Lauren Jauregui has experienced a lot at 25. The Cuban-American songstress, who comes from Miami originally, has already toured the globe, played to massive throngs of fans, seen viral hits and huge success, and been featured on magazine covers (like ours). And now, after years of working on herself and her music, the former Fifth Harmony star is going solo with her own record label and debut project, PRELUDE, out now.

Since departing the aforementioned girl group, Jauregui has collaborated with some of the best in the business: there was the 2016 feature on Marian Hill's song "Back to Me," which was Jauregui's first release outside of Fifth Harmony; her 2017 Steve Aoki collab, "All Night," a massive dancehall track that still receives ample radio time today; Halsey's 2018 bi visibility anthem "Strangers;" and this year's Spanish-language "Lento" alongside Pabllo Vittar.

For some years now, Jauregui has contributed to everything from hip-hop to R&B and pop, with each category benefiting from her vocals (that sultry and secure-sounding singing voice is malleable and easily genre-bends). But as with all young artists pushing out on their own, Jauregui wanted a cohesive, substantial solo effort — and she wanted to do it her way. So after founding her label Attunement Records under exclusive licenses from AWAL Recordings, Jauregui got to work during lockdown and created PRELUDE, the first half of her years-long process towards a full album.

Filled with mature lyrics showing Jauregui's ever-evolving direction, PRELUDE marks a departure for the singer, as she focuses on more highly emotive sounds and chiller, darker beats than ever before. A self-reflective project brimming with deep emotional resonance, Jauregui is able to transport listeners to a new place with PRELUDE — one that's sexy and intriguing, all while working through trauma and trepidation for life (the malaise of Millennials and Gen Z).

Highlights like the sultry "Falling," produced by Timbaland, and the moving bop of "Scattered" featuring Vic Mensa, spotlight the skills and aptitude that Jauregui has been building for years. And while this may only be a seven track preview of the larger body of work to come, Jauregui's fans can safely expect this level of sonic excellence from the full album soon to be released on the world.

PAPER caught up with Lauren Jauregui over Zoom from her home in LA to discuss the project and all its inspirations, her upcoming tour, and how two crystal sound bowls helped her build "Intro," PRELUDE's gorgeous orchestral opening track.

So what is PRELUDE a prelude to?

This is a prelude to the fuller album that will be coming next. I say "project" because I don't like the word "EP." Everything's an EP these days, but I've got a project.

True — EPs are everywhere.

[Laughs] Totally. I'm doing it differently.

How does it feel to be releasing your debut project via your own label?

It's awesome — For me, the main thing through this entire narrative was that I really wanted creative freedom and control. And I didn't want to have to argue with anyone about whether or not it's worth putting this or that in a song or a record, you know? So I have my own label now and I can do what I like, and that's the greatest gift I could give myself.

When you were making PRELUDE, were there moments where you were recording or writing and you suddenly just knew, this was going to hit?

"Scattered," and specifically when we arranged the chords. That clock ticking out the time sounds, like time's running out sonically — and then singing that melody out loud, it was a magical moment. I knew that what we were making was something special.

You wrote or at least co-wrote every single track on this project, right?

Yes I did. It's such an intimate process to find out who you click with songwriting-wise, because you have to be really, really vulnerable with people that you don't really know. And you have to do it really, really fast. I found some incredible collaborators in the process and you can hear it in the tracks.

PRELUDE certainly has heavy subjects in it and some really powerful messages for listeners. Where do you draw inspiration from when you're writing?

Life experiences, life observations. I always think that If I were to go back to school, I would want to study anthropology. I think music is like an anthropological study of both yourself and society. It's a picture of how I was feeling. Music is a pointed way of getting out feelings.

Do you feel blessed that you're able to do something like that?

I'm grateful literally every single day for the ability to express myself through words and music. It's my way of staying sane in this life.

"The main thing through this entire narrative was that I really wanted creative freedom and control."

To me, "On Guard," with Baltimore rapper 6lack, speaks to our generation and how we want everything right now — immediate gratification, immediate results, immediate intimate relationships. But that's not necessarily good for a person, and your lyrics say that we need to keep a guard up around our energy and our hearts to survive. But we also need to let those walls down sometimes. Talk more about that track.

That's actually exactly what I was exploring in this, that complexity you're talking about. It's like, I don't really know how to gauge this relationship and I don't really know what kind of future I can have with someone because you never really know someone until you really know someone — and it takes time to get to know someone.

It's interesting to explore this point because sometimes my songs surprise me. A lot of these tracks are written from a subconscious level, I'm telling myself things. So on the surface, I obviously am staying on guard. I have to watch out for my defenses. But like you said, I'm also trying to soften myself, because I'm trying to be present for this relationship and for my life. And 6lack too, in his exploration of the themes, in his verse, he's trying to connect, as well. But there's this distance that stays there, that we have always up, just in case.

His line, "Don't try to rush to break my heart baby, cause my defense's lit," really got to me.

Exactly. Like, my defense is on 10, please do not disturb that. God, I love discussing how these songs make people feel. That's what I want my music to do. I want people like you to have these kinds of conversations with themselves.

You got to work with many talented producers for PRELUDE, but none so well-known as the great Timbaland, who produced your track, "Falling." What was it like working with him?

He's an actual legendary king. It's amazing to even be in the same room with him, and for him to have a hand in my first project — it's beyond. He's really incredible at his craft, and I'm just grateful and honored that he saw something in this and me.

Where did the orchestral intro that opens PRELUDE come from?

I knew I wanted an orchestral intro, something dramatic and enticing. So I met up with my sound engineer and we walked to the nearest crystals store on Melrose Avenue. It was the height of COVID then, so there was this insane line outside of people just waiting to get inside the store. We waited and waited in line, commenting on the full moon that we could see in the light, how right the energy felt. Eventually we made it in and I was drawn to two crystal sound bowls: one of them was for the heart chakra and the other one was for the solar plexus. I felt like those were the most resonant with me at the end of the day, since I've been working a lot on opening up, getting more comfortable in and clearing out those areas of myself.

So we took that back to the studio and used the sound bowls as a base. Then I started tinkering on the piano and we solidified the chord progression that I wanted. The truth is, I don't know exactly what I'm doing. I never formally studied music, so I don't have all that theory, but I can hear it, feel it and communicate it. We also got someone to come in and play the violin, and someone else to play the viola. I wanted the end product to sound really angelic, while also eerie and kind of creepy. Like, "Welcome to my world! Here's my magic. I hope you like it!" The intro mirrors the range of emotions listeners go through while listening to the rest of PRELUDE.

What are you most excited about for the future right now?

I am excited to keep creating and collaborating with amazing musicians, and I'm excited to buy my own house with a backyard. That's happening soon too. I'm also very excited to tour, of course. I'm excited to be performing again and getting to share this music across the world, and I'll get to sing with my incredible fans again. The best feeling.

You just announced a string of intimate, stripped back underplay PRELUDE shows. I'm getting cabaret, jazz club stylings, with martinis and maybe some soft crying in the background?

Yes, martinis and soft crying, honey — that's exactly the vibes. That is what we are giving out for an evening with Lauren Jauregui. It's going to be very intimate with really minimal production — everything very intentional and connected. My prayer is that this is just the beginning, right? That the future tours will have really big crowds and stages. But right now, for this first tour, I want it to be a more intimate moment that I have just with my fans. The people who have really been supporting me this whole time. I can't wait to feel everyone's energy again.

Photos courtesy of Amanda Charchian

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