Make It Music: Laurel
Reading Time: 8 minutes
When we first meet singer-songwriter Laurel, she’s sat in the studio full of cold and struggling to speak. We’re wondering how her voice will fare throughout the day; until she mentions the gig she’s playing that evening. Nevertheless, when she gets behind the mic, her singing still manages to echo through the room faultlessly, and it’s clear to see how determination has driven her success.
Laurel Arnell-Cullen is the perfect example of how an Internet sensation can grow to take the world by storm. Whilst growing up near Portsmouth, she began uploading her music online at the age of 14.
Within three years, Laurel was receiving rave reviews online, which led to signing her first record deal with Turn First Records in mid-2013. Then came the release of her debut single ‘Fire Breather’, which to this day has amassed over 500,000 views on YouTube.
Since then, the solo artist’s unique alt-pop sound has been critically acclaimed, earning her a place as Apple Music’s Artist of the Week as well as support from the likes of Radio 1 & 6 Music.
Laurel also played her first headline tour last year, after announcing she’d signed to independent label Counter Records to release her ‘Park’ EP. Not bad considering the 23-year-old still writes, records and mixes her music from her bedroom in London.
For her Make it Music session, Laurel has recorded a rendition of her tracks ‘Life Worth Living’ and ‘Too Far’.
Make It Music was lucky enough to catch up with Laurel after her session at Metropolis Studios. Here’s what she had to say for herself:
Talk to us about your musical journey. Blogs started to pick up on your music in 2013 – what’s happened between then and now?
Well, I started making music when I was pretty young. At around 14, I started putting stuff online and then when I was 17 some blogs picked it up. I was lucky enough to move to London and started pursuing music full time as a job, which was great. Since then it’s been a journey, it’s completely changed from when I first started to now. The music is very different as I guess I’ve just kind of grown up with it the whole time.
Do you feel like the Internet played an important role in helping you get discovered?
Yeah definitely, 100%. That’s kind of the only reason I’m doing this, because I was able to make music at home and then put it on the Internet. Otherwise I was in a small village in Portsmouth – there’s no way I would’ve been in front of anyone if it weren’t for the Internet.
What was it like coming from a small area to London?
It was pretty mad. I remember when I got to London – I’d just turned 18. I had this realization of ‘how do I make friends?’. I’d never been in a situation where I didn’t know anybody at all in a big city. For the first half a year it took a really big adjustment – I used to go home every weekend because I got really homesick. It was really exciting but kind of mental at the same time.
You write your songs yourself so did experience give you more content to write about?
To be honest it did, but purely because I had nothing else to do but hang out on my own. So I just used to stay in every night and every weekend writing music – such a loser!
So how did you start to make friends?
It’s just kind of classic isn’t it, you meet one person, then you meet their friends, and before you know it you’ve met a bunch of people. I mean before, I’d been in school, college or [known people] from when I was a child. Also I’d moved in my job, and my job was being surrounded by people that were a lot older than me – nobody wanted to hang out with me because I was like 18. But you know, I’m here now!
Are you classically trained? As we know all your social media accounts are called classic Laurel?
Yeah I am classically trained but I didn’t write it for that reason. I did learn to sing classically from when I was a kid. My mum kind of forced me to do the choir – even though I hated it, I’m really glad she did! ‘Classic Laurel’ has nothing to do with that, its more about me being really clumsy and I do a lot of stupid stuff. My friends always say ‘classic Laurel’, so I changed it as a joke one day. It just stuck!
Talk to us about your debut album.
I’m doing the debut album at the moment. It’s very close to being finished, but I’m trying to finish off a few things here and there to make sure it’s the kind of vision that I was going for – but it still doesn’t have a name. So if you think of a name, let me know!
So you work out of your bedroom which is your studio as well – what’s it like having the same space to sleep and work in?
I mean, it’s not ideal, but you kind of just get on with it. I’ve always really liked it, working in the same space that I live in because it’s just quite a natural environment to work in, but I’m thinking about changing it up now, as I get distracted by my fridge and everything in my house. So yeah, maybe time for a change.
Do you feel more comfortable working in your studio at home?
Yeah, definitely. I wake up, have my breakfast, chill out, do bits and bobs and then slowly start working. I live on the canal as well, so I can sit outside and have a coffee; it’s a really nice way of working. I guess that’s why I’ve done it for so long and it’s really cheap, as well!
As a writer, there must be times when you have writer’s block; how do you overcome that?
