LOLO and I pause our phone conversation briefly as she helps navigate her tour van into the throes of Friday afternoon traffic in New York City. Over the past three days alone, she and her band have driven their fair share of miles between gigs in Akron, Pittsburgh, and Boston. The following night, she’ll play the final date of her Tennessee Queens Tour at Rockwood Music Hall on the Lower East Side, a month-long bill she’s split with fellow singer-songwriter Garrison Starr.
With plans for a second leg with Starr in place for the fall, she acknowledges it’s time for a break. “I’m taking myself to the beach next weekend, actually,” she explains. “I haven’t done something like that for myself in probably ten years.”
“I’m also taking my cat, so that should be fascinating,” she adds with a laugh.
At just 31, LOLO’s career has already spanned almost twenty years, dating back to when she started writing songs at the age of nine in her hometown of Jackson, Tennessee. As a teenager, she ventured to Los Angeles to pursue work as a musician, but found her first wave of acclaim when she landed on stage in New York City in the lead role of Ilse as part of the inaugural Broadway cast of Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s Spring Awakening in 2006.
She would soon relocate to London and sign with Universal/Island Records, releasing her first studio album under her given name, Lauren Pritchard, with producer Eg White (Adele, Sam Smith, Florence and the Machine). Wasted in Jackson arrived to positive reviews and dented the UK album charts.
As she toured the UK and Europe in support of Wasted in Jackson, a meeting with writer Michael Kimmel lured her back to musical theatre stateside. The result was her penning the score for his Off-Broadway vehicle Songbird, an interpretation of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull. The show made its debut at New York’s 59E59 in 2015 and was revived last year by Two River Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey.
LOLO’s voice has resonated just as loudly in the pop music mainstream, having been featured as a vocalist on projects with Matt Nathanson, Lemaitre, and Fall Out Boy. Her long-standing creative partnership with the Brandon Urie-helmed alt-pop outfit Panic! at the Disco as an opening tour act and key co-writer began in 2013 when she contributed her vocals to their hit single “Miss Jackson.” She is credited on three tracks from 2016’s Death of a Bachelor and on two of their most recent major radio hits, “Say Amen (Saturday Night),” and “High Hopes.”
Two more of her own projects that arrived in between—the emotionally turbulent EP Comeback Queen (2015), and the darkly soulful full-length In Loving Memory of When I Gave a Shit (2016)—are the best showcases for LOLO’s beautifully piercing instrument. She’s since released an excellent batch of original singles: “Leaning,” which we featured as one of our site’s New Music We Love picks early last year, “Follow,” and “Wild.”
My appreciation for LOLO is also rooted in her unflinching honesty, especially as she reflects on the good, the bad, and all the in-betweens that comprise living and working in an industry that demands tirelessness. But it’s abundantly clear that she was built for, and craves, the ride.
And on the horizon for the next year? New music, more live dates, and perhaps another Playbill to add to her collection.
First of all, it’s so good to talk to you again. I think it was 2015 when you and I last spoke, and you were coming to Columbus to play a show in support of Comeback Queen. I remember discussing Songbird with you and all of its intricacies, and you mentioned wanting to do more musical theatre. Was last summer’s revival of the show at Red Bank a hint of more work in that direction?
Ultimately, our goal was that—fingers crossed and knock on all the wood—it would be a Broadway show one day. It’s actually looking like it’s going to be much closer to happening sooner than we thought. There’s been a lot that’s happened in the last seven months with those shows, post the run in Jersey. A lot of what that was necessary for was that we needed a new director, and there was a lot with the previous version we did off-Broadway that worked.
But, there was a lot that didn’t, because of the director. There was a lot of trial-and-error that we needed to go through again so that we could get to the crux of the stuff we really, really needed to work on regardless of who the director is, regardless of where it is. That was what a lot of the Jersey run was, and a lot of the questions we needed to be answered got answered. And that doesn’t always happen, you know? Sometimes you go through those situations and it’s just a big fucking waste of time. [Laughs]
So, we were very grateful that was not the case. I can’t really expand on it until we get it locked in with contracts and stuff, but the next opportunity that’s lined up for us would be in April of next year. And then, unless that goes catastrophically wrong, we would pick that version up and put it on Broadway.
That’s absolutely amazing. Congratulations!
Thank you! It’s crazy. It feels surreal to be able to say that out loud to someone. [Laughs]
You spoke so candidly during our first interview about the emotional pulse of Comeback Queen, and I know it was a particularly difficult record to make and perform. You’ve made In Loving Memory and some really powerful singles since, but I’m curious what territory your head and heart have been exploring as you make your next record?
It’s been an interesting process because there are quite a few songs that are going to end up on the new album that have existed for a while. There’s one song that’s been around since….twenty-y-y…thirteen? But, then there’s stuff that’s brand new that I’m still fleshing out. And there are a couple of people I’ve worked with over that time that are going to be still involved in that process.
