A few days ago we stumbled upon a very interesting music video: ‘Panic Room’ by Au/Ra. The video already had 70k views in three days and we honestly had no idea who she was. We decided it was time for Enfnts Terribles to hang out with the Ibiza-born Antigua-raised singer and see what we’ve been missing out on. We talked about her newest track, Pink Floyd, hair dye and getting started in the music industry.
“Nice to meet you, I’m Jamie.” says a beautiful girl with colorful hair while shaking my hand. Au/Ra is accompanied by her father, who is also her manager. As her greeting gives away, her real name is not Aura. It’s Jamie Lou Stenzel. She tells me how she thought that Jamie Lou sounded more like a girl who grew up in a corn field making country music instead of alternative pop. Picking Au/Ra as her stage name was a last minute decision, but she’s really happy with it. And the story behind the name is one you’d never guess.
“This is going to sound so weird,” laughs Jamie as we discuss it. “I wrote a Lord of the Rings fan fiction when I was twelve and the main character’s name was Aura. I really identified with the character and I always loved the name Aura,” she begins. As regards the slash: at first they put it there because they didn’t want to confuse anyone with artists that are also called Aura, like Aura Dione. “But then we also realized that ‘Au’ is gold on the scientific periodic table, and ‘Ra’ is radium, so we played with that too. Gold is all shiny and radium is pure danger.”
Panic Room: an Anxiety Anthem
Before this cosy get-together with Au/Ra, I had looked up her repertoire. I noticed that her newest track ‘Panic Room’ is not only the best song she has released, it’s also the darkest. After thanking me for naming it her best so far, she explains it’s about anxiety. It’s about somebody who is too afraid to face themselves and runs into the panic room. There, they’re pretending that everything is okay, but really they’re not facing the problem.
She has been through it herself. Especially when she was still in school. Now, the singer does online schooling, so that has helped her. “But I think it’s a constant thing,” Jamie tells us. “It comes up in high school the most, with fitting in and wondering what people think of you. A lot of teens have problems with that, so I thought it was something that should be talked about.”
Jamie does not only write about things that happened to her personally. She also writes about things that happened to people she’s close to – or about fiction. “Books, anime or tv shows can be an inspiration for a song. It literally can be so many different things. Sometimes it’s just a word that I feel like I want to elaborate on.” Panic room is an example of the latter.
And then Roger Waters from Pink Floyd said yes…
I bring up another nice little twist Au/Ra has done: adding a Pink Floyd lyric to a song of hers. “We had finished writing ‘Outsiders’ and we felt like it was missing something. So, we just thought around for a little bit,” she says. Apparently one of her cowriters started humming ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ at that moment, and she immediately knew she wanted that in the song. However, it’s really hard to get permission for things like that – especially for an artist that is still very new in the industry. She smiles when she tells me that her producer thought they might as well give it a try.
“It wasn’t ‘yes’ right away, it was something to fight for. But that’s what made us more passionate about it. I’m glad that we got to do that. And I’m also flattered that Roger Waters – who wrote the lyric – said yes to us using it. That was a huge honor. I mean, I grew up listening to Pink Floyd because my dad is a huge fan. So it was like crazy for me.”
From fangirling to touring
When I tell Jamie that her music reminds me a bit of Halsey, she tells me she has heard that before. She is also being compared to Lorde and Birdy, and she finds all those comparisons very flattering. “I love their music. Especially Birdy, her music makes me cry. She’s so good with her lyrics and her melodies are amazing. I admire her.” I ask her which other artists she finds inspiring and she answers as quick as a wink: “Lana Del Rey is probably the closest thing I have to an idol. Oh, and I also love Rihanna! Mostly because she’s from Barbados. There’s not a lot of artists that come out of the Caribbean like me.”
By dropping more names – Arctic Monkeys, Grimes and The Neighborhood – it becomes clear that Jamie is a bit of a fangirl herself. Her Instagram bio confirms that. It must be overwhelming to have fans of her own now, I suppose. But she stays very humble. “I’m trying to take it all in. It’s just… I do want to have a career and make music that people can relate to and hopefully will like. I am willing to fight for it. I’m hoping it’s going to be a long process. I’m not expecting everything to go like BOOM and then have success raining down.”
But it’s undeniable: it’s already starting to drizzle. Au/Ra just went on tour with Lewis Capaldi, which meant performing for big crowds all around Europe. “It was so cool and I’m glad it has gone the way it has. I wish I didn’t get sick in the process, though. But that’s just part of it, got to learn how to deal with those kind of things. It was definitely a learning experience. And the crowd reacted really positively!”
“However, it’s a bit difficult as an opening act,” she adds. “People are going there to see someone else. I myself sometimes only go to see the actual act and skip the opening. So now that I’m actually an opening act, I’m hoping that people are still enjoying the show.”
“My dad wanted me to become a lawyer!”
Both of Au/Ra’s parents are musicians. I was wondering if she had always known she wanted to become one too. “I guess you could say that,” she answers. “I always watched my parents work in the studio, so that’s probably what made me want to do that in the first place. Although they never really wanted me to go into the music industry. My dad always told me to become a lawyer or something, because the music industry is so tough.” Nevertheless, she recorded a song with him at a very early age.
“I was ten at the time – I literally had begged him since I was eight, though. We recorded a cover of Rihanna’s ‘Stay’. Such a beautiful song. I think that’s when he realized how passionate I was about it. The whole process of recording and stuff, I was just so happy about it. And it was the first time he ever heard me sing properly, too. He actually cried, it was super cute.”
Jamie was already writing at that age. Not real songs, more like pieces of lyrics and ideas. Since her mom is a songwriter, she started writing with her. Her dad would make backing tracks for her. So that’s how she started making music: with her parents. “It was super cool to be in a safe zone before I started working with different people,” she concludes.
Blue? Green? Turquoise?
At the end of our conversation I ask about her hair color. I refer to it as blue, while she actually considers it green. “Like a turquoise. The hair dye is actually called ‘Emerald’, so that’s like a green,” she clarifies. She’s been trying out different colors… pink, purple, red and dark blue. “And then when I came across this green-turquoise-ish color, I preferred it. So I went with that. Also, green is my favorite color. I feel weird saying green now. Is it green? I’m questioning myself now!” she laughs.
Whether her hair is green or blue: Au/Ra is a cool chick who knows what she wants, but stays with both feet on the ground. And I’m sure she’ll become big one day!
Listen to Au/Ra’s new single Panic Room and more on Spotify.
Photos by Julia Dubois Rosca for Enfnts Terribles