“That entire world inspires me so much. It’s an honor to be part of it in some sort of way,” the Ibiza-born, Antigua-raised artist (real name Jamie Lou Stenzel) tells Billboard of getting to create “Ghost” in collaboration with producer Alan Walker (who she also teamed up with for 2018’s “Darkside”).
A gamer herself, much of Au/Ra’s past work is inspired by Japanese anime and Studio Ghibli films, so it only makes sense that she is now putting her own touch on one of the virtual dreamlands from iconic Japanese video game creator Hideo Kojima.
The bass- and hook-heavy “Ghost” was written a few years ago when Au/Ra, 17, was beginning to feel lonely while on the road. At the time, she was looking to connect with her friends and family, much like the game’s protagonist Sam Porter Bridges. “All of these societies are completely defragmented and he’s trying to connect them again. That’s what I’m looking for in the song, too — connection.”
The video, released today (Nov. 7), was shot at an abandoned military base in California. “It was the weirdest two-day shoot I’ve ever been on — it was so creepy and awesome,” she shares. It follows Au/Ra’s character in a post-apocalyptic world, as she uses heatwave detectors to search for another human who also survived the disaster.
Traveling with a parent to traveling on her own was also a big change that Au/Ra had to get used to. She had been making music with her parents from a very young age, with her jazz musician mother and electronic producer father. When she was a baby, she’d sit in the studio and watch them work, sometimes driving her father insane by ripping the acoustic foam off of the vocal booth walls and attempting to eat it.
“It was so integrated into our everyday lives, but then when I asked them if I could make music and if they would support me, they said no,” she recalls. “They knew how hard it was to do this and how much you have to sacrifice and how tired it makes you. But I stubbornly continued.” At the time she was already posting covers on YouTube — around the same time that Shawn Mendes was finding fame from the platform — so she continued down that route on her own. “There was no other way to do it,” she says.
“My dad eventually saw [my recordings] and he was like, ‘These are recorded so badly,’ because I recorded them with Photobooth on video. He was like, ‘Okay, let’s record one properly.’” So they did, which proved to the singer’s father just how serious she was about music. “He started to take me more seriously after that and I started writing with my parents, which was very comfortable since music can be pretty scary when you’re that young.”
Au/Ra also recently released “Stay Happy,” an understated anthem for Generation Z. In it, she sings of running out of life hacks and yearns for getting her “glow back” and shortcuts to mental stability. “It was me going through some teen angst thing and not really knowing what to feel. I wasn’t happy or sad — it was just this weird medium feeling.”
With songs like “Emoji” — its unsettling, but nonetheless magnetic, video is not to be missed — Au/Ra speaks to her generation, where indifference, instant gratification and stalking the seemingly perfect lives of people on the Internet are all the new normal.
“I want to talk about things in ways that they haven’t been talked about before and hopefully make people feel understood in some sort of way,” Au/Ra says. “Music is incredible and it can really make two strangers feel like they know each other. I always try to keep in mind that writing about things that matter can actually change somebody’s life.”