He has Owl City and Green Day to thank.
In Elite Daily's series Early Influences, musicians reflect on the songs and albums that left a lasting impression on them in their formative years. Here, Lauv talks about the artists that helped shape his music today.
Lauv remembers when he first discovered Owl City, the musical act created by singer-songwriter Adam Young. He was 13, it was 2008, and the act’s debut album, Maybe I’m Dreaming, had just dropped. At the time, Lauv, whose real name is Ari Leff, had started sharing his music on Myspace under the band name Somersault Sunday. So when Owl City, which also got its start on Myspace, found IRL success, Lauv suddenly had a guiding light.
Maybe I’m Dreaming changed his idea of what music could be, and he studied tracks like “Rainbow Veins” and “I’ll Meet You There” to figure out his own artistic footing. “I would try to download some of the same software [that was used on the album] and try to figure out some of the synths and the drum sounds,” Lauv tells Elite Daily. “From there, I developed my own sound.”
And develop his own sound he did. Lauv first found success in 2017 with the single “I Like Me Better,” a track that has been certified platinum in the U.S. five times over and has amassed over 1 billion Spotify streams. In 2020, he dropped his critically acclaimed debut record, How I’m Feeling. Thanks to his candor about breakups and mental health on hits like “I’m So Tired...,” “F*ck I’m Lonely,” and “Modern Loneliness,” Lauv has become known as the Heartbreak King. Now, the king returns to the spotlight with All 4 Nothing (out Aug. 5), an introspective 13-track ode to his youth.
As for the name Somersault Sunday? It’s what set the stage for the success Lauv experiences today. He created the act in 2008 while he was still in middle school, and the band gave him the chance to show off his vocals and practice his guitar skills in front of a live crowd. While Somersault Sunday’s discography is filled with electronic sounds that are reminiscent of Owl City’s music, he also found guitar and drum influences in Green Day.
“I feel like every kid at my age at that time was learning Green Day songs,” Lauv says. He’d spend time in his room with a small amp and guitar, looking up how to play tracks from their 2004 album American Idiot.
Somersault Sunday’s last release was in 2010, and he later adopted the stage name Lauv in 2015. Around this time, he began literally studying Owl City again by writing a college essay on Maybe I’m Dreaming. “The thing that I retained the most [from Owl City] is the little details,” Lauv says. “Owl City’s production always has these little drum cells and crazy synth sounds that I love dropping in the background [of my music] and every once in a while. I love throwing in an abstract lyric, [too].”
No song exemplifies this more than “Kids Are Born Stars.” It’s a groovy pop song about his childhood desire for stardom, and it’s driven by a synthesized drum beat and electric keys. It’s also unique in the way it incorporates those “little details,” like sounds of finger snaps, plus lyrical references to AIM messages and an eighth-grade dances. Lauv says, “I didn’t really know that it was going to work out for me [back then], so it was just kind of me reflecting and giving the younger version of myself some confidence.”
During the song’s bridge, a child repeats the phrase, “Someday I'm gonna be a big star.” Lauv asked his manager’s son, Joshua, to record the line. “Joshua became kind of like a spirit animal bestie during lockdown,” Lauv says. He’d FaceTime his manager, and Joshua was often in the background. “He would always cheer me up when I was feeling stressed out and low,” he says.
The connection between “Kids Are Born Stars” and Lauv’s early career are crystallized in the song’s corresponding music video, in which Lauv meets and mentors a younger version of himself. In one scene, a young Lauv distributes Somersault Sunday CDs to his classmates, but the kids pick on him. After witnessing this, an older Lauv cheers him up with a jam sesh in their childhood room together. The song was an opportunity for Lauv to heal his “inner child.”
Because How I’m Feeling arrived just days before the world went into lockdown, Lauv didn’t have the opportunity to perform it live. That’ll change when he hits the road with Hayley Kiyoko on Aug. 11. “I’m excited because I’ll have two albums worth of music that I haven’t really toured yet, so that’s going to be crazy,” he says.
The Lauv that fans can expect to see on stage is a more mature version of his 2020 self, not to mention who Ari was as a child. “In the making of this [new] album, I felt like I found my grounding again and found my sense of self, my true self, which is so nice because I was definitely stressed out before,” he says.
Lauv has certainly come a long way since his Myspace days, though that era is commemorated with a tattoo of the social media platform’s logo on the back of his ear. While his story may be inspiring for a kid in their bedroom trying to find their own artistic footing, Lauv still has one box to check off for his younger self: a collaboration with Owl City.
“It’s funny because I’ve never even said that during an interview, ‘Oh I would love to collaborate with Owl City,’” he says. “But I feel like if Adam is making a comeback, and is trying to do any songs, that would be sick.”