Luna Aura had enough.
After a few years tumbling around the pop-music machine in Los Angeles, the writer, singer, and performer born Angela Flores was ready to add some grit. "I walked into a session and was like, 'I'm going to write a song that I want to write today, and all of you guys, everyone in the room, I don't care. I want to write something bratty,'" she tells MTV News. "And then it ended up coming out incredible."
That still-unreleased song, a "Nine Inch Nails-meets-Rage Against the Machine" buzz saw, sparked interest from more alternative-minded producers and put her on the path that led directly to Three Cheers for the American Beauty (styled in all caps, along with every song title as well as the artist's stage name), her new EP, out Friday (October 2). You can hear its clattering DNA on "Honey," "English Boys," and "Crash Dive," among the other noisy, ferocious tunes that populate the project.
Likewise inspired by the '90s alt-pop of Garbage and sonically descended from the blown-out brashness of Sleigh Bells, Three Cheers is a screeching motorcycle ride through expectations of gender and cultural norms in America. Its passion comes from producer JT Daly — best known for his work with Pvris and K. Flay — and from 28-year-old Aura herself, whose shaken her religious upbringing in pursuit of her own meaning. "Each song really resembles a different societal pressure that gets put on young women in American culture and fighting against that," she says.
In an era when insular viral stars are signed directly from their bedrooms and molded into bankable performers, Aura stands out. She taught herself guitar growing up in a "weird desert dairy farm town" in Arizona and gigged in coffee shops as a teenager. She eventually moved to Los Angeles with a boyfriend, angling for a larger musical ecosystem, and she stuck it out even after their split, though her stupefying experience through the industry ringer — lending her voice to big, anodyne, electro-tinged empower-pop — nearly weakened her resolve. "I had been so used to walking into a session and being [told], 'We're going to make something that sounds like this Selena track,' or always chasing something that had already been done, and I didn't want to do that anymore," she says. "I found myself chasing a lot of what other people wanted because I didn't know who I was."
Now, Aura owns the edgier raucousness of her latest material as a testament to how far she's come. "[It's] reflective of that time in my life when I was like, you know what? Screw everything. I'm not doing what everyone else wants me to do anymore. I'm going to do me." Below, she tells MTV News how she arrived there.
MTV News: You're a performer, and that's obviously something you haven't been able to do this year. Do you remember back to the first time you were performing in front of an audience? What that was like?
Luna Aura: I have so many memories of either playing in a coffee shop when I was a teenager, all the way up to playing big festivals where I'm sharing the stage with people like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pink and all of these incredible people. I miss the hell out of it because I feel like a lot of my artistry comes out onstage. It's been definitely really trying and difficult for me to stay creative and stay in that mode of wanting to make music, knowing that I'm not going to be able to take it onto a stage and really express it in a way that I want to.
But I've counteracted that with writing a lot more, and I've been writing a lot more for sync, for television and film, and really just honing in on my chops there. I can see a difference. I feel so much more confident now when I walk into a studio with a new producer. I can sit down and I'm just like, I've got this. I think I've benefited in that way, but I do definitely miss playing live shows so much.
MTV News: As a performer, you eventually came to the realization that it was time to do something different musically. But I imagine in that very long road, there were probably moments where you had to wrestle with that decision, where you knew that you were doing something that you wanted to do, but maybe not in the way that you wanted to do. Is that fair?
Aura: I'm 28 now, so when I came here, I was 21, and it was a very different industry at that time — the Max Martin, Dr. Luke, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift [era]. It was a whole different world in music, versus today, where R&B and hip-hop are king right now. Back then it was that Swedish pop-perfection music. Being so young and not knowing who I was, that was what I was chasing, to be like the next fad. But also I think I was put into a box as a young female, too. A young, attractive female that has a pretty voice — she can only really fit so many places. It didn't make sense when I would perform live because I would have these really animated, crazy, energetic live performances and the music just did not feel right.
I knew something was off when I realized that about myself. I just took a break for a long time and didn't really write anything. Just hung out in L.A. and was caught up in a bunch of going out all the time and hanging out with people that I probably shouldn't have been hanging out with, and I just got to a dark place. That was when this music really started coming out of me because I think I had so much discomfort and so much rage inside of me that just needed to come out. I don't know what it was. It was like one day I just wanted to just take control of my life because I felt like I was at the mercy of everyone else around me.
MTV News: When you were growing up and first writing songs, were into the kind of noisier rock you're making now?
Aura: I was lucky enough to have parents that were super open minded about music and let me listen to pretty much anything. I was born in the early '90s, so I was listening to things like Nine Inch Nails with Rage Against the Machine and Garbage and Hole and all that stuff. I've always had an affinity for rock music. The first band I started was a rock band. I had somehow lost my way early on in my early twenties, but I came back to it again.
I've had a lot of influences. I listened to a lot of R&B, hip-hop, that kind of stuff growing up as well. I think you can hear that in some of my other side projects that I do, that I write specifically for sync, but I have a lot of different influences. But for sure: I loved [Garbage's] Shirley Manson and I had a huge crush on Courtney Love for the longest time, I don't know why. I should have known at that point in my life that there was something going on.
MTV News: The EP's called Three Cheers for the American Beauty, and a lot of the imagery is centered around pageantry, but it's tinged with some menace. Could you talk a little bit about the concept behind that?
Aura: At the time that I was writing this EP, I was settling into my own voice and realizing who I was, but I also was ridding myself of all of these past conditions that had been put on me from growing up fairly religious, and just my identity as a female, and what that meant, and what that meant for where I belonged in our society even, in American culture. Each girl that you see in the pageant setting represents a character that embodies that story, and then there are actual short stories that are attached to each of the songs that will eventually come out to make it more of an extensive experience for fans so that they feel like they can be a part of it, and even write some of the stories for some of the girls.
MTV News: Given the year 2020 has been, what have you been doing to try to stay positive?
Aura: I've been staying really busy writing. A lot of people in the music industry have been doing Zoom sessions now, which is definitely an interesting way to write music with people. There's ways for someone to connect their audio on their computer with yours, so you're hearing the song at the same time, but then when you're writing to it and singing melodies, it's a little awkward, but you do what you have to do in these times. Especially for artists right now — there's no playing shows, and artists don't make money off of music anymore. They make all of their money off of touring and merch. It's been really difficult for everyone to keep their heads above water. You can see it with venues closing, and we just have no idea what it's going to look like next year when everything starts opening back up again. But it's definitely a good time to just keep your head low and be as creative as you can while this is all happening.