William Bennett and Lisa Blanning on Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence

Following their particular lively discussion of Lady Gaga’s Artpop final September, Lisa Blanning once again spoke with controvertial Cut Hands mastermind and Whitehouse member William Bennett—this time about Lana Del Rey’s current venture further down the rabbit hole of shifting pop identity on her new LP Ultraviolence .

Lisa Blanning: William, were a person interested in Lana Del Rey’s music in the past? That is before Ultraviolence came out?

William Bennett: I had this superficial knowledge of who she was. I initially assumed from the name—and this is an example of how you can project so quickly—that the lady was some sort of Cuban, South American songstress. Also echoing seventies porno star pseudonyms like Vanessa De Rio, which is no bad factor. The name resonates in a way that it’s hard to imagine she’s of Scottish descent.

LB: It’s a memorable title .

WB: Plus it’s a powerful filter to how you experience music, I think, through a title.

LB: That’s interesting. Because obviously her real name Lizzie Offer is a completely different projection than Lana Del Rey.

WB: That’s right. And after getting familiar and after listening to Ultraviolence , I began exploring some of the early work, especially the unreleased set of songs from 2005 recorded as May Jailer, and then she used her own title, Lizzie Grant. It’s interesting mainly because I think people might say, “Oh, she would never have become famous when she’d been ordinary Lizzie Offer, ” but I disagree with this. It would have just projected a completely different persona. And I think she’s fascinating and charismatic and talented enough; very different to how Lana De Rey feels, thematically, but I believe still a great success.

LB: A friend sent me a blog post by this producer who had been brought in to provide earlier beats for Lana Del Rey before she got famous. It’s actually two posts: one soon after their initial session and after the lady first blew up. He talks about how all of the elements of what we notice now were there from the beginning, and he predicted from the get go that she might make it. So it seems like she acquired this purposeful direction to begin with prior to all of this; she had a sound, the lady definitely writes the songs, and she’s got a whole aesthetic that’s already been worked out, even before she began receiving major backing. I think that’s both interesting and cool. We haven’t actually heard any of the pre-Lana Del Rey stuff…

WB: Properly, the Sirens set that I’m referring to from pre-2005 is very, very stripped down. It’s just her performing with acoustic guitar, which on the encounter of it, doesn’t sound too fascinating. Yet it’s actually a very attractive album and the songs work brilliantly. As an album to keep in one’s collection for a long time, I think it’s perhaps better than Ultraviolence , funnily enough. For being so younger then, it’s remarkably confident, and not just in a retrospective way. I think Sirens appears on its own merits.

LB: That’s one thing that you can tell all of her records as Lana Del Rey: fundamentally the songwriting is the same through all of them and then they’re dressed differently.

WB: Very true.

LB: I would say that Ultraviolence will be my least favorite Lana De Rey record. I have to admit that will I’m not the hugest enthusiast, but the Paradise EP I think is really great. That’s eight songs and almost everybody is very good, whereas on her first album, Born In order to Die , I feel like there are only a few good songs on there and there’s a lot of throwaway material. Paradise is a fully realized piece and it’s all one aesthetic, as well. I believe the problem I have with Ultraviolence ultimately could be the producer. I really don’t like the addition of Dan Auerbach, who is famous for working with The Black Keys. Personally i think that this actually takes away from her sound what makes her special. In my experience, it’s a big step backwards, even though I understand how as an artist you want to try different things.

WB: I guess it’s a question of personal taste: What kind of dressing up do you like with your Lana Del Rey? I agree with you, I personally do not like this band-with-guitars-in-a-big-empty-room thing. I prefer the particular dark hip-hop, electronic style, that i think works really well with her music. There are moments on Ultraviolence where the songs are, for me, ruined by cheesy guitar solos played right over her voice.

LB: We agree, the retro rock manufacturing. For instance, there are two songs especially, that I really dislike. One of them, “Cruel World”, is co-written by the guitar player in her band, Blake Stranathan, and the other, “Brooklyn Baby” will be co-written by her boyfriend, Barrie-James O’Neill from the band Kassidy. On the first album, the hip-hop leaning is the most obvious. In the second launch, it’s this modern production that will takes from hip-hop but isn’t really hip-hop, but is so rich and full, it makes it unusual. For me, it worked because she’s got an old-fashioned style of songwriting, but with the modern production it created a frisson. That’s lost now. There is a couple of tracks that have that about this new album, but all that secret is lost. I don’t know if you noticed, but also on a couple of songs on the new album her voice sounds very thin and off-key, and that’s not how the lady sounds in any other context that will I’ve heard her, including live. I feel like that’s a bad method to portray her.

WB: Going back in order to 2005’s Sirens , that stripped-down approach actually would work as well. Either it’s just her voice and acoustic guitar or the style on Paradise.

