Ladbroke Groves underground rap powerhouse Lava La Rue, talks behind the scenes of her new video 'Angel'.
West London-hailed and founder of the NiNE8 underground collective - real name Ava Laurel - blends soft R&B & Neo-Soul influences with Lo-fi Hip-Hop and trippy, psychedelic visuals. With an unmistakably unique sound that hypnotically transcends music styles, Lava's laid-back, soulful flair speaks to self-growth, activism, identity, and queer, POC representation in the rap industry. We (virtually) sat down with Lava to talk about her music, inspiration and upbringing as she gave us a glimpse into her creative world.
We’re in the middle of a national lockdown so it’s only right I ask how you are.
Yeah, I'm all right. I do most things from my house anyway so nothing's massively changed. I do miss just being in a group of more than 20 people dancing.
You recently released the visuals to your song ‘Angel’ featuring Deb Never which are absolutely phenomenal, can you tell me how that collaboration with Deb came about?
So I went to L.A. for the very first time to work on the song. And then I went a second time to finish it. And the second time I came, I properly started chilling with Deb and it was one of those friendships where you meet each other and you're like, 'oh, we vibe, sick'.
When we first clicked, we saw each other every single day, she was in the studio and I was finishing the song. And then like then the pandemic hit a week later. And then Deb came down to London to work on her project and to quarantine in London. And I was like, “OK sick, where are you at?” She drops me her location and it's literally a 30 second walk from my flat. So I was like, 'this is crazy'. And she's like, yeah, “I've come to West London to get inspired to write my project". There was the day where, like, she came up to the park and we were at the top of this big hill and I replayed her the song. She was hearing it finished for the first time. And we were like on this hill with a red sky behind us that had a double rainbow in the sky, it looked like something out of an anime. We had noise cancelling headphones, like it was perfect. And she was like, yeah, “I need to hop on this song”. And then it just clicked.
What inspired the music video?
The whole vibe and energy of the song was inspired by psychedelic, 70s acid rock and psychedelic R&B. We just wanted to get that trippy vibe. And I think it really helped that the day that I properly showed Deb the song was basically the whole mood board because it was like red skies, rainbows, we're in a big meadow. Everyone's like smiling and like, and there's people just getting trippy around us and stuff like that. My mate, George is this incredible director who has mad visions and also loves playing with CGI, and he had this idea of jumping between a reality in this CGI reality world. we just wanted to make something that was mad to watch, but also left you feeling really uplifted and positive because I think everyone needs a bit of that right now. I feel like everyone needs artists to be artists right now and just like escape into that because, like, I miss that.
Your full name is Ava Laurel, how did you get from this to Lava La Rue?
Stay with me. So, if you get the L at the end of Laurel and you put it in front of Ava, that makes Lava. And then if you just scramble the Laurel bit it just makes La Rue. I just did that with the words and then it just kind of like turned into Lava La Rue. It's So funny because I'm actually I'm actually dyslexic.
When I was younger, I used to spell my name a bit weird anyway and I used to have to go to special handwriting class because the teachers thought my handwriting was so bad. A lot of the stuff was illegible, but I think that kind of helped me start looking at my name differently and playing with it, because even Ava Laurel is a phonetic spelling of my birth name. It came from an amalgamation of years of me, making mistakes, but making it like seem on purpose and then being like, “No, this is me”.
"The whole vibe and energy of the song was inspired by psychedelic, 70s acid rock and psychedelic R&B. We just wanted to get that trippy vibe."
What was it like growing up in West London?
Obviously, I will sound biased, but I think West London has a cultural community that I feel like is really unparalleled. I think because you had, like the first generation of, Caribbean's come here and settle, like the Windrush generation, they settled here and never moved. There's been loads of places where that happens in the rest of London and I feel it's been infiltrated. But the people here are resilient. And then you have the Spanish and Moroccan community and Irish kids. you grow up in this area and all speak in each other's slang and go into each other's mum's yards and in each other's food. So there's a very specific dialect that the kids grow up in. I think because West has such a long, cultural heritage of things that have come out that definitely impacted the world, like both in The Clash, which was like pioneers and punk culture, and the home of like Trojan records.
As well as being an artist and you are also the founder of the Collective nine eight. Who is it, what is it and why did you start it?
It was almost like a friendship group when I moved to a new college, when I was 15, 16, everyone used to joke and say, like, our school was like the school from Skins. There were a lot of creative people who I met, who I was like, “Oh, you know what? You have the same passions as me, even though we have, like, no money.
Let's go to, like, your mum’s council flat and just all put in for, like a little microphone and make some music. And we can have a currency, you produce for me and I make cover art for you.
We all started sharing resources. And the more we shared resources, the more we had a unifying sound and aesthetic.
When we were all listening to the same sort of albums and we’d all make a tune be like ‘Do you know what? This has got a really specific underground London sound”. And then, we just started throwing events and more people joined the group. We realised it's a good way to operate if you don't necessarily feel like you have a way in, you can build your own community for your scene. We did it ourselves and then eventually when we were throwing events, other people started noticing it and connects or industry people started pulling up to our shows.
Who did you listen to growing up and which of those people do you take inspiration from today?
I grew up on R&B, Reggae, and Rocksteady so there was a lot of Whitney Houston and stuff like that. But then when I started turning age 10 or 11, I started going to HMV and I picked up this Gorillaz CD because I liked the artwork. And then I started finding Britpop and Indie and stuff like that. Slowly I started discovering things like two ton culture, which was when the working class Jamaicans and the working class, white British came together and made this kind of like ska punk thing. And it was like bands like the Specials.
So growing up, I started getting really influenced by that. I was always finding a way to combine like this sort of Soul, Neo-Soul, R&B world that I came from, like Lauryn Hill being played like every Sunday in my house and then British Rock Bands I was discovering. These were two worlds that I thought couldn't exist in harmony until I started my mid teens. And I was like, these are both of my identities.
If you could collaborate with any three people dead or alive, anyone, and who would it be and why?
It would be incredible to have Jimi Hendrix on an album that would be really sick. Young Joan Jett in the 70s. She's very cool, she was the guitarist of The Runaways, which is like the first, major female rock band. Kali Uchis, she's like mad artistic and would be down to do something like a bit left as well. So I feel like that would be pretty cool.
What do we have to look forward to aside from the EP?
Definitely some sick visuals. I see the visuals for Angel as the beginning. I really want to up my music video game for sure. I think seeing more of an insight of my musical process, I feel like a lot of people over the past two years and the past two projects have learned a lot about me. And I've always been very vocal about things, whether it's my standpoints politically or who I am. And I feel like this time I've channelled everything into the music, like absolutely everything. So everything you want to know, everything that's going on in my life, everything, it's all in these songs and I'm just going to do my best to keep making the best stuff and put that out. And try and progress these sounds that I'm trying to develop. So, yeah, I'm really excited about that and having a whole visual surrounding it too.