Ari Staprans Leff is better known by as Lauv—which means lion in Latvian. The pop artist has come a long way since being a music-loving child growing up in Atlanta and the suburbs of Philadelphia. Thus far in his career, Lauv is best known for his six-times-platinum 2017 track “I Like Me Better,” which has been described as a “breakout hit” and has amassed well over a billion streams on Spotify. His true debut album, “How I’m Feeling“, was released in March of 2020, and remained unfettered by the pandemic, debuting at number 16 on the Billboard 200. Lauv has also paved a path for himself through songwriting for pop artists, including the well-known anthem “Boys” by Charli XCX and Demi Lovato and Cheat Code’s “No Promises.” These days, Lauv is making strides—and getting in touch with his inner child—through his latest record, “All 4 Nothing”, which was released on August 5th, 2022.
Lauv’s musical style is most frequently described as pop, with early influences on him including artists like Owl City and Never Shout Never—though he’s also been described as electropop and R&B, sometimes with alternative influences. His hit “I Like Me Better” was a part of the compilation album entitled “I Met You When I Was 18,” which focuses on coming-of-age and life beginning through entering your first relationship and finding love for the first time—as well as what happens when all of that is over. Of that record, Lauv explains that, “I feel like my life didn’t really start until college, and I fell in love and was in a relationship for pretty much all of college. And so, naturally, when I moved to LA, my whole heart and mind was just filled with reflection about that relationship and what it meant to fall in love and be in New York, and all of that. That was kind of the journey.”
However, Lauv is going back even further in time with his latest release, “All 4 Nothing,” where he revisits his childhood after experiencing the ups and downs of growing into adulthood after the wild ride he explores on “I Met You When I Was 18.” Lauv explains that, “The music I made out of [that relationship] just blew up so much, I started getting taken for this ride and this journey of whatever… Like insanity, touring all the time, doing all this stuff, that honestly led me to a place of loneliness.” It’s his latest journey of finding a way out of that place of loneliness that has resulted in the creation of his latest work—one Lauv is especially excited to share with the world.
Lauv says that his latest record focuses on, “Me being in my mid-to-late 20s realizing I had this big dream in my life that I chased, and I reached a certain level, but I felt really empty on the inside. It’s basically me on a journey of trying to find my inner light again. And sort of the ups and downs of trying to find that, after feeling really out of touch with my true self. There’s the positive sides to that, and the less positive sides to that, that make up the album.” Through the record, Lauv explores the darker side of himself and growing up—as well as the good times, too. He says that, “’All 4 Nothing’ was me being like, I am not happy as a person, not that it doesn’t matter that I have this success, because it’s amazing and literally so dope and I’m so lucky. But I was so unhappy on the inside, and felt so anxious on the inside, my next journey was like, ‘Let me go and find happiness for myself and define that.”
Though his stage name Lauv means “lion” in Latvian—just like his real name means “lion” in Hebrew and his star sign is a Leo—Ari comes across as far from aggressive or intimidating. Rather, he seems calm and wholly committed to both his personal and artistic journey. This serenity may come from his love of guided meditation, spirituality, and, as he describes it, “woo woo” stuff that he acknowledges may seem a little offbeat to some, but work well for him.
However, he possesses more layers than just pure Zen— Ari is not without a fun-loving side. He posted a TikTok that managed to convince many of his fans that his manager’s son, Joshua, was his own biological child, and is fond of quips like “lost in the sauce” that lighten the mood as he shares the more intimate parts of his own mental health journey, as well as details of the creative process of his latest record.
As Leos are famous for, Lauv feels confident and proud of the record he’s created—and how he’s changed as a person through the artistic catharsis of creating the album. He says that writing the album was a “Huge confidence building journey for me, when I was starting the album, I just remember feeling very anxious all of the time. I didn’t trust myself, I didn’t feel like I deserved happiness, inherently. I was always chasing something,” and adds that, “I think this album was this process of, “Let me find the confidence inside of me, let me find the peace and the gratitude and the calm, more spiritual side of myself that I felt before my life became kind of complicated.”
But in addition to his overall sense of quiet confidence—and in spite of his obvious feelings of excitement— there’s an ever-so-slight sense of apprehension that occasionally bubbles up when Lauv discusses some of his artistic decisions and how they intertwine with his artistic decisions. Perhaps this is because what Lauv is exploring on his new record is something he’s never done before in his career. He admits that, “Some of the songs, like “Bad Trip” and “I Don’t Have a Problem” are super different for me. There’s no Lauv song that sounds like that. So I’m really excited.” He adds that the record is incredibly honest and raw—a process he found refreshing, but also frightening. “I felt like I really, really, really didn’t filter myself. So on some of the songs, just some of the stuff that I was going through and talking about is very straight-up. So it’s all there for people to see, in a way that’s not trying to be polished for a pop record… That was both the hardest part, because it’s kind of scary, and also the most gratifying part… Like there’s nothing to hide.”
