In Conversation With Lana Del Rabies

Lana Del Rabies' Sam An brings the noise.
Lana Del Rabies' Sam An brings the noise. Paul Murray
When it comes to bringing the noise, few Arizona artists are turning as many heads with their racket as Sam An, a.k.a. Lana Del Rabies.

The desert has a surprisingly robust noise scene, with Tucson's annual noise fest and Phoenix venues like The Lunchbox and The Trunk Space hosting group shows packed with artists like Lav Andula and Scott Mitting. But Lana Del Rabies has an alluring blend of electronic music, noise, and industrial rhythms — along with her video art- and performance art-enhanced live shows. And it has garnered her national attention.

The artist has released two albums on L.A. label Deathbomb Arc. Founded by Foot Village's Brian Miller, the label has put out eardrum-puncturing records from groups like Clippng, AIDS Wolf, and JPEGMAFIA. She's close enough to the Deathbomb family that she and Miller collaborated on a project called America Fuck, releasing their first album, Fertility Clown, in 2017 while she finished working on her latest Lana Del Rabies album. Shadow World, the follow-up to 2016's In The End I Am A Beast, takes the feral dissonance of that record and channels it in a more structured, rhythmic way. It's an album that feels as coiled and tense as a rattlesnake on the verge of lashing out.

Phoenix New Times recently talked with the musician about Shadow World, what it was like working with Miller on America Fuck, and which noise artist has inspired her as live performer.

What inspired you to make Shadow World?
Last year, everything felt very chaotic and dark for me personally — from everything that was going on in the world, and to some degree is still going on. I had just put out my record with Deathbomb Arc, In The End I Am A Beast. That was kind of my debut, but I couldn’t really enjoy it being out there because it felt like there was this heaviness in my world. So I pretty much went into Shadow World writing from that place, and I went in with the goal of finishing a record by the end of the year.

I just needed to put everything that I was feeling into that. It was a way for me to process and reflect on a lot of that darkness and make sense of it. I also had goals of growing as a producer as well, and wanting to try more things and refine my technical skills.
One thing that struck me about Shadow World was how rhythmic it feels. It’s an album that really flows well — all the songs feel like they’re parts of one whole piece.
Curation is huge for me; with anything I do, I feel like things need to be able to work on their own as well as a whole. That’s how I would classify a successful record — being a record that has really strong tracks that come together as one. A work of art that works together.

In terms of the rhythmic element … I notice people were starting to classify me as a noise artist, which is cool, but at the same time I don’t really know if I consider myself a noise artist. I think I initially started the project playing with noise elements and with the idea of what it means for me to interpret those elements. But when that started to catch on, I didn’t know how I felt about it, because I was already growing out of only adhering to that style. I have a lot of influences in industrial music, goth music, and electronic music.

And as an electronic artist too, I’m kind of in a weird position because I don’t fit in with what the electronic scene usually — how do I say this? … There’s a certain kind of style and creative process that goes on in electronic music that I don’t really vibe with. Electronic music scenes tend to be about who’s bringing what gear — nerding out over tech stuff. And it’s also very beat-oriented music. While I respect that, and I have a lot of friends who are involved with that, it’s not my thing.

"I’m performing because I like being a performer, and not because I’m standing there pushing buttons."

tweet this
Last year, you and Brian Miller worked together on the America Fuck project. Did working on a collaborative effort like that influence what you were doing as a solo artist on Shadow World?
Not really. I’ve worked in many collaborations prior to this project as a producer and vocalist. That project with Brian was about us processing our feelings on the political situation in a nonpolitical way. It was sort of the opposite of what I was doing for the new Lana record … With the Lana record, production comes first, and the vocal melodies and lyrics come out of that. America Fuck was loose improvisation, layering, a totally different workflow. It was a way for me to work through these similar emotions in a different way, so the only way it really informed the record was that it allowed me to put that process somewhere else.

Considering how deeply rooted your music is in the studio, is it hard to replicate that sound live? When you perform live, are you trying to stay true to the recordings, or do you look at live performance as an opportunity to experiment and play with your sound?
I’m sort of known for playing a lot of shows locally. I can play as often as once or twice a week, and that has a lot to do with me wanting to engage with different scenes and audiences here. Playing a lot last year gave me the chance to sort out what I was really trying to say with my live performances, and the conclusion that I came to was that I’m not performing to show off what I’m using to produce … I want to put on a good show technically, with great sound and great fidelity and everything, but it’s a performance.

Pharmakon is someone I’ve respected and looked up to for a very long time. I finally got to see her live in Tucson at HOCO Fest. Watching her perform reminded me why I was doing this. People are drawn to her when she performs because of how visceral and feral and raw she’s getting. She will get off the stage and interact with the audience. Seeing her changed something in me about how I wanted to be a performer. I’m performing because I like being a performer, and not because I’m standing there pushing buttons. It feels more genuine.

Kind of a tangent, but I was wondering about “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” on In The End I Am A Beast. At the beginning of the track there’s this voice that says “Just remember: Everyone can hear you, and by the way — nobody cares.” What is that from? Is it a sample? Is it you whispering something in the studio?
That sample, and a few samples from that record, are from this independent film called Excess Flesh. And that film was pretty much how I met Brian Miller from Deathbomb in the first place. I used to work at a film distribution company that handled that film. Brian was putting out the soundtrack on Deathbomb Arc, and that’s how I met him.

That film is a very underrated, independent art horror film. At the time that I watched it, it helped me process some things I had gone through in my life. I got the director’s blessing to sample the film for that record.

There was recently a photo of you in the studio with Clippng and JPEGMAFIA that was circling on Twitter. Are you able to comment on what y’all are working on?
It’s so funny how that photo blew up. All I’ll say is that everyone at Deathbomb is always working on something, and things will reveal themselves in time.

Lana Del Rabies is scheduled to perform on Wednesday, April 25, at The Lunchbox. Tickets are $8 via Ticketfly.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Ashley Naftule