“Feel the Burn: Q and A with LAVAGXRL”
If you find yourself kicking around Cambridge or Somerville and land in a moment when your ears catch a song in the wild that’s fresh yet familiar, chances are you may have stumbled across DC native and Boston transplant LAVAGXRL. LAVAGXRL’s signature form of airy synths and experimental vocals perfectly capture the dualities that we as humans have to blindly bounce between. From the meditative flow of “memory” to the more abrasive elements of, “BAD VIBES ONLY,” LAVAGXRL’s sound is a collision of dreamy into dark.
Boston Hassle: Tell me about yourself: how did you get started in music?
LAVAGXRL: hmm well I’m a sagittarius hehe. I’m from dc. always loved music. My mom teaches ballet and her dad played organ so she encouraged me to learn piano, i wanted to play guitar instead but taught myself later on. Didn’t ever think to make my own music til i was like 19, i started writing songs as a coping mechanism. but I always loved singing, I remember saying I wanted to be a pop star when I was like 5 yrs old. I remember trying to write lyrics as a kid and they were terrible lol so i didn’t really pursue that. I wanted to write fantasy novels or be a doctor. I found out I don’t have the patience for either of those things. i always loved music though, and poetry. i loved to sing from when i was a little kid, so I did choir at church and at school, and i was in an opera. I did plays and wanted to be an actor at one point, blah blah. I liked writing, thought maybe I could be a journalist for a while, or a biologist, or a therapist, or a fashion designer or an astronaut or a firefighter.
I had a big spiritual awakening a couple years ago, which kinda coincided with me starting this project, so the music has been a guide for sure. When I was really down bad depressed I recorded my first song ever kinda just as something to do, it was the only thing that seemed natural at that moment, playing with this one guitar riff and then messing around with looping and noisy effects, and stuff. I had found a language for things I was trying to express and understand within myself, and every time I dive deep into the songwriting/production process, I feel spirit there with me. Meditation and listening and creating are all closely related for me. I’m big on field recordings and found sounds, as well as working with analog synthesizers which is a very ritualistic and procedural process, it helps me to slow down and listen closely. Thoughts float away, and thats where the magic begins. I also have synesthesia, sound and color are linked in my brain, so all music has a visual component to it in my mind, so I think expressing myself through sound came really naturally from that too.
BH: How would you describe your esthetic?
LAVAGXRL: dark and experimental. romantic, dramatic. emo. restless. introspective, dreamy. futuristic, nostalgic, psychedelic. We got this autotune thing goin, this glitch and noisy element, slowcore inspired guitar riffs, emo songwriting, trappy 808s, analog synths. so all this together could add up tooo … ??? I heard people call it all kinds of stuff like goth r&b , dream pop, glitch, emo rap, hyper indie video game music beep boops?
BH: What excites you as an artist?
LAVAGXRL: Everything……..aaaaaaahhh. Plants, fungi animals. When I was little, I lived next to the woods and would always go for walks and commune with the trees when I needed some extra magic and reassurance. the intelligent design of our earth is endlessly awe inspiring. I’m always excited by people finding new ways to use gear or new « wrong « ways to play instruments or paint or make clothes..seeing people pushing boundaries of what’s possible to create is what makes me most proud to be a musician.
I think a lot about im/permanence. I feel like music is a chemical reaction. Music is a time-based medium so I like to think of the song as a physical process that does something to its environment. The material vibrations are a force. someone once told me everything you put out there has charge, so I want my music to come from a place of focused intention. Being in the midst of climate destruction and war and late capitalist chaos… existentialism is everyone’s problem. I have learned a lot from introspection and deep listening, basically tapping into my inner child, and its helped me embrace fluidity in all things. “Seek not the eternal in a world of changes”. I’m working on self acceptance and cultivating stillness and peace and the creative process is one space where that attitude is most productive. Let the sounds bubble up from the ether and pay attention, follow them.
Art is a place for dreams and architecture of alternate realities. It’s playful and scary and everything I love. I definitely do feel the intertwining of dimensions and potential timelines when I tap into that intuitive mode that switches on when I’m writing songs, anything feels within reach. Music has the power to make people feel seen, heard, held. I want to share that feeling of hope and recognition with anyone who’s searching for it
BH: What challenges you?
