Artist Feature: Left at London
Left at London is a singer-songwriter and comedian known for her albums such as Transgender Street Legend Vol. 1 and viral video hits including “How to make a Tyler, the Creator song.” Pandora caught up with the Seattle-based musician ahead of International Transgender Day of Visibility to talk everything from music inspiration to eating more vegetables, and of course, passing the mic.
Tell us about yourself—how did you get started in music?
I genuinely think I started music because of a need to be liked and have a hobby as a child. It wasn’t the first thing I tried to do—I actually tried to be an actor for several years of my youth, and music was just the thing that stuck. Over time, I’m now in a place where music has saved my life so many times that I have no qualms focusing on it as a career.
You got a lot of publicity for your videos on “How to make a Frank Ocean/Tyler, the Creator/etc. song,” your “I do that” Vine, and others—some say you’ve perfected the art of going viral. How does the internet and this virality play a role in your music creation?
None whatsoever. I tend to find that my internet virality and music only overlaps in terms of advertising each other. People have found my internet content because they were interested in the music, and people have found my music because they were interested in my internet content. But there’s no real “creative overlap.”
There is something to be said about the common thread of some semblance of palatability that I try to acquire in all of my content. I definitely feel like I hold myself back trying to be appealing to others, and I don’t succeed all the time in doing so. I think that’s why one of my favorite songs of mine is STAAR, just because it’s a bit of a strange song, for my discography at least. It’s a bit of an outlier, and while I create whatever I want to create, I also put the audience in mind when I do so. I don’t know if it’s holding me back or keeping me afloat. I guess we’ll see.
The music industry is very male-dominated in everything from record labels to songwriters. What is it like being a trans woman in this world?
I feel constantly negatively judged. Even from my peers. Not by everyone, of course, otherwise I wouldn’t be talking to you about positive subject matters. I can only speak to my experience, and I feel like I’ve had it relatively good compared to most other trans women with a platform. I don’t know how it happened, but even with that feeling in consideration, I feel like I have been judged by a lot of people. I feel thankful that despite that feeling of being judged, I still have a good amount of people who actively enjoy my music.
You don’t shy away from topics like mental health, relationships, and what the current political world looks like for a queer person. What statements are most important to you to be making with your music?
I often tend to write very autobiographically, and therapeutically. What you hear in my music is essentially an abridged version of what my therapist hears. Maybe I’m oversharing to the audience, but either way I’m both happy and horrified to know that I’m not alone in the feelings I’ve felt.
While your music follows topics that can be dark, you are also known online as a comedian. How do you balance the two? How do they play off each other?
I honestly feel like some sort of edgy reboot of Hannah Montana. They barely play off each other for my life. I still have people telling me they just realized that person who made Transgender Street Legend Vol. 1 was the same person who made “that video about _______.” My name is the same on most of my social media, but even then people still don’t make the connection sometimes.
You’ve talked a lot about living your life online—how does that help your music? Do you ever have to step away?
It helps my music, but it absolutely hinders my ability to grow as a person. Any form of fame can and will stunt your emotional growth if you let it. I go to therapy and advocate for my own mental health as much as I can, but honestly I still slip into old bad habits sometimes. Working on yourself is a never-ending process.
You just launched a new album and went on tour. What’s next?
The quarantine has me cooking up new music faster than I’ve churned it out in a while! So something will come of that...probably.
Do you have any female mentors/inspirations either now or as you were starting out in your career?
I’m really thankful for Wendy Carlos, Kimbra, and Missy Elliott, all of whom have inspired me in some way.
How will you Pass the Mic to the next generation of women in music? What advice do you have for a young trans woman trying to make it in the world of audio?
Invest in your craft. Time and energy. Also learn how to cook better. I can’t explain how it’s helped me with production, but weirdly enough it has. Maybe it has to do with self discipline and handling mistakes, or maybe it has to do with the fact I’m actually eating vegetables now instead of just fast food. Plus, not eating as much takeout has helped me save money—I can invest in plugins and gear now! It’s great!
Stay tuned for other artist features, and listen to Left at London’s music on Pandora here.
For more transgender support and stories, explore the resources provided by GLAAD, PFLAG, HRC, or The Trevor Project.