PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Interviews

And Then There Were Three: An Interview with Son Lux

Photo: Shervin Lainez

It started with Ryan Lott was making music for ads. Now Emmy-nominated actresses star in his band's music videos. The Son Lux story is ever-evolving and all too-fascinating.


Son Lux

Bones

Label: Glassnote
Release Date: 2015-06-23
Amazon
iTunes

For years, Son Lux was often referred to as a one-man-band consisting of founder/composer/vocalist Ryan Lott, who released his first album under that name in 2008. The wonderful At War with Walls & Mazes introduced the world to Lott's otherworldly compositions, which often feel like soundscapes more than actual "songs."

Son Lux's unique sound defies categorization, but is often placed under the post-rock umbrella because with each album the sound keep expanding and becoming more layered. During live performances Lott would invite musicians he liked working with on stage with him, even though they were never official band members. Lott was never one to rest on his laurels, and as he became more popular, he began collaborating with artists like Lorde and Sufjan Stevens (with whom Lott, and Serengeti, share the project Sisyphus)

This changed with the release in 2015 of Bones which saw Lott invite percussionist Ian Chang and guitarist Rafiq Bhatia to become part of Son Lux. It's no coincidence that in the appropriately titled album, the band's fourth LP, the sound has become almost stadium sized, with tracks like "Your Day Will Come" and "Undone" combining melancholy with majestic arrangements one could almost describe as rock sounding. The band is in the midst of a tour that will see them bring their shows to the States in the spring of 2016, as of now they were kind enough to answer a few questions about Bones and the future of the band from their stint in Paris.

Originally I expected Lott to answer all of them, I have to confess hearing back from both Chang and Bhatia made me even more excited to what's next for Son Lux.

* * *

Ryan, you learned piano when you were young, as a method of discipline, but you've mentioned music wasn't a big part of your life. When you became a musician did you go back and try to "catch up" with all the music you'd missed during your childhood?

Ryan Lott: I discovered music as I was discovering myself, or at least, what feels like the first sentient phase of me. Music became an important part of my life as I was establishing my own identity, distinct from my family's culture or preferences. So I didn't hear a lot of music early in life, let alone listen to it, but I quickly began to absorb a broad array of things in high school, and of course in college at music school. But I still had a lot of gaps in my experience of popular music. It wasn't until I was working in advertising, making music for ads, that I had to familiarize myself with a ton of stuff. My primary task for years as a staff composer at a music house was to emulate. In so doing, a gained an appreciation for things I had either dismissed early on, or had missed entirely.

The process of making an album on your own, must've been very internal. How has it been to make music with a band, and actually discuss your thoughts with other people during the creative process? Have you found it hard to get out of your previous methods?

Ryan Lott: It's been very natural, but only because the chemistry is right between us, and there is a foundation of trust. This means that every idea that comes to the table is a valid one, and could have potential to illuminate exciting new directions. I try to challenge myself to look for new ways to do things and think about things, so to the extent that Rafiq & Ian present a "shock to the system" of my process, I welcome it.

Do you see your albums as precise concepts from the get-go, or pieces that come together the more you write? Can you give us some insight into selecting the tracks for each record.

Ian Chang: In a way, it is a little bit of both. On Bones, there is definitely a theme of capturing and recontextualizing ephemeral moments, but that theme was born out of an intuitive process early on. It was something that the three of us were naturally excited about exploring together.

You wrote We Are Rising in less than a month as part of an NPR challenge, do you find that setting goals like these helps you be more creative or just puts you under stress?

Ian Chang: Ryan generally works really really fast, and he'll make multiple versions of a song before going with one. I think that We Are Rising forced him to trust his first instincts with his ideas, and I'm glad he did!

Bones is surrounded with concepts of "social uprising". Was there a political theme in your mind when you started composing this?

Ian Chang: There wasn't. In fact, the lyrics are typically written last.

With each album your sound seems to grow, perhaps I'm wrong, but I could detect some "stadium anthems" in Bones, would you say that as your career moves on, you think of playing larger venues and that affects your sound?

Ian Chang: When making the album, we don't consciously consider the live show, let alone the type of venues we hope to be playing. However, I do think that our chemistry live, and the resulting performances we play have a subconscious affect on how we express ourselves on record. One example is how Ryan discovered different ranges of intensity and expression from his voice while touring Lanterns in 2014. This discovery really shows on Bones.

Your live shows tend to have a lot of improvisation, is it hard to reach a compromise between doing new versions of pieces from the album to satisfy your own creative need, and perhaps trying to satisfy fans who expect to hear a live replica of the album?

Rafiq Bhatia: We feel that the record and the stage are two totally different mediums: what works well in one doesn't necessarily translate elegantly to the other. We also see the recording as a sort of midpoint in the creative process, and take some solace in the fact that the songs will continue to evolve in performance. The challenge becomes finding a way to balance our love for surprise -- which is central to the Son Lux ethos -- and our desire to maintain the parts of the original that work best on stage. But I think our audience is self-selecting in a way; they also enjoy confronting the unexpected. For that reason, we often find that our fans thank us for departing significantly from the records when we play live.

Your score for The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby was absolutely breathtaking. I remember naughtily taking out my phone at the end of the press screening to Shazam the piece from the credits. I liked how the use of electronica was so organic, and worked so perfectly for the sweeping romance. Do you find that people tend to have misconceptions about electronica sounding distant? Is your intention to prove them wrong?

Rafiq Bhatia: For most of human history, music has been produced by the direct actions of human bodies, of people affecting their environments. Cognitive science has shown us that when we listen to music, we imagine the movements that produced the sounds and rhythms we are hearing. To the extent that electronic music is inherently dissociated from that process, it can indeed feel disconnected. Of course, it also has its strengths in captivating people, including sonic power and presence that can have a more physical effect. One only needs to experience the directness of loud, pure synthesized sub bass rattling one's ribcage for a moment to know how visceral it can be.

With Son Lux, we try to marry the strengths of the natural, acoustic medium with those of the electronic one. Many of our "electronic" elements actually started out as a person playing an instrument in a room. On Rigby, for example, a key texture came from two-note chords that I tracked on the guitar, looped, and reversed, which Ryan then mapped to a keyboard and played back at different tempos to create a new instrument. There are traces of humanity to subconsciously cling to. Somewhere in there, you can perceive the fingers against the metal.

I love the vocals in "You Don't Know Me", and was surprised to learn they were scratch vocals you recorded while you were sick. Now every time I listen to the song, I remind myself to take some Vitamin C. Do you find that the more we know about how art we love is made, the less its emotional power becomes?

Rafiq Bhatia: We have actually historically refrained from providing these kinds of details about our songs. The more you know about the artist's intentions, the less room there is for your imagination to create its own, personalized account of what a song is about. But I think we've been saying more than usual lately in part because, while it remains of paramount importance to us that every individual be able to have her own unique relationship to the music, we also know that we aren't living (or creating) in a vacuum. Sometimes we reveal a smaller detail about the process in the hopes that it will inspire further contemplation, while also not taking away from the individual experience as much as a bigger statement about a song's context would. Why would we choose to use those strained vocals, and to draw your attention to the fact that they are strained? What might that decision suggest about the nature, or urgency, of the message?

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.