It ‘s like getting into a big world that is extremely grand and dramatic when encountering the Son Lux for the first time. Presumably, the music is the most equitable in a church with a dome- like roof Saint Paul ‘s Cathedral. Maybe that is why Ryan Lott performed in the beautiful concert hall in Manhattan, Carnegie Hall, along with the Young People’s Choir of New York.
This multi-artist from New York is also a member of the S/S/S along with Serengeti and Sufjan Stevens and he has also worked with many indie-darlings like Peter Silberman (The Antlers), These New Puritans, My Brightest Diamond; composers Nico Muhly, Richard Perry (Arcade Fire), Judd Greenstein and Pulitzer Prize-winner Caroline Shaw.
His latest album “Lanterns,” released in October, was regarded highly by Pitchfork and was directly placed in the category of “Best New Track.” Son Lux has been described as “the dark, operatic middleground between Owen Pallett and In Rainbows-era Radiohead or Wild Beasts “fantastic, operatic heights.”
Totally Stockholm chatted with Son Lux to find out more.
Your debut album was 4 years in the making. The follow up We Are Rising was made in just 28 days as a challenge from NPR. It must have been quite a daunting prospect, why did you decide to do it?
Well I didn’t want to do it, but there are two reasons why I decided to. Frankly it was an incredible PR opportunity. NPR told me that they would publish any content about the process that I was able to generate and I knew that I would be able to find photographers and videographers to shoot and edit the process and show it all coming together. But the main reason was because limitation is always a big part of my process, I always self-impose rules that cause me to bypass my own creative habits and find alternative paths which are generally less travelled.
You were working at a day job writing music for ads before the release of your first album At War with Walls & Mazes, am I right?
I actually got into ads because of my first record. At War… had been made but not quite released when I was offered the job on the strength of some songs from it, which was being passed around by a friend at the time. Two tracks were put in a Calvin Klein ad and so I started getting calls to do ads.
Jimmy Page who started out as a studio session musician said his time spent as a session player was invaluable experience – “I learned things even on my worst sessions.”
Yeah, I feel the same way. For years I wrote one to six pieces of music a day in various styles. I became adept with my tools and gained a certain facility and speed with them that I couldn’t have otherwise gained. The outward imposition of deadline after deadline, musical puzzle after musical puzzle – that sharpened a certain set of tools and it carries over into everything I do. For example I would not have been able to make *We Are Rising* in 28 days had I not been making ads full time, learning how to write, record and mix extremely fast.
So I’ve read that your latest album Lanterns began as fragments and ideas, so how did it develop into what it is now?
I sort of work backwards. I work from small ideas and raw sounds to create a sound or world that I hope is very particular, which evokes a certain feeling and from that point I develop lyrical ideas and melodies to garnish that environment. On *Lanterns* with almost no exception, the lyrics and the melody — the things which someone may say *is* the song — those things came last.
You have described yourself as having a “geeky nature” when it comes to making music. Do you ever have moments of transcendent inspiration where a song will just come to you or is it always quite calculated?
My creative process is very calculated in order to keep me on a path of discovery. I mentioned limitations earlier. I undergo a pretty calculated, restricted process in order to bypass my surface intuitions. Because I’m really trying to tap into a deeper instinct within myself and so you chisel it out manually and it’s very technical but in the end you are looking to discover that mystical thing that can only be found by searching for it and *how* it will reveal itself and *when*, you don’t really know.
You collaborate a lot, most recently with Sufjan Stevens and Serengeti on the project you have called S/S/S. Why is it you choose to collaborate so often?
Collaboration is important to who I am as a composer because sort of like a choreographer who works with dancers to generate new steps I work with my instrumentalists to generate raw material for composing. When I made my first record I was a solitary soul, I literally knew no other musicians locally where I was at the time. Now there’s a big difference, I’ve been in New York for a while and have a really strong network. Sufjan eventually sort of became a natural collaborator of mine and although we managed to find an outlet for our collaboration that (Beak & Claw EP) was really quite unexpected.
Yeah that EP is really unusual.
Yeah so strange [laughs] and in that way I’m really proud of it, it doesn’t really sound like anything else and that’s a lot more difficult than people realise, certainly more difficult than Pitchfork realise [laughs]. I’m super thrilled with what is about to happen for this new project. It was a ton of fun working on this because we worked a lot more on it all three of us together.
You moved from Indiana to New York, did that shift of environment affect the music you were making at all?
Yeah, I mean I’ve been all over the place. I only lived in Indiana for a couple of months. I actually lived in California and before that and I had been in Manhattan for four years so I’m back in Brooklyn now but I never really left New York. Definitely New York is a huge inspiration for me. It’s a place of magical juxtaposition, just walking down the street you see things in the same line of sight that don’t belong together and yet are together and I hope that my music is like that. In one sort of musical moment you close your eyes and you can hear and feel a bunch of things that are happening that don’t seem like they should get along but they do.
How have you made the transition from studio to stage with Lanterns?
It’s tricky, there’s a lot of reverse engineering and what works well in the controlled environment of the recording does not necessarily work on stage. There’s a lot of soul searching about what aspects will shine on stage and which are expendable. I have a killer band, a little trio but we all multi-task. We’re creating a set, which feels both like the record but also something that will be surprising, a rebirth of some of these songs. I think it will be a lot of fun for those who know the record but also for those who don’t know the record it won’t be so misleading that when you hear the record you won’t recognise the songs.
Words by Viktor Johnsson
Interview by Róisín McVeigh
Son Lux & The Echo Field are at Debaser Strand on January 29. For more information and tickets visit Debaser. (To win a pair of tickets to this gig, like this post on Facebook or retweet on Twitter!)