• Sam Needleman

Unknown Forces

Updated: Mar 3

Maude Latour on concept albums, gentility, and friendship as an artistic subject.


By Sam Needleman


Some of us arrive at the Hungarian Pastry Shop sweating through our crewnecks and panting gracelessly. Others roll up smoothly. On the first morning of Valentine’s Day weekend, Maude Latour, CC ‘22, found a third way: she descended upon it, fell into a metal chair, and declared that she would wait for the line to ebb before grabbing a cappuccino. First, she wanted to talk.


Ensconced in a hot pink puffer, she was contrite about being 19 minutes late, revealing a mystical melange of rings each time she wrung her hands to apologize. All was forgiven—she was up late the night before hosting a Zoom launch party for her new single, “Walk Backwards.” In the chat, energetic fans took breaks from dorm-dancing to best each other with all-caps exhortations. They begged the stalwart DJ to sate their cravings for their favorite Latour tracks, from “ONE MORE WEEKEND” to “FURNITURE.” At midnight, when “Walk Backwards” dropped, their icon wrested the screen, shared her audio, and played the new song twice through. It looked exhausting.


Latour is a ubiquitous campus presence, always game to opine on love, art, politics, and now, friendship. She doesn’t so much balance her work and her music as beeline from one to the other (and back again). At her management's behest, she also spends hours every day administering her brand on Instagram, Twitter, and, most recently, TikTok.


Her work flows from this largely public stream of consciousness, but with Amsterdam’s breeze at her back, her speech sounded more like a roaring brook, gushing and deliberate and not without alluring offshoots. She must have formed her diction on her drift from her native banks of the East River to Columbia’s plateau above the Hudson. Call it Uptown drawl.


This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.


···


Sam Needleman: I wanted to talk to you about what I see as a shift in your oeuvre from writing about breakups for years now. I think my two favorite Maude tracks are “Furniture,” which is about a minor fuck-you, and “Block Your Number,” which is about a major fuck-you, presumably to the same person.


Maude Latour: So true.


SN: But now you’re writing about the blurry line between love and friendship.


ML: Oh, cool.


SN: So what accounts for the shift?


ML: Interesting. I don’t know if it’s a shift forever, but I guess I kind of had an early vision for this project—EP—to be heartbreak-ish, and that was the peak of my own heartbreak, and once I kind of got over it a little, like a year later, it’s just—it’s annoying to put out love songs all the time, and it’s not how I feel at the moment. But it is a bit of a revisionist history because I did write them in all different orders. I wrote this one two years ago, so I didn’t think it was going to see the light of day. But my fans would beg for this one. My sister loves this one, and a lot of people love this one.


SN: It was like an off-menu hit.


ML: Totally, I suppose. I realize that I’m sometimes wrong about which one people are going to like. I didn’t care that much about “One More Weekend,” and now I realize that I love it, and I feel the same about this one, I think. I did not care about this song at all, and I don’t know—it’s nice to hear it through someone else’s ears.


SN: You said you’re working on an EP. Are you an album artist? Do you want to be an album artist?

Illustration by Hart Hallos

ML: Oh my gosh. I know what it is, but it’s a secret.


SN: I figured I’d try.


ML: Thank you—I appreciate it. I know what it is. I’m excited. It’s already done in my head. In my room at home, I have paper all over the wall, all written out—little pieces of it everywhere. I’m excited, but I want permission to go. Then I will go.


SN: Talk to me about your process. When you’re writing a song, do you immerse yourself in thematic inspirations, or inspiring rhythms, or all of the above?

ML: It’s a product of coming home late at night after an emotional moment and using it as total catharsis. When I feel my most emotional, or most numb, I always sit down at the piano and just record whatever comes out. So I have a build-up—a stream of consciousness of little tiny clips of things, and I like doing that. I really only want to write when it comes out of me. I prefer it when it writes itself, so I give a large breathing room to being patient with it.

SN: You have bursts that you find uncontrollable? Creative bursts.

ML: Yes.

SN: Have you identified a pattern of bursting, aside from late nights? Is there any artist?


ML: Every time I’ve watched the Taylor Swift documentary, I write a song after. I mean, for sure, it happens—it’s part of my daily routine. And I’m a pretty emotional person, so maybe these moments happen frequently enough. It’s voice memos walking down the street. I really feel like it’s building up a catalog of materials to pick from. It really does write itself.


SN: I heard a writer say recently that they don’t take credit for their work because it happens to you.


ML: Totally, totally, totally, definitely. I’ve always thought that I’m a conduit for it, and it’s more just being there when it happens.


SN: I want to ask you a question that I didn’t know I didn’t know the answer to. When did you decide on being an artist?


ML: Like, last week. I woke up in my bunk bed and I started crying and I realized—I’ve wanted this so badly for so long. Like, what! I could never look back and feel how much I wanted this and now I just see it and I can’t believe I considered anything else.


SN: What’s it like to be an artist at Columbia? Do you find it to be an inspiring place? I know you’ve played Snock and collaborated with classmates, but I’m asking the question more existentially.


