Girl Most Likely

Girl Most Likely

The enigmatic star captivating a generation of listeners rarely gives interviews and hates the press. Now preparing to unveil her latest album, Lana Del Rey turns over a new leaf. As she tells her good friend James Franco, this is the honeymoon of her life.

The enigmatic star captivating a generation of listeners rarely gives interviews and hates the press. Now preparing to unveil her latest album, Lana Del Rey turns over a new leaf. As she tells her good friend James Franco, this is the honeymoon of her life.

Photography: Steven Klein

Styling: Mel Ottenberg

Text: James Franco

Last year when I was doing Of Mice and Men on Broadway, I watched Lana Del Rey’s video for “Ride” while I was waiting to go onstage. I was immediately taken with Lana’s magic. The video features an American landscape and a soundscape pushed to the extremes of loneliness: a lost soul sings from lonely motel rooms in desert wastelands about the kindness of strangers that she has met on the road.

I later learned that the song was a testament of all that is Lana: a contrast between innocence and experience, light and dark, life and death. Almost every one of her songs features a lovelorn angel who has comingled with a devil, and as a result has tasted the highest passion, even though the relationship will also lead to her doom.

After watching the “Ride” video I asked my friend Keegan Allen for Lana’s number. By coincidence it was her birthday, so I texted her birthday wishes while she was on tour in Europe. When she returned to the States two weeks later she came to Of Mice and Men and we quickly became friends over our mutual love of music and film.

One of our constant subjects of conversation is persona versus the true self. As an actor I see art as a performance, and even life as a performance. Lana as a singer-songwriter sees her work as an expression of her reality. I try to argue that even if her songs are confessional, they are contributing to a creation of Lana’s making—that her “reality” is largely of her own creation. This view disturbs Lana because she sees herself as a creative reporter of her experience, rather than an active sculptor of her persona.

She asked me to interview her for V because the regular interviewers inevitably ask the same questions about her love life and her death wishes. They read too literally into her lyrics, and generally try to denigrate her for reasons I can’t fathom, but suspect have something to do with her being a successful woman, albeit one who writes songs about the dark side of life rather than uplifting anthems of positivity.

Lana has outlived the live fast-die young period, if only because she is now older than James Dean ever was. The tragic heroines in her songs might live tragic lives and die for love before their time, but the real Lana has endured. Her songs might involve broken figures living in the dark, beautiful realms of the shadows, but her career is the opposite: a feminine triumph against all odds amidst an uproar of critics who purposely misread her.

Lana is an enigma that after a year I am still unable to untangle. She seems to want her songs to be read as confessions, while on the other hand so much of her work is a conscious creation. As always, I tried to get to the bottom the mystery that is Lana Del Rey.

JAMES FRANCO I saw a headline that said that you and I were secretly dating.

LANA DEL REY Is there something you want to clear up in print?

JF Well, I wonder why people think that.

LDR I think it’s natural for them to think it, because we have common interests and we’ve spent time together. We’re of the same ilk. It wouldn’t be far-fetched for somebody who was looking in on it, right?

JF I remember how we became friends. You came to my play and I felt like we just really got along.

LDR Definitely, me too.

JF Tell me about your videos—when you’re performing in them, it seems to me like you’re supposed to be a character.

LDR I was surprised at how much you thought that it was a character, and looking back I do get it. I think it’s so hard to tell what facets of a person go into what you see on-screen. I’m hesitant to divulge further because when you’re in a certain position you try to keep part of the story to yourself even though you feel compelled to share it artistically. I think that’s been a little bit of a roadblock for me, feeling like I was writing about things autobiographically and following in that vein visually. There were things I wanted to say but I didn’t want to comment on them any further than in the medium that I put them in.

JF With songwriters, a lot of their work is read like it’s fact.

LDR When you write a record, lyrically, completely yourself and then you conceptualize these videos, people have no other alternative than to take them at face value. I think considering the content of the videos and the songs, that’s where the criticism arises from. But I do have a colorful past, and I’ve been pretty candid about that.

JF So, what about a song like “Florida Kilos”?

LDR It’s funny you should bring up that song because that’s actually the only co-write on [Ultraviolence]. And that is Harmony Korine. He wanted me to write a tune about his movie that I think you’re going to be in [The Trap]. It’s about cocaine cowboys. So for fun, that was something where he was just spitting off insane lyrics and asking me to put them into melodies. That song in particular is not autobiographical.

JF But there is that expectation, that people will read into it.

LDR I mean, that’s the risk!

JF Maybe you didn’t consider these kinds of things as much on your first album because you had this naïve freedom...but then it got so big. Does that change the way you write?

