Luz: “I feel like every gig I play is a hometown show”

The Irish singer-songwriter talks writer’s block, Noah Kahan and social media ahead of her first headline shows

It may surprise anyone familiar with Luz that she’s only now playing her first headline shows. The Irish singer-songwriter has racked up millions of streams on Spotify, releasing a string of introspective singles across the pandemic that explored mental health, isolation and the uncertainty of romance – the first of which was released in March 2020, mere days into lockdown. After a hiatus, she’s returned in 2023 with two new tracks, ‘sustain’ and ‘not going anywhere’. And yet, despite high-profile support spots with JP Saxe and Lewis Capaldi, it’s only now that fans will get to see Luz playing her own shows. After kicking things off with hometown gigs in Ireland, she’ll take the stage at Omeara on Tuesday 10 October for the very first time.

“I absolutely love Omeara,” she says. “I’m so excited. It’s one of my favourite venues. Our London and Dublin dates are going to be a three-piece band, and it’s literally two of my best friends that are playing with me: my drummer, Meg, and Alex, who’s on guitar, and she actually writes all the songs with me. It’s so nice to be on stage and to have that experience but I think sharing it with others as well is just the best thing ever.” Now a London resident, she’ll be looking for familiar faces in the crowd. “In my head, even though the Ireland shows are my hometown shows, I feel like every gig I play is kind of a hometown show. It’s a nice introduction. I feel like it’s not as scary.”

We caught up with Luz just before her tour kicked off to talk about her friendship with Noah Kahan, her songwriting process, and the pressures and stresses of releasing music in the TikTok era.

the author (official video)

So you’re flying to Ireland in a few hours?

It’s only like an hour or something… We do the flight all the time, so it shouldn’t be too bad. But it’s more just the stress, and making sure you’ve got everything, and that you’re not forgetting something. The worst thing in the world would be getting to the show and then being like, “Oh, I don’t have this cable.”

Have you been able to get excited as well?

I don’t know. It’s a hard one because I feel like in this industry, with so many things, especially since COVID, I feel like we’re all a bit scarred. Sometimes I feel like I have to suppress my excitement for things and it turns into more like nervousness or stress. I feel like I get excited when I’m at the venue and when I know it’s going to happen. Right now, I’m definitely stressed. I haven’t played a show in about a year, I’d say, so that’s a bit scary. My set is like 11 songs, I think, and the most I’ve played is five. I’ve been a bit nervous during rehearsals and stuff, just about having enough stamina to kind of get through the set.

It’s strange that you’ve come this far having never played a headline show.

Yeah, it’s weird. I feel like it’s one of those things where the timing was never right. Because when I first started releasing music, it was three days into the first lockdown, which is insane. For the first two years ish, obviously shows weren’t happening. And then I kind of took a bit of time off, and it didn’t really feel right to play a show again. I believe it’s been almost four years now since I released my first song. And it’s only now I’m getting to play the first show. That’s been scary. I don’t really know how it’s gonna be. I’ve been doing some support tours. Like last year, I did quite a few with JP Saxe, and I did a few Lewis Capaldi supports and stuff. That was interesting, because I would see some people coming to shows and I’d know that they would have been listening to the music, but I’ve never really had that experience where people were there for me.

I feel like so many artists who debuted in or just before the pandemic can relate to that delay in making person connections with their fans.

Yeah, for sure. And I think as well, for a lot of us, especially myself, the most important thing is the connection. Sometimes it’s hard to see that when you just see streams. It does feel a bit like, whoa, that’s mad that this many people are listening. Even just one person; it’s mad that people listen to the songs. But then I feel like I’ve definitely been lacking that interaction with people who listen to my music. Whenever I go to a show and someone’s like, “I listened to this song and it helped me get through a hard time…” That, to me, is the most important thing. It really makes you want to keep going and keep writing songs.

Have you been able to get that feeling connecting to fans through social media?

No, not as much. I think I’ve definitely struggled quite a lot because of how TikTok kind of took over the world at the start of the pandemic. I think it was really good at the start to be able to bridge that gap for the time being. But I found that, after a while, I don’t know, everything just went crazy with social media. Even more so. I’ve been posting on Instagram since I was 14 years old. I’m 22 now. Seeing the difference between my first five years on social media versus the last three, has been insane.

It’s equally good, because I feel like I’ve seen a lot more non male artists start rising up, which is really nice to see. And I feel like TikTok is great for giving that opportunity to artists. But I definitely struggle a little bit with social media. I’ve definitely been missing playing shows. I feel like that’s the most important thing to me.

You mentioned that Alex, your guitarist, writes all your songs with you?

