LVRA on Soft Like Steel

Ahead of releasing their latest project Soft Like Steel, we catch up with 2021 Sound of Young Scotland winner LVRA to find out more

Feature by Arusa Qureshi | 14 Mar 2023
  • LVRA

The world that LVRA fashions through music is a glorious amalgamation of beauty and chaos. The latter is evident in the frenetic, club-ready maximalism of electronic, pop and industrial sounds that make up their sonic palette. But there is immense beauty and drama too, which lies in the artistry and aesthetics that illustrate the often otherworldly concepts within the music. 

“I feel like I'm getting much closer to understanding who I am,” LVRA says, reflecting on the present. “But it's like, how do I turn what I know I am now into the version of myself that I want to be?”

This question is one that permeates heavily in Soft Like Steel, LVRA’s new seven-track project, which is to be released via Eastern Margins, the London-based label platforming music from the margins of East and South-East Asia and its diaspora. It begins with the ominous Welcome and ends with a rebirth of sorts in Rising, the five tracks in between wrestling with the notion of selfhood, internal conflict and the natural progression of life. In the middle is lead single 'anxiety', a high-energy aural depiction of the recognisable feeling of the walls closing in, and of the inner voice that likes to sabotage. It’s a product of the mental gymnastics experienced alongside coming out of lockdown.

“I was feeling so much anxiety that I decided I needed to make a song out of this,” LVRA explains. “And I wanted the song to feel good when I performed on stage. I want to be able to scream those words and I want to almost mock myself, and mock this feeling and this little voice in my head for doing all these things to me that I don’t want.”

The EP on the whole is what LVRA describes as a “collection of those moments”, with a narrative that is more broadly based around everyday struggles, from trying to figure out the correct next move to questioning whether the chosen path is the right one. 

Soft Like Steel is really about trying to challenge my perceptions,” LVRA says, “whether it be about my mental state and a struggle that I'm having with that or to do with how I feel about my body, or how I feel about bodies and beauty in general. It's all just moments of me struggling and trying to turn it into something that can be cathartic on stage.”

Since winning the inaugural Sound of Young Scotland Award in 2021, they’ve been working on refining their sound, experimenting with darker and more experimental textures, as well as visuals that match in terms of vibrancy. Soft Like Steel arrives alongside a three-part short film, shot by Oscar McNab, which opens with a William Blake quote: “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.” What follows is a metaphorical and physical journey taken by a central character, with LVRA’s voice acting as the external dialogue.  

“We wanted to create a physical story that represented that mental journey of overturning ideas," they tell us. "The idea is when the protagonist walks through the door, they enter a new challenge, a new perception that they need to overcome.”

So in the ‘anxiety’ portion of the film, there’s a sense of claustrophobia, and overcoming that inner voice, while ‘venom’ features the protagonist literally peeling skin off, representing the removal of preconceptions about beauty and your body and how you should feel. It’s purposely visceral, which LVRA notes is exactly what they’re drawn to artistically. “I see a lot of beauty in things that maybe are stereotypically a bit disturbing; I have a curiosity for those things.

“I see visuals as just like another vessel you can use as a way of communicating those ideas,” they continue. “My real passion lies in the world building aspect; I really wanted the EP to feel like it had its own world through the video. And that's why we chose to do the short film as well as have the EP. It's about having all the different elements of this world.”

The release of the project also brings with it two dates in London and Glasgow, which will mark LVRA’s first ever headline shows. There are inevitably nerves but LVRA is excited to add yet another element to this world that has been created. “I think it makes all of the ideas more believable, more visceral, it enhances all of the things that the visuals are trying to do. Because when you see it in the flesh, that's probably the most sensory activity you're going to get; when you're hearing it and seeing it and touching it and feeling it and sweating and singing and dancing all at the same time.”

For the past few years, Chinese-Scottish artist and producer Rachel Lu has been on an upward trajectory under the moniker of LVRA, having succeeded in moulding a world that is uniquely theirs but at the same time, familiar in its interrogation of self and the multiplicity of certain experiences. Soft Like Steel is just the next step in their creative output but one that signifies a new era of comfort and confidence within. “We can do whatever we want really, and that can involve struggle, pain and suffering and sometimes it involves undergoing uncertainty.” LVRA says of the EP’s ultimate purpose, “I just want people to be more open to new things. The message is to not avoid the conflict, internally or externally, but to embrace it.”

Soft Like Steel is released on 22 Mar via Eastern Margins; LVRA plays Civic House, Glasgow, 31 Mar
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