LDR A little bit. I didn’t monitor myself on Ultraviolence because, with how tumultuous my trajectory has been, I felt even more of a need to be candid. You have to select things within your own body of work for a record if you want a concept record—which they all are, in my mind. For instance, for Ultraviolence, I really felt the need to get back to my roots and back to something that felt a little more feral and wild. That’s why I asked Dan [Auerbach of the Black Keys] to help me—that’s the kind of world he lives in. He does whatever he wants. I had a lot of freedom to do a song in one take. Even if it’s not perfect and my voice is breaking, it’s special to me because it’s the moment it was captured in. The concept with that record was to be as raw as I wanted to be.

JF Even though you had been criticized?

LDR The luxury is that you get to continue to tell your story. The reward is in documenting your life, if that’s something that’s important to you. I’m not really a director, but I do like to write and for a writer, you don’t know any story better than your own. In some ways making the record is easy, and then talking about it is hard. With Honeymoon, I got to feel a little more playful. I didn’t feel the need to delve into personal issues as much, but to indulge in a more jazzy feel for the opening and closing of the record and then get a little bit grimier in the middle with some mid- to up-tempo songs.

JF Charles Barkley would say, “Look, I’m an athlete. I play basketball really well. I’m not a role model.” When you get criticized for not putting out a positive message, it’s weird to me.

LDR First of all, when you’re writing a record alone, you don’t really think about the effect your music is going to have on other people. I’m not really the type of person to condone any behavior that would end up being harmful to anyone else but at the same time I’m not going to limit my lyrical content to things that don’t really relate to me or sing about things just because they rhyme. The further away I get from each record the more space I have to think about whether it’s important to be responsible. I still don’t know. I’ve been influenced by things I’ve read—that’s why I’m a writer—but I don’t think it’s ever made me do something I wasn’t going to do anyway. I always bring up Allen Ginsberg and “Howl” and how interesting it was that it resonated with me at 14 and that it didn’t with most of my classmates. In fact, it didn’t with any of them. There was a reason why Beat poetry was important to me as soon as I discovered it. But people would stay up all night on amphetamines at that time and churn out novels and it didn’t make me want to do that! It made me want to play with words. Some people listen to music and they don’t really think about it too much further than that they like to hear it in the car. Some people listen to it and they think, “God, that’s appalling, I’m not going to let my daughter listen to that.” The luxury we have as a younger generation is being able to figure out where we want to go from here, which is why I’ve said things like, “I don’t focus on feminism, I focus on the future.” It’s not to say that there’s not more to do in that area. I’ve gotten to witness through history the evolution of so many movements and now I’m standing at the forefront of new technological movements. I’m not undermining other issues. But I feel like that’s obvious, like I shouldn’t even have to bring that up.

JF There’s something about singer-songwriters. You get a particular kind of pressure.

LDR But we need to be taken at face value. At the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement were the folk singers, because of what they were saying.

JF In old movies, the gangsters would have to be punished. LDR Being a writer is more like being a director than it is like being an actor. You’re directing the script. Nobody’s telling you what to do and you choose where that lyrical story is going to go. As you’ve seen with the stuff I’ve gone through, you can’t control anything else that follows it. The story is in the record. It’s your decision as to whether that person is your taste or not. I mean, you can’t be everybody’s cup of tea.

JF Your songs are evocative because they capture human circumstances so well. You’re articulating things in a very clear way.

LDR Thank you. I think you hit the nail on the head because clarity is the key. A lot of people have good ideas, but it’s all about communication. With a lot of my songs, you don’t have to look much further. I’m right here. It’s right here. We could almost talk about anything else because I’m putting it all out there already. Any time you have a question you can always refer back to the songs. Therein the story lies.

JF The new album is a little less dark, but it is dark.

LDR So is life!

JF And art is the place for that kind of thing. It needs to be talked about. It needs to be put into psalms. I look at something I’ve done, like Spring Breakers. The character I play in that film is not a role model. He’s a murderer, he’s a drug dealer, he’s crazy, he’s kind of a clown. But on another level, he is sort of a liberated figure and almost a guru. If you look at the film as a piece of art that uses extreme circumstances to talk about the human condition, then I’m very proud of it. We captured something unique and I feel that’s true of your songs as well.

LDR You have to remember that historically, cinema is where people go to be entertained and to escape. It’s the truest form of entertainment that America knows and loves. And music, historically, is where people have gone to look for truth, if you’re talking about roots singers, folk singers, jazz singers, and the origins of rock and roll. But that being said, music has gotten to a very different place now where stars of all sorts are all on the same shelf to be looked at by the same eye. I don’t mean that in a demeaning way. I think my music has gotten to the point where the visuals are just as important.

JF You told me that you never wanted to be a live performer, at least not in huge venues, but it sounds like [the Endless Summer Tour] was a really positive experience.

LDR It was amazing. We played 40,000 capacity shows. Being in America, that definitely blew my mind.

JF So you’re getting used to it?

