While many of us might see jazz as a genre listened to mostly by middle-aged men with a glass of whiskey in hand, up-and-coming Icelandic musician Laufey Lin is here to skew that image. She’s on a mission to make jazz approachable to people of all ages. Currently based in Los Angeles, she composes songs that bring elements of jazz, pop and classical music together.
Growing up in an intensely musical family, Laufey started her musical journey early on. She began playing the piano at the age of four and added other instruments to her repertoire along the way. Nowadays, she is a multi-instrumentalist with an ability to play the piano, cello and guitar, among other instruments. At first, learning to play music felt like school to her, a routine that was included in most of her days.
“I definitely enjoyed playing, but I hated practicing when I was young. It wasn’t until I went to the Tónlistarskólinn í Reykjavík and started focusing on cello and vocal jazz lessons, that I began to actually love what I was doing,” Laufey recalls.
Resonating with jazz
Even though Laufey’s life was heavily influenced by classical music, she did not feel like pursuing it as a career. She had a desire to create something on her own, something that did not play by the strict rules of classical music, but still had similarities to the genre. That ‘something’ she found in jazz, and especially from the music of artists such as Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, whose low voices similar to her own resonated with Laufey.
“Jazz was that special middle ground I had been looking for,” she explains, “It felt familiar but had a new twist to it. I completely fell in love with jazz.”
Laufey’s background in classical music turned out to be an obstacle that needed to be overcome when she began writing her own music. The rigorous nature of classical music did not pair well with jazz, which Laufey realised at Berklee College of Music where she was accepted as a student after finishing high school in Iceland.
“I had become such a strict rule-follower because of classical music and its theory. When I started my studies in Berklee, they encouraged us to improvise, which was hard for me at the beginning. I didn’t want to do anything wrong,” she says. All of a sudden, the music was based on what she came up with, rather than what she was made to play by other composers.
Making timeless music for all ages
Laufey had a vision of composing music that connects all three of her favorite genres—jazz, pop and classical music. She also aspired to write music in a way that would please people of all ages. “I wanted to make these genres accessible to young people through modern storytelling. It’s a shame that jazz and classical music have become quite old-fashioned. I want to show that they can be cool, too,” she says.
Initially, composing the music she desired to create was difficult: “It was surprisingly tough. I knew what I wanted to do, but I couldn’t find a way to land there at first. It took a lot of trial and error to discover my sound.” Laufey believes she also needed to grow as a person in order to create music she was pleased with. Moving to the United States, living on her own for the first time and experiencing heartbreak pushed her to open up and get comfortable with writing. “I had to go through a little bit of life to be able to write about it,” she laughs.
Once she had found her style, she started writing her first album, ‘Typical of Me’. It was born in the midst of the pandemic, at the same time her career started to take off. Ironically, Laufey was able to capitalize on COVID, unlike many other artists. “I don’t like to say it, but the pandemic definitely benefited me in many ways,” she admits. With so much time on her hands, she started posting videos and live streams of her playing music on Instagram and TikTok. “I thought that the best thing I could do was to write and release as much music as possible. I’m lucky that everyone else was stuck at home as well, with nothing better to do,” Laufey summarizes, adding that she hopes her music offered some sort of comfort for her audience during the worst parts of COVID.
Overwhelmed by the support
A while after introducing her songs and performing online, her follower base started to grow rapidly and her music was noticed by world-renowned artists like Billie Eilish and Willow Smith. “Everything kind of snowballed from there. My dreams came true during the pandemic, and for that I am ever so grateful,” Laufey says. Nowadays, she has hundreds of thousands of followers on her social media platforms, and she has started to get recognised by fans while out and about. “It was quite overwhelming to realise that behind those accounts are real people. Coming out of the pandemic, I’ve met many fans and it’s slowly sinking in that something truly remarkable has happened,” she says.
Laufey says that composing and recording the album was surprisingly painless, considering it was her first time doing anything like that. The pandemic spiced the process in its own way as well, as most of the recordings were done online. “The album was made in many cities around the world, such as Boston, London and Reykjavík. All in all, it was a collaboration from a distance,” she states. Laufey says she learnt a lot during the process: “Now I know what sounds right for me, what to ask for and when to take a step back.” She also reveals that songwriting works as therapy to her: “For me, it is a way of getting my feelings out and making sense of the things that feel a bit puzzling in my head.” Translating her feelings into art has offered her a new way of processing them.
Although the album was released in late April, Laufey hasn’t been able to perform very much due to pandemic restrictions. However, she will launch her first tour at the beginning of November by performing at an event close to her heart, the Iceland Airwaves’ Live from Reykjavík festival. “I grew up going to Airwaves events. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to play there all by myself,” she says, adding that she is excited to begin touring: “I love performing, it’s my favorite thing ever!”
Laufey is thrilled to see what the future holds for her. She has just started her journey and hopes she will achieve her goals: “I want to continue making music, developing my style and bringing all these worlds of music together.”
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