Making Music Out of Uncertainty: A Conversation With FaltyDL
FaltyDL: “The more I think about what people are going to understand, the more convoluted my art gets.”
I’ve caught Drew Lustman at an odd time. “Sorry for the slight delay,” he tells me. “I’ve just received a piano.” When asked if he will start to incorporate this “400 pound behemoth” into his music, Lustman, the New York-based mastermind behind electronic project FaltyDL, says it’s all he’s going to do. “Now that I’ve just released my fifth FaltyDL album, I don’t feel like I need to do that for a while,” he tells me. “I might just make an album with this piano.”
Such a drastic departure might raise a few eyebrows coming from an artist who has invested most of his artistic energy into smoky electropop bangers, dense synth-drenched atmospherics, and off-kilter club cuts. However, Lustman might feel a lot of things, but he’s certainly not feeling the urge to give a fuck about anything that could hold him back.
This is in line with his thinking behind his new record, Heaven Is for Quitters. After seven years of switching off with prominent electronic labels Planet Mu and Ninja Tune, this is his first album on his own label, Blueberry Records. It marks the first time in his career where he didn’t have anyone else signing off on his art. Although this seems like a valuable freedom, is was less than ideal until he made something out of it. “This album came about at a time where a lot of doors were getting shut in my face -- career wise, relationship wise, friendships... it was the type of time where you think ‘I don’t have a plan B, so what am I going to do with my life?’”
It makes sense when you consider the album in the context of such uncertainty. Heaven Is for Quitters seems to be a bit loftier than anything FaltyDL has ever done, even more than 2014’s sprawling 17-track monument In the Wild. The ambition is greater, the stakes are higher, and it took longer to make than any other project in Lustman’s career. “Before this album, I was resting on my laurels, with this great record contract and all these things going for me, but in a small amount of time, it all switched up. So the idea of heaven feels like it’s for suckers, in a way, for people who aren’t actually working that hard.”
With that in mind, it’s easy to see why Lustman was motivated to make something driven by emotion. Heaven Is for Quitters is being touted as an album about dealing with yourself, about finding reassurance in the path you’ve taken. This might be why he felt motivated to invite guest vocalists over to his house this time around, something he claimed he had never done before. He recalls the awkward stress caused by the fact that he had “great, professional vocalists who regularly sing in amazing studios” in his closet, or that his old MacBook kept overheating while he was trying to keep his composure in front of artists he looked up to.
However, it wasn’t just the thirst for collaboration that led him to these new situations but an urge to step out of his safe zone. “There were these interviews with David Bowie surfacing around the time he passed away where he said that you make your best art when you are just a bit out of your depth, when you’re in the deep end and you start struggling to breath just a little bit. So I thought, alright, I’m going to go put myself into some uncomfortable situation.”
In fact, Lustman argues he didn’t really need guests vocalists to emulate the longing on an otherwise instrumental album. The two vocal features from Hannah Cohen and Rosie Lowe do a “really good job of presenting the the divorcing aspect of a relationship", but the wordless compositions are equally impassioned. “The album’s opener, ‘Tasha’, is one of the most emotional pieces I have ever written,” he tells me. “I get a lot out of melodies, and I don’t need someone to literally be telling me to feel sad.”
A lot of DJs of Lustman’s caliber tend to make music with a function, music that finds its home within the walls of a club. However, putting outward experience at the core of his art no longer interested Lustman. “I’ve been on this gradual exploration of different types of production, and now I’m shying away from the dancefloor towards music that can be consumed,” he says. After In the Wild, a record that Lustman dubs the most “passive aggressive” album he could have made, he’s aware that the inclusion of pop-leaning tracks pulls him towards the opposite end of the spectrum. These days, he finds himself drawn towards music that is more tangible and easy to digest. However, he’s careful not to let this self-consciousness consume him. “It’s a slippery slope,” he says. “The more I think about what people are going to understand, the more convoluted my art gets.”
In fact, Lustman is caught amidst a passive rejection of the confines in which his music once felt at home: the nightclub. It’s not that he’s drawn away from playing clubs, but it’s challenging for him to feel comfortable in the club unless he is working. For Lustman, the club experience is brilliant. “They’re amazing places,” he says, but his interpretation of their brilliance stems far beyond the conventional drug-fueled funhouse modern nightlife can be. The beauty he sees in clubs come from the surprise, the visions of bizarre dancing or music that completely catches you off-guard. As he puts it, “clubs should be terrifying".
Lustman insists that the thinking behind Heaven Is for Quitters was mostly automatic, but it’s hard to overlook the baffling presentation that stems beyond the music. For example, tied to the launch of this record was a mysterious website where clicks turn to purple animated figures fucking, connected by sprinting red letters that give ever so uplifting messages like “you are sad” or, even more poignant, “you are so very alone.” Lustman was drawn to the idea of “free sexuality” during the making of this record, more specifically the facade of modern sex, where people flirt and pose like they get it on everyday, but when it comes down to it, very little sex is actually happening. However, he seems more interested in the presentation. Having dropped videos on porn websites, Lustman has always had a lot of fun putting out music in places that make people a little uncomfortable or expand on their view of what is appropriate.
With all that in mind, it’s easy to spot the source of Heaven is for Quitters’ personality. However, in the grand scheme of things, Lustman’s visions lie beyond FaltyDL. “I might put this album out and disappear for awhile,” he hints. He cites his record label, Blueberry Records, as the force that could very well take priority in his “career”. It makes sense from a logistical standpoint; “as I get older and I don’t want to be on the road every single weekend, it would be nice to have more things to work on at home.” However, the idea of discovery, of “meeting geniuses” and producing for them seems to be at the core of his passion. “Everything is just barely breaking even,” he admits, “so it’s not even a financial thing at this point, it’s just something I want to build.” Considering this, don’t be too surprised if Drew Lustman embraces the role of a curator as his main shtick. Or we might actually get that all-piano magnum opus. With FaltyDL, it’s foolish to pretend you know what’s coming.