As enigmatic and mischievous a figure as Prince was, he wasn’t strictly trolling people when he dropped his easily pronounced stage name in favor of a hieroglyph of his own creation in the early ‘90s. He was also challenging the onerous conditions of his record deal and chafing against the exploitative ownership of his creativity.
Plenty of other artists have communicated significant matters through name changes this century. (Think: ANOHNI shedding Antony for a name that aligns with her identity as a trans woman; The Chicks distancing themselves from a regional term that romanticizes the old, segregated South; Yasiin Bey retiring the moniker Mos Def in favor of owning his personal evolution and conversion to Islam.)
Lo Naurel’s decision to no longer make music as Lauren McClinton falls squarely into that tradition of signifying artistic transformation.
Naurel’s reinvention has been a lifetime in the making, even though it began in a quiet, nearly imperceptible fashion. As a kid in Los Angeles, she was a wallflower, uncomfortable drawing attention to herself, but eager to learn how to blend her voice with others, eventually doing that with the Fisk Jubilee Singers during college and, more recently, as a touring backup singer for popular gospel, CCM and pop acts, including We The Kingdom. Along the way, she also discovered an interest in stepping out front as a singing, songwriting solo artist. Her first venture, the 2019 DAWN EP, showed tremendous, unassuming promise; her phrasing was fluttery, her melodies elegantly lowkey and she sounded wistful about finding romantic and financial security, but aware that expressing those feelings at full-strength might be too much.
That’s no longer a concern of Naurel’s. She’s shed her thoughtful modesty. Her brand new track “Draft Pick” and the Me Time EP that she’ll release in the next month or so, introduce us to an assured new identity. “The way I’m singing,” she explains, “is just way more forward and kind of in-your-face and I’m literally cursing. I would have never done that before.”
On the Record: A Q&A with Lo Naurel
Jewly Hight: Long before you moved to Nashville to study at Fisk, you started cultivating your creativity in private at home. How did you find that all-important safe space?
Lo Naurel: So as far back as I can remember, I’ve always been pretty shy and I’ve never been the type of kid that’s just, “Oh, that kid is like a star. Look at her. She loves singing in front of people and dancing.” If someone asked me to sing, it was like, “Okay, can you turn around?” Or they’d have to ask me three times.
I feel like at home, my bedroom and my bathroom, that’s just where I felt my safest. My parents are great parents and they never allowed me to shut my bedroom door up until a certain age just so they can always keep their eye on me. But I feel like the bathroom was genuinely probably the only space where no one could come in. No one has ever come into the bathroom and just pulled the shower curtain back as I was writing a song or singing my heart out. So if I’m singing my heart out, I can really finish that thought and get it all out with no interruption.
JH: Artists are perpetually presenting us with the idea that their latest work is something truly new, because in the economy of popular music, that’s what gets our attention. How did you zero in on the idea that you were interested in doing more than making new music – you wanted to fully reinvent how you go about it, where you’re coming from and how you’re known?
LN: I’ve always wanted to change my name Lauren McClinton. my government name, I’ve always wanted to separate somehow my artistry and the regular me. I’ve thought about this over, like, a five year span of changing my name. But I knew that it wasn’t the right time. I don’t think I was mentally or emotionally in a space to reinvent myself yet, so I couldn’t change my artist name.
But I know I’ve done so much in my life under the name Lauren McClinton, that I wanted my artistry and my music to have a space of its own. I’ve had corporate jobs. I’ve got my master’s as Lauren McClinton. I’ve been a Jubilee singer as Lauren McClinton. I’ve played basketball since I was eight as Lauren McClinton. I’ve done so much under this name that I don’t feel that creative freedom that I want to feel. I told myself, “When you reinvent yourself, when you give yourself a new name, then you have to let go of certain things. You have to be free. You have to be as creative as you want to be. You have to say whatever you want to say.”
So I’m like, “Okay, I’ve done everything that I’ve wanted to do. I’ve accomplished so many things, but I haven’t done the biggest thing I’ve wanted to do, which is let go and forget about any bullshit that I feel like anyone might perceive of me.” And it’s still a practice, but I’m more ready than I was in the past, I think.
