Growing up in the conservative Midwest, motivational speaker turned singer-songwriter Lauren Sanderson always knew she was destined to be a star. She excelled onstage delivering powerful and inspiring messages, but the 22-year-old felt limited.
The only way she would fully be able to express herself and her free spirit in a no-judgment zone was through her music, which is exactly what she did. In 2016, Sanderson released her Center of Expression EP, which went on to chart on both the Billboard and iTunes charts. In addition to the captivating vocals, rock star energy and clear charm, it was her DIY approach that got her where she is today.
The last song on her popular 2017 EP, Spaces, is titled “Los Angeles.” It actually was made just one month before she was signed to Epic Records and moved to the city. Talk about everything coming full-circle.
For those who don’t know, who is Lauren Sanderson?
Lauren Sanderson is a 22-year-old artist from Fort Wayne, Indiana, and out of everything she does, she just wants to empower the world. My biggest goal in everything I do is to just empower people to do whatever the fuck they want in life and literally let no one get in your way. Rules don’t exist to me at all — at all. I don’t hear it.
How would you describe your sound?
Actually, I heard an interesting one the other day. It was the message and inspirational aspect of Logic mixed with the fashionista, bad-bitch sassiness of Gwen Stefani, mixed with the “I don’t give a shit” about Lil Pump. I was like, “That’s pretty good!” A lot of people also say Pink, Avril Lavigne — just the masculine girl. I think that my sound is a mixture of hip-hop, pop and R&B.
You’re from Indiana — how does that play into your life and your career?
I feel like it made me have the heart that I do, and the drive that I have is totally from Indiana. Growing up, there were no musicians. There were no people that you met every day that were just like, “I’m in the creative world.” It’s basically go to college and get a job — that’s what that side of the world is. No tattoos. No gay people. There’s so much judgment and close-mindedness that I think it set a fire in me. My parents were always so, “You’re the best. Lauren, you’re amazing. Lauren, you’re a star.” So growing up, I automatically was different than the rest of the people. But the fact that other people weren’t like that in Indiana was kind of sick, because I was just like, “That fucking sucks for you guys, I’m doing what I want.” And now being out here, there’s a lot of creatives but there aren’t many creatives here that can still have the “I don’t give a shit, I can do what I want” attitude.
Talk about your move to L.A. and how it’s worked in your favor.
It’s been a journey, for sure. For obvious reasons, it’s so different. But it has been so amazing just having the freedom to literally walk everywhere. Indiana doesn’t have cities or mountains or beaches — any of that. It’s been really inspiring that everywhere I go, I meet somebody creative or in the creative world. It doesn’t matter who, what, when, where, why, there’s going to be somebody that I connect with in the industry.
How long have you been here?
I think I moved here in November, so it’s been like half a year. At first, it was scary. I didn’t like it. But now, I’m like, “Oh, I’m good.” I just had to find my breed.
How important do you feel it is to come here for an up-and-coming artist?
I feel like if you’re meant to be a star, you’ll figure it out no matter where you are. But I will say, being here adds a million more times of … I don’t know. I wouldn’t recommend L.A. for sensitive people. There’s two types of creatives: There’s full artists and then there’s some artists that care about business. If you’re full artist, don’t come to L.A. Go to New York or somewhere artsy. L.A. is such a dog-eat-dog world. Come here if you can really be a savage.
Talk about linking with PnB Rock on “Written in the Stars.”
He was really cool to work with. Basically what happened is when I signed, I had already had a project, Spaces, out for a month. After I signed, we all collectively agreed on my already released song “Written in the Stars.” We were like, “Let’s take one from the EP, add a feature to it, and then start the new stuff after that.” Kind of like a cha-bang. So we all picked that song and then I went in the studio with a producer named FKi 1st. He did a lot of Stoney, all of Post Malone’s album. He did my song “Written in the Stars.” Basically, I went in with a song already done from another person, then me and him created a slot for a feature. I had no idea who it was going to be. I just made the slot and had the label send it out to random people. None of the people ended up being on it and FKi had a session with PnB and was like, “Bro, listen to this song.” And then the next day, I guess PnB heard it and instantly just sparked a joint and just started going. His verse is really fucking good, too. He’s good. And he’s really sweet, too.
Can you talk about your DIY mentality and how that’s come into fruition today?
It basically done everything for me. I was my own manager for like four or five years under a fake name. I booked my own tours.
Why did you feel like you had to?
Because when my supporters would email me, I didn’t wanna give them bad news and tell them why their order was fucked up and shit like that. So I would just tell them like, “Lauren’s so sorry.” That was such a big part. And being my fake manager, I got to see everything that goes down. I know a lot of how it happens — how fast things should go when you’re all in and everything. I did my own merch, my own music, I put myself on iTunes, so I got to see all that. Now it’s cool because I can be in the core of my business and my journey, and even though now those roles are given to other people, I still understand all of it. I know if someone is bullshitting me, I’m like, “No, I used to do that and I know that’s not true.” It just puts me a step up. That’s where my work ethic comes from. I never met another artist who responded to so many emails and cares so much about how fast are these being fulfilled and all that.
I love the fact that you’re a motivational speaker and you did a TED Talk.