But, you know, more than anything, it’s definitely been a combination of collecting thoughts and feelings. Because, I’ve spent the last five years on the road. There’s been so much that’s happened in five years, for better and worse. I’m just trying to compile all those thoughts. I’ve put out singles along the way, and I’ve been having sort of a through-line of honesty with all that music. Ultimately, the other thing I really want to do is make a record that sounds like who I am, which, fundamentally, is a singer-songwriter, you know?
I definitely think that between some of the Comeback Queen stuff that happened to In Loving Memory, it’s slowly been evolving—the material, and the production, too. I don’t necessarily want it to be, like, folk-y. But, it’s me trying to be my truest self and make a record that really represents me in not just my voice, but also my songwriting. That was a big focal point of the last record. I really wanted to make a record that focused on the words, even above the singing.
And is the cohesion of the album art form the way in which you feel you communicate your material best? In theory, I think a lot of artists like that concept, but it’s harder to do than to just put something out immediately when it strikes you as compelling.
The cohesive thing can be really hard, especially when I’m working on something that has material from all over the place. Beyond that, it’s the feeling of trying to ensure that the production all sounds the same. You know what I mean? That it sounds like one body of work. And that can be really tricky.
I still have a summer’s worth of writing, because I’m not planning on putting the album out until February of next year, kind of an “after Valentine’s Day” vibe. But I am looking for who that producer is to help make that cohesiveness come together, because that through-line of the writing will be there because of the lyrical content I want to be there. My biggest concern is making an album that sounds like it all belongs together, especially because as the singles have been released, they’ve, at times, sounded a bit spotty.
What have you learned from recording your previous projects that might inform how the next one is shaped?
I’ll just be honest with you, the thing I learned through the making of the last few albums is that they were, yes, definitely me making records I wanted to make to a certain degree. But there’s this really annoying thing that happens when you sign a contract and you’re in a record deal, and you are at the mercy of certain things. And certain decisions can wind up overriding you, things, people, or whatever. And that’s frustrating, you know?
It feels good to be making something independently and not having to leave it to those constraints. But also making an album with a handful of people I really love and I really trust, and I really value their artistic experiences and feedback, and all that kind of stuff. And using that as a guiding light instead of what some fucking executive at a record company thinks my fucking feelings are! [Laughs] It’s terrible to say that, but it’s just frustrating because someone will say, “well, we just thought maybe you’d be this.” And it’s, like, “yeah, but I’m telling you that’s not who I am! [Laughs] I’m literally telling you and couldn’t make it clearer to you if I tried!” So, you know, that makes it hard.
How do you preserve that? Even though you’ll have people you completely trust and you know will support you in the room while you’re working, are there places in which you want to be more involved and make definitive decisions where maybe you didn’t have the opportunity?
Yeah, I mean, with the last record, Jake Sinclair and I wrote and produced everything in a room for three-and-a-half weeks. And then I went back on the road. So, I sang every fucking vocal, full-out, to very basic, unproduced stuff. And then they went back in with a band afterward and played along with my singing.
You’ve got to be kidding me! I had no idea. It certainly doesn’t come across as anything but organic.
So, I would like to have that actually be a real process this time. Having everyone, myself included [Laughs], be in the room. Seems like a novel idea! Doing things like that feels like the right thing to do, you know what I mean?
Yes. That makes complete sense.
And then I think the other thing I really want to do when I make a record, is then take those people I made the record with and go on the road and play [it]. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but have just never had the support to do it, whether that was financial or emotional. So, it feels exciting to be in a place where I can give myself that support. It feels very encouraging.
Since you’re on the way to a show, I wanted to ask about your touring schedule. You’ve been rather open about how it’s taxed your health while you live with epilepsy and all of the challenges that accompany it. But when you post about shows on social media and share highlights, I’m not wrong in gleaning that you wouldn’t change that part of your work, am I?
No, that’s completely correct. It’s a combination of things, but my adult life has been spent on the road. Really, since I was eighteen, and I’ll be thirty-two in December. It’s all I’ve known. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I want to be on the road like I was two years ago, which was ten months out of the year. That was a bit excessive. I don’t know that my soul can exist if I’m not doing at least four months on the road out of the year. Which is still a lot.
I’m, first and foremost, a live musician. That’s who I’ve always been, what I’ve always done, and it’s where I started. I’m actually one of those strange people who likes being on the road. There are people who really don’t like [it], but they have to be. I couldn’t imagine if I had to be that way. If I was, I think I’d just be doing something very different in the industry. I do. I really do. Because, mentally, it’s not sustainable.
If you don’t want to be out here, it just doesn’t work. Or there are other life things, like if you have family at home, and you have children or a spouse and you can’t bring them with you if or when you need to. It’s so hard, you know, to navigate those challenges. The live element for me is such a helpful tool within my personal and my writing life. I’m such an observant writer. I write what I see and what I know.
It’s always been evident that the stage is absolutely your home.
