I'll get it out up top: I love Son Lux's new album, Lanterns. Love. I love hearing Ryan Lott (who releases music as Son Lux, and plays live with two other members currently) speak about the composition process; I love his re-imagined EP of tracks from Lanterns. I love spotting all the Hoosier collaborators threaded throughout his work. I love it all. He's an immensely talented composer and performer with his hands in all sorts of interesting projects. I'll listen to about anything he releases, and I haven't been disappointed yet.
Son Lux played at their label home Joyful Noise in February, but Lott returns to Indianapolis tonight to perform solo at a show at the Christian Theological Seminary Sheldon Auditorium, which kicks off this year's Spirit and Place festival. He'll be joined by rapper and spoken word performer Tony Styxx. Before his set of shows in Indianapolis, I sent Lott a few questions about his latest release (and the uber buzzy new collaborator with whom he just released a track).
NUVO: When I saw you speak as part of the Musician's Council event in Indy at the Joyful Noise space, you spoke about the important of silence and space on this record (and then played a bit of "Plan the Escape," I believe). Can you elaborate? I'm thinking of that glorious three second pause on "Lanterns Lit" and another in "Lost It To Trying" as I type this ...
Ryan Lott: Space and silence are related, but space has a myriad of meanings. It is multi-dimensional (depth, width, frequency range, etc.). I think of space as the perception of, or measure of, density. Spatial density, rhythmic density, harmonic density. These are things which define sonic space. This means that the perception of space is entirely dependent on context. And this means that I just wrote the geekiest answer ever! I'll chill out on the next ones.
NUVO: You're pretty connected to Indianapolis - I know you've written music in Indianapolis; you've performed with the Symphony; you're working with Lily and Madeleine; you're on an Indianapolis label - what keeps bringing you back to Indianapolis? - is it as simple as having lived here for a while/having gone to IU? Or something else?
Lott: My wife and her family are from Indianapolis! It's been interesting and encouraging to watch the city grow and develop over the last 15 years.
NUVO: You/Shara/other various New Am folks hang out at the intersection of pop music/classical music/"art music" which seems like it could be sometimes be a tricky line to walk. 1. Do you perceive it as tricky? 2. If so, what's so tricky about it? 3. What do you do to navigate that trickiness?
Lott: Delineations like these are useful in describing music, but I don't think of them in the act of music-making. I'm just pursuing a magical trail of sound and using whatever tools are at my disposal to navigate the path. The goal is just to make a sound that feels as honest as possible.
NUVO: How did you become connected with Lily and Madeleine?
Lott: My manager and good friend Michael Kaufmann introduced their music to me. He ran Asthmatic Kitty Records, for many years, and still has close ties to the label. So when he heard their music he immediately sent me a link, and I was in the thick of working on Lanterns. I thought they'd be a perfect fit on a couple tunes, so I invited them to be a part.
NUVO: How do all you wrangle (per se) all your various collaborators? Do most, like DM Stith + Lily and Mad, send things in already recorded? What is regular day writing/working/recording like?
Lott: I always have my ear open for potential collaborators. I enjoy the inherent element of surprise that collaboration injects into the process. Chemistry is unpredictable, and unpredictability is a characteristic with which I am to imbue my music. So finding musical partners in the process is one way to pursue it. I do a lot of recording over long distance, hiring space and engineers wherever the particular artist may be, if they themselves do not have the equipment and/or ability to self-engineer.
NUVO: Talk me through "Plan the Escape" - I pick this track because it's my favorite on the album, so, completely selfishly - how did it come together from first idea to finished song to live performance?
Lott: It began with a highly manipulated fragment of a recording of an ensemble performance of Maasai percussion instruments. I developed the songs over years, setting it aside and returning to it occasionally. So I honestly can't remember its trajectory. All I know is it went through many stages of life before arriving on the record! And then it reincarnated again for the live show. It's one of my favorites on the record, so I'm glad you mention it. The back half of a record never gets enough love!
NUVO: I just heard yMusic perform at the Hilbert in Indy, and they played one of your compositions. You're recording their new album, correct? (And they were on yours, of course.) What point are you at with that project? What originally brought y'all together?
Lott: Yes! Very excited to say I'm producing and mixing their next one. My piece for them, "Beautiful Mechanical," was the first piece turned in from the round of commissions they made at their inception back in 2009. It became their go-to opener for every show since, and I've worked with members of yMusic on various projects, including my second album, We Are Rising from 2011. They invited me to produce the next one, as an honorary seventh member of sorts.
NUVO: What's your live setup like right now? How many members play how many things?
Lott: I'm a trio! Rafiq Bhatia on guitar, Ian Chang on acoustic drums, electronics and vocals, and me doing the rest (voice, samples, synths, and some hand percussion). We all stay very busy on stage and we sweat a lot.
NUVO: And, on a final note: Lorde!
Lott: She's a super cool chick. Apparently been a Son Lux fan since my first record, which came out when she was, uh... ELEVEN?!? We started a direct message Twitter conversation about collaborating, and before long we had a new, beastly version of "Easy" on our hands. It was the perfect fit for Alternate Worlds, my new EP of re-imagined songs from Lanterns.
(Note: after this interview was conducted, Lorde and Son Lux released this collaborative remix/re-imagined take of "Easy."