There is, in fact, a tunnel under Ocean Boulevard. Though a few online spectators suspected the tunnel, which inspired the name of Lana Del Rey’s upcoming album Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd, out March 24, might be located in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Del Rey recently revealed that the underground tunnel is actually in Long Beach, Calif. — not far from Los Angeles, where Del Rey has lived for the last six years.
The singer-songwriter’s use of SoCal iconography has been a cornerstone of her songwriting for over a decade, from Born To Die’s (2012) depictions to old Hollywood glamor to Norman Fucking Rockwell’s (2019) allusions to Venice Beach. While it’s present on her new project as well, Del Rey admits she is not quite as focused on “world building” as she once was, and instead is “living from the neck up,” focusing her craft on more lyrically driven and intimate songwriting.
Del Rey’s Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd discusses unrevealed details and stories about her “family of origin,” especially in songs like “Fingertips,” which she says “tells everything about everyone from day one.” Just weeks before its release, Del Rey – who is Billboard’s 2023 Women in Music Visionary honoree — talks about creating the album in her living room, and why she is ready to talk about her family.
How did your new album begin to take shape?
Mike Hermosa, who produced the majority of the songs on this album, would come over to my house, and I would hear him in my living room playing piano. He’s not even a musician full time. He’s a DP, a cameraman. I would hear him play, and I’d be like “can I record that?” or I’d sneakily record something.
Eventually I asked if he could just keep playing, and I could sing. Then, every Sunday when he wasn’t working, he would just kind of noodle around, and I would sing. That’s how we wrote the first song: “Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd.” I knew right away that I really, really liked it.
I enjoyed how casual writing with Mike was. He didn’t have a dog in the race. He wasn’t interested in anything beyond just playing. It’s fun that the entire album didn’t feel like we were making one until the end when Jack Antonoff came in and was like “I really like this. Can I put something on top of this?” When Jack comes in, you know you’re making a real record.
Do you feel this casual approach to songwriting was able to open you up creatively?
This process was almost like automatic singing. I just knew exactly every word to sing for everything he played because the chords were perfectly arranged. I think my overall feeling when writing this album was just, “wow, I got lucky.”
Also, I realized that, even when I’m seeking so many other things in my life, music really seeks me. It’s like a little bird following me around. Somehow when I didn’t want to make music, I was presented with the best collaborators I’ve met. I just had them in my living room. I realized music is the one thing that constantly shows up for me, even when I’m looking for something else.
Since you were singing so automatically, as you put it, did you go back and edit, or did you leave it as is?
There was a lot of editing, because it was mostly a stream of consciousness, but every now and then I’ll have a complete song come to me fully formed. The song “Fingertips” I created in one sitting, voice memoed it, and sent it to [the producer and composer] Drew Erickson. He came back to me the next day with a full orchestra. Again, I just felt so lucky: lucky for the songs, lucky for these producers, lucky for the project.
You have Jack Antonoff coming back on this record. He’s worked on so many major albums in the last five years, including two of your own (Norman Fucking Rockwell and Chemtrails Over the Country Club). As someone who has worked with him so often, what’s his secret? Why does everyone want to work with him?
He can play anything on any instrument. He can fit the right instruments and melodies to any idea you’ve had. I think he plays something like 16 instruments. For us, it’s definitely very collaborative. I think probably out of any projects he’s worked on, he would say I give him the most direction.
It’s funny because I recently heard all of his records he made from when he was in high school, and I still hear so much of what he’s done on Taylor [Swift]’s new record from that high school record. He’s just prolific. It’s absolutely wild to watch. That’s why it’s so fun because you really get to create any sound with him.
He’s also a girl’s guy. He gets it!
He’s also a featured artist on the album too. How did that come about?
I was done with the album, and he came in for a couple days. We sat there, and I said, “let’s just play the piano.” I can make a song out of anything Jack plays. That’s actually how Norman got started too. He just plays and I just sing. He started playing something and then I was thinking about his fiancée [Margaret Qualley] who I just can’t live without! I love her. I started singing “he met Margaret on a rooftop / she was wearing white / and he was like / ‘I might be in trouble.’”
I asked him what he thought we should say in the second verse because with him and Margaret it was a “when you know you know” situation. He had the idea to sing about what you should do when you don’t know. He started singing, and I told him he should just sing it on the record. It was really fun.
What overall themes did you try to capture in this record?
Family of origin is the overall theme. I think with Blue Banisters I wanted to capture this idea too, but I flew it under the radar. I was trying to address some criticisms that I had heard said after Chemtrials… mostly that people don’t know much about me. I didn’t promote that theme of Blue Banisters at all intentionally.
In this album, I got to really finish my thoughts and get super specific, which I was not comfortable with completely before… I do list my grandpa, my brother, my dad, my Uncle Dave.
In the song “Fingertips,” I sing “Charlie stop smoking / Caroline will you be with me / will the baby be alright? / Will I have one of mine?” I think I was able to open up about this because Mike was so casual to work with. All in my living room. It allowed for that.
“Fingertips” tells everything about everyone from day one until now.
Are you nervous about being so forthcoming about your family in this record?
I was. I was so uncomfortable. Then, by the grace of God, I felt completely unburdened.
Your father, Rob Grant, is releasing an album on Decca Records on June 9, and you’ll be featured on two songs. Has he always been musical?
My dad has always played piano and he sang when he was younger with my uncle who’s a traveling organ player for Emmylou Harris and Buddy Guy. They wrote country records back in the day. I don’t know how and when it came to him. But I think he just decided he wanted to record it. And [my manager] played it for Decca Records, and they loved it.
I’m not talkative when it comes to myself, but you will learn so much about me in hearing him. It gives so much context to the family.