Yeah, we actually met on Instagram eight years ago. We’ve been best friends ever since. She knows me so well. She’s in the background – we’re packing right now! It’s really nice to be able to write songs with somebody who I feel like knows me inside out. Sometimes she knows me better than myself. She knows exactly what I want to say, which can be so important. Because the songs that we write take so long. A lot of my friends will go to sessions, and they’ll come out with a song at the end of the day. But for us, sometimes it takes months to get one song. We’re trying to get a bit faster. But I’m very conscious that I really struggle sometimes with, like… I don’t know, I always get questions like, “What’s the song about?” And I really struggle with answering what a song is about, because I feel like I spend so long like saying what I want to say in the song, if that makes sense? And I feel like that’s the only way I’m able to explain myself properly.

I really struggle with speaking sometimes. Even for the shows, because I haven’t been in front of an audience in a while, the part I’m most scared of is the talking in between. Each crowd will be different, and I’m not very funny. That part is definitely the most stressful for me.

How have you been preparing yourself for that?

We’ve been practicing. We were actually rehearsing yesterday and my bandmates were like, “You need to practice what you’re saying right now.” So we’d run the set as it was. And I’d be trying to rehearse what I’m gonna say so I know I have a backup, just in case I can’t remember. I’m so nervous. Hopefully it’ll be alright.

So when you first started posting singing videos to Instagram, you started anonymously. Why was that?

It was actually a funny story. A lot of my friends had fan accounts for like, One Direction and stuff like that. And they were all making internet friends and I wanted that. But I was in my phase where I was like, “I hate boys”. I mean, I am gay. So like, I hate men anyway. I like women. But at that point, I was like, “Ew, boys, I hate boys”. I liked One Direction but I wasn’t able to admit it, because I wanted to act all tough, basically.

So I wanted to set up an account and the only thing I liked was music. But funnily enough, I didn’t sing. I wasn’t the type of kid growing up singing around the house. I was so quiet. I feel like anyone who knows me from when I was young is really shocked that I’m doing music because it’s so anti what I was like back then. I wouldn’t even sing in private. I wouldn’t even talk. I was so shy and scared. But I played piano. I’ve been playing piano since I was about nine. My friends were joking about starting a band, but it was stupid, and it was really sh*t. But they kept telling me I should post a video. So… I did.

I was too embarrassed to show my face because everyone at school was gonna see it. I was only 14 at the time. I used to just put my phone down and press record and then sing part of a song. There’s still some left on my Instagram at the very, very bottom, if you scroll. I’ve archived most of them. At the time you could only post a 15 second video, and my friends would all give me shoutouts on their fan accounts. I remember I got my first 1000 followers and I was like, “Oh, my God, this is so crazy”. Gradually, I started building a bit more confidence and I started performing in school… And then I kind of just built from there and I started posting my face in the videos. I’m lucky I didn’t get bullied for it because I feel like it was prime bullying behaviour. I just kept doing that until the end of school.

What were some of the experiences that made you realise you might be able to turn this into a career?

Well, the first person that offered me a chance was Dean Lewis. I did a cover of one of his songs, and he asked me to come support him at a show in Vicar Street, in Dublin. I was terrified. I went to perform. I think it was me, and then Noah Kahan, and then Dean. It was just mad. Yeah. And then from there, I honestly just fell into it.

Noah Kahan - Passenger (Featuring Luz)

You worked with Noah later on as well, right?

Yeah, we did. It’s on his YouTube. We did a version of one of his songs together. He’s a legend. He’s honestly such a nice guy. It was so nice of him to give me the opportunity to sing that song with him. I was just starting college as well, and I was like, this is just crazy. He also invited me to play at his show in Scala actually, in London. He was like, “Do you want to come sing a song with me on stage? I literally had no money and I was like, I’m just gonna book a flight and come over. And I did and it’s honestly still one of my best life experiences ever. I came out and I sang his song that he has with Julia Michaels, ‘Hurt Somebody’. It’s really nice to see him doing so well too. He’s always been so talented, and it’s so nice that now he’s finally getting worldwide recognition for what he does. He’s probably one of the most talented songwriters I’ve ever met.

Where exactly did the pandemic fall in all of this for you?

So the pandemic was right after all that stuff happened with Noah and Dean. I finished secondary school, and then I went to university and it was like… bam. It feels like at the very start of my career, the world just stopped.

You released a lot of music over the pandemic. Did it feel like a busy time for you?

Yeah, the thing is, I’ve never really been a prolific writer. Like I was saying before, the songs take so long to write. I think I had two songs that I had written ready to go. That was ‘i’m lonely’ and ‘we’ll be fine’. After that I was like, sh*t, what do I release next? I’d write songs, and then because it was the pandemic, I was actually forced to start doing music production as well. So I started producing the songs literally over the internet with Jamie McNeil who is basically like a big brother. He just showed me how to do everything, basically.