LAVAGXRL: having faith in myself
Yeah as you can hear in my songs I have issues lol. I have a hard time trusting myself. I second guess myself all the time. So this of course includes every aspect of my music, especially because its so personal and important to me.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the content that we are forced to consume. I do my best not to be compulsive about keeping up with the latest in music and art because there’s always gonna be the new thing u need to know about right now or else !!! But the trend cycles are so ridiculously fast its much more fulfilling to cultivate your own vision and explore your craft while keeping in mind you’re part of a long tradition that’s touched by forces we can’t completely understand. It’s a huge privilege to be able to make art, especially with a community, so staying grounded and remembering how to be grateful and respectful of one another and the planet throughout the process is key.
BH: Do you prefer to create music in collaboration with others or is it more of a personal process?
LAVAGXRL: I tend to work by myself because I like learning new skills and seeing the vision through each step of the way. Also lately because pandemic isolation, but its great to collaborate. All my experiences of co-writing songs have been really exciting.
It’s definitely personal especially in the early stages of songwriting. A lot of my lyrics come from stream of consciousness journal entries, so my songs definitely reflect dimensions of my mind I haven’t been able to express in other realms. Writing music just feels like the most natural way for me to express the wordless things. But bringing my personal alchemy in communion with other artists is always illuminating. Some things you just can’t do by yourself, collaboration is usually more than the sum of its parts
BH: Where do you draw your biggest inspiration(s) from?
LAVAGXRL: Natural ecosystems, math, tarot, astrology, poetry, quantum physics, other artists and revolutionaries… some guides include Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Assata Shakur, Angela Davis, Lucille Clifton, Kevin Everson, Saidya Hartman, Fred Hampton, Frantz Fanon, Sun Ra, Alice Coltrane, Essex Hemphill, Marlon Riggs, Esperanza Spalding, Vijay Iyer
- I’m attracted to all kinds of music. always liked pop and R&B and hip hop the most growing up, I was doing dance routines to Rhianna songs in my friends basement as a kid. It was lit. the teen angst hit later on and I got into punk and more alternative music and would go to lots of metal shows in high school. was definitely a warped tour kid lol
- Now, I listen to anything, usually hip hop or techno, house. I really love all kinds of dance music, I love metal and ambient (I had a noise/atmospheric/glitch project before I started rapping) and K-pop and drum n bass and blues and jazz…I’m a dj so finding music that’s new to me is so exciting, and finding ways to blend different genres into one mix is always a blast and pushes my creative boundaries for dreaming up my own songs.
- In my own sound, I have been most influenced by R&B, emo, jazz, trap, deep house and pop music
- Music that’s been important to me: Keyshia Cole, Alice Coltrane, Lil Wayne, My Chemical Romance, Mitski, Charli XCX, Bright Eyes, Lil Uzi, blackpink, Rico Nasty, Sophie, Deftones, Kanye, Juice WRLD, Lil Peep, Pop Smoke, Katie Dey, Skepta
BH: How is your music shaped by current cultural or political climates?
LAVAGXRL: Hard to avoid being shaped by current events. idk. I am always thinking about our revolutionary future and a lot of my music comes from a place of imagining a more peaceful world. I try and lean into “the politics of dreaming”, kind of like manifestation.
- I want to share my vision of a decarceral, more communal world without being super ham fisted. because music is so universal, anyone can understand it, but still so personal, and I don’t wanna tell anyone what they should get out of listening to my songs, because music is an offering. I feel like there is often a pressure for black artists to make their art explicitly political, but I’m of the mind that the personal is political, and music has subtle ways of speaking. even if the song doesn’t have lyrics, the vision permeates, encodes itself in the music.
- Yeah the world is so beautiful and disturbing it can be so hard. Environmental destruction, domination of natural ecosystems by just a few corporations and states, the policy of dealing with police violence by giving them more money… its all enough to radicalize you. I just wish everyone could unlearn hate and focus on the higher dimensional knowledge that lives within all of us. I wish people could prioritize respect for the earth. I think of the film Pom Poko where the Tanuki dedicate so much effort to defending their habitat against human development, but in the end there is just the weak gesture of charities and discussions about environmentalism. It makes me so sad. Capitalism kills.
- So much of our culture is built on extracting. squeeze all the money you can out of resources, monetize your hobbies, never stop hustling because the temple of capital waits for no one! So, to create something that’s not made to be profitable or productive can be a breath of fresh air compared to the way we’re conditioned to think on a daily basis. Art reveals unwritten rules and how to break them. and at its best, music can change the way you relate to the world, offer you comfort or inspiration or just acknowledge that shit hurts sometimes.
BH: When composing lyrics, do you find yourself circling back to common themes?
