Lauren Sanderson
[Photo by: Nick Stelo]

Lauren Sanderson has always had dreams that transcended her small town. The Indiana-born, L.A.-based musician followed her passion for blending alternative, hip-hop and R&B elements and shared her aptly titled debut album, Midwest Kids Can Make It Big in 2020.

Tracks such as “But I Like It,” “17” and beyond examine the highs and lows of young lesbian romance and her struggles with identity and self-love. These anthems hold up a mirror to every listener, where they can see themselves reflected in the introspective and fearless singer.

Read more: Rosie Tucker turned to nature for inspiration on ‘Sucker Supreme’

Sanderson is dynamic and shows she will not be constrained to any genre, especially through her most recent singles “Hi.” and “QUEEN BEE,” which range from blissful and relaxed to urgent and seductive. 

Beyond these gems, Sanderson teamed up with indie-rocker Jax Anderson in June on “She Don’t Love Me.” The heartbreaking ballad is accompanied by dreamy yet inconsolable vocals. The understated instrumentals truly grant room for Anderson and Sanderson to shine.

AltPress had the chance to catch up with Sanderson following the release of her collab. In this in-depth conversation, she shares the six artists who greatly influenced her creative process and informed her style from a young age, her songwriting advice for young artists and what she hopes LGBTQIA+ listeners gain through her music.

Midwest Kids… was put out in 2020, and it’s carrying on into 2021 as it deserves. And you’ve been creating music for a while, starting in 2015 or around that time. Who is the person you saw in media who really inspired you to get into songwriting and share your story? 

I would definitely say Tyler, The Creator has always been a huge influence of mine. He’s a true original, and I feel like he’s someone who I saw from a really young age, and I was just like, “This guy is truly living with no boundaries and no boxes.” He’s just wearing what he wants, saying “fuck” whenever he wants and eating bugs in his videos. [Laughs.] It’s just one of those things where I heard his music for the first time, and I was just so taken aback. I was just like, “I can be whoever I want to be.”

And same with Mac Miller. I just remember it was on my iPod, and I had that shit on repeat the whole day. I was so in it, just being like, “Wow, these people are expressing their truth and expressing themselves in such a unique and creative way.” And I want to do the same shit.  

I never ever said this in an interview because it’s such random people. But I would consider Keaton Henson, who is like a super left of center alternative. I don’t even know what genre he is, but he just touches my heart in a different way. And Soko. Those [musicians] are just super inspiring to me in a way that I can’t even really put in words. They’re different kinds of musicians. Even in Keaton Henson‘s live acoustic videos, the way that he articulates his energy and his art is just really dope to me.

I like that you can’t describe them. There are so many people that it’s hard to put them in a box. You have a dynamic range yourself. Is there any way you like to describe your music? 

I just make music that I want people to put in their headphones and go into their own world wherever they need to go, whether that’s a place of acceptance or a place of inspiration or a place of peace or a place of empowerment. I make music for a lot of different emotions, and a lot of different people can, I think, relate to different songs of mine. So, I feel like I just want people to be able to put on headphones and go into their own universe. Genre though, I have no idea. [Laughs.]

Beyond just inspiration and influence, what artists have you found great comfort in over the years and maybe saw yourself leaning into elements of theirs? 

Definitely Lorde. I would say in high school, Lorde was my comfort artist, and she inspired some of my album Midwest Kids Can Make It Big because that album was about growing up in the Midwest and growing up with big dreams and feeling like such an outcast. And she is one of the first artists that I really heard that I was like, “I feel like this.” It was the aura that her songs had [that] made me feel understood, especially Pure Heroine, like her song “Buzzcut Season.” That was the first song I ever heard by her other than “Royals.” That song fucking took me to another planet.

And then also Frank Ocean. It’s such an interesting thing. Everybody loves him, feels comforted by him and everything, but we really have no idea who he is. And I think that is another inspiring thing to me because I’m the opposite. I feel like I put myself out there a lot. So sometimes he inspires me to add more mystery into my artistry, too. I’ve been listening to him from Tumblr days in 2013 or 2014 with channel ORANGE and then Blonde.

What advice do you have for young songwriters who may be hesitant to share their stories authentically? 

I would say don’t take yourself too seriously because as soon as you start questioning yourself and trying to perfect things and trying to think about how you’re going to be perceived—that’s when you are not authentic. When I started my career, I had no clue what I was doing. I was growing up in Indiana making music with, not even bare minimum, but I just had no knowledge of how to do things. I was buying beats from YouTube, and I was recording shit and just throwing it on SoundCloud the next day.

Don’t feel like you have to have this huge plan and this huge big-picture vision because that’s just not reality. As an artist, you have to live in the present moment. You have to express what you’re feeling right now. Don’t worry about views and plays and comments because that comes when you least expect [it]. You can’t predict what’s going to happen with it. Just put it up! 

What do you hope LGBTQIA+ individuals learn or experience when listening to your music?

What I want people to get is that your life is about you. You are the main character of your life, and you tell your story the way you want to tell it. When you’re ready on your terms, your boundaries, your wants, your needs out of this life, you can do anything that you want to do. At the end of the day, people are going to judge you for anything and everything anyway. So you might as well accept yourself and know that nothing is wrong with you. People grow up in these closed-minded homes. They don’t feel like they can be themselves. I just want people to know to take the time that you need to really know that you are so fucking beautiful just being who you are. 

Is there anything you can share with us about your upcoming era of music?  

It came from my heart. My music that’s about to come out is all very present. It’s how I feel; it’s not supposed to be this perfect thing. And I know that’s going to speak for itself, too.