In a world where musicians continually strive to differentiate themselves in the pursuit of success, the temptation to pretend to be someone or something you’re not is ever-present. Whether it involves following only the latest fashion trends or conforming to popular musical styles, we have seen singers sacrifice their true artistry and authenticity in their quest for recognition in the mainstream, time and time again.
However, there are some who defy the odds, refusing to be swayed by fleeting trends and industry expectations. And Laurel Arnell-Cullen – better known by her mononym, Laurel – is the perfect example. With 35K followers on Instagram and almost 800K monthly listeners on Spotify, her message and voice are creating a lasting impact, resonating deeply with Gen Z listeners who crave authenticity at a time when pop culture is saturated with over-produced identities.
Centennial World had the chance to catch up with Laurel fresh off the back of her recent Australian tour to chat about her start in the industry, the creative process that propels her music forward and her feelings about social media.
Whether you have found yourself captivated by Laurel’s debut album DOGVIOLET or mesmerised by her pixie-dream-girl aesthetic, one thing is crystal clear: her passion for singing and songwriting runs deep. In fact, music has been a lifelong aspiration for Laurel— a dream that took root in childhood.
“I’ve always known that this was what I wanted to do,” she tells us. “Since I was four years old and saw Britney Spears on television, I was just obsessed with wanting to be a singer.”
From then on, Laurel devoted herself to music, learning to play the guitar and keyboard, all while honing her songwriting skills. But it wasn’t until 2013 that her music started to create ripples in the industry. It all kicked off when Laurel began sharing her original songs on SoundCloud. The demo of the song ‘Next Time’ caught listeners’ attention, signalling the beginning of an exciting new chapter in Laurel’s musical journey.
“At 17, I was writing some demos, and then I put one on SoundCloud, and it just got picked up by the music industry. A couple of blogs that were in Portsmouth, the nearest city to me, posted them, and they ended up on Hype Machine, and then a bunch of people messaged from all these major labels and lawyers – it was a whirlwind,” she reflects. “That’s kind of how it all started, and I would tell you the rest, but it might take a while… It’s been ten years since I got signed.”
And while there have been peaks and valleys in the years that followed, Laurel continues to find fresh inspiration for her music—a fact that becomes evident when you listen to each EP and single she has released. When asked what fuels her creative process, she admits, “There are obviously so many pieces of art and things like fashion and music that inspire me, but what inspires me most is just looking at the trees and being outside, walking barefoot on the ground.”
After taking a quick scroll through her Instagram feed, this comes as no surprise. With serene nature shots with dreamy filters and soft lighting dominating her grid, it’s evident that the UK native feels most at ease in the company of nature—aside from being on stage, of course.
But when it comes to posting on social media, Laurel uses the likes of Instagram and TikTok “[to] share my music, rather than as entertainment.” With a direct connection to her listeners, Laurel feels that it is “really important to be present [online],” even though it can quickly become overwhelming.
“I love to post on social media, but I can’t say I really enjoy scrolling on social media,” she notes. “I’m not really someone who likes watching videos. My attention span just doesn’t really feel like it can handle that, which is funny. I think people probably feel the opposite way.”
Driven by this passion for creating unique content, Laurel has been an early adopter of up-and-coming social platforms like Vero. In 2020, she captivated audiences with a 12-part series titled DV Girl on the platform, where she shared her isolation experiences, intimate performances and her writing.
Showcasing her talent behind the lens through this series and penning her debut memoir, The Mutterings Of A Laurel, it’s clear that Laurel wears multiple hats. “I really feel like there isn’t a part of me that isn’t linked, and music is such a big part of me,” she shares with Centennial World.
While her unwavering passion for music has been the driving force behind her various creative endeavours, her approach to her career and the industry has changed in recent years – especially after independently producing and writing her debut album.
“I think there was a moment where after my first album DOGVIOLET… I’d produced it, I mixed it, I mastered some of the tracks, you know, I did everything on my own,” she explains. “And then when the album came out, I just realised I wanted more… I wanted there to be less boundaries, and I felt that working alone, there was a lot of limitations on what I could do, and that’s when I made the decision to start working with other people.”
Since then, Laurel has played some of the world’s biggest stages, sharing the spotlight with industry icons. “I played Coachella with Flume last year, and that was really exciting. He is an artist I listened to when I was younger, and Coachella is obviously such a stand-out festival, and we were on the main stage… I feel really blessed to have done that.”
As Laurel looks ahead to the future, she also takes time to reflect on the past, hoping she will stay true to herself. “I think I spent a lot of my younger years in a state of people-pleasing and kind of just brushing over the details of my career… However, now I just pay a lot of attention. I wish I’d done that sooner,” she finishes.