Lana Del Rey’s new album, Ultraviolence, qualifies as a radical statement from a pop star in 2014 – it’s mostly produced by Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach, who relies on electric guitar and other live instruments, and none of its eleven tracks sound much like a potential radio hit. And as Auerbach reveals in Rolling Stone‘s new Del Rey cover story, her major labels (Interscope and the U.K.’s Polydor) were initially resistant to the idea of releasing it.
“There was a lot of bullshit I’m not used to,” Auerbach tells senior writer Brian Hiatt. “The label says, ‘We’re not going to give you the budget to extend this session unless we hear something.’ And we send them the rough mix and they fucking hate it and they hate the way it’s mixed. And it’s like, ‘Thanks, asshole.’… I think Lana put her foot down. Maybe it’s normal for her, but it’s not normal for me. Really rubbed me the wrong way. I got really defensive because I thought it was bullshit.
“The story I got told,” he continues, “is that they played it for her label person and they said, “We’re not putting out this record that you and Dan made unless you meet with the Adele producer. And she said, ‘Fine, whatever.’ And she was late to the meeting, so while they were waiting, the label guy played what we recorded for the Adele producer and he said, ‘This is amazing, I wouldn’t do anything to change this.’ And here’s the kicker: Then all of a sudden, the label guy said, ‘Well, yeah, I think it’s great, too.'”
Del Rey acknowledges a six-week period this past spring when Ultraviolence was in limbo. “I mean, I think there were people they wanted me to work with,” she says. “I don’t know who they were. When I said I was ready, they were like, ‘Are you sure?'” She laughs. “‘Because I feel like you could go further.'”
“I had heard about some back and forth regarding the music,” responds Interscope chief John Janick. “But from the moment I met Lana, I’ve been of the mindset that she has an instinct that is pretty dead on and as an artist, she is fully formed. She knows her vision and her audience, and it’s up to us to follow her lead on that.”
“On this album, in my opinion, you didn’t want her to try to do something,” adds Janick’s predecessor, Jimmy Iovine. “I felt she hit a bull’s-eye. Everybody’s saying to me, ‘We need a single,’ calling me from Europe. I said, ‘You don’t need anything.’ It’s a very coherent body of work, and thought any other conversation was a distraction.”
In any case, the album debuted at Number One in June, selling 182,000 copies – and Auerbach is now a huge fan of his collaborator. “Every criticism that I’d ever heard about her was proven wrong when I was in the studio with her,” he says. “From how great the songs were to how confident she is as a musician to her fucking singing every song live, with a handheld microphone and a seven-piece band. I mean, get the fuck out of here, who does that? Nobody does that, there hasn’t been a number one pop record that was recorded like that in forty, fifty years.”
For more on Lana Del Rey, check out the new issue of Rolling Stone, on stands and in the iTunes App Store now.