A Conversation with Left at London About Pain, Pride, Loss, and Soulja Boy

Nat Puff, known to the world as Left at London (/@/), has made a significant name for herself as one of the most prolific creative minds of this generation. A singer-songwriter, producer, poet, activist, and visual artist based in Seattle, Left at London has received constant airplay on the legendary Emerald City radio station KEXP, and has been featured in NBC News, Forbes, American Songwriter, The Fader, and Vice. She first broke out on the indie pop scene in 2018 with the release of her second EP, Transgender Street Legend Vol. 1., which quickly surpassed a million streams and became her most successful project to date. This was closely followed by Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2 in 2020, and her critically-acclaimed debut album t.i.a.p.f.y.h. in 2021.

Left at London’s discography is a genre-bending catalog of confessional bleeding-heart anthems. Her no-holds-barred approach to songwriting—with soul-baring lyrics that tackle heartache, mental health, addiction and recovery, political upheaval, and queer joy—has resonated with millions of people and earned her an extremely loyal and devoted following. Erica Lubman, another songwriter with a strong online presence who makes music under the moniker Boy Jr., counts herself among Left at London’s most devoted fans. “I believe the stuff that Nat is making right now is genuinely groundbreaking,” they tell me. “It’s genre-defying, it’s introspective, it poses important questions [about how society affects people emotionally] and what it means to be known as an online presence and a serious artist.”

Now, Left at London has unveiled the third and final installment of the Transgender Street Legend series. And with each new song she masterfully weaves chaos and sensitivity, unraveling various transitional periods in her life. The silky R&B-laden opener, “I’m Not Laughing Anymore,” tackles mental illness and sour luck in the form of a fictional comedy sketch about a man getting into a drunken spat with his off-duty therapist. The following track “Shh!” is angsty, dissonant, and almost jazzy, with a killer verse from R&B songstress COOKIE. that would put Mariah, Brandy, and Toni Braxton combined to shame. “My Old Ways” tackles the inconvenience of backsliding into negative habits, and the final track, “Will My Alters Go to Heaven?” is a wistfully earnest psalm about Puff’s experience living with OSDD-1b. Then there’s “Make You Proud,” with TYGKO, the penultimate song on the EP, which was inspired by the anticipatory grief that Puff experienced during her father’s illness and eventual passing. 

My conversation with Left at London goes in various different directions. One minute we’ll be discussing grief, politics, and mental health, and the next we’ll be sharing embarrassing ringtones, discussing Chris Fleming’s comedic yacht rock parody, and waxing philosophical on the legacy of Soulja Boy. We also discuss the evolving significance of the Transgender Street Legend series in her life and why she’s ready to slowly wean herself off the internet.  

It’s great to be catching up with you again. How have you been? 

I’ve been better, but I’ve also been worse. Considering the last couple of months, I’m hoping things are on the up and up now. I just got a face tattoo and I love it. I’m not really excited for summer weather. Seattle basically has no air conditioning. I synthesize hormones, so I already get constant hot flashes as it is. If there’s a heat wave I’ll normally end up covering all the windows in aluminum foil so the sun reflects off of it. I guess that’s just the way the cookie crumbles in a climate crisis.

Everything going on [politically] right now is so fucking depressing. I hope someone in a position of disproportionate power dies soon. During Trump’s presidency I would spend every waking moment wishing he would choke to death. Imagine if Trump died by choking on an entire rotisserie chicken by himself. That would be hilarious! 

God, I wish. Except in my version he has an aneurysm and a brain hemorrhage while giving a State of the Union speech. And of course he’d make a huge deal out of it and claim it was “the biggest aneurysm anybody’s ever seen!”

Yeah. The only problem is that we’ve already experienced a State of the Union aneurysm with Biden. I saw a clip of a reporter asking him what he would say to Kim Jong-un, and he said, “Hello… Period.” [Laughs] It honestly reminds me of Nancy Pelosi going, “Hello… Good morning… Sunday morning!”  

Before we get into the serious stuff, I wanted to start with some fun questions. When you walk into a record store, what section are people most likely to find you in?

Probably the new arrivals in hip hop. I’ll have already looked through the entire rap section, because it’s usually pretty small and I’m most likely to find pretty interesting modern records or repressings in the new arrivals section. I think the last time I went to a record store, I saw a new pressing of Outkast’s ATLiens: Extended Edition, which I really wanted, but didn’t end up getting. I think the last physical record I bought was KIDS SEE GHOSTS at Rainy Day Records in Olympia. 

