Lucette gets real about herself and her music on “Deluxe Hotel Room”
Lauren Gillis, the 27-year-old singer-songwriter who makes music as Lucette (her grandmother’s name), has jumped into the spotlight with her second album, “Deluxe Hotel Room,” which was produced by Sturgill Simpson. The record is a radical departure from her 2014 debut, “Black Is the Color,” a solidly Americana set of songs that was produced by the genre’s guru, Dave Cobb. As Gillis talked on June 6 about the changes in her life and her music since she began making “Black” right out of high school, it became obvious that this interview was more suited to a Q&A format rather than a feature story.
One of the factors for choosing to present it like this was Gillis’s lengthy and candid Facebook post a week before “Deluxe Hotel Room” was released. As she talked about that, I realized the best way I could do her story justice was to get out of the way and let her speak for herself. It follows in its entirety below the Q&A.
Our conversation has been edited a bit, but the complete audio is included on the website.
Bill Thompson: It seems that talking about your music sometimes can be harder than writing, playing or recording music. Since this album was five years in the making, highly anticipated and warmly received, you’ve talked about it a lot. Do you enjoy talking about it or would you rather just play and let people draw their own conclusions?
Lucette: No, I like to talk about it. I think because it is such a personal record, I almost feel more comfortable with people fully understanding where these songs came from. I think when there’s a conversation about the record, I want it to be a two-way one, not kind of a one-way one. I think it’s almost easier for me to explain myself, even on stage, about where these things came from. I don’t want people to misconstrue something that is so personal to me.
BT: The album is a collaborative achievement and you’re generous with your praise in the liner notes for “Deluxe Hotel Room,” but the songs start in your head. Can you describe the process of those thoughts becoming finished songs?
Lucette: I allot time to plug away on songs. A lot of time how a song starts for me is when a melody will pop into my head. On “Out of the Rain,” for example, I literally was in Seattle and it was raining. That kind of line came into my head, and then the melody for the verse popped into my head. I wrote down the first verse and sang the melody. It wasn’t until three or four months later that I sat down with a couple of friends of mine in Nashville and brought them this verse that I had and we wrote the song. Because I only co-write with people who I’m really good friends with, it’s less of a clinical thing and more like a fun or almost like a therapy session (laughs). I write with people who I have no problem getting personal.
BT: I hesitate to ask about working with Sturgill Simpson and Dave Cobb because I have a suspicion that you’ve had to hear people say stuff about how they’re the reason that a young, female singer-songwriter (from Canada, no less) has found success. However, I would say that they recognize talent and understand how to help you make a finished product. Sometimes it’s simple, isn’t it?
Lucette: (Yep). I appreciate you saying that because obviously any time you work with a big name, it helps. But I’d like to think – especially on this album – my songwriting chops have improved and I want to be respected as a force. I’d like to think that maybe it’s not just Sturgill’s name on the record. I’d like to think that my songs can stand on their own.
BT: Absolutely. It might help people who see his name and think if he likes this person, maybe I will as well. But in the end, it’s your record, not his. I really like your quote about Sturgill’s only direction on your vocals was “Sing it like you mean it.” He trusts your judgment, he trusts the material. He just wants you to sing it like you mean it.
BT: I haven’t heard “Black Is the Color,” so I only know the Lucette of “Deluxe Hotel Room.” Will I be surprised when I do listen to the first record?”
Lucette: I think so (laughs). I’ve talked a lot about this, about how different the process was, but I was 19 when I started that album and I’m almost 28 now. It’s not that I think I’m a lot wiser now, but it is (a long time). If you talk to anybody, I think back on the years between 19 and 28 and there’s a lot of growing in those years. Just the ability to stand my ground and explain myself better and articulate ideas in a more mature way. On a lot of this album, I think you’ll hear that notion. The first record, it’s a great record, but I think this album is a far better representation of who I am as an artist.
BT: I’m old enough to remember when the term pop music didn’t have a bad connotation. I admire your decision to break out of the country music box on this record. I think that people are smart enough to know if they like a record or not, despite of how it’s marketed. Did you get any pushback from people about this departure might be too radical and you might confuse people?
