Few artists have managed to make an opening statement quite like teenage sensation Au/Ra. When she arrived on the scene in 2017 with her debut single ‘Concrete Jungle’, the artist's immense talent was there for all to hear and see. Then just 15 years old, she was destined for greatness from the offset, but Au/Ra’s ability to stay humble, and closely connected to her fanbase has kept her feet on the ground. Ever since that moment the artist has gone from strength to strength, honing a unique genre bending sound and a rather complex, introspective songwriting style that has made her beloved to so many. Now releasing her latest EP: Soundtrack To An Existential Crisis, which consists of nine tracks, Au/Ra showcases some of her most personal and diverse music to date. We caught up with our latest cover star to learn all about the creative process behind the soundtrack, as well as her unique journey to this point. Au/Ra gets photograph by Anthony Giovanni with Fashion by Edwin J. Ortega, makeup by Kelly Shew and Hair by Adrian Cobian and words by Jake Wright
Au/Ra wears Marcell Von Berlin
Au/Ra wears Comme Des Garcons
Au/Ra wears Shuting Qiu
Au/Ra, or more commonly known off stage as Jamie Lou Stenzel, was surrounded by music throughout her childhood. Both her parents were musicians, and some of her fondest memories are of them in the studio whilst she was playing away on her Nintendo DS. Her own musical journey began when her teacher caught her singing and made her join the choir, unearthing talents that the singer was yet to discover, as the artist explained: “I never thought I had a good voice which is so weird, it’s like dysmorphia, but with my voice. Because then after that, I started to realize I actually could sing.” After this her passion for music only became stronger, wanting to pursue it further she faced a roadblock in the face of her father who knew the painful realities of the industry. “I just decided to ask my dad if we could record a YouTube cover and put it up because at the time, that's what people were doing.” The artist describes, “He said, ‘No, You're not doing that. The music industry is so hard.’ Then it was, ‘Hell no.’ I thought, ‘Oh, great. Thanks for believing in me.’”
However, thanks to words of encouragement from her mother, Au/Ra proceeded down the route of Youtube, and it quickly became a collaborative experience with her father. It was also a great learning experience, working so closely with an accomplished music producer opened her eyes to a world of techniques that would become useful in the years to come. “My mom convinced him to let me do it. And then we started recording some covers and putting them up.” The artist explains, “It turned into a project that my dad and I would do together so it was like this fun and cute thing to do with my dad.” It was a special experience for the artist and one that led to a cheeky, competitive streak that drives her artistry forward: “We have this thing, I've actually never mentioned in an interview before, because I think it can probably sound like a really conceited thing to be doing with a parent. For example, we have a joint studio at home, and he has one wall of plaques and then I have a wall of plaques. And my life goal is actually just to get more plaques than him. It's like we’re so competitive it's hilarious.”
Au/Ra formally announced herself to the world in 2017 with her debut single ‘Concrete Jungle’, which has been streamed over 50 million times on Spotify alone. Then, just 15 years old, the experience was completely surreal and unexpected. At such a volatile age it would have been easy for the artist to have been consumed into this air of success, developing an ego and a level of expectation to boot, but in fact, the total opposite happened. Ever humble and self-critical, her feet stayed firmly rooted to the floor. “It was such a weird blur. It's weird. Because obviously, I have such a love for this. And I knew that's what I wanted to do. At the same time, there's a side of me that is very critical, and very much a realist.” Au/Ra proclaims, “I kept on telling myself ‘don't get your hopes up. ‘I think it's from my parents because they were both in the music industry and they have had their dreams crushed and they know what it feels like. That really stuck with me like I've always been very hypercritical.”
Life quickly became weirder for the artist with the release of ‘Panic Room’ and an infamous remix from electronic duo Camelphat. It was the remix that originally brought the artist to attention, as it quickly dominated the UK dance charts. However, the manner in which the song gained popularity was dumbfounding for Au/Ra. After a pretty average original release, the remix gained immense traction. However, a few months later a certain social media platform blew the emotive original to new heights. “When Camelphat decided to remix Panic Room, it was just so weird because Panic Room got released, not much really happened.” Au/Ra describes, “Then like a year after that Panic Room, the original became a trend on TikTok. It had more streams than the Camelphat remix. I was so confused the entire time. I thought, what is happening? I have always loved the remix because I also like that my dad is like a dance electronic producer. So, that genre is very much in my life. But I'd be a bit happier about it if it was the original and it did its thing. Anyway, it was wild. Grateful that those things happened. I don't even know what sets things off these days.”