What is the most hilarious song in your library? 

If I wanted to be classy about it, I would probably say something by Sparks, because they have a lot of humor in their music. But the thing I’ve laughed the most at in my library is probably something by Beef Hutchins, which is Chris Fleming’s alter ego. He’s kind of like this yacht rock parody. It’s like two steps removed from Jimmy Buffet. Like if Jimmy Buffet was shouting at you from a very close distance. There’s one particular song called “Wet Dream (About Winnie),” which is an entire song about him calling his dad to ask him what his wet dream about Winnie the Pooh meant. He has another song called “Frenchin’ the Bat,” which is a song about him making out with a bat while shooting koosh balls through nerf hoops. 

My ringtone’s kinda silly too. It’s the instrumental to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s “PONPONPON” with Nate Dogg’s verse from “The Next Episode” by Dr. Dre. I should probably change it though, cause every once in a while I’ll get a serious call and I’ll be like, “Oh, christ.” Maybe I’ll make my own ringtone. [Laughs] I should create my own ringtone rap! Remember the era when ringtone rap was popular, with “Laffy Taffy” and “Ms. New Booty”?

Oh, lord. Just hearing you say “ringtone rap” reminds me of Robert Christgau giving that Soulja Boy album a near-perfect score, and now I’m triggered.

To be fair, Soulja Boy is probably one of the most influential artists of the past twenty years. The way that the internet and music works nowadays, that was all Soulja Boy. That was his empire to build. He’s not the most technical rapper, but he laid the foundation for the way we consume music nowadays.

At this stage in your life, what does the Transgender Street Legend series represent to you? 

When it started, the songs were just throwaway tracks that I still wanted to release. I really didn’t want to do the singles thing, because a project where everything fits together is much more convenient for me. I released TSL Vol. 1, and I don’t even remember how it started blowing up because I didn’t advertise it at all. Either way, having that EP out at a time where I was trying to perfect another album I have in the works, You Are Not Alone Enough—which I’m still doing now—the first TSL tracks were meant to be fan service, and then a lot of people became fans because of it. 

I actually started working on Volume 3 a couple months after the second one came out. I was waiting on features and trying really hard to pitch this new EP to labels, but nobody was buying it. People kept saying it was “too sad.” I also have two other albums I’m trying to finish, so I eventually decided to stop sitting on Volume 3 and just release it. I feel like now I’m in a much different headspace than when I released the first two volumes. I was much more casual about the first two, but this one is my favorite. I’m extremely proud of these four tracks, and it’s given me a new outlook on how I view this series of EPs. I love them all for different reasons. 

What was your reaction when COOKIE. and TYGKO sent you their verses? 

The person I originally wanted on the song “Make You Proud” couldn’t contribute a verse because his life was too hectic at the time. So I asked TYGKO to contribute a verse because he lost his brother, so he understood the grieving process I was going through at the time with my father. A similar thing happened with COOKIE.’s feature. I wrote a bulk of the song with somebody else who couldn’t do the feature, so I got referred to COOKIE. by Chuck Sutton.  

I’ve always loved Kevante [TYGKO] and knew what he was capable of as a rapper, but before I heard his part I was still a bit disappointed that the person I originally asked wouldn’t be able to contribute to the song. So when Kevante sent me his verse, I was floored. I truly believe he gave one of the best-written verses in the entire Transgender Street Legend series. He knew exactly what I was going through in the early stages of grieving my father, and he offered the post-grievance perspective. 

And there’s just something in the water with COOKIE… I don’t think any of the pop girlies have sung like that since the ‘90s. If you put COOKIE. on the charts, she would be one of the best singers, if not the best singer on the charts. Hearing that reflected in something I helped write… it was unparalleled. Both of their features are very appreciated and so fucking good. It’s funny too, because this is one of three projects this year that have both COOKIE. and TYGKO as features. It’s me, William Crooks, and Moore Kismet’s new project. COOKIE. raps on William Crooks’ album and sings the fuck out of her lines on my song. Her and TYGKO are both very versatile and I think a lot of people are gonna get to see that in the coming years. 

“I’m Not Laughing Anymore” reads as some seriously damning commentary on the mental health industrial complex. Was that your intention while writing it? 

