2020 and 2021’s jolt into worldwide lockdowns saw a spike in TikTok usage, homemade viral challenges, and an influx of self-made artists, creating strictly within the confines of their bedroom. For Filipino-Australian R&B artist Lara Andallo however, lockdown catapulted her into deep, intense contemplation. With nothing but her Notes App, journals and home studio to encourage her thought processes, Lara formulated a project that brought her inner peace she hadn’t yet felt. Her project Diamonds & Deja Vu comes as a result of looking inwards and finally finding the words you’ve been wanting to say, and shouting them from the rooftops, without fear of ridicule or shame. The EP finds Lara confronting a mix of feelings around contrast, as she sings of balancing two parts of her, the masculine and feminine, the strong and vulnerable, as well as allowing herself to bring her sexuality to the surface. Her voice glides over upbeat, club-thumping R&B production on one end, before slowing down on the other as she takes us through the more intimate parts of her life. It’s a beautiful dichotomy that shines bright in its honesty, and is a daring showcase of the artist Lara has transformed into over the years.
Eager to learn more, we chatted to the artist in Sydney, delving into the inner workings of the EP, her relationship with music and herself as a result of it, and the future to come.
First off I want to congratulate you on a massive 2022. You dropped your first bit of music since 2020, toured with BLXST and Joel Corry, the hustle was definitely in play. How would you describe your 2022 in a nutshell?
I feel like that was my first proper year out of the whole COVID, lockdown energy. On My Mind, and when the lights go out, were definitely COVID releases. This new project was created in lockdown, but last year was the year where I was like “we’re out of this shit now”, so in 2022, I felt like I could do my thing.
You’re not able to fully extend yourself as an artist in lockdown, so it was so good to hear some new music from you last year, and even seeing you on stage doing what you do best. 2023 is gearing up to be a big year. I kind of want to dive into the grassroots a little bit. Tell me about your relationship with music growing up.
Music has always been there for me. My relationship with music has definitely evolved over time, and I think for everyone, it does, but going from, you know, listening to music as just a listener to then, playing instruments growing up. I kind of had a relationship with music that was more, you know, someone gives me sheet music, and I played it out on an instrument. And I loved it, but it wasn’t a form of self-expression yet. I just liked playing music. And then when I started dancing, I was like, oh, now I can feel the music, and I’m dancing to hip-hop and R&B thinking, I can make this music. So my relationship to music and my understanding of it constantly evolved. And it’s just always been there for me in every setting, creatively, and emotionally.
I know that music is also a massive catalyst for expression in Filipino culture. How has your heritage tied into your relationship with music?
I mean, from the moment I could walk, I was holding a karaoke mic [laughs]. The first song that I would be singing as my go-to would be Celine Dion’s “All By Myself” as a five year old. That’s what we did at Christmas, New Year’s Eve. There was always karaoke there. And even when I went back home to the Philippines a few years ago, on the streets, in the country towns, there were little girls with these karaoke machines just singing Whitney Houston. So it’s always kind of been around. My parents both played instruments growing up, and even dancing is such a big part of Filipino culture as well. So it’s super important to my relationship with music, for sure.
With that being said, what has the reception to being a musician and that lifestyle been like for your family?
In terms of my family in Australia, no one’s really that surprised because I was homeschooled, I did dancing full-time. It wasn’t like this switch into music. From 14 I was pursuing a creative field: dance and music. So they all shifted like a decade ago. My family overseas just see it on Facebook, it’s kind of funny. Some people still think that I’m doing music, but then also studying medicine or law or something, and there are people doing that, and that’s so slay. But it’s crazy because in Asian culture, this kind of career path is also something that’s a hobby, as much as Filipinos love music and they love dance, it’s never seen as something you can take seriously. It’s like, yeah, do that, have fun, but it’s not a path that traditionally they’d encourage you to take on. So I’m super blessed that my parents have always supported me, and I think that’s why they wanted to come to Australia so that I could have the opportunity to pursue whatever I wanted to. So I’m super grateful that they’ve always been supportive of what I want to do.
You scattered three single drops throughout last year, which all have led up to the release of your EP Diamonds And Deja Vu, which you’ve described as being years in the making and it manifesting through growing pains, and a journey of strength and vulnerability. So tell me about the process of putting this all together over the years, as well as growing up with the music as it was being made.
