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Listen to "Conversations" below.
Really, the cover art seems like a perfect representation of the EP’s contents: it’s a bit humorous and a bit serious, bright with dark undertones. Laner’s blue stare both intimidating and inviting. It’s about contrasting emotions and striking imagery—blue acting as the “essential color of the hyper-emotional world,” she says, in which her music lives. And it’s a bright blue—a wading pool reflecting the big, cloudless Texas skies she saw for the first time on tour when she playing bass for Porches.
During performances, Laner always dons the blue contacts because, as she puts it, they allow her to “create a character and remove myself from the space,” subverting the audience’s expectations. By becoming a hyperbolic version of herself, by making a spectacle, she “sneaks you in” to the ultra-curated world she wants you to experience on your own.
This is True Blue. And after a couple of years spent touring under someone else’s name, Laner is ready to branch off on her own. But Edge Of, released earlier this year, is unlike most freshman releases. Finished in July 2017, it’s a sonic amalgam of past and future, varied influences and multiple genres. Honestly, it’s a sound I have never encountered before, and when I try to describe it as whimsical, Laner rejects the notion. She’s heard that description a few too many times—but doesn’t blame listeners for any of their reactions to, or relationship with, her music.
And of course, she’s right. While Edge Of is layered with ricocheting, twanging samples that evoke Ariel Pink’s Pom Pom or the production of Cole M.G.N, it manages not to be cartoonish or cutesy. It’s bass-driven, dark, sometimes intentionally saccharine; it’s Laner’s effort to establish her own brand—it’s a bit of world-making, just like the little world she created in her basement studio where she writes and records all of her songs. By covering the walls in satin and turning the closet into a private sound booth, Laner has built a space where she can go to really hone into the deeply personal, “empathic” world from which the EP sprung.
But Laner’s not too worried about how “clean” the early drafts of tracks come out, as long as they capture the feeling she needs to convey. And that feeling is only further embodied by her insanely inventive, imaginative lyrics: “Was it tears in his eyes/Or just a Visine lie,” she croons on standout track "Tell Me Texas."
I try to uncover the inspiration or meaning behind some of the songs, asking Laner pointed questions about specific phrases and rhymes. However, she tells me “There’s really no narrative, no story” written into the music. “Each song has its own world that it lives in,” she explains—a world usually built on some feeling that has consumed Laner’s thoughts. The lyrics may come to her as pure language, but are borne, all the same, of moments when Laner feels particularly empathetic. “I think I’ve always felt things a bit deeper than most,” she tells me. “I often feel extremely empathetic—I tap into people’s emotional state quite easily.”
While Laner has tons of experience performing live, she’s only been onstage as True Blue a handful of times. But that’s changing, as she’s recently been booked more and more across America, and even in the U.K., playing with acts like Girlpool, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Shamir. “I love to play with my onstage choreography,” she says, “and mess with the way that the audience sees me,” her experience as a visual artist always informing her stage choices.
Above all, though, “I just give something to the audience while also receiving something,” says Laner. Through her music, and performances, she wants to form a relationship with the listener so that something’s at stake besides her own career, or music, or ideas. For her, it has to be a dialogue if it’s going to be meaningful—which, clearly, it is.
'Edge Of' is out now.
office got the chance to chat with Styrke about her latest album and the endless ways to express passion in pop. Read our interview, below.
You grew up in Sweden. Could you tell me a bit about how that shaped your sound while growing up?
Well, I mean, I have basically always been singing. When I was a kid, I would spend hours and hours a day just singing because I loved it that much. One of the first artists that I found was Björke and I loved “Human Behavior.” I think I found it on YouTube and that was the first time where I was like, ‘Oh my god, I can listen to this and feel like I’m somewhere else.’ She changed my perception of music a lot in terms of production and how she manipulates sound. I feel like my whole childhood I was listening to this amazing pop music. On one hand I had Britney, Gwen Stefani, Madonna and Beyoncé; on the other hand, I listened to almost everything else, like Bob Dylan—he was one of the first artists I loved.
I feel like there was a lull between Madonna and Beyoncé when it comes to the pop world. What prompted you to choose pop in a time where it wasn’t widely conceived as great?
For me, it wasn’t like I chose it—it was almost like it chose me. Throughout the years I’ve been working on writing and making music and my relation to pop has grown only stronger. I’m falling more and more in love with it as a tool to communicate. It’s just a great way to be direct. With my music, I almost want to find a shortcut to people’s feelings and I think pop is just great for that. Maybe someone will only listen to my song once, or only hear the chorus, but they will feel it and know what it’s about, and I love that.
Absolutely. You just released Sway back in May. What’s one thing you learned about yourself while you were recording the album?
What I wanted to do with this album was completely strip it down. I wanted it to be realistic, while still being interesting. That turned out to be the biggest challenge with this whole project because when you remove stuff, everything that you leave matters even more. Every word counts because you can hear everything so clearly. It was the most difficult process and the most rewarding—it’s what made this experience so fun. I need to always challenge myself, that’s how I move forward. I think I’ve gotten to know myself better through writing this album because I put so much though behind each word like, ‘What do I really mean with this? What is it that I want to say and why do I want to say it?’
It’s one thing to go through the writing process, another to actually record an album and then something entirely different to go on tour and perform it for an audience. What has that transition been like for you?
Oh my god, this whole year has been so crazy. I feel like I’m pinching myself in the arm every night! It’s insane to me that I can sit in a tiny basement studio for one and a half years and just make things that are so personal to me and that I think is cool. Then I put it out, it reaches so many people and they’ve loved it. So, now I’m here. I’m midway through a headline tour in the U.S. So, I get to walk up on that stage every night to people screaming every word of every song back to me. That’s so mind blowing to me. It’s just the best feeling and I’m so grateful that people are loving the album and that it actually matters to others besides myself.
It’s such a personal album. What do you think is the most challenging song to perform?
I feel like all of these particular songs are the ones that, throughout my album, have been easiest to sing. The voice that I use on this album and that I found in the process of making this album, is the closest to my own speaking voice. I don’t have to push it when I sing the songs. I just have to walk up there and tell the stories the way I naturally would to one of my friends.
So, if you feel like you’ve almost reached the rawest form of yourself with this album, what’s next for you?
I don’t know yet. I’m going to start writing the next album in the beginning of next year, so that will be like a new chapter, and we’ll see if I have more digging to do. I’m actually super excited because I’m releasing a new song and I’m totally thrilled—I’ve been working on it for a while now, and I love it so much. I feel like it’s very much in the same world as Sway in that it’s the same person telling the story, but, in a way, it’s also like a fresh beginning. It’s a bit sadder, a bit more heartbreak, and I’m so excited for people to hear this one.
'Sway' is out now.
“I’ve always loved more sensual music,” said the artist, “and I feel as though ‘Stunnah’ is just that embodiment. It’s raw, it’s aggressive, yet still delicate.”
Between the slow-burning melody and the siren-like, passion-inducing pitch of the singer’s voice, office has been listening to the track all week. Though ONUR’s debut EP won't be out until early next year, we know it'll be the next best sexytime must-have—sorry Usher.
Listen to "Stunnah," below.
Photo courtesy of the artist.