sarah, Brian & Ren,” that’s so specific. And it’s exactly what I mean and I wasn’t sure if anyone would relate to it, but there is chaos in radical honesty. And in every moment, not necessarily performing, and in this interview right now, not necessarily giving you my most artistic, poetic answer for this question. [laughs] Honestly, can you repeat it? It was what other places…

    Or things, yeah, but you don’t need to come up with a different response. I think that’s incredibly honest and real.

    Yeah. Let’s just go with radical honesty as an idea, as a school of thought. It’s not comfortable all the time. And it’s not expected all the time. That’s chaotic.

    What you said about it representing the album as a whole – you do deal with trauma on this record, but the way you approach it is often lighthearted and playful. Was that balance something that you set out to achieve, or did it naturally come out of the recording process?

    I don’t think I went into it intentionally like that, I just think the way that I was writing about the trauma, the way that I wanted to talk to myself about it, was not with despair. I didn’t want to have these conversations with myself about the trauma in a way that was like, “This is so sad, and it ends here.” I wanted to get to a point where it’s like, “This is so sad. Now, what do we do?” But it was important for me to acknowledge the “This is so sad” part, because I think previously, I hadn’t really even taken a moment to grieve and understand the trauma fully. But I’m also a very action-based person and I don’t really sit still. So, acknowledging the trauma and giving it its moment of attention, that was important. But the way that I was writing about it, it didn’t end there. I always make it into a joke because it’s easier for me to process – acknowledge it in full, but then also kind of wink at it and make it a joke. Because that gives me my power again. If I can make fun of it a little bit and just be silly, it empowers me and it makes it easier to deal with and grapple with.

    You alluded to it before, but working with Sara Tudzin was maybe a way of embracing that as well. How do you feel the songs transformed as a result of your collaboration as well as your friendship?

    I remember bringing a bunch of songs to Sarah, and she was really enthusiastic and really excited about them. Right off the bat, we made a big chart on a huge piece of paper with all the songs and all the instrumentation that we wanted to do for each song. And that is so helpful to me because I’m not a very organized person in that way when it comes to music-making. And she is. She is extremely organized, but she’s also highly creative and innovative. Her organizational skills and ability to be a producer in that way was really crucial for getting things done. She’s also such a smart songwriter and she’s a great editor, so I remember there was a couple of things, changing a lyric here and there, changing the form here and there, making ‘Dream’ longer – ‘Dream’ used to be like a minute and a half long, and she was like, “No, you’re doing more.” And she was absolutely correct on that.

    She was just always there to match my energy and enable the best parts of me. [squeaking sound] Tillman is squeaking his little toy. And she was there to push me and comfort me. Since we’re close friends, she just understood my mannerisms and I didn’t feel like I had to explain myself all the time or justify what I was saying or feeling or thinking. She would always accept, embrace, and get what we needed to get. With ‘Uppercut’ specifically, I brought her that song when it was just a bass riff. And she took that to a whole new level. She programmed drums right away and gave it this powerful feeling. It’s like a rock song, and I hadn’t made a rock song, maybe ever, actually. And she just instinctively got to work right away on it and made it into this super powerful thing. I’m always impressed and I’m always excited about what her instincts are. And she’s such an angel. She’s such a blessing. She’s so funny. She’s like an extremely kind and gentle Bart Simpson.

    There are quite a few musicians who contribute to the album, but I wanted to mention Sam Gendel’s saxophone and Ryan Reeson’s string arrangements, which add an especially unique character when they appear. Do you feel that they enhanced the vibe of the songs in any specific way?