ML: Totally. I think it’s so inspiring, oh my gosh. I really love it. I don’t know what I’d be doing without it. I definitely find these little cinematic moments around the school all the time. It definitely allows itself to be a mystical place, I think. Sitting on the steps—that’s part of my album when there’s finally an album. Columbia’s romantic intellectualism. “Lovesick” was a concept I learned about in Lit Hum. She was explaining that being heartbroken was treated as a disease in the medieval times or something. And I was like, oh my god! Lovesick! It’s a real physical ailment.


I feel like Columbia still feels like Vampire Weekend to me, and I do get so inspired by getting to that place. The buildings, really, and the mission—not the institution, but what it means to just be in enclosed blocks and just be inspired and just be this young. It feels so aware of its coolness, but also delicacy—I don’t know, it’s so inspiring. I love it. I want to sit here forever.


SN: You’re from New York, and New York is a big part of your music, I think it’s fair to say. Has Columbia shifted your understanding of New York? ML: I’ve come to accept that I live on a delay, and I’m writing about a year ago when I’m writing something, and I’ve seen seeds of what I want to say about Columbia. I don’t think it’s what I’m putting out right now, but I do think I will have a project that is based off of my time here, for sure.

SN: You and I are in an English seminar together.


ML: Yes we are!


SN: We talk a lot about a kind of genteel, detached, effete relationship with art. How do we prevent the academy from sanitizing our relationship with art? I’m asking for a friend.


ML: I don’t know, I think we have to have some burning rage for the system—the music industry—and a real belief that it’s being presented wrongly to the people. I’ve been working on ways to define the ways music gets ruined for me on a daily basis. It’s hard—it’s a hard question. But I’m not too worried, because ultimately, my dedication is to the dream of creating these albums that are in perfect isolation, in perfect bubbles, and I was always encouraged to not put out that much music—so right now I have the right amount of music out for my size. It struck me recently that, oh my gosh, I can put out album after album—like, what bullshit! There’s a model for a career that you can just drop a single album, like Lorde—


SN: I wasn’t gonna say the L-word with you.


ML: Or SZA. These epic artists who make these huge almost-debuts—that’s not what I want to do. The Beatles put out, what, 20 albums? I think that is so much more true to my real method. And it’s so hard to pin down the capitalism in all of this. I’m looking at streams, I am. It’s hard with the motivation, the jealousy, the dreams—selling out a stadium, that is my dream. It’s a constant cycle of—you’ll never be fulfilled, obviously. So I’m working on it. In this moment, I’m happy right here, and I’m sure I’ll want more very soon, but at this moment it does feel like the buzz—being on the cusp of it—is just so exciting. I’m trying to slow it down and just really enjoy it. Okay, that didn’t answer your question.


SN: To what extent is performance a cognizant factor of your artistic process? Do you find it liberating, or do you think it gets in the way?


ML: I don’t feel like a performative person, to be honest, although I definitely put a lot out into the world. At this point, it’s weird, because it doesn’t feel at all like a performance, or really even something outward-facing. It feels inward-facing. It’s hard—I mean, I think of it a lot as my close friends. I mean if you think about it—that’s what those people are, even people who might be closer to me than people I know in real life because they love my own music as much as I do. How could they not know me better than anyone? And I do feel like there’s something—something cosmically similar about the people who love music and I feel so close to them. It makes sense to me that this ended up being a huge relationship in my life.


SN: I think it more answered my question than you’re giving yourself credit for. This “force” that you wrote about in the song—is it really “unknown” to you?


ML: That’s so funny. I’ve made allusions to God in other songs, so it is strange to suddenly make it unnameable now. But I do think it’s becoming more unknown as I get older, and I’m happy to call it unknown, and I’m excited to see what it turns into.


SN: Something to do with friendship? Do you think friendship is as rich of an artistic category as sex, art, or death?


ML: That’s definitely the flag I’m coming in waving. I would love that to be true. “Starsick” was about a friend. “Superfruit” I don’t think is about love, and “Ride My Bike” isn’t about love. My first EP, I felt, wasn’t really about love. I have always been inspired by friendship. I think part of the biggest lesson from my heartbreak was that that emotion is in all of these places, and it’s in friendships. I was lacking the nurturing and commitment to my friendships when I really did put romantic love first. My life has been completely changed by putting effort into prioritizing friendships and other sources of love. I think it’s so important. I think that is what a good life is—caring about the people around you.


SN: You talked in a TikTok about wanting to grow old with these people. Is there a certain kind of lifelong realization that you’re coming into about this? ML: Interesting. It’s a bit of revisionist history, of course, because it’s part of the rollout of the song. I do think it was an over-the-past-six-months realization I was like, oh, the older women in my life who are on their own—older women who don’t end up with someone and live the most magical lives—if I was invited to be one of those women, to be 65, 70, and wear bright colors and live by myself by the beach, that would be the honor of my lifetime. I have no fear of that.


SN: Yet this is a Valentine’s Day release. Any Valentine’s Day plans?


ML: Stop! It doesn’t fit with my brand. I can’t tell you. But I’m single for the public eye, for sure.

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