In order to be so candid, Lauv got in touch with his inner child in order to create the record. One way he unlocked this part of himself was by remembering some of his fondest childhood memories and revisiting them in his mind. He says his favorite of these was hanging out with his childhood best friend in his backyard, where he shares that they spent their time, “skating all day, jumping on their trampoline, eating popsicles, hanging with their dogs, and playing video games. I return to those memories daily… It was amazing.”
Another way he got in touch with the kid version of Ari, before he was Lauv, was by taking a step back from the perceptions of others and just letting his creative side run free. Lauv says that, “Part of what I was searching for when making this album was getting in touch with my inner child, and just feeling stress free and fun and loving.” One technique Lauv employed was freestyling with his friends in the car over instrumental tracks. Having fun with people he cared about enabled him to let go of all the worries and anxieties surrounding other people’s perceptions of him and just flow with the music, and see where it all took him. He says that focusing on existing in the present moment and not getting lost in the sauce of what other people may think has been so critical to his creative process, it may as well be his north star.
Though Lauv unlocked his inner child and was able to let go through having fun with his friends, not all of the tracks he composed as a result were lighthearted and buoyant. Sometimes, this new raw, unfiltered way of writing “All 4 Nothing” took Lauv to explore the less-than-light parts of himself, particularly with songs like “Molly in Mexico” and “Bad Trip,” as well as “I Don’t Have A Problem.” He says that these songs reach a less-visible part of himself:” I don’t want to say the darker side, but maybe the side that’s less polished and pretty, lyrically…Because they came from this freestyle place, they’re a lot more off-the-cuff and direct. There wasn’t really any intention with the lyrics, except to say what came to mind, I guess.” In part, this new technique of freestyling was able to unlock new parts of Lauv due to the way he’s always viewed songwriting—as a way of channeling whatever emotion was in the room, viewing himself as just a vessel that sometimes expressed his own emotions, and sometimes expressed feelings belonging to others.
One way he helped get in touch with his emotions—and the emotions of others—in order to grow as a writer and a creator, was through accepting his struggles with mental health, and making an effort to understand the hardships of those around him. Lauv says that he never really felt like he had a true understanding of the importance of mental health until he had his own “big, huge, massive, shitty low,” which ultimately resulted in him seeing a psychiatrist for the first time—something he was initially resistant to—and understanding and treating his diagnosis of bipolar disorder. He says, “I felt like there was such a stigma around the idea of taking pills to fix your brain…Meanwhile think of all the medicine we take just for anything when you’re healing.” After that, Lauv became wholly dedicated to embracing the act of bettering himself—so much so that mental health awareness became a passion he was devoted to, rather than just a personal treatment plan.
Part of this self-empowerment and dedication to growing came through accepting that life and what you feel is generally half-good and half-bad. Lauv has found that you have to embrace and accept the bad—rather than try to push it down and suppress it— in order to truly appreciate the good. In Lauv’s words, “You feel ashamed of the parts of you that are darker, sometimes. You just only, especially having such a spotlight, you only want to show the lighter sides. But I got really exhausted with that, because we all have a dark side, and I feel like my life, especially at this time [of creating this record], was 50% healing and 50% party. For better or for worse, those were the two things I was doing to try and find groundedness in myself. So that was what the album turned into.”
All in all, Lauv describes his latest record as a mix of ups and downs, all connected by a thread of getting in touch with his inner child and innermost emotions. In his words, it’s a journey away from the lows of young adulthood and breakups, and a tale of “sort of coming out from all that loneliness, getting out of the woods, and being like, ‘Ah yes. Life. Happiness.’“ Now that Lauv has found his North Star with “All 4 Nothing,” he’s already turning pages towards the next chapter in his creative journey—even before this one is finished. And he envisions this chapter as bigger and better than ever before. He excitedly remarks, “I’m wondering what’s going to be next. The next album—I know it’s too early to say, but it’s definitely going to be the best.” He also hopes to connect with his fans more going forward, saying “I think of myself as a very personal person, I love connecting with people.” He’s set his sights on the idea of guiding a meditation for his fans, perhaps through a space like a podcast or Twitter Spaces. But for now, he’s just released “All 4 Nothing” in its entirety—and is about to embark on a North American tour.