I had my first writer’s block last week. It only lasted for a week so I’m really lucky, because I know some people get it for years, but it was horrible. It was like every time I sat down to write, I could write, but I hated everything that I made. It was horrible. Honestly, frustration is one of the worse emotions to feel, I think. It doesn’t even then give you something to write about. All you want is to write, and the frustration makes you want to write more, but everything you write you hate – it’s this ongoing craziness where you want to write more and more… as you can tell, it sends you crazy!
So what can we expect from the album?
A lot of feelings. It’s pretty emotional! I guess a lot of beachy guitars, big drums, some vocals – it’s basically just a big album of love songs. That’s all I seem to be able to write about!
Does it draw from experience and situations you’ve been in?
Yeah, I think everything I write is pretty true, which is sometimes frustrating for other people. It’s like a diary entry, so you know how I’m feeling.
Has anyone like an ex ever said ‘hey, you can’t put that in a song’?
Nobody’s ever said that I can’t, but I have had to make confessions to put forward to people before songs come out just as like a heads up of ‘I’ve put this in the song, its about you, everyone knows its about you’ – so just a 5 minute warning!
Any bad reactions to it?
No, not yet I guess – I’d love it if someone wrote a song about me, id be chuffed!
So you play the guitar – do you have names for any of your instruments?
All my instruments are named. This guitar I’m playing today is my favourite one, it’s called Augustine Valentine. I love it. I was watching a golf documentary and the kid was a 7-year-old golfer and his name was Augustine Valery or something, I thought it was amazing and then one day I said it wrong, so it became Valentine and it’s just sick, I love it! My other guitar is called Nettle, I’ve got one called Posephony, and my piano is called Pepper.
You tour and travel a lot in different places – how important is touring to your music?
It’s good – its really important and its really fun. I always get ill when I go on tour. It’s ridiculous, I don’t know what happens! I always get the flu, I’m so over it! It’s hard work touring but its really nice. When you get to the last few dates of the tour it’s such a good feeling seeing people singing your music back and then I go back to the studio after with a really good feeling about the stuff I’m making. It gives you some feedback, you can play new music at a gig and see people’s reactions, its like a free focus-group –well, actually it’s the opposite – like being paid to do a focus group!
Your music is described as alternative pop or indie pop on blogs – how would you describe it?
This is the question I always get stuck on. I have no idea. I guess it is indie pop music. Someone once said to me it was sad-girl indie, which I thought was quite relevant! When I tell people I’m a musician they always ask what kind of music I play and I just don’t have any idea. I probably hear it differently from everyone else because I’ve made it.
Who inspires you musically?
I used to be inspired by Florence and The Machine. Now I like bands more like Mac De Marco, Beach House, Talking Heads, Fleetwood Mac and those kind of classics. A lot more indie bands really than solo female acts, which is what I used to be more inspired by.
Looking towards the future – when is the album due out?
The end of the year is the aim. That’s my goal and that’s what I’ll be doing for the next couple of months. There’s so much work to do! I’m hoping to release a new song soon. It’s about time for another song, so I’ll be making videos for that and stuff. Festivals too – there’s loads of stuff coming up this year!
How do you stay motivated and relevant? Does the Internet make you feel pressured to release stuff?
I was thinking about this the other day. People keep messaging me saying ‘when is your album coming out?’. Someone wrote a really nasty comment about ‘by the time I release my album we’ll all be dead’ or something. I thought ‘you go and sit and write an album and tell me how hard it is!’ But no, it’s good, it’s good to see people wanting it, but there’s a really big pressure to keep putting out more and more content online because that’s just kind of the vibe right now. Though I quite like it, because it means you don’t have to focus so heavily on the next song that you release being the biggest song you’ve ever written, you know? It gives a bit more freedom to kind of explore, and my whole career so far has been an exploration. Everything has sounded very different so far, which I quite like.
If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
Woah. I’d love to be a bird. Like an Eagle, because I definitely want to be top of the food chain! I’ve always wanted to fly. I used to look out of the windows at school and wish I was a bird and get sad that I’d never grow up to be one.
Flying again, as I’d love to fly. But if I had to choose another, I think being invisible would be quite fun as I can be quite nosey, so it would be fun to know everyone’s business and them not know that you knew! I need to recreate ‘I’m Like a Bird’ by Nelly Furtado.
Most used Emoji?
I like the one with the hand on the face that’s looking like ‘hmmmm’ because you can put it on anything to make it really awkward!