A teenage boy once told Lorelei Carlson that her music was too girly.
At that moment, young Carlson had an epiphany: Although many women listen to male artists, a lot of men don’t listen to female vocalists. She became self-conscious about any “girliness” in her writing, discarding topics she considered to be overtly feminine, such as love and heartache.
I related with the fourth-year gender studies student, since my hopeless romantic side commonly comes out in my songwriting. In high school, I tried to make my songs vague and general in order to appeal to a broader audience.
Now, Carlson said she doesn’t care if her lyrics are too feminine. Sitting across from me at Kerckhoff patio, she told me that her only goal is to make listeners to feel, no matter what that feeling is.
Growing up with a father as a musician, she remembers watching him record folk music with a cassette tape and small microphone. Carlson recorded her first original song, “Mr. Bungle Jungle,” at 5 years old on one of his cassettes.
When Carlson was 12 years old, her dad helped her record her first demo in a studio. The song, “Now That I Realize the Truth,” talked about teenage crushes and heartbreak, a nod to middle school days when girls realized that boys no longer had cooties.
Though she previously lived on the East Coast, Carlson moved to Los Angeles in 2010 a week after she turned 21. All she had were two suitcases and her demo when she got off the plane.
Carlson built a new life in Los Angeles, taking the bus every day and working two jobs, one at a hair salon and one at a gym. When she wasn’t working, Carlson recorded music at a local studio downtown. The same producer she met when she was 21, David Gielan, is the producer she works with today.
One of her old songs “Low Life” marks the start of Carlson’s journey in California. Written when she first moved out to Los Angeles, the song represents Carlson’s personal quest for strength.
In the chorus in “Low Life,” she sings, “Could you live through my half life / Would you detain my blood knife / if I’m in pain, would you be in pain / ‘cause I’m a low life looking for a high life.”
The brutally honest lyrics intrigued me when I listened to the song online. Carlson’s haunting voice, paired with the ominous chord progression, makes the song utterly raw, and I can almost feel the fragility in her voice.
The dark, electronic song discusses the insecurities of a woman when she measures herself against other female figures. Carlson admits how she struggles when comparing herself to others. Listeners who may feel similarly inadequate can find comfort in the fact that they are not alone in their pain.
As a young woman in a culture of pressure and expectations, I battle with feeling confident in my appearance and my worth. Carlson validates my feelings of imperfection and incompetence, serving as a companion on my own journey to find strength.
Since her first gender studies class in community college, Carlson has been passionate about gender and she said she writes with a feminist lens.
Thus at age 25, Carlson released a cover of Nirvana’s “Rape Me,” which is now on her album “Dopamine,” in order to make a political statement. She looked all over the internet and couldn’t find female covers at the time, making her cover stand out and switch the power balance in the song.
Carlson used “Rape Me” to speak out against sexual violence, she said. She wanted to remove any notion of stigma from survivors and speak out against rape.
Her cover reached more than a million listeners on SoundCloud.
Now she writes music with the purpose of inspiring women; she uses the insecurities she experienced when moving to Los Angeles – and her subsequent strength – to strengthen and resonate with listeners.
As an advocate for gender equality and female empowerment, Carlson knows what she stands for. In the small amount of time we had together, her passion for justice inspired me to make my life meaningful.
She displayed confidence when her music was called too girly. She was determined when she had to couch surf for a couple weeks. She showed strength when singing out for survivors.
Carlson shows a compelling power in her story, her music and her life.
Listen to some of Carlson’s favorite artists: