Exclusive: US singer Lauv on opening for Ed Sheeran and making his Dubai debut

Lauv will begin his 14-show run with the Shape of You star from October 25 in Japan and will conclude with a sold-out show in front of a 30,000-strong crowd at Dubai’s Autism Rocks Arena

Lauv. Photo by Jack McCain
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Lauv's manager was right to play it safe. When he told his 23-year-old charge that "a special tour offer" was in the works, he withheld the detail of whom Lauv would warm the stage for. When the news was revealed in a phone call a couple of months ago, the singer-songwriter was out jogging in New York City.

"He didn't want me to get my hopes up for the tour that he was working on," Lauv recalls. "So, one day, I am out on my run and he calls me and says 'so how do you feel about supporting Ed Sheeran on his tour of Asia?' Man, I just totally flipped out."

Lauv will begin his 14-show run with the Shape of You star from October 25 in Japan and will conclude with a sold-out show in front of a 30,000-strong crowd at Dubai's Autism Rocks Arena. While the opportunity is potentially career defining, Lauv – whose real name is Ari Staprans Leff – is keenly aware that it poses its own set of challenges. The biggest of those is venue size.

Lauv has built his artistic career on a collection of hushed and intimate songs. His signature tracks, such as The Other and Comfortable, are a combination of genteel electronica and folk music.

It's the kind of starry-eyed material that sounds blissful in your bedroom or a small hall, as opposed to cavernous concert arenas. "That is definitely something that I have been thinking about," he admits.

"I have no real experience playing in arenas and I imagine that it is all about engaging with people and making them all feel like they are part of the show. To be in honest, it's going to be a learning experience for me."

Hence, those eagle-eyed supporters in Dubai should expect to see an equally enthralled Lauv watching from the side of stage as Sheeran performs his set. "He is someone that I look up to," Lauv says. "The thing about Sheeran is that he is an incredibly real artist and songwriter. He is not trying to be anybody else other than himself."

Perhaps Sheeran sensed a kindred spirit in Lauv. It is no accident he was invited on the tour. Lauv was informed by his manager that Sheeran has been quietly following his work and the offer came at the request of the headliner himself. Sheeran is undoubtedly the biggest star of Lauv's burgeoning celebrity fan base, which also includes One Direction's Liam Payne and the highly-rated actress Chloë Grace Moretz.

This comes on top of a devoted online following which helped the five songs forming his 2015 debut EP, Lost In The Light, achieving more than 150 million plays on Spotify.

The success of Lost In The Light was powered by Lauv's break-out single The Other. With the song released well before Sheeran's Shape of You, it wouldn't be a stretch of the imagination to suggest that it could have formed part of the inspiration for the chart-conquering hit.

It shares the same minimal aesthetics with its chilled hip-hop rhythms, smooth keyboards and cooing vocals that, in some cases, barely register above a whisper. Even before the success, Lauv says the song marks an artistic milestone.

Where before he wrote mostly fictional accounts of heartbreak, The Other was inspired by the real thing. "I had absolutely no expectations when I put that song out," he says.

"But it meant a lot to me because this time it was inspired by something that was emotionally real to me. I mean, if you hear that song, it doesn't have a classic radio sound. What it proved to me that is that people, I think, are hungering for something that is real. They want music that is saying something genuine and that has an emotional connection. I told myself that I would never put out another song again unless it does things."

His latest single, I Love Me Better, is the Yang to The Other's Yin.

Where the former found Lauv despondent and heartbroken, the new affair is sprightly as he details his latest romance which he found two months after moving to New York.

Lauv explains the song was deliberately up-tempo and summery.

"I wanted to do that because a lot of people probably think of my songs as slow and sad, with all this longing, nostalgia and being conflicted," he says. "I wanted to write songs that just weren't those things, that I also go through ups as well as downs and I am excited the new songs I am putting out reflect that."

What unites both the peppy and sombre material is Lauv vocal's, which while tuneful remain somewhat enigmatic and aloof.

Whether it is detailing emotional burnout on the jittery Comfortable to saying a heartfelt goodbye to a loved on the airy Come Back Home, Lauv sounds as if he is reporting from the sidelines.

He explains that it comes from a family life on the move. He was born San Francisco before relocating to cities including Atlanta and New York.

"My mom's side comes from Latvia, so growing up I went there occasionally to visit family as well," he says.

"I am realising this now more as I grow up that I never really felt connected to locations. In some sense, I always kind of felt a little lost in that I never had any hometown pride. While I experience a lot different places and experiences, I always felt a little detached."

It is in the online world where Lauv found himself a community of millions of admirers.

Lauv's career rise, which came as a result of internet word-of-mouth and the power of streaming, indicates how the music industry's traditional practices – such as physical album distribution and artist development through record labels – is becoming rather obsolete.

Lauv is cautious, however, in declaring the death of record labels.

"I have been seeing, and that's to a certain point, bigger artists who maintain control over their work eventually signing a deal when they are super successful for a lot of money," he says.

"I just think that any person who wants music to be their career shouldn't focus on a record label. I have seen friends who sign to a label too early in their career and they lost control over their music, and their releases were delayed or never put out. So, ultimately, people should focus on creating good music, because people now have ways of finding it."

Which begs the question, will Lauv work towards releasing a full debut album? He is coy at the prospect.

"In a way, the traditional album is no longer as important as it used to be," he says. "But at the same time, I don't want to be the kind of artist who just releases one song after another. I can't talk about it too much right now, but I am putting together something special and meaningful. All I can say is that I won't be dropping singles all the time."

As for his maiden UAE visit, Lauv says he will be in town as both a musician and tourist.

"I should be asking the fans where I should go and their recommendations," he says.

"I have never been there and I don't have friends who have. So I hope I will get some time off to explore. I am excited as I don't know what to expect.

Lauv performs with Ed Sheeran at the Autism Rocks Arena, Dubai Outlet Mall on November 23, doors open from 4pm. Tickets are sold out. For details, go to www.117live.com


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