JH: When I went back and listened to DAWN, I heard you tempering the desire you expressed in your songs with a sense of wistfulness, being careful not to let longing come off as demanding. But “Draft Pick” feels much more forward, like you’re consciously putting it out there and owning your worth and power in a different way. How did you figure out what you wanted Lo Naurel’s music to sound and feel like?
LN: I think it’s taken three and a half years for me to put out another project, because I was in such a different space then. It’s taken me however long to be more confident in myself and to be more forward. It’s been like a major growth period.
It comes a lot from my favorite artist for a long time and especially right now is Victoria Monet. I’ve always loved and I’ve been intrigued by how forward she is while also just giving us beautiful, intelligent lyrics. And I never knew how to balance the both of that, which is why DAWN was a little more mild, just [placing more emphasis on] vocal production than really like saying how I feel. But I’ve been inspired a lot by Victoria Monet, and Janelle Monae right now, a lot of women in R&B music, pop music, even rap, like Latto, all those doing what they want to do and saying what they want to say. Beyoncé, now she’s super forward; she’s over 40 with several kids and she really doesn’t care. I want to get to that point earlier. I want to start now. I want to be that way.
Even for “Draft Pick,” I say the word “bitch,” and on DAWN I would have never said “bitch.” But, I’ll say “bitch” on a regular day, like, “Hey, bitch!” So why am I scared to say it in my music? I’m thinking about how other people are going to perceive me, and I’ve decided to let go of that. Even the other day, I was telling my friend Hayden, who mixes my songs, “Let’s take ‘bitch’ out.” And then I took some time; I’m like, “Fuck it, keep it.” It’s a daily practice of letting go of those reservations and being reserved in that way.
JH: When did you start to feel that you were really onto something with this new direction, this fashioning of a new artistic identity?
LN: I would say a year ago, when I started thinking about what this next project was going to sound like. It’s going to be titled Me Time, which I feel like describes me in a lot of ways. Like, this is the time for the real me to start shining. And then also describing that I’m an introvert and I love my “me time.”
I struggled with confidence my whole life. And I remember one day in the studio, I was singing something and I was like, “It’s just not confident.” There’s times I’ll be recording. and my shoulders are hunched, especially if there are multiple people in the room. If it’s just me recording myself, I’m fine. I’m always thinking about someone else judging my creativity, because it’s like giving birth to a newborn child and then asking everyone in the room how it looks and what do you think of it? Like, “Give me your criticism of my new baby.”
There were songs I was making for the project and I would scrap it because it just wasn’t honest enough. Or it was a little too meek. And I think those songs are important to getting that out, but every song on here is going to exude confidence. It’s going to be honest. It’s going to really represent what Lo Naurel is going to represent from this day forward.
JH: Beyond what you’re saying through song lyrics, how are you bringing bolder qualities to your music through your vocal performances and production?
LN: I’m transitioning from being a neo-soul artist, or perceived as a neo-soul artist. But a more modern R&B take is really what I’m going for. More 808s, more production, cool sounds, more cutting edge. I’m trying to transition from the whole India.Arie, Jill Scott, Floetry vibe and more into like a modern H.E.R., Victoria Monet, more pop elements.
JH: You did a lot more momentous vocal runs on this track than your previous stuff.
LN: Yeah, I didn’t do a lot of running on DAWN. I don’t know why. I definitely like to run. I’m a R&B artist to my core. But yeah, on this project, I’ve just let loose a lot more.
I want people to also realize that I’m a good songwriter as well. And I think sometimes a lot of artists hide behind their runs and the fact that they can sing really well. And I want people to really focus on my lyrics. So I try not to do too much, even though I can, or anyone can. But I think for this one, I just let go a little more and allowed myself to do more vocally.
I really do feel like you can hear the difference in this project, what I’m saying, what I’m talking about and how I’m saying it. I do feel like my next project is going to be even more free musically. I know I’m going to be in a different place then.