Photography by Betsy Johnson and Luke Nugent
Years ago, Ava Laurel was sitting in the back of a classroom playing around with the letters of her name. She quickly realised a fun new way to identify herself, and from there, the sensation that is Lava La Rue was born.
While the musician is best known for her solo projects , Lava La Rue is a jack of all trades; in the past year alone, the artist dropped her debut EP Letra, released several new music videos, and contributed to No Smoke, the first album from London’s Nine8 Collective, of which Lava was a founding member. Nine8 was formed when they were teenagers, as a way for Lava and her friends from school to be able to create art together and share a musical platform; since then the group, made up of artistic twenty-somethings from London, has toured, released an EP, and created several gorgeous musical videos.
While Lava may be placed into the genres of hip-hop or R&B, her smooth raps and funky instrumentals often transcend these musical boundaries; the artist not only mixes different musical styles, but also touches on a variety of different themes including family, community, and self-growth.
Lava is many things – a young, working class, queer woman of colour; a passionate activist; and a fiercely creative and independent artist. This diversity of perspective is seen in all aspects of Lava’s eclectic work, from the deeply personal lyrics on Letra to the colourful set design of her many music videos. In her 2018 single, ‘Desktop’, for example, Lava breaks down the importance of pursuing intentional activism that transcends performativity online, while in the beautiful ‘Widdit’ she allows the listener into different aspects of her life as she raps about her time creating art with her friends and taking care of her little brothers. Her music is soulful and soothing, with the artist’s DIY style evident in every aspect of her work. It’s clear that every note and lyric was carefully chosen.
The 21-year-old has come a long way since she started making music in high school, but it’s clear she is just getting started. She’s just put out another mixtape, and in the coming months she will put out several more music videos, and tour across Europe and the UK.
I had a phone call with Lava La Rue to talk music, politics, community, and more.
gal-dem: Can you tell us a little bit about your childhood?
Lava La Rue: I moved around a lot as a kid and I was looked after by different people, but the most prominent person who raised me was my grandma. She’s a first-generation Jamaican immigrant who came to the UK in the 60s. I had a very cultural experience growing up – she wanted me to be proud of my heritage and also wanted me to be a proper Jamaican woman, so she kept me in the kitchen and took me to gospel church and made me sing. She was a very inspirational woman; she’d wake up early, go to one job, and then come home before everyone else was awake, make everyone food and then go to a second job. She was a powerhouse and a huge inspiration to me.
“My grandma was a powerhouse and a huge inspiration to me”
You are part of a collective, but you also make music on your own. What do those different creative processes look like?
I founded the Nine8 collective when I was around 16 or 17. It was just with my friends in school at the time, just sort of coming together to give each other the resources that we lacked. We would swap creative trades or make little DIY films for each other and stuff. When it came down to it we were just a group of creative friends; it’s important to collaborate with each other when you live in such a busy city like London.
The whole purpose of the collective was to give a platform to our solo projects. Every member of the group has our own projects as well – mine is Lava La Rue. If I was to differentiate my Lava sound, I’d just say it’s very personal to my perspective, my identity, and my individual story. When we get together as a group it feels more like a movement and like we’re telling a story together. We have a different perspective on what we’re trying to say artistically, which is one of a group of friends in London and the experiences that we’ve had.
“I called the mixtape Stitches because making it really felt like stitching different pieces of myself together”
How would you say that your new music differs from Letra and your other earlier stuff?
Letra is my debut EP, I dropped it last year. The whole purpose of that was to say to the world ‘Hey I’m Lava, this is who I am.’ It was the first time I ever put anything out officially. In my projects now, I’m experimenting more across the genres, and it shows my capabilities a little more. Letra was sort of opening the door and letting people view into my world and my next mixtape that I’m dropping will let people look around in a bit more depth.
My new mixtape is called Stitches. The funny thing about the mixtape is that I wrote some of the tracks when I was 16 and I wrote others just a few months ago. So I called it Stitches because making the mixtape really felt like stitching different pieces of myself together. Even though it’s my project, everything was still made with my community. I collaborated with different producers but I also was much more on board with the production side for this which was really cool for me.
What’s something you wish more people knew about you?
Even though a lot of people do know I’m a DIY artist, many people don’t recognise how much behind the scenes is actually me, from the cover art to the font that’s on the cover art to the set design in all the music videos. Everything you see is all in my Lava land; it’s collaborative with other people but its genuine to me because I did it myself.
“I know being DIY is not necessary for many artists but I had a lack of resources, so I had to do things myself”
Why is being a DIY artist so important to you?
I know being DIY is not necessary for many artists – some artists like to just make the music and be amazing performers. For me, I had a lack of resources so I had to do things myself. And through that I figured out what my unique style is, in terms of my music and in a lot of other ways. I find it really easy to work with directors and photographers because I’ve been behind the camera. I’m used to being involved in all aspects of my art.
What do you think is the role of politics or activism in art and music?
I always have this debate with people about whether they think musicians should get involved in politics or if they should just make music. Music is like painting, it’s a canvas for you to do whatever you want – so people should do whatever the fuck they want. No musician should feel like they have to be political in order to be relevant, but at the same time music is a really powerful tool, and I think people should use that to say something. I’m a working-class queer woman of colour and I use my music to give my perspective, and it just inherently is political.
What are some things you’re looking forward to?
I’ve got a tour coming up, it’s all over Europe and the UK. It’s my first ever headline tour, and I’m super looking forward to that. I’ve also got some new videos coming soon and of course I’m also dropping Stitches. All of this is happening in the next month, so I’m feeling a little nervous to be honest, but also very excited.
Lava La Rue’s new mixtape ‘Stitches’ is out now, you can listen here. Find her tour dates on her website