How has music been a form of therapy for you? I see music as a branch in my tree of career. Basically, my message is No. 1. My message is up top, and then I have all these branches. Through my merch, I’ll show my message. Through my Instagram, I’ll show my message. And music is just another branch. So music to me is just an outlet to also share my thoughts and my emotions. I just look at my songs as diaries. I’m never going to be the artist to make songs to be relatable or something. I think people listen to music because I say what’s true and specific to me, and other people just apply it to themselves.
I love TED Talks. Do you plan on doing more in the future?
I don't know, maybe. That experience was crazy because I also love TED Talks. I didn’t think I was actually gonna get one. I just looked up how to do a TED Talk and I found the application online. I just filled it out.
You don’t need any credentials or anything? I think maybe you do need credentials, but I made it up. I got an email a couple days later like, “You have…”
Why did you choose to go with your real name instead of something else?
Dude! Well, when I was a speaker, I was like, “I’m not gonna have a name.” That’s what I started with. So that name started going and when I started to make music I was like, “Should I make a name?” And I was like, “Nah.” It’s kind of weird, though. I kind of wish I did make a name. I kind of want one on the side.
Congrats on signing to Epic Records. What is your take on the music industry now that you’re in it?
It’s a fucking messy, unorganized place. There’s a lot of moving parts at all times of the day, but your team determines your success. The people around you. My management is crazy dope. My manager will call me at 3 in the morning like, “Lauren, in this song at this second, did you…?” He’s so, so dope. We’re like a powerhouse coupled together. His name is Gary Marella. He manages Timbaland. He’s my new manager and we are conquering together. And being in the music industry is dope because I know that I’m going to savage my way through it. I’m excited to conquer the industry, because the way that I want to do things isn’t how you’re supposed to do it. You’re supposed to have this perfectly structured hit and go to radio and whatever. I’m like, “I don’t give a fuck, this is my shit.” But one thing, I love meeting people. So it’s fun. It’s going to be really fun.
What did you do with your first advance?
Moved to Hollywood and saved the rest. That’s another thing, I’m an Indiana kid, so I like to save my money. I don’t care about brands and shit. Maybe someday. I like Gucci a lot. I’ll probably get a cool car. But other than that, I don’t really care.
You’re only 22 — what do you want your legacy to be?
That I did whatever the fuck I want through my whole career. And that I never let any fucking person tell me what I could or couldn’t do.
What’s a normal day in the life? Walk us through.
Wake up, probably smoke weed. [laughs] I like smoothies. I make weird cucumber, celery, peanut butter. … I like health shit. I work out. I probably have one or two interviews, normally. I’m starting to pick up gigs, so I’ll maybe have rehearsal. Make a song. Website shit. I’m always on the phone with my manager now, too, about next steps. And I like to drive a lot. I’ll drive for hours for no reason.
No way. Where do you drive to?
One hundred percent. In circles, I’m not kidding. Like today, I just drove around for no reason.
I love that you say your biggest music inspiration is Snoop Dogg. Have you guys crossed paths yet?
No, I’ve never met him before but I love his energy. And Wiz Khalifa I love. I just love Snoop Dogg. He posts on Instagram like 30 times a day and he doesn’t give a fuck. He doesn’t even know that that’s not normal. [laughs] He doesn’t even realize. He just takes a selfie of the same thing and posts all of them.
Who else are you bumping?
I love Tyler, the Creator. I love Mac Miller. I love J. Cole. Lana Del Rey. A$AP Rocky. I love anything with bass or subs.
Who’s your dream collab?
Honestly, I would really die if I got to work with Mac Miller. But I really wanna work with Swae Lee. I really like Swae Lee. I feel like we could really fuck up a track together.
You recently performed at L.A. Pride — how was that?
It was insane. That was the most people I’ve ever performed for. It was my first festival.
What was it like seeing yourself on a bill for such a good cause?
That was crazy. It was also the first time I was on the graphic thing, so that was cool. Man, I just felt like I was a rock star. I was nervous up until five minutes before, and then I was like “Fuck it.” One of my biggest dreams has always been to have the camera onstage with you, and they did a live stream on my YouTube. It’s still up there and it was so cool seeing myself.
You can show your kids that!
One hundred percent.
What can fans expect from BET Experience next weekend?
Just on my rock star shit. I’m going to bring super a lot of energy and people are just gonna be blown away. And I think PnB is gonna perform with me. He messaged me and was like, “Yo, I can’t wait for BET.” And I was like, “I didn’t even know you were gonna be there!”
I also saw you sang at the L.A. Sparks game. I want to ask, how is fame treating you?
I don’t think it’s hitting me at all. It’s dope though. I’ve always known I was going to be a star, so it’s cool seeing it finally coming together.
What advice do you have for an inspiring Lauren Sanderson?
Trust the timing of your life. Everything happens exactly the way it’s supposed to. As much as we want to control what’s going to happen and what has already happened, whatever’s meant to happen will. People are always worried about, I should be doing this or I should be doing that, but it’s just like be grateful for exactly where you are. What I always think about is don’t worry if everything’s on schedule. You’re on schedule. You’re good.
Anything else you want to let L.A. Weekly know?
New music on the way.
Lauren Sanderson performs at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, June 22, at BET Experience at the Los Angeles Convention Center.