The uphill climb can be daunting when beginning a career in music, whether as a solo act or with a group of like-minded artists. For Mississippi rapper and singer Laeland, he knew he wanted to create music but didn’t know which direction to take it.
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After dropping his debut album, Heavily Edited Heart Vol. 1, during his senior year of high school in 2018, he started to hone in on his music and branch out with the help of others. While his music is first and foremost his own, other artists, as features or behind the scenes, go into how Laeland’s vision shapes a project. His newest EP, Love Is Killing U Vol. 1, is no different.
Joined by Skinny Atlas and Snøw, the follow-up to 2021’s Traveling Alone sees Laeland moving past his previously established lo-fi sound and into uncharted territory neither he nor any other Stay Inside Collective member has experimented in thus far.
Self-reflecting per usual, he looks inward for the romantic musings of each song, to varying degrees of heartbreak. In his own words, Laeland describes what went into the EP and how it continues what he started way back in 2018.
GG: On this newest EP, you have tracks like “Now and Then” and “u never call,” which are more acoustic heavy and deviate from that hip-hop and lo-fi sound. When you went into this EP, was that sound something you wanted to dabble in, or did it come naturally by happenstance?
Laeland: It’s definitely something that I wanted. But, I’ve been trying to figure out exactly where to pinpoint my sound and how to reconcile it between what I’m used to doing as a performer and the type of music that I make because oftentimes, you don’t really hear a lot of intricate or difficult singing involved when it comes to this genre of music. It’s very simple, very to the point, and very emotional, but it’s not vocal gymnastics or anything crazy like that. And I love doing vocal gymnastics, so I’ve been trying to figure out how much I want to give and how much I want to sacrifice for the sake of maintaining the sound that I’ve always had. I’ve also been picking up on other areas trying to figure out which I want to evolve and move on to the next level.
Those are good examples, especially “Now and Then” because it’s simple. But then I felt like I wasn’t doing enough, so at the end, I kind of did a lot, and it was just nice because it was the first time I ever did anything like that on my music, but I sing like that. I’ve been singing like that since before I started making music. So, still trying to figure it out, but this EP has helped me get a little bit closer to that.
GG: When you think of lo-fi music, the lo-fi beats to relax/study to girl comes to mind. For you, what was the first time you came across lo-fi music, and when did you decide that was the direction you wanted to take your music?
Laeland: Honestly, same. I mean, it was, like, ninth grade, and I’m like, “Oh, you can listen to music while you study?” She’s still working. She’s still on that same assignment. So, she’s grinding, and I’m proud of her. But it was that, and somehow, I fell into a weird subgenre of it. Because we, and by me, I mean me and some of the producers I work with, often use lo-fi instruments in our music. But our music is also indie-pop or singer-songwriter, and there’s so many categories that it could fall into. And it’s just super lo-fi instrumental inspired.
I don’t even know how I fell into that. I think the bootleg boy would probably be the go-to because he has his own subset. I can’t call the genre anything else except all the artists on that page. So yeah, it’s lo-fi inspired, but it’s also pop.
GG: I understand two of your collaborators, Skinny Atlas and Snøw, make up part of your Stay Inside Collective, which also includes yourself. When forming a collective where each member is from a different state, how do you three collaborate when you’re not in the same room?
Laeland: Well, I will say COVID made collaborating a lot easier. But even before COVID, me, Snøw, and Skinny Atlas had been collaborating with each other since 2018/2019. The first person I ever collaborated with was Snøw, and it was simply a matter of I would work on something and send it to him. And if he liked it, he would put his verse in and send it back, or vice versa. And so that’s been our method of doing things.
I actually flew to Boston, and I already had my part of the song done, and a lot of the production had been finished. But he hadn’t recorded his verse yet, so I was in the room with him when he did his verse. That was super cool. We’re to the point now where we’ve been blessed with the opportunity to, if we really want to work together in person, all fly to the same spot and get an Airbnb, get a studio, and just work. That’s probably my favorite part about this community. Oftentimes, we’ll just come together and make music together. But if it’s not that, it’s just sending files back and forth.
Aside from “Just Give Me Something,” it was sending files. If I remember correctly, “Dumb Luck” is a very old song. We have so many songs sitting in the refrigerator. What we do is we let them chill out for a long time. And we’re going in every now and then and taking things out, or putting back things and adding until it’s perfect.
GG: There was a three-year gap between your albums Heavily Edited Heart Vol. 1 and Traveling Alone, but during that period, you consistently dropped multiple singles in fairly quick succession. How was your approach to starting an album in 2018 different than 2021?
Laeland: The biggest difference was in 2018, I had no idea what I was doing. Not even the slightest bit. I was trying to post music on Spotify because, back then, that was the cool thing to do. To do more than post it on SoundCloud. And I had never worked with anybody before. I put all those tracks together on Splice, the royalty-free loop website, and GarageBand. It was fun; it was an 18-year-old me about to graduate high school and just having fun trying to learn how to use Logic or GarageBand.
So that was very hard, whereas Traveling Alone was my venture into self-reflection in my music. One thing I wasn’t enjoying in 2021 was I felt like I wasn’t getting any of my audience’s connectivity. I wasn’t getting my message across with my other music because a lot of my other music is heavily collaborative. With Traveling Alone, I only had one song with features, and I kept it super personal because it was something that was in my spirit that I needed to release creatively. I’m very proud of that project and all that it’s done because it kept the integrity of what I was doing that year that I wasn’t finding in other singles.
GG: I noticed this EP is titled Vol. 1, as is your debut album, Heavily Edited Heart. Going forward, are there specific thematic or music ideas from this recent EP that you want to explore more?
Laeland: I hate the idea of closing a book, you know? So, I always like to say that I’m trying to release things in a way that feels like a long, stretched-out connected story. Because it really is all part of the same idea. Traveling Alone was almost Heavily Edited Heart Vol. 2, but then I thought the connection just wasn’t there between the two projects. I can almost guarantee you, however, that for Love Is Killing U, I want to continue that as a series. Possibly with the second volume releasing next year.
I’m very excited to keep that story going because the music quality that I want is there, so I don’t mind attaching music to it in the future. I love continuing one thing to the next. Even with Heavily Edited Heart, I was trying my best to connect one song to the next in the project. I try to put little pockets and little stories into each and every song, so it’s not too specific so that people can still relate to it, but it’s not too vague. There’s a possibility that I’ll continue both of those projects, but especially Love Is Killing U; I want to continue doing that.
Words: David Sosa
Love Is Killing U, Vol. 1 is available now on streaming services. For more on what Laeland does next, visit him on his Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter.