Lionhearted Lauv: Building A Career With Feeling

Lee Yik Keat
– Lauv

To understand who Lauv is as an artist and a person, look no further than the suggestion-style box he started bringing on tour last year dubbed “My Blue Thoughts,” giving fans a chance to share anonymous notes about whatever was on their mind at the time. 

“I just wanted to do something that allowed people to feel not judged and get something off their chest,” the 25-year-old singer, songwriter and producer born Ari Leff says. 
One note that simply read “I met a superhero. I lost her. I want her back.” inspired the electronic pop artist to write the song “Superhero” in less than an hour. 

“That comes from his creativity mixed with how we’re dealing with mental health, mixed with [his connection to his] fans. There’s all these different things that kind of draw from that and then this wonderful song came from it,” says CAA’s Jon Ollier, who represents the singer.
After performing in bands in high school while growing up in Philadelphia, Lauv wrote and produced songs for other artists while studying music technology at New York University. While he’s had have success co-writing songs including “Boys” by Charli XCX and “No Promises” by Cheat Codes and Demi Lovato, Lauv explains that he found the more he wrote for other artists, the more he craved using his own voice. 
Adopting the moniker Lauv, Latvian for “lion,” as a reference to his mother’s Latvian heritage and to Ari also meaning lion, he co-wrote the song “The Other” and uploaded it to SoundCloud in 2015. The tune, which eventually placed on Spotify’s Today Top Hits and the Global 100 charts, caught the attention of early supporter Zac Bluestone of Paradigm. 
Foundations Artist Management came on board in 2017 while “The Other” was still gaining traction. In addition to Lauv being a triple threat as a writer, producer and artist, manager Steve Bursky was impressed by Lauv’s aspirations to build a career independently outside of the major label system.
“He had the spine to say, ‘I want to do this a little differently and I don’t want to do the normal thing and go do a record deal; I want to bet on myself’ – that requires some real bravery and real confidence that most don’t have,” Bursky says. “I’m obviously drawn to that. As a company we do a lot independently and we enjoy betting on ourselves and our clients.”
The independent path gave Lauv and his team the freedom to tour Asia early on. One example was scoring an opening slot opening for Ed Sheeran on a handful of his “Divide Tour” shows in Asia and United Arab Emirates in fall 2017 and Lauv also booked a handful of his own gigs in Southeast Asia, as Spotify and YouTube stats showed an emerging fanbase in the region. 
“This speaks to Ari and Steve’s dedication and foresight,” Oiller says. “If you were to put that plan in front of a major record label, nine times out of 10 they’re going to say, ‘You’re not on the radio in the U.S. yet, why are we going to pay $100,000 in tour support for you to go to the other side of the world?’” 
Ollier describes the Sheeran invite as a “perfect storm” with Ollier being the international agent for both artists, as well as Sheeran recently signing Irish singer Foy Vance to his record label, who Bursky also manages. Ollier adds that regardless of connections, Sheeran approves of all of the support acts he takes on tour and “Ed loves great songs, great songwriters.”

The following year, Lauv also supported a handful of Sheeran’s fall 2018 dates in the U.S.  

“I think Ed was one of the best people to learn from in terms of performance, just because he can captivate an entire stadium, being one person, a guitar and a loop pedal,” Lauv says. “He can get an entire stadium to be silent or get them screaming.”
Lauv explains he wanted to bring what he was doing in the studio to the stage by playing a few instruments and building the tracks out with looping – a “combo of that musicality and straight-up vulnerability and just having fun.” 
With the release of two EPs and a 2018 compilation, including his 2017 hit “I Like Me Better,” Lauv has continued growing his fanbase worldwide, while putting his vulnerability front and center in both his lyrics and his interactions with fans on social media. 
In an April post on Instagram, Lauv confessed that during a dark time struggling with depression and anxiety he had started to question who he was, including his career path. Fortunately, after seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist, he started falling in love with music again and writing songs. He decided that rather than waiting to release his debut album, How I’m Feeling, he would release each track as it was recorded.  
“There’s such a stigma, especially around medication,” Lauv says. “I used to be one of those people. … I was feeling so low and having so much trouble living my day-to-day life and [medication] profoundly improved my life. I wanted to share so my fans would understand why my album was taking longer than I wanted. If I was so scared to confront it in that way, thousands of people must be going through the same thing. I wanted to make people feel like – this is such a corny thing to say – but you are not alone.”
A few days after the April post Lauv announced dates for the “How I’m Feeling” fall tour with shows in the U.S., Europe, Australia and New Zealand. donating $1 from each ticket sold to support local mental health organizations.
Ollier says the team is seeing Lauv’s fanbase broaden globally. Next year Lauv will head to South America for the first time with yet-to-be-announced dates.   
“From a global perspective it’s been about building in every market across the world in a similar way, and that takes time,” Bluestone says. “In the States, it’s working within very confined periods of time and making sure we’re getting as much value out of those tour dates as possible, knowing he’s got to spend as much time in Australia, Europe, Asia and the U.K.”
He adds that it’s also important to balance touring with time in the studio because the more time Lauv gets in the studio, the more the project is going to be elevated. 

“If you look at our fall tour, we’re only playing seven markets in North America with a lot of doubles and triples in markets,” Bluestone says, including two nights at New York’s Terminal 5. “This isn’t a race. From day one it’s been, ‘How can we build it the right way?’”
As for My Blue Thoughts, Lauv hopes to expand the project into a booth on tour where fans can speak anonymously on camera. Meanwhile, he posts the notes at the website, where fans can also submit messages. 
“There’s an authenticity with him which has made him incredibly relatable to a massive global fanbase,” Bursky says. “He’s utilizing the [My Blue Thoughts] platform to create a dialogue with a young audience. It allows a fan in Jakarta to see a fan in London and a fan in Birmingham talking about the same struggles with mental health. It helps the world feel a little smaller and a little more human.”