Interview: Au/Ra Talks “Stay Happy” & US Tour Dates
At the tender age of 17, Au/Ra has already released a well-received EP (two, if you count Outsiders) and landed a worldwide hit courtesy of a feature on Alan Walker’s “Darkside.” But the Ibiza-born, Antigua-raised pop star is still only getting started. She has rolled out four new songs in 2019, each more irresistible and multi-faceted than the other. Not only that, but the talented teen has carved out a distinct visual niche with her anime-inspired artwork and striking videos.
I recently had a chat with the breakout star about her latest single, “Stay Happy,” and she explained that it’s about being stuck between happy and sad. A place where you don’t really feel anything. Au/Ra also talked about her love of Japanese art and the importance of visuals to her artist project. Other topics of conversation included her upcoming live performances in Los Angeles on the 23rd and 27th of September (get tickets here) as well as her inclusion in the TwitchCon lineup. Get to know Au/Ra a little better in our Q&A below.
You said that “Stay Happy” is about feeling neutral, not happy or sad. Can you elaborate on that?
I feel like we all put too much pressure on ourselves to constantly feel like we’re in a good mood, and just put up that very happy exterior. Although I definitely still do that, it’s hard to identify how you feel on the inside sometimes. I realized while I was doing that, I would come back to my room and feel very neutral. Which is such a strange feeling, because you feel like you’re stuck there. As with everything in life, it’s temporary. It really helps just being able to talk about it and write about it in my music.
I try to bring myself out of that in-between state by talking to my friends, eating healthy food, and trying to concentrate on the good things. I think it’s a common feeling when you’re growing up. It can be very confusing. There’s so many changes happening and it’s just something that I’ve gone through.
So, did you find a shortcut to stay happy?
Did I find a shortcut? Yes, the formula is… [Laughs]. Honestly, I really don’t know, and I’ve kind of accepted the fact that I don’t know. There isn’t a formula for happiness. There are so many things in your life that determine whether you’re happy or not. Ultimately, a lot of it depends on you. You could be living a really hard life and still manage to be optimistic. There’s some incredibly strong people out there, but at the same time, everybody processes things differently. You never know what somebody is going through.
How did you develop such a mature outlook?
Thank you. I really don’t know, to be honest. I grew up in a very open household, where we really were able to explore, release and all that. I was also raised on an island. Maybe that had to do with seeing things differently. I’m not really sure. It’s something that people tell me quite a lot that I seem very mature for my age. I’m not really sure how to respond to that ever.
It’s interesting that you mentioned growing up on an island. I always associate that with a sunny, happy outlook, but there’s a little darkness in your music.
A lot of people expect me to make reggae music when I say I’m from the Caribbean. It’s weird that I’ve gone in a completely different direction. People on the island know about me, but they don’t really listen to my music that much. It’s not really what you listen to here. Anyways, every place has its ups and downs and growing up in such a small community and knowing everyone, creates an unusual dynamic. There are also the typical hardships that you go through on an island, such as lack of resources and hurricanes.
It’s not all sunny. I feel like tourists in the Caribbean or the Mediterranean, they don’t really see what it’s like when you live there. When I say that I lived there, they’re like, “It must be like paradise,” and of course, it is. It’s such a beautiful place. I’m so lucky to have grown up there, but there’s definitely also a darker side to it. You witness things that you might not witness if you were growing up in a western country.
Your visuals are so striking. Have you already filmed a video for “Stay Happy”?
Yes, I have actually. I filmed it like a week and a half ago. The video for “Stay Happy” is definitely very different from my other videos. It’s a bit more stylized, but in a quirky way. It’s basically me exploring different, stereotypical ways of to try to make myself feel happy. Whereas, you see through the setups, that I’m sabotaging myself the entire time.
Is the visual aspect as important to you as the music?
Oh my gosh, yes. I am very much a control freak when it comes to the creative and visual side of the project. It’s something that definitely develops, while I’m writing, which is really convenient. Sometimes it doesn’t develop that way and sometimes I have to get in the room with the director and come up with something. It happens differently every single time. But I always have to be involved in it. I love making the videos. It’s probably my second favorite thing to do, next to songwriting — just to develop and create those characters.
I also really love your cover art, which seems inspired by manga and anime.
It’s definitely something that I’ve been inspired by. Just anime art in general. I think at the very beginning, I always knew that I wanted to have illustrated art and actually, I haven’t had a single cover art that hasn’t been illustrated.
It’s your trademark.
Yes, exactly! I’ve really been trying to keep that because I love illustration. I think it’s really fun to work with different illustrators as well. You can use so much more of your imagination, I find, when you’re illustrating, because you just step into a completely different world of possibilities. That’s a really fun process. I really enjoy doing that and I’m intending to keep doing it.
Where does this appreciation for anime come from?
As a child, I was completely shaken by the worlds within those movies. I actually used to go out in my yard and pretend to be Princess Mononoke. I had like five dogs at the time and they were my pack. I would spend hours pretending I was a wolf princess. I think it just influenced my imagination in so many ways. I have a really huge appreciation for it and that just carried on into my music.
You have released a lot of great singles in a row. Is another EP coming?
I’m taking it pretty slow. I’m not really sure about a bigger project, but I would say that there probably is going to be one at some point. I’m just trying to go with the flow. I will keep on releasing music and see where it goes. It’s hard to know for sure nowadays. You just have to see how everything plays out, but there is more music coming for sure.
How do you feel about doing your first headline shows in the US? What can we expect?
I’m definitely very nervous! It’s been a while since I performed here, so I’m nervous and excited. I can’t wait to meet my fans over here, because I haven’t really gotten to do that yet. That’s going to be cool. The show is relatively raw, I would say at this point. I definitely want to get more to production and set design at some point, but right now, it’s pretty minimal. It’s basically just me. I’m very excited about it. I also can’t wait for TwitchCon.
I was going to ask you about that. TwitchCon is going to be nuts.
I’m really happy to be performing there. As you can tell, I’m a pretty big nerd. [Laughs]. I love video games, so when the opportunity came up, I was, “Hell, yes. Let’s do this!” It will be really interesting to see what the audience is like. It’s going to be really interesting to see how the audience is going to respond. We’ll see.
I know you come from a musical family, but when did you realize that this is what you want to do with your life?
I think it was probably when I was 12, which was very young. It was really strange. My parents are both in the music industry, but they definitely didn’t want me to be in the music industry as well. They definitely tried to persuade me to pursue other interests and I very stubbornly didn’t do that. [Laughs]. They are very supportive now, but back then, no. I was 12 at the time and I started making YouTube covers. I took matters into my own hands, because I saw that so many other young people were doing that.
They surprisingly started getting views and then after that, I realized that I had a passion for doing something like this. I always loved singing, but I never really thought that I had a good voice. [Laughs]. It was weird. So many people started commenting like, “That was just so great,” and it boosted my confidence. I thought, “Maybe I can actually continue to do this.” I started writing songs and one thing led to another, so now I’ve landed here.
I’m glad it all worked out. Thanks so much for your time.
Same here! Thank you.