It is. It really is. To give that up? It would just suck. But with my health, you know, it just seems like a terrible idea. When I was diagnosed with epilepsy when I was eighteen, my doctor was, like, ‘well, you know, you could pick a better career path than being a singer and musician. But I know that you won’t. I know that this is your passion, so we’ll just figure out how to keep you as healthy as possible when you’re on the road, and the rest is just going to have to be how it is.’
Your line of work isn’t just demanding, but it has so much public accountability. Is the industry pretty sympathetic about your health when you might have to cancel or delay a show or a commitment because you’re not well?
Yeah, I mean my epilepsy literally has a mind of its own, you know? I can do what I can to control it, sure. But my normal epilepsy triggers are things like stress, or lack of sleep, or whatever. Sometimes, I’ve had seizures come on when there’s literally no issue—I’m not tired, I haven’t traveled in a few days or weeks.
And, it will just happen out of nowhere. That’s just the way that it goes. That’s really what you’re dealing with when it’s something that’s its own beast. It’s really hard to reason away anything that anyone is trying to put on you baggage-wise if you do have to cancel things or change things, or move things around, you know? It’s weird, though, I’ve had less of a reaction from people in the industry versus other bands being a little shitty about it.
Really? I wouldn’t have guessed that.
I think it was 2017, and I was playing a series of shows in the Midwest. The schedule was kind of tight, it was a crazy six days with a ton of driving because the gigs were all over the place. It was a lot. And one night after the show, maybe ten o’clock, and I’d walked back to our tour vehicle to get something out of the van. I was on the phone with the guy I was dating at the time, and the next thing I know, I’m in an ambulance being rushed to the hospital. They found me on the floor next to the tour vehicle, because I guess I was on the phone and then I went silent and the line went dead.
My boyfriend had the numbers of all the band dudes and our tour manager and immediately called them and said, “I don’t know what happened, but the line went dead and I think something’s wrong.” They ran out and I’d had a massive seizure. I spent three days in the hospital. I had to cancel the last three dates, and there was nothing I could do. Not a damn thing I could do about it.
And, some people got a little shitty about it. I was, like, ‘hey, listen! No. I know you’re making this about you, but this isn’t about you! What do you want me to do? Walk on stage when I can barely stand up?’ After I have bad seizures, sometimes, I look like I got punched in the face, or spent the weekend doing heroin. I don’t look great! [Laughs] It’s like, ‘do you want me to walk on stage and push myself even more so I have the chance of having more seizures?’ You know? Logically think about what you’re saying when you’re bitching about a health condition I can’t control that I just happen to have!
I just kind of let that stuff wash over me. There’s not really a lot I can do about it, and I just kind of hope that, over time, they become more understanding.
And at some point, I guess you have to decide where you expend your energy, especially when you need to focus on being well.
Right. Well, I used to really lose a tremendous amount of sleep, which, by the way, is really fucking bad for my health condition! [Laughs] I used to lose sleep over ‘I can’t do this,’ or ‘I have to do this,’ or ‘I have to choose this and not this.’ And I really had to make my peace with the fact that sometimes you cannot fucking be everything to everyone.
In the last two years, particularly, with some other health stuff I’ve had go on with my heart, and other things related to my epilepsy, it’s just come to the point where when things happen, it’s a helpful thing to realize that the world really does keep turning without you, you know? It’s not the end of the world when you have to take care of yourself. Because, if you’re not, you can’t do anything else, anyway. And, what good is that?
The new album's on the way, which I'm really excited to hear. Are there any other projects you're working on that you can talk about publicly?
I’m working on three other musicals at the moment, and they’re all in the pre-production phase, or in the development stages. I love all three of those projects, and pretty much everyone I’m working with in the crew on the creative side are women. That makes me really happy. Not that I don’t want to work with men, but I have to fucking work with men anyway, so the more women we can get in the room, the better.
I’m also remaking Wasted in Jackson. It’s an album I love and I’m super proud of, but, first of all, I never wanted to put it out under my given name. I wanted to put it out as LOLO. That was a huge fight I lost. Beyond that, being able to just make the record I wanted to make, and part of the touring I’ve been doing involved me playing that material again for the first time in years. And, it’s been wildly cathartic. It feels so good to be playing it.
So, this may be my toughest question: what are your top five favorite albums?
Yeah, I can give you a top five. These are in no particular order, and they’re from the viewpoint of the young me—the albums that basically made me decide that this was the only thing I was ever going to do with my life. These aren’t my five favorite albums right now, because that’s a very different list.
But, it’s Billy Joel’s 52nd Street, Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark, Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP, Jay-Z’s The Blueprint, and Carole King’s Tapestry. It’s the strangest grouping of music.
Not at all. I can see how they’d connect.
They’re all very lyrically driven, and it’s all about the stories they tell and the stories that get told in every single song on every single one of those albums. The amount of time I spent, especially when I was younger, with all of those albums…there was just no other way I could do anything else with my life.