For nearly 20 years, dance-pop artist Logan Lynn has made a career out of crafting catchy, disorderly songs that almost all include big beats, fun melodies and cheeky lyrics. But on his latest album, My Movie Star, Lynn has traded in his signature sound for a more somber, melancholy tone.
The record consists almost entirely of songs featuring only Lynn’s voice and a piano, a major departure from his dance-pop roots. Lynn credits his collaborator on this record, comedian Jay Mohr, for this new sound. “I have a history of making rambunctious dance music, along with the occasional acoustic versions,” he tells Billboard. “He felt like I should explore being quiet. I would send him little clips of the piano songs I was writing in my loft in Portland, and he would give me feedback.”
Mohr wasn’t the only person helping to create a dynamic new album — My Movie Star is a double album, the first half consisting of Lynn’s new piano-driven songs, and the second half filled with remixes and covers of the new music by other industry greats, including 80s pop icon Tiffany, indie rock darlings The Dandy Warhols and many more.
Logan Lynn talked to Billboard about getting to work with his “idol” Tiffany, his work in advocacy for LGBTQ issues and mental health, and the creation of My Movie Star.
Let’s start by talking about your video for “Nothing’s Ever Wrong.” What was the inspiration behind the concept for the video and song?
I’ve been making videos for 20 years, and this is the first time I’ve ever done one myself, where I wrote it and directed it with my vision. And I think, for me, all throughout writing the record and the songs, they were always about this push and pull between public life and private life, and particularly, around Hollywood and what happens to folks who are really public and leading these lives that really matter to them. So I wanted to really capture that feeling of isolation that sometimes happens in fame or in celebrity, and also the beauty that comes with that. Like, you’re in this beautiful space, you’re surrounded by all of these lush, gorgeous grounds and you’re dripping in Gucci, but maybe you’re still just as alone as you would be if you didn’t have any of that.
You collaborated with actor and comedian Jay Mohr on this creating this record — how did you two meet, and what was the creative process of putting a together like with him?
We met a couple of years ago. I run a mental health campaign, and I interviewed him as a part of that. Because his book, Gasping for Airtime, about his time at Saturday Night Live was all about his experience of having stage fright and anxiety and yet being on TV every Saturday. So I’d heard him speak often about his own struggles, and I wanted to talk with him about that for the campaign. And immediately, as we started speaking, I captured the thing on video, you can watch us fall in love with each other on camera. It was instantly like a “You’re my family, you’re my best friend” sort of feeling. And we both had that. I feel like we pressed record on that video and we just never stopped talking or hanging out. We see each other constantly, back and forth between Portland and L.A. And I think the music was just a product of that love, of being seen and finding each other. He really saw what I was trying to do, and he took some time over the first few days to dig into my catalogue over the last 20 years.
So it happened organically, especially because he had heard some of my quieter songs — I have a history of making rambunctious dance music, along with the occasional acoustic versions. So he heard that, and he felt like I should explore being quiet. I would send him little clips of the piano songs I was writing in my loft in Portland, and he would give me feedback. It was really vulnerable and dangerous, because it was the first time that someone in my life had been like, “Now put that on the internet.” There is something really freeing in just putting music out there that you’re not totally sure about, and I think he knew that I trusted him enough to let him tap into that.
That’s so cool. Now along with Jay, you also collaborate with people on the album like Tiffany, The Dandy Warhols and Jarryd James, who perform covers of the songs. What was it like getting to work with those names?
So exciting! I am still freaking out, and it’s been a year since it all happened. When I was young, I had a rough time growing up, and around the time that Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” [was released] I was really at the depth of my suffering as a child. That song really found me. It found me in a way that no other song had found me before, because I wasn’t allowed to listen to secular music, but I was allowed to listen to that song. I played that record over and over and over. It truly became the soundtrack to my cognitive dissonance that allowed me to survive my childhood. I imagined that I was best friends with Tiffany, that I was performing at the mall with her, that we were making records and taking over music together, and that was how I functioned until I got old enough to get help. But her music completely saved me, and there’s not an ounce of irony in that. It was my 7-year-old salvation, so I think I must have wished really hard at the time [laughs]. Because it totally came true!