Lucette: I haven’t heard anything yet, I think a lot of people still think I’m a country artist. It’s funny, the album is so obviously not that, but I think so many people still categorize me in that (genre). My thing is that, at this point, it just doesn’t matter how I’m perceived. If people like the record and they think it’s a country record, I’ll let them think it’s a country record. Some of the songs, like “Crazy Bird,” it could have been a country song. And “Out of the Rain,” I was just talking to someone about this, but a close comparison – and I’m not saying I’m like Dolly Parton because I’m nowhere near that – but you think of how “I Will Always Love You,” her version is the country version, and then Whitney Houston’s version is the pop version. A lot of time, it’s just a matter of how you produce things and how you can completely change the direction of a song by how it’s produced. If I wanted “Out of the Rain” to be a country song, it could have been a country song. So if people want to categorize me as that, then I’m like, “Go ahead.” You’re not going to see me on stage in a cowboy hat and boots, playing guitar or having pedal steel, but if people think it’s a country record, I’ll let them think that.
BT: I think it widens the palette …
BT: … you can show up at the Opry or you can show up at whatever the Nashville rock club is or the pop club.
BT: I remember seeing Tegan & Sara a couple of years ago and being blown away because I remember them as guitar strummers.
Lucette: Yeah. Exactly.
BT: As you said earlier, this is where you’re supposed to grow and try different things. Nobody listens to one thing only. Faith Hill and Shania Twain, the women’s you’ve said you listened to growing up, they had a great amount of pop sensibility. And if that gets you to Amy Winehouse and Rihanna, that makes a lot of sense to me.
Lucette: Going into the album, when people were saying “country” or “Americana,” I was like, “No, that’s not what it is.” But now I’m like, you know what, if people in those worlds are recognizing it and appreciating it, that’s great. I love all types of music. If I’m getting an audience from where I may have not before because it’s being looked at in a certain way, that’s awesome. Especially in the Americana kind of world, I wouldn’t say this is truly an Americana record, but just the fact I’m getting to play AmericanaFest (in September), and the fact that I’m being appreciated (by those fans), it’s more of a compliment than something to be upset about. I think it’s awesome that they’re opening their world to something that is so pop heavy and so synth heavy and so bassy and drum machiney, it’s not all made with organic instruments. I think it’s super cool that I’m being accepted in that world.
BT: There’s a lot of sounds on the album. Are you traveling with a band?
Lucette: Yep. We had to pull together a band at the last minute because my Canadian band was booked to come on tour, but for visa purposes, they had to pull out. So I had to find musicians from the States within two weeks. Right now, it’s just me, drums and bass. Then, when we get to Nashville on Friday, we have another keyboard player, who is a master synth player, joining us.
BT: You’ve talked a lot about the emotions that are at the core of your songs. As the father of two daughters, when I heard “Deluxe Hotel Room” for the first time, I felt a little queasy, wondering if my girls have had that experience. I haven’t shared it with them, but I think I already know the answer. It seems like a universal experience.
Lucette: On “Deluxe Hotel Room” itself, there’s like 20 different themes in that song. It’s kind of about pursuing a career that is so image-based and is so full of these random, sort of exciting, but very fleeting experiences, the loneliness and weird situations that come with it. I’ve been put in so many uncomfortable situations and I have definitely come out a lot wiser and a lot stronger because of it, but I think pursuing something that is so image-based, and for me having struggled with self-image issues my whole life, it’s this weird juxtaposition of trying to figure out if it even matters or if it’s worth it to put myself out there and be so vulnerable.
A couple of weeks ago, I posted this big thing on Facebook just about three songs on the record – “Talk to Myself,” “Out of the Rain” and “Deluxe Hotel Room” – I just wanted people to understand where I was coming from because these songs are so personal. I wanted to be open about them. I wanted people to be able to share that experience with me. And what was so cool about opening up about the songs instead of just putting the record out there and just seeing people’s reaction, was so many people wrote back to me and said such sweet and amazing things. It was amazing to me how many artists wrote and said, “Oh, my God, I’ve been in the same situation.” It was so refreshing to see that and feel that support and feel that camaraderie in pursuing a career in the arts. It was awesome.
Lucette’s Facebook post prior to the release of “Deluxe Hotel Room”
This is probably the most “real” I’ve ever been on social media, for many reasons, mostly because I find it soul sucking, but what’s new? As you probably know if you follow me, I’m releasing an album May 17. I guess I want my fans/friends/supporters to know is that this album is a representation of who I am as a person. I suppose there are a lot of things I’ve never felt comfortable sharing with the public, because a lot of what people say online is so easily manipulated and I, being a sensitive person, have avoided the judgement that comes along with it. But this album feels different. I’m not trying to be something, I am presenting my stories as they are, or at least how they were from my perspective.
