Delicate, vivid and brilliantly gothic, the music Lauren Auder makes — music that has garnered the attention of kindred spirits from Christine and the Queens (who took her on tour) to Hedi Slimane (he made her the face of his debut Celine collection; she has also modelled for Gucci) — draws heavily on her own personal journey.
‘A lot of my work, and I think increasingly so, relates to my experience as a trans person,’ the 21-year-old singer explains when we meet for our Monday morning Zoom call: her long, dark hair falling towards the camera and lit solely by the window of her Bermondsey flat. ‘I think that the work I’m doing right now is kind of coming to terms with how it feels to be in a society that is not accepting, specifically, of me.’
Auder tells me she is frustrated with the stigma and prejudice facing the trans community and what she sees as society’s tendency to shape trans people into a mould that they, as cis-gendered people, can accept. ‘The trans community tends to be swallowed up, aestheticised and tamed by the neo-liberal… I refuse to allow the narrative to be just that.’
She does acknowledge the benefits of more trans representation within the media, but wants her work to go beyond that. ‘Representation is a big win but it doesn’t change the lives of marginalised trans folk in a way that feels very consequential. I feel like there is no radical true self that I can really be without it becoming smoothed out. What a lot of my work is at the minute is these experiences and all their violence and grotesqueness.’
The pandemic, lockdown and everything else that has come along with it in 2020 has, inevitably, shaped the way Auder thinks. ‘It’s a very banal and boring apocalypse, the way it’s been,’ she says. ‘We often indulge in a lot of mythologisation around these global events: where we feel like we can change things and there’s some kind of possible revolution. But I think it’s hard to act in a crisis.
‘Political change happens when you have the time to be imaginative for a different future,’ she continues. ‘If you aren’t so stressed about eating and have a roof over your head, that’s when you can start to enact change, become a lot more radical. In terms of class, lockdown was so poor for so many; I think a lot of people realised that we don’t have any support.’
Auder speaks with an inspiring conviction in her beliefs: that we are on the cusp of a revolution, that the political system and capitalism itself is doomed to fail. It seems easy for her to reel off her thoughts on changing the world and exactly how we should go about shaping it. From the persistent problem of gender equality and how it interacts with class (‘You can be a woman and also a capitalist overlord, too. That’s not the kind of feminism that I want to see’) to the acceleration of society becoming more alienating and ‘atomising every individual’, Auder’s articulation of her radical yet entirely convincing perspective leaves me scrambling to jot down every word she says.
Born in London to music journalist parents — her mother worked for NME, her father for the heavy rock bible Kerrang! — Auder moved to the small French town of Albi in the Midi-Pyrénées region of France during adolescence. ‘It’s a special place,’ she says, ‘It’s got this wild and intense history of burning people at the stake that I only really delved into after leaving. It’s a big part of the language and the cultural symbolism that I use.’ (This would perhaps explain her EP’s artwork, which looks like a particularly unholy blend of Enya’s stand-out The Memory of Trees cover and a church wall fresco.)
It was in Albi that Auder started creating music in her bedroom and posting it online. ‘At 17 I was obsessed with the idea of leaving,’ she explains. ‘I was frantically emailing labels to try to find some sort of justification to leave France and not go into higher education.’ The emails worked: Auder was flown out to New York by True Panther Sounds to make a record, ‘and the rest, I suppose, is history’.
Her first ever Facebook status was ‘loves My Chemical Romance and Twilight’ and that, she says, was ‘the energy I was going into the internet with. It’s still a part of me.’ You can tell. Her music takes 2007 indie rock, adds a hint of Lana Del Rey and sets the resulting mix against a background of baroque orchestral sounds. It is a claustrophobic, intoxicating formula that has served her well, and she remains prolific. Next year she plans to release an album inspired by ‘political demonology’. For now there is a new single, ‘Quiet’, and then an upcoming EP entitled Five Songs For The Dysphoric that taps into her experiences as a trans person. ‘I wanted to talk about what it means to be intimate with someone when you’re not confident in your body,’ she says. ‘It’s a very alienating and strange feeling. And one that’s often misinterpreted.’ A recent break-up informed the songs; said break-up was, she tells me, ‘a big deal’, but in the end had its positives. ‘I got a pretty good EP out of it. I’m happy to have these songs out in the world and for them to symbolise that period in my life.’
After being discovered, Auder came back to live in London to make the most of the opportunities that were coming her way. Now though, she has decided she wants to head back to France. Here in the capital, she says, ‘there’s a very fine balance of quality of life versus general entertainment and opportunity. But with what’s going on, the balance is skewed. So I decided I’m going to move to Paris for a while.’
I ask whether the UK or France has had more of an impact on her music. ‘It’s kind of hard to say,’ she notes, ‘because all my musical taste was formed on the internet, which is borderless and genreless.’ Pushed for specific influences, she cites the likes of ‘Jim O’Rourke, The Microphones, Lana Del Rey… when she first came on the scene I thought it was the best because it was so radically different to everything else. It felt sincere in the most insincere way. Nostalgic for a past that doesn’t really exist and never really existed in the form she was presenting it. I feel like we’re all constantly stuck in this loop, feeding off the past.’
As I leave her, though, we talk about the future. Her vision for the years ahead is as compelling as her views on most things and, fortunately, also optimistic. ‘We have to rely on the next generation for education,’ she says of how real change can be affected. ‘I have an exciting outlook on the future. I think it’s hopeful.’
Lauren Auder’s new single, ‘Quiet’, is out now