It’s actually funny you say that, because one of the first people that I showed it to after writing it was my girlfriend at the time, and they said a very similar thing. I’ve been very much intertwined with [the mental health industrial complex] throughout my life and the power dynamics that lie within it. But I actually didn’t intend to make a commentary at all. The lyrics about a man running into his therapist were originally written from my perspective. But I was just so bored with autobiographically chronicling my own mental health journey. So I decided to write that song as a comedy sketch with both spoken word and singing parts. 

I was essentially writing a joke, but didn’t know what the punchline was going to be until I got to it. I basically improvised the entire story. As I approached the end of the song, I just randomly had the thought: If I died on the day I was supposed to go to therapy, would they still charge me a late fee? And that kind of tickled me in a pretty dark sense. So I decided to add it to the end of the song, and it fit perfectly. It’s funny, because most of those vocals were recorded at 3 AM. I actually had to send the vocals to somebody else, because you can hear the sound of my cat’s automatic water feeder and a fan in the background. I thought I was just recording scratch vocals at the time, but I was never going to get a better take than the first time I recorded them. I played it at my old place, which was a community house and one of my housemates I played it for screamed “FUCK YOU!” and stormed out of the room, because they were so stunned by the song. That was the highest compliment I have ever received. I really value the song and I really value the fact that I kept that creative momentum going as I worked on it. I really want to be able to do that more. 

Which of these songs is the most personal to you?  

Probably “Will My Alters Go to Heaven?” That was something I started asking myself shortly after realizing that I had OSDD-1b. I had already come to terms with how the disorder affects my life. I remember coming up with the melody first, and I just repeated it over and over again. I already had the phrase “will my alters go to heaven” in my head, so I just added that in and the song was finished. There’s a sample of a very interesting record that isn’t copyrighted, where there’s talking in the background. It’s a record from the Record Disc Corporation from the ‘50s or ‘60s. It was essentially this thing people would do where they’d record themselves talking to somebody at 78 rpm on a metal disc and mail it to a person as a voicemail. I got it at a record swap for free and realized I couldn’t play it, so I took it to a friend’s and recorded it on his 78 rpm player. I thought it would be perfect to insert all the different voices talking in the background to reflect the nature of the beast. 

What does it mean to be an artist online? 

Honestly in my life right now, I’m trying to figure out what it’s like to be an artist offline. After this release I would love to be online less. It takes up way too much of my life and it’s really done a number on my ability to stay sane—or be sane if I ever was. It feels really forced and performative. I really don’t know what it means to be an artist online. I’ve experienced what it’s like to be an artist online, and I don’t have the greatest reviews of it. I’m still trying to figure out what it all means and what I want to do. That’s all I can really say. 

Losing a loved one is never easy. If you feel comfortable sharing, what is the general statement you wanted to make regarding your family on the song “Make You Proud”? 

I wrote the song shortly after finding out that my dad was diagnosed with cancer. I was staying at his childhood home that he inherited from my grandparents, and I decided to use the place during the pandemic because I really needed a break and wanted to be with my girlfriend. The song started on my grandmother’s piano, and I decided to have it start with a triplet feel and then switch to a more straightforward beat to reflect that sort of change. Once the song was finished, I played a version of it for my family over Discord. I think my dad heard the song maybe three times mid-treatment, one time when the family was spending time at the house, and then one more time on the day before he died. 

My dad and I had a pretty complicated relationship. But he’s shown me that people can change for the better; that people can change their love to be accommodating. That was something I’d become pretty disillusioned with at that point. So seeing him grow, despite his age, was inspiring to me. The lyrics “Do we really got to go this route/To be honest, kinda freaks me out,” was just about family changing over time, whether it be the birth of my niece and nephew or the death of my father. It’s scary stuff, because it changes the dynamic. The whole section about scrapbooks starting to run out of pages is about the inevitability of mortality and our memories becoming less pristine over time. But that’s the reality. I wanted to make a song that reflected that reality in a non-tragic way. I think the song is very uplifting despite the subject matter, and I prefer it that way. If it were a sad song, my dad wouldn’t have wanted to listen to it. 

Has seeing your father’s transformation over the years given you a glimmer of hope? 

I’d like to think so. There are many things I would love to change about the world. But I have faith that people who aren’t diluted by power still have a fighting chance. I think my dad definitely gave me hope in that sense. And I’m hoping that hope lasts. 

Thank you so much for your time. I always know that I’ll have a lot to think about whenever I chat with you. 

Thank you for having me. You’ve been a very kind support, so it’s always a pleasure. 


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