In her first New Zealand interview since the release of ‘Green Light’, Lorde talks about her return to the stage at Coachella last weekend, Melodrama‘s surprisingly traditional roll-out, and what the deal is with the party tank.
On Easter weekend Lorde played her first major show in nearly three years, sub-headlining the main stage at Coachella. From the first notes – a string-backed version of the opening verse of ‘Green Light’ which gave way to an updated version of Pure Heroine’s ‘Tennis Court’ – her voice was strong, and her performance self-possessed, punctuated by nervously excited but warmly social banter.
With her existing band supplemented by a line of backing singers and a modest string section, old songs sounded full and revitalised. ‘Liability’ made the desert intimate; ‘Green Light’ was confirmed as a festival-closing anthem. And she gave fans something they don’t often get in a time when, even if it isn’t officially livestreamed, every second of a show is recorded on thousands of phones in the crowd: three songs from an eagerly awaited but unfinished album.
Coachella comes at a transitional moment for Lorde. Most artists use the major festivals as a platform to introduce a new record (as Kendrick Lamar did right after Lorde) or as a career retrospective (as Radiohead did a couple of nights before). Neither option is available for a young artist with her second album, Melodrama, still months away.
So, while she was being driven down Santa Monica Boulevard, finishing her album in between Coachella performances (she plays her second show on Monday, New Zealand time), I asked her what it was like to return to the festival after four years, debuting new material in the live stream age, and what is going on inside that party tank.
What’s it like to play Coachella again after four years?
It was wonderful! I was interested in how it would feel as well and it was different but a nice little circle back around. It’s obviously such a weird hardcore show for what is basically the first of the whole cycle. It doesn’t leave a whole lot of room to fuck it up, but I kind of thrive in those bizarre, high-pressure situations. Obviously we have a lot to work on and polish, but it felt like a nice start and the energy of it was cool. I dunno … It was just fun. It was fun to be onstage chatting and singing and dancing around.
How did it feel different?
Obviously, the slot is so different. For one thing, they pay so much more. I think I booked Coachella last time super, super early, almost like a year before we played, whereas this time there was an awareness of wanting to build the best show we could with what we’ve been given and have it feel like it was worth it. And yeah, the main stage is no joke. Especially at that time, you really have a lot of people’s evening in your hands and I was very aware of not wanting to fuck that up.
Also, last time it was so early in the cycle that everything was a little off-the-cuff, like we just got up there and played a bunch of songs. There wasn’t a lot of production necessarily, whereas obviously with this show there’s more to it, so there was quite a lengthy technical rehearsal process. And I’m definitely the great overseer when it comes to something like this. I have my nose in every single possible area of the show, so it was a long process of sitting with lighting, or sitting editing the content of the screens, or sitting with the director of the show who shot it for the IMAG, the screens that most of the festival watch it on, getting really deep and technical on how we would do that. Because people look at these screens all day and it’s about giving them something slightly different and interesting to look at. So it was definitely a big step up in terms of work but it was good. It was super good.
Where did the conceptual and narrative side of the show come from? What’s that creative process like?
I built the show with [stage designer] Es Devlin, who I have admired for a really long time. And from the jump, we were just wanting to head towards something that we felt like we hadn’t seen. It’s hard to come up with stuff that feels new, and with the tank it felt weird and interesting and quite specific to me. And it’s also enough of a canvas that we can continue to switch up with how we interact with that piece of gear, so it was appealing to me for those reasons.
The two of us just built it from the ground up, bouncing ideas back and forth. I decided that I wanted the show to follow the arc of an evening in my life and I loved the idea of the show having a narrative – have a peak and having falls and slowly building in the same way that an evening does. I know that’s not something everyone does with their live show and I didn’t know if people would necessarily follow the thread of that, but that was one of the main principles that we built the show around.
It was a cool process working with Es. It’s so inspiring for me to work with people who totally don’t work within the confines of what ‘can be done’. You start really really abstract and elemental and philosophical with her and then head towards something you could actually build and travel with, so I found that really interesting.
So the party scene in the tank – is that the narrative of the album, which you’ve talked about, or is it more the narrative of the performance?
I think they inform one another. This is something of its own thing, but they’re in the same world for sure. And the thread of it really helps to bring the old songs into the future because obviously when you have two records it’s very much a case of ‘How could I play seven songs from my other project without it feeling like something old?’.
Melodrama is getting quite a traditional roll-out, with an actual release date that’s months away. That’s something we used to deal with all the time, but now it feels like it’s a long time be waiting – yet you’ve got some of the biggest shows you could play in the interim. You can’t not play any new material, but you can’t play too much new material because then it’s on the internet and everyone can see and hear it. So how do these shows act as an intermediary between the closing of the Pure Heroine era and the beginning of the Melodrama era? Does this feel like an end point as much as a starting point?
I really feel less of the end point phenomenon and more of the start point phenomenon. We did think hard about making sure there was enough in the set that felt new so it wasn’t just a rehash of something that we had done. We basically debuted three new songs at Coachella which is, I think, generous. And it’s been interesting because the album took longer to finish than we were expecting so it wasn’t a case where it was like, ‘Oh, we could drop it tomorrow if we wanted’. We actually needed the time. But I’m a big fan of the long lead, I’m a fan of the traditional release. I think there’s a bravery to it, I think there has to be an element of standing behind what you’ve done to be like, ‘Okay, this thing’s coming out in a couple of months and I’m really proud of it.’ I think you can kind of get off the hook with a ‘Dropping tomorrow, don’t worry about it!’ type thing.
I’m such a big fan of album cycles where it feels like the album dropping isn’t the end. That feels like the end of the roll out when it should be in the first third. It should be still unfolding and interesting shit should happen and you should learn more and hear it in different ways, so I think it’s cool to play these shows before the album’s full-noise and everyone’s heard all of it. It’s cool for this to be the first chapter and as we keep playing festivals and shows over the summer people find out more about it. I think it’s so exciting to hear a song for the first time that you’re going to, hopefully, end up listening to a lot. I love the idea of Coachella being the place where you say, ‘Hi. Welcome.’
You’re playing the same festival two weekends in a row, which is unusual. And what’s also unusual about it is that it’s being live streamed to many many people, maybe millions of people. How do you approach a show knowing that more people are watching it on a laptop than there are at the festival? And how do you approach this weekend’s show knowing that people know what to expect?
I guess that doesn’t bother me too much because I feel like every single concert I go and see, I already know quite a bit about it from watching clips on Instagram or whatever. I think that’s an inbuilt part of the concert experience now. There’s no substitute for standing in a field with 50,000 people and the drums are just kicking you in the chest and everyone around you is losing their shit and everyone is sweaty. It’s not something you can get spoilt for you by the computer. I truly believe in the show and it’s the kind of thing that even if you go watch on the computer you can still get into it live. But also, because of it being live music, there’s an element of… I might chat some different chat next time. I think we’re going to rejig some stuff. It’s cool because it’s at that early stage where it continues to change day to day.
So you’ve kept some surprises in your pocket?
I think so. Should I just play the whole album on Sunday, Henry?
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