LB: She says she works together with essentially the same team for each Born To Die and Paradise. For instance, Rick Nowels, Emile Haynie, and Serta Heath, these were names that appeared prominently on both of those releases. Nowels and Heath appear on the credits for Ultraviolence , but Haynie doesn’t at all. Plus Haynie was a producer that started out in rap music, he in fact worked with Eminem and Raekwon and Cormega. He worked with all of these large rappers before he came to her. Auerbach is the major producer, obviously, and that sound really makes a huge difference.

WB: I agree. It may just be the influence of rock and roll types she hangs out with including her boyfriend. Because we can say that since the beginning her songs are very similar in style and approach, maybe she’s not that invested in the actual manufacturing and leaves a lot of that towards the people she’s hanging out with.

LB: It’s obviously pure speculation, but it’s a shame, because I feel there was something very special. But We still think she can definitely compose a song, but I’m no longer interested in listening to it when introduced as it is on Ultraviolence .

WB: In mitigation, I believe the songs survive on Ultraviolence inspite of the production, as her personality lights through so powerfully that it might be dressed up in anything and it would still be quite affecting. A lot continues to be said in reviews about each one of these dodgy men referred to in the songs and, barring the bonus songs, I don’t feel the main tracks on Ultraviolence are really about these men. They’re much more a vehicle for her own responses or narcissism, which clearly is what interests her audience, and myself.

LB: Yeah, in case she didn’t portray herself as this Lolita/bad-girl figure but everything else was your same, would she still have exactly the same draw that she has? Personally, I think it’s a really interesting aspect to her persona, but I was trying to consider what it was about her that made her of such zealous interest. Her fans are very passionate while other people are equally enthusiastic about tearing her down; she’s very polarizing. I believe she’s got this really strong charisma, which I can’t really establish except to say that it’s star power. My feeling is that she actually is very talented, but there are celebs out there who are more or just as attractive and talented. But for whatever reason, she really captures people’s creativeness.

WB: This is the thing: She’s definitely anomalous in the modern era high are so many of performers straight from performing arts schools with everything’s so practiced, in terms of their job interview technique, the way they look on stage, how they sing their songs. It’s almost high-class karaoke we have now, where there is a saying the right things, they do the right factors, they sing all in the exact same kind of way.

LB: Right, exactly where with her it doesn’t feel that way.

WB: No, she’s a pioneering pop icon of an era that’s almost passed us. She’s unusual. She doesn’t fit with people’s anticipation. We were talking before about her interviews and how jarring and awkward they come across, which I personally find endearing. She’s not practiced. The lady doesn’t say the right things, which usually rubs people the wrong way because we live in an era where interviews are absolutely necessary for your career.

LB: I know what you mean, when she does not say the “right” things, yet having said that, I do think she has a narrative that she continues to push and it is important to her.

WB: What do you think that is?

LB: I feel as though she’s really intent on making people think or realize, one or the other, that she hasn’t had a leg up, so to speak. She doesn’t need people to believe the accusations that will she comes from a rich family members. She’s also intent on informing people that she hasn’t had any sort of plastic surgery—although that blog post We mentioned earlier, that producer says her lips are definitely bigger now…

WB: I’ve seen pictures associated with her when she was youthful and she does look very different. I believe she was beautiful when the lady was a teenager and she looks attractive now, and it’s not a big deal. I can also understand why people would be touchy about plastic surgery.

LB: It’s more what signifies. The whole furor surrounding her in the beginning was this question associated with authenticity, i. e. the promises that she’s completely manufactured as well as the accusation of surgery is just one more example of that. I think now that’s unimportant. But the focus of authenticity changes. Now it’s less about, “Has she been propped up by her dad? ” who actually works in advertising and probably helped her promote her in early stages in the music industry—and more about, “Is she actually the wild kid she portrays herself as? ” And that she consistently refers to himself in interviews as. Because that will portrayal actually makes the basis associated with so many of her lyrics, I would say there’s probably some truth in them.

WB: My base sensation with the whole issue of authenticity is that, as a fan, I care that it’s presented to me in the believable way. So I don’t care if it’s true or not, I just don’t want to know. It’s your job being an artist to give me your artwork in a believable way. There’s a music industry machine now that’s very effective at doing that. In rap and all kinds of music, your own background is now really important to your credibility. I think she probably found himself in a tricky position where the lady started out her career, signing a deal for not very much money with all the original record label, and then to make her career believable through Interscope, who are part of that machine I’m referring to, she’s having to rationalize that will period of her musical career. Which may have been awkward for her.

LB: Yes, I feel as though the question of authenticity leads you down a theoretical cul de sac where it matters little. And I agree with you that essentially people don’t care, and let us use Rick Ross as an example associated with that—he portrays himself as a medication dealer in his tracks when in fact he was a corrections officer who named himself after a famous medication dealer. We all know this but that does not mean we don’t like his music or that he ceases to be popular. Maybe with Lana De Rey, specifically, it feeds a really particular male fantasy, doesn’t this? More so than an artist such as Lady Gaga.

