Lo-Fang, Lorde's Upcoming Tour Opener, Describes Wild Ride Toward First Album

Lauren Dukoff


"Blue Film," the Maryland singer-songwriter's 4AD debut, is out in late February.

There was a special guest at Lo-Fang's Dec. 9 show at the Echo in Los Angeles, a certain New Zealand teenager watching as the soulful electronic artist unpacked the songs from his upcoming debut album, "Blue Film." Ella Yelich-O'Connor, better known as Lorde, had named recently named Lo-Fang's elegant single "#88" as one of her 10 favorite songs of 2013 to Australian radio station Triple J, and the 17-year-old apparently wanted to catch the singer-songwriter in person during one of her visits to the States.

"I really like her music, first of all, and it goes without saying that she's really talented," Lo-Fang (real name: Matthew Hemerlein) tells Billboard of the "Royals" star. According to Hemerlein, Lorde emailed him directly about attending the show, and the pair hung out in Los Angeles before and after his performance. "She's just really sweet," he says, "and we talked a bunch about music stuff."

Lorde's fandom for Lo-Fang's austere, string-laden arrangements has resulted in an incredible opportunity for Hemerlein: the Maryland native will be opening for the Grammy-nominated "Pure Heroine" artist on her U.S. spring tour, it was announced on early Friday (Dec. 20). On Mar. 3, 2014 -- just days after "Blue Film" is released through 4AD on Feb. 25 -- Lo-Fang will be opening for Lorde at Austin, Tex.'s Austin Music Hall, a venue with a general admission capacity of 4,400.

The cross-country trek will be nothing new for Hemerlein, who pieced the verses of "Blue Film" highlight "Look Away" together while driving by himself from Nashville to Los Angeles in 2012. Hemerlein, a classically trained violinist, pianist, cellist and bassist, tinkered with his debut album as Lo-Fang over multiple years and on multiple continents, from his parents' farmhouse in Maryland to studios in London, Nashville and Los Angeles.

"In 2011, I was getting offered plane tickets to do shit that sounded really exciting," Hemerlein explained. "My friend is a DP [director of photography] for National Geographic and travels constantly. He was like, 'Hey man, I want to take a month off to go to Cambodia. Do you want to come?' That was in the beginning of 2011, and that's where I wrote the first section to '88' -- I was grabbing sounds from that experience on my laptop. I went to Europe a few times that year, to Iceland to play a festival as well… I went to these far, weird places and just followed the creativity."

Watch Lorde's Far-Out 'Team' Video

Completed at Capitol Studios in L.A. with producer Francois Tetaz, "Blue Film" funnels Hemerlein's various vagabond experiences into 12 tracks of ornate, rhythmic electronica worth disappearing in. The James Blake comparisons will inevitably come thanks to the way Hemerlein's falsetto heats the album's chillier passages, but Lo-Fang's full embrace of soul music is more akin to Jamie Woon and Jessie Ware -- artists inspired the genre's most recognizable features, but who experiment with its unseen creases.

This time last year, Lo-Fang was finishing a mixtape: "Blue Film" was not originally conceived as Hemerlein's debut album but was instead thought of as a collection of songs to be tossed out for free. "Some songs were sent around to some different labels and there was some interest…  and everybody was basically asking me not to put it out," says Hemerlein, whose signing to 4AD was announced in late September. "I just liked 4AD's ethos the best, and they moved the fastest. And it made sense to me to make 'Blue Film' the first record, and just change some things I wanted to change, take out a couple samples, and add a few new songs."

Before Hemerlein hits the road with Lorde in March, Lo-Fang will make its New York City debut with a headlining show at Mercury Lounge on Jan. 22. Until then, Hemerlein is taking a much-needed breather: he'll be home with his family in Maryland for Christmas, after missing the holidays last year to finish up "Blue Film." "I haven't been home for a year and a half, which is kind of insane," he says with a laugh.

Check out Lo-Fang's tour dates with Lorde below:

Mar. 3: Austin, TX - Austin Music Hall
Mar. 4: Dallas, TX - Southside Ballroom
Mar. 5: Houston, TX- Bayou
Mar. 7: Washington, DC - Echostage
Mar. 8: Philadelphia, PA - Tower Theatre
Mar. 11: New York, NY - Roseland Ballroom
Mar. 12: New York, NY - Roseland Ballroom
Mar. 14: Boston, MA - Orpheum
Mar. 15: Toronto, Ontario - Sound Academy
Mar. 16: Detroit, MI - Fillmore
Mar. 18: Chicago, IL - Aragon
Mar. 20: St. Louis, MO - Peabody Opera House
Mar. 21: Kansas City, MO - Arvest Bank Theatre
Mar. 22: Denver, CO - Fillmore Auditorium
Mar. 24: Seattle, WA - WAMU Theater
Mar. 26: Oakland, CA - Fox