Au/Ra wears Marcell Von Berlin
Au/Ra wears Annakiki
Now, Au/Ra stands as a fully established artist with beloved fans worldwide. Releasing her most personal and powerful release to date, amply titled Soundtrack To An Existential Crisis, the artist delivers a broad range of sounds alongside deeply introspective lyricism. Without a doubt, the emotions are magnified due to the pandemic, during which she created the EP whilst in lockdown in her home country of Antigua. “I don't feel like I'm at the point in my career where I feel comfortable releasing an album, but I definitely wanted to release a project. Honestly, I wrote a lot of songs during COVID. And it definitely shows in the title in general.” Au/Ra states, “I'm actually really proud of how different a lot of the songs are, especially the singles. I feel like there is something for everyone in the EP to listen to, whether you like the darker stuff that I've done, or the more upbeat. It still has a theme of being very dark overall. I definitely feel very existential. I have since I was a kid, and the interlude is actually called the Soundtrack to existential crisis. And it is a sonic version of how I felt when I was feeling existentially put into sound.”
The artist released three singles, all of which offer as a prelude to the EP. ‘Dead Girl!’, ‘Bite Marks’ and ‘Screw Feelings’ each hold their own sonic identity and are a perfect description of Soundtrack To An Existential Crisis’ versatile nature. One of which was ‘Screw Feelings’, a song that see’s Au/Ra angry at herself, describing the artist's sentiment around being a sensitive human being, wishing throughout that she could become numb to it all. It was a monumental release for the artist as it was the first time she had worked with an all-female team- an experience that was empowering and opened new creative doors. “It was the first time I was in a studio with no males in the room, which is actually crazy.” Au/Ra proclaims, “Because I've been making music since I was 13. So, on top of that, we were all feeling that way. And I think we were all just super angry. That really comes across in the songs as very angsty, but also very freeing to say it. It was empowering to admit that we were frustrated with our emotions.”
Beyond her powerful vocal prowess, Au/Ra is perhaps best known for her unique lyrical style. Often dark and cryptic, the artist made a name very early on for her astute ability to tell encapsulating stories. Recent releases have shown her to adapt this style to accommodate a more personal and emotive approach, something that certainly didn’t feel natural at the start of her journey, as she explains: “I used to not want to write about love or romantic feelings whatsoever. I was disgusted by writing about things like that.” It was a change in direction that allowed her to connect with fans in a different way than previously, although there are some that still love that early style. “I know that a lot of them like the cryptic stuff and love the dark sounds and vibes.” Au/Ra explains, “I think it's just different ways to connect. It has a slightly different feel. It might be the better alternative to write the super cryptic lyrics.”
This more open approach to emotive songwriting is clear for all to see on Soundtrack To An Existential Crisis, where her growing maturity shines through in the EP’s message. Unafraid of appearing vulnerable, Au/Ra wants her listeners to know it’s okay not to feel okay, and they are not alone. “I really am trying to show some insight into feeling that way. Because I think a lot of us tend to have those thoughts. And they can sometimes be really eye-opening and healthy.” The artist explains, “And yeah, the entire EP is supposed to be there to help really with feeling that way. To really show that if anybody else does, I understand what that feels like. It is called soundtrack. But specifically, the interlude is the actual feeling for me. So, that one specifically you're supposed to listen to that one on headphones, in your bed before you go to sleep like your eyes closed. Including instructions. It's very neat. It's a conceptual EP.”
The artist has consistently maintained a close bond with her fanbase over the years. Utilizing the internet beyond the norms of social media, Au/Ra bridges the gap between being an artist and fellow nerd via the likes of Minecraft and Discord. It’s a totally forward-thinking way of connecting to some fans that adore the artist, yet again showcasing what a humble and genuinely awesome person she is. “I follow up my fan pages, we're always replying to each other's stories and I love it. It's like they are supporting my music and I might as well show my appreciation in some way.” Au/Ra states, “I love being present and trying to connect with the people who listen to my music. I have a discord server and a Minecraft server. I definitely love to connect with them in that way. Yeah, I'm a huge dweeb and I love video games, we definitely go through that world, which is cool.” The artist goes further and delves into the world of Twitch streaming, where she not only hopes to continue connecting with her fans but also opens new creative options in the form of a concert streamed via the platform.
Au/Ra is truly an artist that encapsulates the 21st-century world we live in. Whether it be in the form of pushing her digital image further or utilizing means above the expectations of many to interact with her fans, the vocalist certainly represents a unique figure in the music world. Her latest EP Soundtrack To An Existential Crisis shows her evolution as an artist, she’s consistently stayed true to her original artistic identity, whilst adding further personal, mature elements that only add to her loveable persona. It’s a powerful and emotive release that pushes the boundaries of alt-pop music. Beyond this monumental release, we only see the artist continuing her ascent to greatness.