Over the years, every time I have gotten the chance to have more access in the industry or have made a connection, I think what other people do at those times is plug into who’s really hot and who’s at the top of their career at the time. What I do is I try to make my dreams come true from a long time ago, so I’m living my 80s and 90s fantasies with an idol like Tiffany. I’ve been friends with her for a little while, so when this opportunity came around, I thought it would be helpful to release this new format of music — have the record with these piano songs as I wrote them, but also give people the opportunity to experience the new songs in a sort of different way. So there’s a few remixes and covers. I reached out to Tiffany to see if she’d be interested in reimagining one of them, and she said yes! I don’t even remember what I did at that moment, but it involved crying a whole bunch. It’s been really special, man.
I really admire your work in activism for LGBTQ and mental health issues. How did that advocacy work inform your approach to this new music?
So I’m 10 years in recovery for crack cocaine and alcohol addiction that nearly took my life several times. And music has always been how I processed my experience, and now that I’m well, it sort of does the same thing, it’s just the other side of the coin. But I feel like my last record [2016’s] Adieu was all about my experience of overcoming my mental health challenges of trauma and of becoming a healthy person in the world and what that took. Now, this new record is much more about love and life and finding happiness, and exploring the possibility that a happy life exists after processing trauma or whatever. So music sort of takes the shape that I am in at any given time.
My advocacy is totally interwoven in that, because my music is often a vehicle to talk about really difficult stuff. With Keep Oregon Well and the Mental Health Matters stuff [two advocacy organizations Lynn works directly with], I bill specifically around my music. We have a concert series here in Oregon, where when bands come through Oregon, I interview them about mental and behavioral healthcare, how they take care of themselves on the road. I was touring with Portugal. The Man recently, and I got on stage each night in front of crowds of like 8,000 people and said “I’m a suicide survivor. Come chat with me.” That, to me, is not usual at a big rock festival, and it does matter. When I was really young, I wasn’t listening to the adults in my church or at home or in my life, and it felt like I wasn’t able to be reached. But I know, had an artist like Tiffany or someone I was plugged into said “It’s okay to feel what you’re feeling, I feel the same way,” or “Here’s some resources,” or “You’re normal, it’s okay to be gay” I think it would have reached me.
I completely agree with you on that. And I think that especially goes with queer representation in media. With the last few years’ uptick in culturally significant queer artists, what do you think is still missing in the music industry in terms of being more LGBTQ and mental health-friendly?
There’s a lot of education that’s happening, the visibility is finally getting there, but in truth, the stigma is still there. I put out my record about suicide two years ago, and I self-released it. There were a lot of label meetings, there were a lot of people that were like, “Are you sure you want to do this? What about this cover, are you sure?” The more people who asked me that question, whether it was publicists or managers or labels, the more sure I became. I felt totally galvanized.
Of course, and if you don’t mind my adding, Adieu was one of your most successful and best albums to date, so I feel like you proved your point to them.
Thank you! It was certainly the first time I had five songs on the radio from a record. And I also know that we reached a lot of people with the shows where we talked about recovery and feeling ok in the midst of trauma, and everything that those shows were based around. So to your question, I still think there’s… space to be created for the less palatable mental illnesses that are occurring around folks. I think there’s a lot of times where it seems to present in kind of scary ways, and people don’t quite seem to understand that. Other social issues get conflated with mental illness or mental healthcare challenges all of the time, so that education piece feels really important.
It’s also interesting to think about my career, and I hesitate to say this because I do feel like progress is being made, and I’ve certainly watched that happen … but the underlying homophobia that exists in the music industry, with A&R folks, with people at labels who don’t “want to take a risk” on an LGBTQ artist, that exists man. My success — and this is the part I’m having a hard time saying — it’s in large part due to straight people helping me. You know what I mean? It’s not like I came out when I was 17 singing songs about being gay and the world embraced me. Elliott Smith embraced me, The Dandy Warhols embraced me, those people brought me up, they convinced EMI and Caroline Records to sign me, even as a gay artist.
To me, it feels very hard-fought, and even now at times, I still get help from straight people [laughs]. I still get that hand up, and that’s been my experience. But it does always seem to involve some queer ally of mine seeing my value, showing people like “Yeah, he’s a gay man and he’s an artist, but there’s way more to this than just that, don’t put him in this tiny box and keep him there.” I guess my hope is that the new generation of LGBTQ artists and youth are pushing back on the industry, and proving that queer and trans and gay and lesbian and bi artists are actually sellable to the mainstream in a way where you don’t only have to exist on one little area of a magazine.