LDR Yeah [laughs].

JF Tell me about your recording process.

LDR I guess my process has been similar for the past six years. I took two years in London and Sweden and elsewhere in Europe to do Born to Die. That time frame came from the fact that my song was on the radio and it was time to have a full record. So I picked my favorite songs. [The Paradise Edition] was out about a year later. Then a year and a few months after that Ultraviolence came out, and now a year and a few months later, I’ll have another record out. I toured for a few months, I made my record for about eight months before. I mixed and mastered for three additional months. Now I’m in a great position where I can conceptualize something else if I want to.

JF You’re already thinking about the next one?

LDR I’m always thinking about the next one.

JF You played me one song that I wanna say was gospel influenced, from the new record.

LDR There’s one song called “God Knows I Tried” which has a little bit of a gospel feel to it. There are a few songs that are really easy to listen to, like “Honeymoon” and this song called “Terrence Loves You.” They’re beautiful melodies with a kind of noir atmosphere. The middle section of the record is pretty beachy and a bit more sexy and mid-tempo.

JF Who are your early, eternal influences?

LDR Nothing really started for me until I was 17, and I haven’t grown out of that taste. The first would be Bob Dylan. He’s the person I always look to. He’d probably hate hearing that, but it’s true. I love how effortlessly his muse came to him and I liked hearing him talk about when that stopped. He kept writing anyway, with different styles, from folk to electric. I love the D. A. Pennebaker film Dont Look Back. That was a big influence for me, seeing all the people he had on the road with him, like Joan Baez and his band. I also love Nirvana. That’s been well documented. You know, Nevermind. I love Courtney. Being with her [on tour] was like a real-life dream. I love everything she does. I’m really inspired by her and her approach to life. The Beach Boys. Pet Sounds. I love Dennis Wilson’s solo stuff.

JF It’s funny, I associate you so much with the West Coast but you’re a total East Coast baby. You were just so drawn to everything West Coast?

LDR I was. I didn’t even know I was incorporating so much imagery from the West Coast into my videos, even when I was 16. At that point, that was the dream life. Then I got here and it could all be real. And it is [laughs]. It’s a beautiful thing when that happens.

JF Why did you call the new album Honeymoon?

LDR “Honeymoon.” I guess it’s the word that sums up the ultimate dream. I mean, life is a honeymoon, y’know? Life, love, paradise, freedom...that’s forever. With someone, or just with yourself. It just felt right, kind of the way Ultraviolence felt right before that, when I had a little more rage [laughs]. I love the concept that life is a dream and you curate your own space so that it becomes your heaven. It’s all contingent upon your state of mind, which is why I don’t always do interviews—because it puts me in a bad fucking mood. I really try and keep my world beautiful but it’s tricky. We’re at a point in time when life truly can be what you want it to be. Is that something you think about or do you just think about work?

JF My life is exactly how I want it to be.

LDR I know this interview isn’t about you, but something I’ve always wondered was, is it necessary for your life to be an extension of your art?

JF I try to make my private life as stable as possible so I can do whatever I want in my creative life. And one of the most intimate things I can do is make something with somebody. I have one more question. You once said that you were more successful in Europe. Do you still feel that way?

LDR People’s perspectives are always changing. People change their minds. But I know that when I go to Paris and play a residency at the Olympia that it’s going to be beautiful and I’m not going to be misunderstood. I never was, in France or Milan. Even for all the hard times I’ve had in some of the British press it was my first home, musically. So it’s probably always going to be that way. But I do feel a lot more comfortable here now.

JF You’re the number-one female artist here in terms of streaming. Your music is undeniably popular. [laughs]

LDR I guess there’s a really big discrepancy in the amount of people who apparently listen to the music and a very vocal sector of people who have a lot of negative things to say. I mean, they almost cancel each other out. Statistics are so ethereal, it’s hard to get a grasp on them. So, hearing what people say to your face if you have an altercation or if you read something in a publication that you read everyday, I don’t think you can ever have a good grasp on whether people like you or not. But that doesn’t mean they’re not listening.

JF It’s not like you’re…

LDR A shock rock artist?

JF Right! And if you could just make your music without giving any interviews, you would. You’re not asking for a lot of attention, but you strike such a chord with people. Why is that?

LDR I think if you take an artist at face value, you’re forced to look at the lyrical content and some of it isn’t that easy to digest. People do have bad reactions to some of the more negative scenarios I might go into musically. If it’s not that, it’s something else, and what that something else is, we’ll probably never know, right? But my work is my life and I feel lucky to be able to travel around with a journal and take in nature and reflect my interpretations of that in song form. I mean, it’s a luxury, and I know that. As uncomfortable as my interviews can be, when I’m not doing them I have all this time to do what I want. And to be able spend your life doing what you love? That’s the ultimate goal.

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