So I’d write a song, and then release it. And then I’d write another one and then release it. It was fun at the start. But I didn’t really expect the reaction that I got. I never in a million years thought that the songs would do what they did. I was only like, 18. It all got so much, and I was so stressed about it. I just didn’t really know what to do, because it felt like it all came out of nowhere. Suddenly I had millions of streams. I just didn’t really know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. We were in obviously in the pandemic – I wasn’t really doing much else. I wasn’t travelling, I wasn’t seeing friends, I wasn’t doing anything. And I feel like my music is very dependent on things that have happened to me. Everything I write about is something that’s either happened to myself or a friend or family member, or a story that I’ve heard from someone that I know quite well. So because nothing was happening and I didn’t really want to release a song that was about the pandemic, I really struggled with knowing what to say.

It was hard because, with TikTok, things turned from releasing singles every few months to having to release singles every few weeks, and I just couldn’t cope with it. So I took a bit of time off. I was definitely really upset for a long time. I think I didn’t write a single song for about a year and a half, which is like insane for me, because the writing has always been a way to get through what I’m going through. I was really hard on myself at the time. Because I guess when you don’t see an end to not feeling creative, you feel like it’s just gonna be like that forever. I was convinced I was never gonna release a song again, which is stupid now, looking back.

But after a bit of time, I was able to recoup myself, and I started writing again. And I’m so glad that I did. Because I feel like now I’m in such a creative flow, and I’m writing so much now, which is amazing. I’ve been able to work quite a lot on production as well, and I’ve even done a little bit of writing for other people. I’m one of those people who doesn’t like doing one thing for too long. I get so bored. So I love doing all these little different things.

How does that experience of writing for other people compare to writing for yourself?

It’s definitely different. Every artist is different. Some artists will want to write two songs in a day, and you’ll go and you’ll sit with them and figure out what they want to say. And it’ll come out straightaway; they’ll know what they want to say. Or sometimes they might not know what they want to say, and you kind of have to ask them questions to figure that out.

My partner, Alex, she’s a songwriter, so she does a lot of writing for other people. Usually she’ll kind of find someone that she thinks I’ll like, and then we’ll work with them together, which is super nice. I’m very introverted, so going into a room with people you don’t know, every day is like… I can’t even think about doing that. It’s the weirdest thing, going into a session, not knowing someone and then having them tell you their deepest, darkest secrets and trying to write a song about it. It’s so weird. So it’s nice that I get to have the opportunity to write with people Alex works with, because she’s more extroverted. When Alex is there, I can just listen and I don’t have to feel like I have to talk. It sounds really stupid, probably, to an extrovert, but sometimes I hate talking. It’s nice to just be there and experience what’s happening without having to really try and figure out what to say.

You’ve put out two new singles so far in 2023. Can you tell us a little bit more about both of them?

The first song’s called ‘sustain’. The main reason for writing that one was that I wanted to make sure my set wasn’t all just piano and sad music, basically. I feel like the lyrics of the song are actually quite sad, but it’s masked by the upbeatness of it. I was diagnosed with ADHD a couple of years ago, and that’s such a big struggle in my life. I really struggled with everything, like daily tasks. It makes me sometimes really, really doubt myself. I’m very, very sensitive. It’s easy to knock me down. So the song was kind of written from the point of view that I feel like I was annoying to everybody in my life, and I’m just basically an annoying person to be around, and I wish I was better. It’s saying, I can’t really sustain the life that I want.

And then ‘not going anywhere’, which is the most recent single, was actually the first song that I wrote after a year and a half of not writing. I came back one day and Alex had actually written the chorus, and she was like, “What do you think of this?”. She had a really sh*tty guitar loop. I think she had a microphone literally in between her legs to record it. And then we wrote the verses together. It was first time in a while that I really got excited about a song. Finishing that song was the best feeling ever.

That must have been a crazy feeling after a year and a half of not writing.

Yeah, it was the biggest relief ever. Actually, the guitar loop that Alex made is actually the guitar loop that made it into the song. It’s just really funny because we actually tried to rerecord it in a fancy studio and we just couldn’t get it to sound the same. The original guitar just had some sort of charm in it. It’s so nice that it was recorded in our old flat and that it has that memory attached to it.

What was it like releasing those songs after taking that time away?

It was nice to get the songs out, but after not releasing for a long time I was definitely nervous about what the reaction would be. So much changes over time. I feel like even in the last year or two I’ve not been releasing music, so much has changed again. I have another song coming out soon that is probably the most depressing one I’ve ever made. So I’m excited for that one to come out, because it’s probably one of the more important pieces of writing I’ve done. I’m going to be playing them all at the show. I’m so excited.

Luz will play Omeara on 10 October. Find tickets here.