Just going to open-mic nights and things like that. It was mostly in Brooklyn. It was a folk scene. When I was 19, I signed to an independent record label. I was the only act on their roster, and then that record was shelved. After that, I still wanted to sing, but I started focusing on being an active member of my community. It’s only in the last three months that I’ve had any attention.
You really came out of nowhere. Did you have a relationship with anyone at Interscope before your rise in popularity this summer?
No, I had never met anyone in that capacity. I had gone to record labels in London a year and a half ago and showed them my songs, but no one was interested. I hadn’t met any of the people that I’m signed to now. I know lots of people are wondering about the deal. [Laughs.]
Yeah, when I first heard “Video Games” in July, your record label was mentioned.
Well, I wrote that a few months ago with a composer called Justin Parker. I got a publicist a few weeks ago. I signed my deal a few weeks ago. I’ve had a very diligent manager for the last two years. In terms of assistance, I haven’t had a thing, which is OK. It’s nicer to have help.
I’m not that cool. I feel like I want to fucking kill myself. It’s miserable.
No help with your videos? The editing is great.
No, I found and edited all of those clips myself. In the last four weeks, I’ve had to hire copyright specialists to reach out to people to ask for approval for those clips, but I found them ten months ago by searching keywords on YouTube. It’s not like the videos are that good. I’d rather them not be up, but whatever. They’re fucking weird. It’s not like I wanted the videos to look that way; it’s just what I was working with at the time. I’m not sure it’s a perfect representation of what I would have chosen if I’d had more money. [Laughs.]
Well, it’s worked out for you.
Yeah, you’d think so, but there’s definitely a backlash to it that I’m starting to see now. But it’s fine.
Anytime I talk to someone who’s facing backlash, it’s always “Whatever” or “Haters are going to hate.”
I don’t feel that way. I’m not that cool. I feel like I want to fucking kill myself. It’s miserable.
What bothers you about the criticism?
I’m just not interested. Music is secondary to me. I wish I could go back to normal. I’m a really quiet person. I always have been. It’s hard when you see a lot of things written about you. It’s not what I had in mind.
Yeah, there’s a lot of speculation about your lips.
I can tell that’s going to be a fucking problem. I didn’t sign up to be famous, I just wanted to sing. It’s so annoying, but what am I going to do?
Are your lips real?
I haven’t had anything done at all. Anyone who’s known me will tell you that. I’m sorry, but I was living in a trailer park for a few years. I didn’t even have enough money to buy Cocoa Puffs. It’s not like I crawled from under the bridge and got surgery. I’m quite pouty. [Laughs.] That’s just how I look when I sing.
It’s just been a lot of moving around, working with a lot of different producers trying to get the sound of the record right. I have like four songs that I think, sonically, are really good. The record’s written, but it’s not produced. I haven’t gotten to fix anything up yet. I’m still living between a million different places. But it’s nice not to be trying to survive on the street. [Laughs.] That’s good. I’m glad that I’m safe and not in any dangerous regions.
Where are these million different places?
I’ve been living in London off-and-on for the last year and a half. I started going over there to work with different producers. I never expected to end up there, but I’ve been spending a lot of time there. I go to Glasgow in Scotland and I go see my friends. That’s really fun, but there’s a lot of other things. My life hasn’t been about music for a long time now. There’s a different side of my life and I don’t really talk about it.
So, you’re 25? That’s what’s mostly out there.
Yeah, I’m 25.
I was living in a trailer park. I didn’t have enough money to buy Cocoa Puffs. It’s not like I crawled from under the bridge and got surgery. I’m quite pouty. That’s just how I look when I sing.
When do you turn 26?
Who was it that broke your heart?
The songs are about two people that I couldn’t hang on to because they got in trouble and had to leave. When you’re an introvert like me and you’ve been lonely for a while, and then you find someone who understands you, you become really attached to them. It’s a real release.
I’ve seen you say things on Twitter like, “I still think about you.” Do you feel like you were supposed to be with one of them?
No. In this particular case, I know that I wasn’t supposed to be with that person, but I was still really lonely. It’s so hard to be alone. I think you know in the back of your mind when you meet someone that could be the right person. I think you know. It’s rare.
It seems like you play up your retro sex appeal intentionally.
Most of the songs are about heartbreak, but maybe the videos and the pictures have added to that perception. They are quite vamped up, aren’t they? [Laughs.] I have fun with it all, but music and taking pictures are not my end-all, be-all. They’re fun, but they’re not important to me. The most important thing, obviously, is the record. I just hope I can create that sonic world that I have in mind.
Who are you working with?
My best friend, who is a film composer in California. He’s been working with [Kanye West producer] Jeff Bhasker and [Kid Cudi producer] Emile Haynie, who are more in the hip-hop world, and we’re creating a really good thing. I don’t think it’s going to be an easy road, but for me, it’s going to be about the songs.
People have high expectations for your album. Are you feeling the pressure?
I don’t feel pressure, but I do feel nervous. I’m not used to having a lot of people hear my music. When you don’t have a lot of people listening to your music for a long time, you start making it for yourself and it takes the pressure off. I really like the record. Of course I hope people like it, because I don’t want to deal with any drama.