A few years ago, before the release of my debut album “Black Is the Color,” I was in a relationship with an emotionally abusive and manipulative person. He made me feel small, ugly, slutty, used up, and only good for him. I would go in and out of this relationship, and seeing as my self-confidence was pretty much next to zero, I’d stay until a major blowout and leave. I was also being royally misled by “my team” in music at the time, but that’s a whole other ballpark of bullshit I don’t want to address. And I moved on to a manager/team who really had my back.
We broke up for the last time a couple months before the release of my record, and I immediately went on tour. For the first time I felt like I was able to pursue music without judgement, and felt truly liberated. I went on to tour all over the place, sometimes in tiny little dives and sometimes in beautiful big theaters. I couldn’t have been more excited. Soon though, the loneliness of being on the road and not dealing with the aftermath of such a damaging relationship began to take its toll on my health, both physically and mentally. I felt so defeated. The first song I wrote for this album, “Out of the Rain,” was born on tour, and came out this desperate lonely feeling.
One thing probably only people extremely close to me would know is that I’ve always struggled with my body. Great career choice, eh? A lot of my struggle with mental illness comes from not being able to see myself in a good light (something I’m always working on). My weight has always fluctuated, but quite honestly, a lot of that has been because of having an eating disorder. I’ve always been so ashamed of struggling with my self-image, because quite honestly, people don’t take body insecurities seriously. “Talk to Myself” was born out of this feeling. Feeling like I’d do anything to try and be thin, to the point of doing damaging things. But at the same time, feeling like that space of being uncomfortable is more home-like than working on self-acceptance.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to go into each song like this … haha. Overall “Deluxe Hotel Room” is about my struggle as a person, partner, and artist. The title track itself pretty much encapsulates it all, it explains the past four or so years for me, and explains a lot of where the other songs came from. I was in Toronto playing a show, and was put up in a hotel I couldn’t afford. I barely had any money in my bank account and of course they put a massive damage deposit on my credit card. I looked around at my surroundings and the irony depressed me. I thought, “king bed, Jacuzzi, housecoats, room service, you name it … why the fuck am I here?” I put pen to paper right then and there, and hummed out the melody for “Deluxe Hotel Room.” Later that night, I saw a friend, Ben Stevenson, who is a brilliant writer and showed him what I had written. We thought of all of these different scenarios with hotel rooms we’d been in, and how small they made us feel. What I want you all to understand about this song is the irony of it all. This “fake it till you make it” attitude that artists portray to look as though we aren’t struggling. I want to be real with you, and this song explains that.
It’s been a real process to get to where I am today, a lot healthier and happier. Writing these songs allowed me to feel a lot of things I was suppressing. I have to thank a lot of people, but especially Sturgill Simpson, because he allowed me to be raw and real, and show the world the real “Lucette.” This album has been cathartic for me without forcing it. I am proud of it because I’m not as afraid of looking weak, or unpretty, or lonely. I am grateful for this album because it makes me feel empowered, and I hope to make other people feel the same. I guess what I want you all to take away from this is that I think I’m better off because of these songs. I feel stronger. And I still struggle with lots of things, but I feel a lot more confident in my abilities and myself now. So thank you to you all.
I’m inspired by different things now, even from when I made the record. I look at myself in a different way. A lot of my life was so surface level, and taking the time to focus on what actually makes me feel happy, strong, and proud has so little to do with my appearance. I couldn’t have said that a few years ago, and this album has a lot to do with that. What makes me happiest is food, friends, family (my dog included), and playing/writing music. Most importantly to you who follow me, and maybe don’t know me on a personal level, is how happy playing music makes me feel, and that I honestly can’t wait to share that joy with you on the road this summer, and hopefully for the rest of my life. I want to thank everyone who has been a part of this journey, I am truly grateful, and I genuinely hope to see you out on the road somewhere. A lot of what we all see is material, but how amazing is it that music can bring us together? Let’s do that.
2019 - Listen
The young Canadian singer-songwriter has jumped into the spotlight with her second album that was produced by Sturgill Simpson. Bill spoke to Lucette before her performance at the 20th Century.