LAVAGXRL: (trigger warning) Depression and trauma and loss ahaha……. but yeah um I started writing lyrics as a way to cope with suicidal thoughts and self harm and I have written songs about breakups and other transitional life events. Not necessarily every song I write is meant for sharing with the world, some are just pure therapy or letters to people who aren’t around anymore. and some are just fun!! But I think I am much harder on myself when I’m writing happy lyrics. They mostly sound corny to me. The playful side of it comes out a lot more when I’m making beats, or just playing around with vocal melodies n guitar riffs.
I’m looking through my notes now, and a lot of the lyrical snippets are either depression thoughts or daydreaming about a world without prisons.
Songwriting can feel therapeutic and even sacred, and I do a lot of improvising so my lyrics can get spiritual and abstract sometimes.
But yeah in the past when I was struggling with mental health music was important to help me feel grounded. And songs that are sad can help you feel seen when your whole world is sadness. There is so much shame and stigma around trauma and mental illness so I hope anyone who relates to those themes in my music feels at least a little less alone in those feelings. You’re never alone in your emotions, and music is so tied to emotion
BH: The energy we hear in your tracks varies from meditative to wild and percussive. Can you tell us more about the flow?
LAVAGXRL: Well both energies have their purpose…self expression encompasses anger and melancholy and gratitude
hmm So, going through the first tracks I dropped, “spacedust” and “ghost” and “secrets,” those are all pretty introspective and I was doing a lot of reflecting during the time I wrote those. Same with “pyromaniac,” though that one is arguably the happiest song I have released that’s not a dance track. The tracks I released later on, “mcdonalds free wifi,” that one is also pretty emo and fuzzy. “storm chaser,” which I wrote at like the same time, that one is more hardcore, faster paced and angry. The other songs that ended up on the EP with those two, you have more experimental and industrial elements, like “canceled,” and you have that expressed in a more intimate and quiet way in warning. Then I feel like “prom queen” is kind of balanced between the external/internal. From the production side of it, I had that shoegaze dream pop ambient synth vibe influencing me, so that comes through in the instrumentation sometimes, but I always liked hardcore and noise so I appreciate found sounds, industrial samples. field recordings, weird song structures, short songs. I write all these confessional and personal tracks that are mostly bummers so I kind of have to have fun with it and keep a playful element to the practice. I had a lot of different sounds flowing out of me when working on the EP. There were a couple songs that didn’t make it, they felt a little half baked and I wanted some more time with them before deciding to drop. I wanted to lean into a mostly hip hop direction, but its hard to stick to one combination of sounds. I get bored easily. and I’m a dj so I love blending different sound textures together. The more surprising the better. That’s why producing can be a rabbit hole for me. I could keep making a song longer or weirder or glitchier and keep going forever. but finding that focus for the project, it was mostly in the lyrics. It sometimes feels like the songwriter side of me wants to make emo guitar ballads, the rapper/improviser side of me wants to make something more immediate, disruptive and chaotic and the producer side of me wants to make transcendent dance beats and ambient synth soundscapes. so its like a constant battle between these different modes of creativity. But a fun battle! They call it the rap game for a reason. You play music its not just work. That’s part of its magic, even a sad song can bring you a warm feeling. I can be prone to perfectionism and overthinking but my best creations come from taking chances in the moment, improvising and being intuitive. So sometimes I go into that mindset and come out with something really spacey and introspective, and other times I have some more spiky emotions that wan but to burst out of the ether. I have been working a lot on self acceptance, and so accepting whatever feelings want to surface during the creative process has been a big part of that journey.
- It’s just so silly because half the time I treat music as this super precious rare blessed thing, and other times, I’m like, ‘beep boop,’ its not that deep, we just jammin. It’s got that range, baby.
BH: Any upcoming projects?
LAVAGXRL: have an album, cult favorite, coming out this year. 13 tracks, very emo very synth heavy, I started writing some of these songs in 2019 so its been a while in the making, shape shifting along the way. I’m really excited to finally share it!
BH: What venues in the area are your regular haunts?
LAVAGXRL: I played The Jungle twice. I been at Democracy Center. Shoutout to all the house venues, they got a special place in my heart. I have played a lot of basements where I formed some of my fondest memories of the DIY scene. <3
I got to play at ONCE x boynton yards in the fall with Pink Navel and Rap Ferreira, which was great. I played a noise set at the bear cages once, which was fun.
BH: If you had to share one message to our readers, what would that be?
LAVAGXRL: You are perfect, you are made of infinite love, don’t be afraid to share it.