WB: Absolutely. I believe it’s interesting to compare her with is an artist like Beyoncé, who’s that typical I-woke-up-like-this flawless. Exactly where she peddles this idea of perfection, everything being done the right way, a benign image of what empowered ladies look like: hetero, family-oriented, sexy yet ultimately wholesome where it matters. I love Lana Del Rey’s open up wallowing in daydreamy, suicidal ideation. I’m not qualified to say this and I’ll go out on a arm or leg and say it anyway, I believe it may speak better to many women’s experiences of being a woman—in ways where Beyoncé doesn’t.

LB: Really dont know if I would agree with that will, as a woman. I don’t think the lady speaks to me so much as a girl, although I see how possibly she’d. She’s definitely said some items that speak to me as a person.

WB: Can I give you an example? This track “Pretty When You Cry” from Ultraviolence , portraying a woman checking out the wreckage of a terrible face after or during crying is a powerful notion, and it’s something that you definitely wouldn’t expect in mainstream modern songs, these ideas of beauty in misery or tragedy.

LB: There’s a point a person hit on that isn’t about womanhood and is actually about personhood, and that’s the real. That’s the one thing about all of the dark things that do not just happen but are inside us and that we either choose to explore or we don’t. And she openly says that she really wants to explore that side. And I think that’s the part that is really fascinating about her. But that doesn’t have anything to do with being a girl, that just has to do with being a person that is willing to admit that shit exists. And also saying so in the pop context, which is usually a very safe, anodyne place.

WB: The difference here isn’t the fact that it solely happens to women, but in terms from the presentation. In other words, the voice that people get is typically one of the hetero, family-oriented, wholesome-where-it-counts. And Lana Del Rey is providing something that women may not generally be exposed to, that kind of self-expression or communication. It’s a glorious outlet. You don’t hear often these items in the context of women, so if you’re listening to the radio and Lana De Rey comes on, it speaks to them in a way the usual crap doesn’t.

LB: You’re obviously correct in that evaluation, because apparently Given birth to To Die has now sold seven million copies worldwide. We’ll see what happens with her next tour, I don’t think she’s on the stage yet where she’s playing stadiums, but that’s a lot of records. So , I suspect that she’s on her behalf way to that level. And it’s interesting that she could get to that level when there does seem to be a tangible darkness to what she’s talking about.

WB: It’s remarkable how uncompromising the whole project is. Plus considering it’s selling these kinds of quantities, I think she’ll have quite a lengthy successful career.

LB: I think the particular lucky thing for her is she’s one of those kinds of artists who will never be required to change her sound. I absolutely do think she’s talented and I also think she possesses something unique, and she’s got charisma, yet I also think her work drops a level short of being truly great. It’s strange because it’s obvious to me that she wants to achieve these depths, but she will it in kind of a shallow way. I think she’s capable of recognizing that will deepness, that resonance, but Really dont think she’s actually attained that will level yet. A lot of that comes down to her lyrics, though. Conversely, that’s also what makes her unusual within the pop realm. Again, I think it’s the tension between those two things—her desire to reach the kinds of levels of the people she admires, like Allen Ginsberg and Lou Reed—and the particular affect of her music. Probably that’s part of what makes her compelling as a character. Her words, Personally i think, are more interesting when she really does this poetry in between songs, such as she did in the “Ride” video and in Tropico , a short film that incorporated three songs from Paradise EP . A lot of the lyrics in her songs themselves are ultimately pretty superficial. Except for “Ride”, I feel as though that’s saying something big. When the lady says, “ I’ve obtained a war in my mind. ” That’s a line that really sticks out. So many of the rest of her songs are about being the object associated with male fantasy, and luxuriating for the reason that role.

WB: Yes, I actually thought about that. I thought it might be a deliberate process, because in some ways, the vagueness of the lyrics—if they were much more dense, like say Lou Reed, Leonard Cohen and so forth—it would actually detract from the power of the songs. Otherwise, the more meaning that can be taken out of it, the much less detail there is, the more you can task your own personal situation into the song.

LB: That’s the driving mantra associated with pop music, isn’t it?

WB: Exactly. This is something that is interesting from the field of cold reading practiced by fortunetellers and so forth, that they can make use of detail that is essentially a “universal experience” detail. Typically, a moderate for example might say things like, “I’m seeing somebody, his name begins with J. J, J, who could it be? Who do you know whose name starts with J? Is it John, is it Jimmy? ” With a direct hit it can sound uncannily personal, “How did you know I have this friend called Jimmy? ” Songs are most reliable in my opinion when that happens, and it’s usually either something like that in the song, which seems to speak to all of us personally, or via the environmental organization we had when we heard the track. I think that’s how a lot of music works and Lana Del Rey, consciously or not, achieves this extremely effectively with her songs. ~

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