Head To Toe was the first record on the whole EP that I made, so with that song, from the first line “You know the vibes, I can give your girl butterflies”, talking about my sexuality, I was kind of like, “Am I gonna say that?”, because if I say that, then I’m gonna say it and the floodgates open and that’s where it goes. And when I made that decision on that record to use things that in the past have been insecurities and things that I wanted to hide, and use them as things to put at the forefront to empower myself, I was like okay bet. If I want to do that, the rest of the music after is gonna follow it, it’s got to have that same energy. I think after I wrote that song, subconsciously, I was like, okay, cool. Then when we got into lockdown, and I had so much time for self-reflection, that’s when I started journaling heavy. I wasn’t into journaling consistently until lockdown. I just realised there were all these things that I hadn’t processed, traumas or just things that I didn’t realise that I was still carrying the weight of. And then once I did that self work during lockdown, the writing process opened itself up, because I was writing everything in my room, which is like how I usually do it anyway, so I was able to do what I needed to do with my little home studio. I think if I didn’t have lockdown, I actually wouldn’t have this project. Because I wouldn’t have that space of isolation to process the growing pains. I feel like sometimes when we’re distracted by the rest of the world and other people and you know, all the external factors, it takes away from being like “Okay, where are we at? What part of our process and our journey are we at?”, and I didn’t have that. So it allowed me to really be like, hey, where am I at, and can I write about it. So that’s where this project kind of started from, and to get to a record like Y3000, I wrote that in the middle of lockdown when I was really going through it. I had that concept in my notes for a while, and I was like, I think I’m gonna touch on that. And then when I had the beat, the hook came straight away. And when I wrote that song, I was like, this is a song that I’ve been waiting to write for five years. I was like, whoa, I literally felt the weight come off my shoulders. That was what I needed to get out. It was a really therapeutic project to release for me.
Definitely, you’ve gone through this massive journey of self-discovery; it’s very scary to confront those types of feelings. Did you ever have a strain of doubt, or felt just a bit afraid of letting this all out?
There were so many moments, especially with Head To Toe, just from initially starting that song and then Diamond In The Rough, that was another record where it was the first song that I was using she/her pronouns. Even when I was working on the lyrics, I was like, am I going to say that? Or am I going to change it up so that it can still seem a certain way. A lot of it was about making that decision. The whole Diamonds & Deja Vu concept is about how diamonds are made under pressure, and I felt like all these songs or situations from the project, were situations or emotions that I have felt in the past, like deja vu, but I chose a different direction, I chose to react differently or move differently. And, you know, I was at a crossroads. And that’s when I had to make those decisions. And so with all these records, I had to question, am I gonna do that? Am I gonna say that? And so I made those decisions whereas in the past I would have played it safer.
I love that this project is just an amalgamation of all the things that you were too scared to say before. Hearing how transparent you are with it is incredible. What would you say is the biggest lesson that you had to learn both as an artist and a person making this EP?
I think as an artist, it’s been really cool to know that, at least right now, with where I’m at, I can honestly say to myself that I’m giving the full extent of myself as an artist, which is a really cool feeling. Not that I haven’t in the past. But you know, my last project I made as a teenager, and I was still working out what am I saying, what do I want to say, how do I feel. And I was still being authentic to myself, but I think subconsciously, there was still a barrier blocking me from fully extending myself. And I feel like I can honestly tell myself that that’s what I’m doing now. So I feel like the lesson that I learned there is you kind of just have to go the whole way for the art to really resonate with other people. And it’s been really cool in this process. And I’m really excited for people to hear Y3000 and hope that also resonates with people. Even with Head To Toe, there was definitely a shift, like even down to the DMs that I was getting straight away. So that’s been really cool to know that being yourself is really what resonates. And we all know this, but it’s much easier said than done, right? As I was writing the music, I became way more comfortable with myself in just my usual everyday life because I think the more you’re expressing yourself authentically in different areas, and different spaces it all funnels to other areas. I definitely felt that shift when I could accept it and write about it.
And then what do you hope people take away from the EP?
I hope that they just feel like they can be their raw self and show these different sides of themselves, and have that be a strength, not a weakness. This project has a lot of contrast, masculine and feminine, bisexuality, being strong and powerful, but also vulnerable. These aren’t things that have to be separated, they can coincide and work together and be cohesive, because that’s how we are as humans. So I feel like just accepting yourself for all the different sides of yourself and being able to use that as an empowering thing.
I kind of want to touch on the r&b scene here in Australia, because I feel like you’re spearheading one of the most exciting lineups of not only female, but R&B artists in general in Australia. So what are you hoping to kind of see shift or change in the future?
R&B right now I think it’s in the best state that it’s been in full stop locally, it’s really cool. And when you touch on the girls, I think the girls have been killing it. Everyone’s doing their thing and I think It’s really cool to see, you know, everyone’s got their own lane. I hope as things keep progressing, we allow enough space for it, specifically for females, I hope we allow enough space where we don’t need to have just one girl running the thing. We love to do that to women right, like have this one person and pin women against each other like, that’s been a thing. With R&B, I think everyone’s providing and giving something different to the scene and to the community. And it’s really cool for us all to be supporting each other like that. So I hope as things progress, the industry keeps supporting that so we can just give love to everyone and let them know, everyone has this space. That’s so important.
Absolutely, the R&B scene is so ahead now, we can’t box it in. To close up, what can we expect to see from you for the remainder of the year post-EP drop?
I’ll definitely be doing an EP tour and just more live shows. I think from my last project in 2020, I didn’t get to even do anything because of COVID. I didn’t get to have that project or do the live run. So I’m really excited to bring this project to life.
Follow Lara Andallo here for more and stream the new EP Diamonds & Deja Vu here.