The romantic pop poetry of London musician Lauren Auder

It’s hackneyed to juxtapose an artist’s age with the maturity of their music, but when it comes to Lauren Auder, the disconnect is almost startling. At first glance, the 19-year-old London producer and singer-songwriter seems indubitably of the moment: his waif-like appearance, gender-fluid fashion sense and close relationships with some of the U.K.’s hottest underground rappers—including slowthai and Jeshi—feel custom-built for youth culture ubiquity. Modeling spreads in Another Man and Dazed alongside a glowing Vogue profile have established him as a rising darling in the fashion world, and his signing to True Panther Sounds, the taste-making micro label home to Abra, King Krule, and MC Bin Laden, has only served to stoke the hype.

But the sonics of Auder’s debut EP, Who Carry’s You, place him in an entirely different universe. The five tracks on the record, driven by his resonant, Scott Walker-like baritone, evoke a primal darkness utterly at odds with his visual aesthetic—long hair, painted nails, gender-bending outfits and the occasional bit of eyeshadow. In his music, Auder creates an immersive world where Christian iconography jostles with pagan mysticism, and classical strings fade into menacing trap percussion and frenetic electronic maximalism. Beautiful and harrowing by turn, the music on Who Carry’s You is a cathartic expression of raw emotion imbued with a lyricism closer to romantic poetry than pop.

In the midst of his European tour in support of the EP, we spoke on the phone to explore the development of Auder’s complex and contradictory artistic persona.

NOAH JACKSON: Fans seem to strongly connect with your gender-fluid presentation in your artwork and videos. Where does your personal identity end and Lauren Auder begin?

LAUREN AUDER: There’s distance between who I present on record and who I am as a person. When I’m writing the lyrics to a record, I’m at my most overdramatic and sensitive self, which puts me in a different light. It’s still got to be very honest, though, and it really does represent who I wish to be and who I am in day-to-day life, at least aesthetically speaking. I would to hate to think that I was putting any of that on for some kind of trivial presentation thing.

JACKSON: You’ve been touring the U.K. and Europe over the past month. How have audiences been responding to your live show?

AUDER: At the beginning, I never really thought that it was going to be much of a live project. I always thought it was going to be something to listen to on one’s own in an intimate space, but the more I explored it in a live context, it seemed to make a lot more sense. I’m starting to get to where I’m able to make a true connection to the public, which has been kind of crazy. I really enjoyed playing in Manchester and the last show I played in London went insanely well.

JACKSON: Your music has such a layered, detailed sound on record. How are you arranging it for a live setting?

AUDER: As you can imagine, it’s still pretty low budget. Me and Dviance, who co-produced some of the songs, are playing live together. He plays live guitar the whole way through, there’s some live synth, and some trigger pads, but it’s mostly focused on my performance as a singer. To me, at this point we’re playing shows where we’re still winning over crowds, and what needs to be done at this point is to have the emotional connection between the performer and the crowd.

JACKSON: Circling back to the EP itself, the music is infused with Christian imagery, with references to Jesus’ death on lead single “the baptist” and your search for God on “for those who patiently endure”. How does religion influence your craft?

AUDER: The true meaning behind most of that comes from a primeval desire of finding sense. It was a way for me, in using this imagery, to provide a more structured sense to feelings of everything being incomprehensible. Structuring it that way with imagery that is already so infused with so much meaning throughout generations and generations of people throws back to so many stories and seemed to me to be one of the clearest ways I could truly express these things. It seemed very natural to me and gave it the grandeur that these feelings often felt like they deserved.

JACKSON: But this rubs up against decidedly non-Christian imagery, like burying pieces of your soul or evoking the Roman god Janus.

AUDER: All these things in my own belief link up into something larger than humanity. I think the way we feel about our emotions often seems very incomprehensible and out of our hands, and in a way is something that has always been there and always will be there and we’re just tapping into it through our experiences. To me, a lot of it is just about the intentions you put out into the world, and using these metaphors and calling back to previous cultures and civilizations and belief systems is like trying to draw in that previous inspiration and energy.

JACKSON: This search for meaning feels especially salient now as the two countries you call home, England and France, are both interrogating their own identities in the face of right wing extremism and pressure around their roles in the EU. How do you feel about your place as an artist in Europe right now?

AUDER: Something that motivates me a lot is the idea of a European unity. I’m not in a place where I feel competent enough to discuss politics, and it’s mostly my place to amplify voices that present arguments in a more educated fashion than I could, but I do think it’s an artist’s job to discuss these things eventually. On the more personal scale, something to me that matters quite deeply is the idea of a European culture that is truly amorphous. When you look from England to France to Spain there are all these overlapping cultures, and that’s something I’m deeply rooted in between England and France. It’s very important to me to try and call back to European culture with all the influences that that brings, Christianity but also the Greek mythos and British pagan imagery. There’s also some Islamic imagery that I wrote when I spent some time in Spain, which has a lot of vestiges of the previous Islamic empire there. Various things bubble up into European culture that I want to see people be proud of. I’m not some kind of weird European fascist, but culturally speaking, I would love to see something European exposed in pop music. A lot of pop music is influenced by America, and I feel it would be interesting to explore the European roots in music and bring that to light as well.

JACKSON: You’ve been a strong evangelist of European hip-hop, signal boosting rappers from the U.K., France, and Iceland. Tell me about your relationship with European rap scenes.

AUDER: I started off producing rap beats because I’m a huge hip-hop fan myself, and when I started to produce, where I was growing up, there wasn’t a scene for anything experimental. I would meet rappers and make beats for them because that was what was done, and it definitely inspired me a lot. I don’t know where my place really is inside it. I don’t really want to force myself in because that’s not exactly what I’m doing now, but it definitely has a huge influence on me. The truth of the matter is, a lot of my friends have ended up being rappers and make music that I really enjoy, so that’s something really important to me. If they want to work with me, that’s something I’m always ready to explore.

JACKSON: Speaking of working with other people, you worked closely with Dviance and mmph on producing the EP. How do other collaborators fit into what seems like a deeply personal vision?

AUDER: Right at the beginning of this record, I spent a year deciding what my music would sound like. References are super important to me, because there’s so much culture preceding whatever I’m going to make musically or even in writing. If it’s always going to be intertextually referencing something else, I would rather have these references almost clear as day. That was one of the turning points of this record, where I decided I was going to take all the elements of the music I wanted to reference and make a melting pot of it. I wanted to take European classical music and use more electronic and hip-hop percussion because that’s something that’s always been part of my creation and I also wanted to integrate a lot of ambient and field recordings. Through a load of conversations with my collaborators, it ended up becoming what it is today.

JACKSON: How did you go about building the visual piece of the record?

AUDER: I’ve always thought of my project as something 360, and I knew that visuals needed to answer the lyrical content and the music. The music was recorded in my bedroom mostly so the whole imagery needed to be an “isolated in a bedroom” kind of vibe. In the past few years, it’s almost become a trend for an artist to present themselves as very distant, through 3D imagery, or not showing their face at all, or whatever. I wanted to do the contrary of that. Something very important to me was to be literally face to face with the public.

JACKSON: So, what’s next for Lauren Auder?

AUDER: I’m right in the midst of a second record, and I believe at this point I want to continue telling the story of this record. I think it’s going to be a mirror in many ways, presenting different aspects of the things I’ve brought up to this day.