Laufey’s Bewitched was made for falling in love. Not in the contemporary and usually messy, situationship type of way. But in the way it lives in movies: pure, accidental, and hugely, unbearably romantic. Imagine stolen glances at a coffee shop and accidental brushings on the street, and perhaps a few snarky comments exchanged before that little tug in your chest blooms into something so out of your control it’s enough to make you spin around a lightpole in the rain. The 14 songs on the 24-year-old Icelandic singer and cellist’s debut album were made for that kind of unrestrained romance, one that feels like it can only be found in the golden rom-coms of the past and the crackles of jazz records — one that she wants to bring back for her generation.
Out Sept. 8, Bewitched is a whirlwind of rich vibrating strings, starry-eyed strummed guitar, delicate piano, and her greatest instrument of all, her own deeply jazzy voice which drapes the songs in a sumptuous, old-world timelessness. Thematically, it embraces all the clichés about love: serendipity, lovesickness, and its bewitching powers. These explorations stem from the singer’s healthy diet of rom-coms, old musicals, and jazz while growing up, evolving over the years to collage themselves into a moodboard of sorts for her album. Over a Zoom with NYLON, Laufey broke down six of the major influences that inspired these songs — and inspire her — from a pivotal Chet Baker album to her “life companion,” her cello.
LAUFEY: The songs on the album are songs from my personal life, so [my] journal is kind of the first step with songwriting. It's where I sort all my thoughts out, and a lot of my song titles come from mindless journaling or lyric bits and concepts. It's all tied together because I see it almost as I'm writing the story of my life via song.
I use the ruled Moleskine; I have, like, five of them and it's really fun, because I picked different colors for each one, so it’s kind of like [I have] this colorful bank of secrets.
I feel like the cello’s an extension of me. The way that I approach singing and the way that I approach melodies, arrangement, and producing is all through the eyes of the cello and the cello sound, if you will. If I were to be any kind of item, I would be a cello, because it's just my favorite instrument in the world. I think the cello is the closest instrument to the human voice.
My mom’s a violinist and my twin sister’s a violinist. My grandfather's also a violinist; they were professors of violin at the Central Conservatory in Beijing, China. So they instilled obviously that super classical violin discipline in me. When I turned seven, me and my twin sister, we were both given violins. I don't play violin; it's too high-pitched and annoying. And then, because I was the older twin, my parents were like, “Okay, well then big sister plays big violin.” So that's kind of how I started playing cello, I always had a lower voice as well.
I didn't have a beautiful relationship with my instrument [in the beginning]. When you're a kid, practicing it kind of sucks, and it's difficult to be pushed. It wasn't until I started singing and started writing music that I grew this relationship where I was very happy that I'd invested all those tears and time when I was younger.
You've Got Mail (1998)
One of the songs, called “Serendipitous,” on the album is set on the Upper West Side, I've always envisioned this You've Got Mail scenario. It was one of my favorite movies growing up. I thought the visuals were so beautiful and the way that Nora Ephron tells stories is very much the way that I write my songs: very full of life and character and color, charming, but not cheesy, and very mindless.
I wasn't alive at the peak of this movie, but it still feels so relevant and incredible — the way it talks about internet relationships and stuff. And the soundtrack to it is also just so gorgeous. It's kind of my comfort movie and [was] my companion through writing this album. I'd watch it before I went to sleep.
One of my favorite moments is when Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are starting to go from enemies to friends and they're sitting on a park bench and I think he goes, “Well, I'd like to run into you again,” and they're kind of purposefully, accidentally running into each other. It's really awkward and really cute.
I think my music has been an example that there is a want and a need for this type of hopelessly romantic, topsy-turvy kind of storytelling. That's the most common comment I get. “Oh, I relate so much about this,” or “I also feel like I'm falling behind in love,” or “Oh my God, I'm in love with a friend and I don't know what to say.” Every song I write is a little [rom-com love story] and I find there’s a want and a need for it.
I was envisioning what was around [while] writing and recording this album, and there was coffee in my hand. It's very stimulating, obviously, and kicked a lot of good ideas out of me. I think that was a part of my routine: I wake up, have a cup of coffee, I’d sit down and I’d write a song and there’s something that connects. There's something about the slowness of coffee, like jazz and music and just this whole world that I saw in front of me, if that makes any sense.
I make myself a latte with oat milk. It's exactly what is to be expected from a 24-year-old woman.
There is an album of Chet Baker’s called (Chet Baker Sings) It Could Happen To You. The cover is, in my opinion, one of the best album covers in the world. It's Chet Baker and this woman sitting, and it's filled with these incredible and simple, beautiful versions of these jazz standards, and it's what I tell people to listen to when they ask me, “Oh, how can I get into jazz?” The song choices are, I think, palatable for modern listeners. But that album kind of became my blueprint for this album, just the way that I approached the arrangements.
My goal is to bring jazz principles back to my generation a bit so I've just been doing a lot of studying and listening to the old masters to see what I can learn from them and what I can bring back to this age. I find there’s so much that can be relatable. One of the songs on the album is called “Everything Happens to Me” and it’s basically listing all these things that go wrong, and then he’s like, “And I fell in love with you and everything just happens to me.” And I'm like, “That is such a 2023 song. That is a 2023 lyric right there.”
I got a piano in my apartment in Los Angeles for the first time at the beginning of this year, and that completely changed how I approached my songwriting for this album. You’ll find that there are a lot more piano-driven songs on this album. I also have a composition for the first time, an interlude that is just no singing, which was a huge step for me to take. I was so scared to do that after growing up within classical music.
Chopin was always my favorite composer growing up. I know he is a lot of people's favorite composer, but I think Chopin was a songwriter, truly to the core. I named the interlude in my album “Nocturne” because I love the Chopin nocturnes so much, and that was my school when I was growing up. I study a lot of his chord structures and melodies, and subconsciously dropped that into my album. Classical music played a huge part in the creation of this album.
[If someone has never listened to Chopin], I'd tell them to listen to it when they're alone and not think too much about it — just imagine that you're in the prettiest place in the world; it could be a city, or it could be by a river somewhere in the countryside. I’d say, “Don't think too much about it.” You don't have to know everything about the music to enjoy it; let it just run through you. Just think of it as songs. Find the melody and follow it, and you'll find a lot of beauty.