    Oh, absolutely. I think especially on ‘Bull Ride’, the combination of Gendel and Ryan Reeson, that elevates that song for me so much. On ‘Bull Ride’, it kind of took on an Elliott Smith character with the string arrangements. And I think Sam Gendel’s choices – to me, his saxophone playing is very lyrical. It’s like, I don’t know what he’s saying, but I know he’s saying something. It just felt like he was contributing lyrically to that song and filling in the gaps in between the vocal with some new elements of storytelling. And again, I don’t know what he’s saying, but there’s something about it that was just exactly correct, as if it was just another lyric. And obviously, Sam Gendel is such a massive talent and a very creative composer. I sent Sam five songs or something, and he sent me back five songs. And this was all his first take. I didn’t need anything else from him. He sent it back and I was like, “Yeah, that’ll do it. Thanks, brother!” [laughs] I obviously edited and pulled what we wanted from what he sent, but this was his first try. And he really nailed it.

    That’s incredible. I agree that it’s almost lyrical, and it feels so alive, too. Tell me about the percussion on ‘Big Anvil’ – it sounds like something that came together very organically.

    It was so sweet. That’s one of my favourite memories from recording the album. We were at Studio 64 in LA, in Highland Park. And I think it was one of the last things we did. Playing percussion on that track is myself, Sarah, Sam Wilkes, who also played bass on the record, and Eric Radloff, who also did keys, background vocals, and then we had Kyle Crane, our drummer, sitting at the kit. We were all in the live room, and each of us had our own little station, we had a music stand with a bunch of percussion instruments on it. We just had the click track in our ears, and we knew we wanted to do this shuffly sort of beat. I played too mini Snickers bars rubbed together into the microphone. [laughs] The wrapper sound was awesome, so I just did that the whole time. Sarah had a guiro, there’s like pieces of wood. We had the studio owner jump on some plywood outside, and that’s a sample in there. Everybody had their own little world and they could dip into different instruments. It was so fun. That was such a fun day. And it’s not looped or anything, it goes the whole way through.

    And then the vocals, also, that’s some of my closest friends doing background vocals on that song. We got Ren Farren, Maddie Ross, and Jayme Satery. I mean, that song is just celebrating friendship, and I was so happy that the production reflected the character of the songwriting in that way.

    Even though it’s kind of a fleeting moment on the album, at least in terms of track length, when you sing “Endless hope for the future,” it does feel like something you can latch onto, almost, this endless feeling. You can take a moment to think about this if you’d like, but what’s something that recently made you feel hopeful, even if only for a brief moment?

    [pauses] Okay. There are two answers. The first is a moment on tour with Muna. I got to do a tour opening for them in January, early February. And honestly, every second of that tour was very life-affirming and made me feel like, “Wow, I’m finally on the correct path. Everything about these days feels correct, and I’m so excited to wake up and fulfill my duty for this day.” But there was a moment in New Jersey – on tour we were covering ‘I’m With You’ by Avril Levine, and the Muna fans loved that. That was always their favourite part and it was so awesome, everybody would sing along. It was a huge room of people, and somebody held upon on their phone [laughs] – somebody held up on their phone a flashing sign that said, “Do you think Avril Lavigne is dead?” Do you know about that? It’s like a conspiracy theory that Avril Lavigne died and they replaced her with a twin or something. But somebody held that up and they’re singing along, and I just was just like, “Dude, this is awesome!” That’s so funny that someone would hold that up at the show in the middle of the song. And I started laughing, and it’s like, “Oh god, I gotta keep going here.” But I just felt like I was with my community. I was meeting people in the world out there that thought and felt the same way that I did. And I just felt incredibly hopeful. Like, “Oh man, there’s people out there that rock with me and I’m gonna rock with them too.” I felt so seen and not lonely at all.

    And then the second moment is… a little sad, but also, it’s cool. My mom is moving out of my childhood home this week, after almost 40 years of being there. And we were going through a lot of stuff to get rid of or keep or whatever. She has a piano, it’s a beautiful Yamaha Grand Piano. And both of us are expressing sadness about having to leave the house and what the next step is, but last week we played the piano together and sang some Joni Mitchell together. And that made me feel hopeful in this kind of horrible moment of like, “Wow, it really sucks that you have to leave, it really sucks that we’re not going to be able to hang out at our house anymore. But we still have this bond, this unshakable bond that moves forward with us even when other things stay behind.”

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    Lou Roy’s Pure Chaos is out April 29 via Balloon Machine.

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