Lafawndah Channels Beach Sex & Bowie For New EP

When you’ve spent most of your life globetrotting around the world, you’re bound to blend the influences of the cultures you’ve encountered into the sound you’re creating. As is the case with Lafawndah. Raised in Paris and Tehran by her parents, the songstress comes from a mix of English, Iranian, and Egyptian heritage that she brings out in lavish and deconstructed music, which is as haunting as it is otherworldly. On her newest EP, Tan, the singer (who isn’t the woman you’re thinking about from Napoleon Dynamite) did some island hopping to gather information and sample sounds.

Leaving the Caribbean hideaway where she spent months recording her self-titled debut, Lafawndah settled down in a different kind of tropical paradise for Tan. For this EP, she moved a bit closer to the hearts and waistbands of every gay in the tri-state area: Fire Island. The resulting sound was equal parts seductive and tribal with a sauntering sound that channeled the spirit of of Bjork and Bowie alike. Before the four-track EP drops on February 5, we caught up with the singer to talk reinvention, happy accidents, her connection to Napolean Dynamite, and more.

Recording Tan on Fire Island must’ve been pretty wild, given its reputation as an infamous gay haven for New Yorkers. What was your most memorable moment there?

I go there pretty much every summer, but that time I was pretty isolated in the studio. It was very focused, but what’s attractive to me is how much of a fantasy it is. It can be 2PM, and you’ll walk from the beach to your house through the dunes and people are fucking all over you. The reality is that you’re living on an island that feels extremely free and outside of civilization.

From what I’ve seen, you really share that knack for reinventing your sound. Every project you release is a completely different side of you.

I don’t ever want it to be normal or comfortable. I want to be able to say that I never knew I could feel that way or that I could show myself like that. I think that’s the only way otherwise its prepackaged like fish in a supermarket. I definitely want to challenge your ears, but I don’t want to lose you along the way.

Do you want that to apply in your visuals as well? In the video for “Tan,” you wrote, produced, and directed. Do you want to maintain complete creative control for future videos?

I think there is a vision that goes with the writing of the songs. There is usually an idea about how I want it to look visually and what I want it to say. I think that until your visual world is established, I want it to be defined by myself. Once the vision is clear, the people who come to me are already going to have a clearer sense of what to do.

I’m actually working on the video for the next single “Ally” on the EP and I’ll be directing that one and be involved in every aspect.

“You have to think you’re worth being listened to and that you have something special to say. It took me a long time to come to that place of self-love.”

How did you make the switch from studying art history at La Sorbonne to creating music?

The way I got involved in art originally was a bit of a happy accident. When you’re in high school you have to decide between options that will make your diploma more specific. I was very lucky to have art history at my high school because it’s very rare in France. When I finished school I met a Persian art collector who was starting a contemporary art museum in Iran. I’d been writing about him for my thesis and then he hired me. There were a lot of happy accidents on my trajectory to where I am today.

At one point in my life, I realized these happy accidents weren’t necessarily fitting. They didn’t make me happy or feel good—I felt like a fraud to be honest. With music it was more of a sense that I had to be onstage from a very young age, but I never pursued it because it requires some self-confidence. You have to think you’re worth being listened to and that you have something special to say. It took me a long time to come to that place of self-love.

I think waiting so long to pursue music really allowed you to absorb different cultures. I know you’ve lived all over the world, but was there one city that inspired you and your music more than the other?

They all hold a different place in my heart because they’ve inspired me in very different ways. That’s why I moved so much. I will say that Mexico City holds a very special place in my heart because it’s the city that allowed me to have a second teenage crisis. It allowed me—in a very generous way—to be lost. Not only to be lost but also to be sure that I needed to make music. I went through this cycle of going back to square one like in high school when you say, “Fuck, what am I supposed to do?”

I was locked in a room for six months there, listening to music. It almost felt like the first time that I was listening. I was reconnecting with all of the things I liked as a kid and all of the classical Persian music my family listened to. I was gone. I was downloading more tracks than a human being could possibly listen to.

Do you have any favorite musicians or artists that inspire you?

I think the people that inspire me the most are the people who do things on their own terms over and over throughout their career. The ones that cannot really be associated with anything but themselves, even though they’ve been really contemporary and foreign with their sound.

That actually sounds like a perfect description for David Bowie and his musical legacy. How have you been affected by his death recently?

I’m really touched by the perseverance of his career. It’s insane to me. I think someone else would have abandoned hope. It seemed like he had this vision from such an early age, and wanted to fuck things up on a big level. That was his goal. He wanted to be a star by moving things around. I always think about the fact that after you release your first album, nothing is going to be the same because you’re putting yourself out there in such an important way. I’m  inspired by people who were able to do exactly what they wanted to do, without feeling the pressure of disappointment.

Cover art for ‘Tan.’

I’m inspired by people who were able to do exactly what they wanted to do, without feeling the pressure of disappointment.

Where did the name Lafawndah come from? I’ll admit that I automatically thought about Kip’s lover in Napoleon Dynamite.

It comes from a lot of different places. I knew a transgender woman who named herself after that character in the film. For the longest time because of her, I thought she was transgender and was really excited. I thought that for the first time in pop culture, we were seeing a transgender woman whose sexuality isn’t really thought about in that way. This guy in the middle of nowhere America is not only falling in love with a black woman but with a black transgender woman—and it’s nothing. It’s just a fact. Of course, later on, I learned that she’s not transgender, but in my head, she is.

If they ever make Napoleon Dynamite 2 and Kip is divorced, would you play the next LaFawnduh he falls in love with?

I think I would play a transgender woman if I did. I would play the version I originally thought it was. I mean, I would rather an actual transgender woman play it but if I were cast in that role and they said I was in charge of interpreting the character, I would play it as a transgender woman. It wouldn’t be addressed, though. I want it to be post-labels, which I hope will happen as soon as possible.

I would probably also have her be a Middle Eastern woman and we could go in on the cultural appropriation subplot. I would maybe even go harder with it and make fun of Middle America’s perception of Muslims. LaFawnduh would be a transgender Muslim woman wearing the hijab. Kip could fall in love with her and they’d go to the mosque together. [Laughs]

Stay tuned to Milk for more music coverage. You can preorder Lafawndah’s EP, Tan, here.

Images courtesy of Warp Records. 

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