Laurel’s debut album offers an intimate look into her emotional life

Words by Augustus Welby

Dogviolet, the debut LP from London musician Laurel Arnell-Cullen, came out in August 2018.

Laurel’s debut single, ‘Fire Breather’, surfaced in early 2014. Three EPs and close to a dozen singles followed in the lead-up to the album, all of which were written, recorded and produced in Arnell-Cullen’s East London home studio.

Dogviolet was also recorded at home, with the 24-year-old Londoner relishing the freedom to explore a variety of stylistic avenues.

“I really wanted to do it that way and I felt it was quite hard to be in a studio on another person’s time because it meant there was real pressure on me to write and get it right,” says Arnell-Cullen. “I knew it wasn’t going to work well for my first album because it took me a lot of time to figure out what I wanted to do, and the whole album I’d be figuring it out.”

The songs on Dogviolet provide an intimate look into Arnell-Cullen’s emotional life. The lyrics centre on romantic relationships and the power struggles and differing desires within. Arnell-Cullen says she felt no reluctance to broadcast such personal feelings.

“You think I would, but not really ever. I think they’re quite general. It’s very much about my emotions. I think that’s why I don’t mind sharing it. They’re quite universal feelings. I actually really love expressing it and letting it out.”

Dogviolet was inspired by specific events, but the songwriting isn’t overwhelmingly insular. That said, nothing ignites Arnell-Cullen’s creative fire like an acutely affecting life experience.

“I think a lot of the lyrics I’ve got in there are very specific,” she says. “If you listen to something like ‘Sun King’, the lyrics in the verses are so specific as to what is actually going on in my life and specific moments that I’ve had. I love that. It’s what makes them special to me.”

Despite the intimate nature of the songs, the arrangements are often robust and animated. Frequent comparisons have been made to Florence and the Machine, but Arnell-Cullen’s not too dogmatic about the stylistic framework of her music.

“It’s really difficult. I think when you write the music, you have absolutely no perspective on that as well. I didn’t really try to make a type of music. It just happened.” 

Arnell-Cullen’s done an awful lot of touring over the last five years, backed by her three-piece band. She’s bringing the Laurel touring machine Down Under next month for a three-stop tour that includes a show at The Corner Hotel.

“It’s quite therapeutic, every time, to play [the songs live] because I’m always just expressing emotion, which is pretty nice,” she says. “I think because the feelings and the emotions are quite general feelings, in a lot of them I can relate them to an emotion I’m feeling about something else. It doesn’t have to be the same events as the actual song.

While the project continues to reach new listeners, Arnell-Cullen isn’t running an elaborate production just yet. As a result, touring applies its fair share of physical and psychological pressures.

“A lot of the time we’re just not getting good food. Not because we don’t want it, it’s just for convenience or everything’s shut. The gig’s finished, everything’s shut, there’s only a kebab shop down the road.

“So I’ve just learnt that when I do get the chance I take myself out for a really nice meal. I think you have to make sure you give yourself these treats because life on the road is pretty unglamorous.”

One distinct benefit of touring, however, is how it’s allowed Arnell-Cullen to gauge audience response to Dogviolet. Eight months on from its release, she’s satisfied with her debut full-length.

“I’m really happy. It’s done everything I wanted it to do and I’m still really proud of the piece of work that I’ve put out and what I’ve made – which is, for me, the end goal. I’m also very excited to move onto another chapter.”

Check out Laurel’s debut album, Dogviolet, via streaming services. She’ll play The Corner Hotel on Wednesday May 22. Grab your tickets via the venue website.