TheVine story: “Anatomy of a Moment: Lorde takes Splendour”, August 2013

An oral history of New Zealand singer-songwriter Lorde‘s recent performance at Splendour in the Grass, one of the country’s marquee festival events. Lorde, born Ella Yelich-O’Connor, is just 16-years-old and was approached at the last moment to replace headliner Frank Ocean, who pulled out of the event with damaged vocal cords. She would end up playing in front of over 10,000 people.

There’s been a lot of positive feedback regarding this story, not least of all from Lorde’s manager, Scott Maclachan, who sent me this message:

“That is one of the most poignant pieces I have read. It took me back to the day and made me remember why I do this and how much I love those people who do it with me. Thanks. Scott.”

As a journalist trying to accurately present a story, it doesn’t get any better. The article was written for TheVine. Excerpt below.

tumblr_mo235sJipy1qawjc8_1370664064_coverEarly on the morning of Sunday 28 July 2013, Ella Yelich-O’Connor sat in the departures lounge of Auckland International Airport, waiting to board a flight to the Gold Coast. The diminutive 16-year-old didn’t yet know it, but she was about to become the centre of one of the biggest music stories of the year.

Yelich-O’Connor is Lorde, whose music has in recent months hit like a smart bomb on the US, Australian and New Zealand charts. It was only the Friday night before that she’d been asked to perform at one of Australia’s biggest music festivals, Splendour in the Grass – a last minute replacement for headliner Frank Ocean after the American damaged his vocal cords. Now she sat at the airport with manager Scott Maclachlan, keyboardist Jimmy MacDonald, drummer Ben Barter and soundman Matt Tucker – a gang of five not quite knowing what they’d gotten themselves into.

Later that Sunday, Lorde would take the stage in front of a packed audience in Splendour’s Supertop tent. Her performance would end up making waves across the western music press – particularly in Australia and New Zealand. A month on, ‘Royals’ would reach the number one spot on the Billboard Alternative Songs Chart in the US, making her the first female solo artist to do so since Tracey Bonham’s ‘Mother Mother’, in 1996.

Three weeks later the dust on that performance has settled somewhat, and TheVine wanted to know how it all came together: what the performance meant to Splendour in the Grass, and what it might yet mean to Yelich-O’Connor’s career. So we spoke to many of the people involved to find out. This is their story.

  Friday 26 July – 2:00pm

Paul Piticco (promoter, Splendour in the Grass): Whenever you get a call as a promoter and the opening line is, “Have you spoken to so-and-so yet?” and you haven’t, you know it’s bad. It had been a very memorable morning, when we were dealing with a whole bunch of external issues – trying to process people onto the site for the first time, buses and all kinds of stuff. That was all just starting to simmer down. And then this happened.

Sarah Smith (journalist, FasterLouder): It started coming in via email – this industry rumour that Frank Ocean had cancelled out of the festival. We’d reviewed the Thursday night Melbourne show where he’d had throat issues and only played a shortened set, so it wouldn’t have been totally surprising.

4:30pm

Genevieve Rosen (journalist, TheVine): Mid to late Friday afternoon, that’s when news really broke about Ocean. I was one of the first to find out backstage because reception around the site was pretty poor. After a while, when I ran into people I stopped telling them that Frank Ocean had pulled out, because they were so disappointed.

Jake Stone (singer-songwriter, Bluejuice): We heard through the festival on Friday afternoon that [Ocean] wasn’t going to be playing. Everyone was a bit upset. When one of the headline acts for the festival cancels, it sort of sucks.

Natalie Hortz (punter, three-day ticket holder): At first I thought it was a joke, but the news spread pretty quickly. I was bummed but thought, “I’ll be fine.” It solved a clash for me. But one of my best friends, in particular, was devastated.

Sarah Smith: I was walking along the Global Village section and there was some guy yelling and singing Frank Ocean songs, and he had a crowd of people around him who all seemed pretty upset about it (laughs).

Paul Piticco: There was a third who were really sad for Frank and his health. There was a third who were like, “Jesus, Splendour! What a letdown!” (laughs) And then there was a third who were like, “Now I don’t need to have to stand next to my girlfriend crying for an hour and a bit.”  We moved on. You’ve gotta move on. There are 25,000 people there having a good time and you’ve got to continue to make that happen. We were really bummed about it, but Splendour is bigger than one artist.

7:00pm

Paul Piticco: We thought about what we could offer. Something that we could pull together quickly that would placate people. It was Richard Moffat, one of our bookers, who suggested Lorde – she was on the up, she was extremely cool, and she had a US alternative number one single on the way. There was some hesitation that she hadn’t played such a big festival before, but her music was fantastic and in terms of handing a big crowd in a live arena in this country, she was no more or less tested than Frank Ocean, really. Daniel Sant, her agent in Australia, is the guy we ended up doing the final deal with.

8:30pm

Scott Maclachlan (manager, Lorde): I was just chilling with my wife at home in Auckland. At about 10:30pm she headed off to bed, and I was checking on UK emails – that’s when Dan’s call came through.

We were actually offered Splendour a couple of months previously and had decided not to do it. We were concentrating on America and New Zealand. But then things obviously escalated very quickly in the following weeks. So I made a quick internal calculation – it’s a big crowd, a great festival, great line-up very well organised, and the timing was now a lot better. Suddenly, it was the right thing to do. So I started the ring around.

9:30pm

Ella Yelich-O’Connor (Lorde): It was 11:30pm on the Friday. I got a text from Scott saying that Frank Ocean had pulled out and they’d asked me to join the festival. But I was at a party and I didn’t know what Splendour in the Grass was (laughs). So I read the text and then just left it – I dunno, I wasn’t thinking straight or something!

Scott Maclachlan: I was texting around to Ella and the band and her father. They were all at parties. So I ended up calling. I asked her, “Do you fancy doing it?”

Ella Yelich-O’Connor: I said, “OK.” It was a very snap decision on my part. And all my friends were like, “Get off the phone! Get back to the party!” (laughs)

Jimmy MacDonald (keyboardist/producer, Lorde): Me and Ben (Barter, Lorde drummer) were at a house party in Auckland. We were pretty much half-cut (laughs). Scott sent us a text asking if we were free on Sunday. We thought, “We’re not doing anything else this weekend!” I used to live in Sydney so knew about Splendour from those days. I knew how big it was. But we didn’t go home. We actually stayed at the party, I think.

Scott Maclachlan: I told Ella, “The band’s available.” Matt Tucker, our sound guy, was available. Our Australian tour manager was available. “But I need to speak to your dad,” I said. “I’ll get hold of him but you talk to him also and see what he thinks.”

Ella Yelich-O’Connor: My dad had to give permission. He called me: “They’ve offered you this spot at this festival? Is it something you’d want to do?” And I was like, “Yeah, I’d be into it.” I didn’t really have anything else to do that weekend. I knew nothing about Splendour so I was quite relaxed about it. I think I got home at something like 2am.

For the full article, visit TheVine.

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