Au/Ra on Writing Fan Fiction, Anime, and Not Having to Always “Stay Happy” [Q&A]

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Meet Au/Ra, the new wave cool girl carrying the dark pop genre into the light. The singer has lived quite a life and made remarkable career moves in spite of only being 17. After touring with the likes of ALMA, Lewis Capaldi, and Nina Nesbitt, Au/RA is back to releasing her electronic-backed, vividly emotional singles like “Dance in the Dark” and “Medicine.” 

With her eye-catching green hair tied back in a ponytail, we got a chance to talk to Au/Ra about her Caribbean upbringing, Lord of The Rings, and her brand new music video for “Stay Happy” just before her show at School Night in Los Angeles.

OTW: Soundcheck sounded great. Is this your first show in a while?

Au/Ra:: Yes, in a while! It’s crazy how time flies by so quickly, because I was on tour here last year ALMA. I haven’t been back since then, so it’s really cool.

OTW: I know you mentioned previously playing AnimeCon. I’m wondering if your album artwork is a nod to anime at all?

Au/Ra: It definitely is an ode to anime, I’d say. I’ve been really inspired by the art and culture behind anime. I think at the very start of my making music, I always had it in my head that all of my artwork would be illustrated. I just didn’t see myself as an artist with a bunch of photography with my face on everything. 

OTW: Wow, you know it’s a hot take to do that!

OTW: Yeah, we just kind of continued with it. And I don’t plan on stopping because I just really love how it looks. I do wish I could draw like that though. It’s not me, because I’m terrible at drawing!

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OTW: Oh so am I! I can only do stick figures and such. 

Au/Ra: Same! I’m all doodles. I think the only thing I can draw is anime eyes. I’m just not good with full faces! But I’ve been working with different illustrators basically. It’s so crazy because the way I found them was just by DM’ing them on Instagram. I’ll go on an explore page and go through anime art. Then I’ll look up the illustrator and DM them, like, “Are you looking for commissions?” 

OTW: They’ve done great work! So you were raised in Ibiza and moved to the Caribbean. How did all of this happen?

Au/Ra: It’s sort of a strange thing, and I grew up thinking it was normal! And of course, all of my friends there had a story like that. They had all moved there with their families from different countries as well. Some had been born and raised there, so I think it’s something we all did get used to. And now since everyone’s started moving away, and doing their own thing, we’ve all come back to the island and been like, “Wow it’s a big world out there. And the way that we’ve been raised here, is not normal!” It’s different. 

OTW: What was it like? I mean you live where people vacation!

Au/Ra: Kind of! That was kind of like the thing. But it was different after you’ve lived there because you experience all sides of the island. It’s a beautiful place and I’m so lucky to have grown up there. The beaches are stunning, the food is amazing, and the people are lovely. But there definitely are some struggles too. Like sometimes there is a lack of resources, especially during droughts. We had to order like 15 water trucks to fill up our cistern. Hurricanes, power cuts are a regular thing as well. It’s an island! 

OTW: Has living there influenced your music at all? Or at least how you approach music-making? 

Au/Ra: It definitely did. I think the reason why I got into creative writing and songwriting was because I didn’t really have access to TV or the internet for a while. It really gave me time to focus on that. And eventually, when I got my laptop, I started uploading and writing everything there. But I think it’s just the outlook–you know, treasuring resources more. I mean right now, it’s so crazy with climate change and everything that’s happening in the world. 

That, of course, has been happening for ages, but now people are actually talking about it. Like Greta Thunberg; She is so cool. I’m in awe of her. She’s wise beyond her years. But I’ve been more inclined to talk about things in my music that aren’t talked about as much. Definitely growing up with not having access to certain things all the time, and seeing what that is like when you don’t have water or power anymore. I think it formed a different perspective I have on things. My first song “Concrete Jungle” really addressed all of that. That and several social issues too. 

OTW: On the subject of writing, I read somewhere that your stage name comes from a Lord of the Rings fan fiction you wrote.

Au/Ra: Ugh! I’m such a nerd! It’s really funny because I started writing and getting really into Lord of the Rings when I was 12. I could even speak Elvish for a little bit.

OTW: Oh wow so when other kids went Harry Potter, you went Lord of The Rings

Au/Ra: I went Lord of the Rings, yeah I went back! (laughs) I had such a big crush on Legolas. After watching the movies, I read the books and got into it. Then I wrote fan fiction about one of the characters, and her original name was Aurethial. I always loved the word aura, and what it meant. When I was 14, I went back to that when I was thinking of what my artist name should be. I might as well use that. The slash, I wish it had a big meaning behind it but, there is another artist Aurora. She’s Scandinavian and really cool. She was up-and-coming then, and I didn’t want to confuse people. 

OTW: Lovely origin story! Speaking of origin stories, I know you’ve been doing this for two years, but when did you really start getting into music?

Au/Ra: When I was 12, that’s probably when I was officially like I want to do this. It’s only five years ago. I was in the same choir since I was nine, so I think that helped me get over my stage fright. I always loved singing, and my family is in the music industry. Music was always something I was around the creation of–my dad’s a producer and mom is a songwriter. I actually worked with them before I worked with anyone else.

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OTW: Nice, so they were pretty supportive of this?

Au/ra: Ehh, no… At first, they weren’t. No.. (laughs) They were like, “You can’t do this.” We had gone through quite a hard time being in the music industry though, especially in the early 2000s. You know, when streaming was first developing and physical sales were going down. So they were like “No, no, no. This is not a promising career right now.” And I then I just took matters into my own hands and started uploading Youtube music videos. My dad saw them and was like “Oh this is not-” and he helped me start making proper videos.

OTW: So once they saw you were serious about it-

Au/ra: I was really stubborn too. So once they saw how dedicated I was to it, they were more supportive and open to taking me seriously. 

OTW: We’ve got to talk about “Stay Happy.” It touches on so many things I think us young people struggle with, like fomo and making new fake friends. Where did the idea for “Stay Happy” come from?

Au/Ra: I was going through a weird time where I was really neutral. I wasn’t very happy or sad. It was just kind of like this weird middle feeling, and I didn’t know what to do. I thought it would just go away after a while. But I found after some time that if I tried to make myself happier again, I was just faking it. So like what do I do? And writing about it was part of what helped me solve it. As cheesy as that sounds, that actually just helped me figure out what it was and accept it. It’s just a phase. It’s alright, and life can be like that sometimes. And there are other people who feel this way too. So it’s a nice reminder that everyone has little happy/sad moments and that’s life. 

OTW: Life has its ups and downs. The part about life hacks too–that got me.

Au/Ra: Yeah! You know you go on wikiHow and look up things? That was the whole thought behind the video. It was me trying stereotypical ways to make myself feel happy again. I did have an idea to have a puppy. I’ve been trying to get a puppy into a music video for a while now. I just wanted the puppy to lick my face, but me be ignoring it, as if I’m sabotaging my own happiness by ignoring this cute puppy. That didn’t work. I feel like all of my videos are pretty dark. But this one is much more quirky. 

OTW: When is even more new music coming?

Au/Ra: Soonish. It’s all being planned. You can always count on me to release new music. I won’t just disappear. 

OTW: Who are your Ones To Watch?

Au/Ra: I absolutely love girl in red. She’s incredible! I also love Cavetown and IDER. They’re great. I saw them live last month and they were amazing.

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