California transplant and chanteuse Lana del Rey finds that life imitates art
Words by LESLEY McKENZIE
Photography by VICTOR DEMARCHELIER
Styling by ALISON EDMOND
Lana Del Rey has always been a California girl at heart. Even before she put down roots in Los Angeles, the New York native had an affinity for the West Coast way of life. “I’m very liberal and I always have been. I also really love the organic lifestyle and all the outdoor activities. I’m a real happy transplant,” says the singer-songwriter over the phone. She’s calling from Columbus, Ohio, one of the stops in her world tour, “LA to the Moon,” which kicked off in January in support of her latest LP, the Grammy-nominated Lust for Life.
“It’s where I have the most space to be creative and have time alone and have a lot of privacy—but at the same time, have a lot of amazing, artistic friends”
Del Rey made the move to L.A. in 2012, partly inspired by a greater migration of friends from the music world, including her longtime collaborator, producer and songwriter Dan Heath. She had spent the previous four years “looking for that community [of musicians] that I had heard was in New York when The Strokes and people like Adam Green of The Moldy Peaches were there. I just kind of hadn’t found it. I think a lot of people moved West.”
The music icon quickly discovered what she was looking for. “It’s where I have the most space to be creative and have time alone and have a lot of privacy—but at the same time, have a lot of amazing, artistic friends,” says Del Rey, who rose to fame with her 2011 hit single “Video Games.”
That streak continued with back-to-back studio albums, starting with her 2012 major-label debut Born to Die, which landed in the No. 2 spot on the Billboard 200 and never left the list. (It recently earned the distinction as one of only three albums by a female artist to spend 300 weeks on the chart.) Later that year, Del Rey released an EP, Paradise, which earned her a Grammy nod, as did the song “Young and Beautiful” on The Great Gatsby soundtrack. Ultraviolence, Del Rey’s first album to reach pole position on the U.S. charts, arrived in 2014, followed by 2015’s Honeymoon.
California has been a source of inspiration for Del Rey in the last few years, often from behind the wheel of her truck (“It’s brand-new, it’s not a nostalgic, 1950s pickup,” she quips. “I’m over my old-car obsession—I’m happy with Bluetooth”), driving along the Pacific Coast Highway. The tony San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, which was devastated in the winter mudslides, was always a favorite destination for Del Rey to recharge.
“I’d say the last two years have been relatively peaceful,” says Del Rey of her current frame of mind, which has since seeped into her work. “I think that’s kind of why my newer record has a little bit of a brighter tone to it, whereas before I was definitely working a lot and on the road 24/7,” she says. “I’m still traveling a lot but I had a lot more to work through a couple years ago, I guess.”
That shift in perspective shines through on ballads such as “Change,” the last song Del Rey wrote for the album, which addresses the fact that she was seeking change in her life but didn’t know how to go about it. “It was just more like a small bubbling of wanting to turn things around aesthetically in my art and personally as well. I really like the idea that life imitates art and I’ve noticed that in my own work. I knew that good things could follow if I put it out there that I was still trying to grow.”
Born Elizabeth “Lizzy” Woolridge Grant, Del Rey admits to being “one of those people who annoyingly was singing before they were talking,” she says. (“I’m that kind of singer—singing all my sentences. I still do.”) Growing up in Lake Placid, N.Y., Del Rey always knew music would be an important part of her life, but “I didn’t really think I could do it, and sort of have a real career.” After attending a boarding school in Connecticut, Del Rey graduated from Fordham University with a degree in philosophy—all the while chasing her dreams on New York’s nightlife circuit as Lizzy Grant, releasing her debut EP, Kill, Kill, in 2008.
But it wasn’t until she took on the enchanting stage name of Lana Del Rey, and honed in on her signature retro-glam image (think beehives, plumped-up lashes and winged eyeliner) that the artist began to rack up both musical accolades, and a cult-like following—not to mention more than a handful of infatuated fans. (During her Orlando tour date, police thwarted a kidnapping attempt by one.)
While Lust for Life doesn’t break free from Del Rey’s signature, melancholy-tinged songs, it charts new territory with songs such as “Coachella—Woodstock in My Mind,” which reflects on the current political climate. It’s also the first time Del Rey has featured collaborations with other artists on her albums, including The Weeknd, Sean Lennon and Stevie Nicks (the latter is featured on the ballad “Beautiful People Beautiful Problems”).
“I think I was too nervous to do it. I wasn’t sure what people would say. When I got Stevie Nicks to sing with me I wasn’t sure they’d think I was worthy of a Stevie collab, but she was so fabulous in person and she was a fan. So it kind of made me put my guard down a little bit.”
On days Del Rey is scheduled to perform, she does an entire run-through of the show with her band, before watching a performance by the likes of Whitney Houston or Ariana Grande. “It could be anybody but just something that I can sing along to, to warm up my entire range—to go from my lowest octave, like in ‘Ride,’ to my high Cs and Ds in a song like ‘When the World Was at War We Kept Dancing,’” she explains.
Part of her warm-up also includes a guided meditation for 1 hour and 40 minutes—the same length as her show. “I try and kind of balance out how much time I’m going to put out to sort of put that much time in. I mean, saying it out loud, the whole thing sounds kind of crazy, but I don’t think I would do it as much if I wasn’t doing arenas,” she says. “Now I’m going to sound so L.A.”
Standing before packed stadiums, Del Rey is surrounded by a set design that takes cues from her California surrounds, including an oceanscape from Big Sur, projected onto a screen. After all, Del Rey’s world has become her stage. Just take the opening lyric of “Lust for Life”: Climb up the H of the Hollywood sign…In these stolen moments, the world is mine.”
Hair by TEDDY CHARLES at The Wall Group.
Makeup by KATE LEE at The Wall Group using Chanel Palette Essentielle.
This story originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of C magazine.