I sometimes wish that I’d discovered Jessy Lanza when I was going through my last break up, it would’ve been the perfect soundtrack to me sitting indoors and occasionally finding children's cartoons incredibly emotional for no apparent reason.
As it is, I’ve only recently discovered her uniquely haunting vocal melodies and warm, layered production last year, and I’ve been listening to her first album, the 2013 Hyperdub release ‘Pull My Hair Back’ pretty much every day since. From the beautifully ethereal songs like ‘Giddy’ to the insanely catchy production of ‘Kathy Lee’, it’s pretty much as close as you can get to a perfect modern pop album, and was rightfully lauded both critically and from fans alike.
Since then she has toured extensively and is now set to release her new album ‘Oh No’ in May 2016. By the sounds of recent singles ‘It Means I Love You’ and ‘VV Violence’, it promises to be more of the same. Catchy pop songs that stick in your head for days, but contain enough wallop for a huge system when the time is right.
We caught up with her in between shows she’s doing supporting the Junior Boys, to talk about her definition of pop, her creative process and Japanese techno...
Hi Jessy, how’s it going? I’ve been told you only have one hour of internet out there?
It’s going good. I only have an hour of internet because I need to check out from our hotel. Well, less than an hour cos I need to take a shower.
So have you just come from a show?
Yeah we played in Los Angeles last night and we’re in L.A this morning but we’re driving down to Santa Ana later today.
OK cool. Who's we?
I’m on tour with Junior Boys and Boris, and my friend Tori plays in my show with me so there’s like a whole crew of us travelling together.
I tried to come see you and Junior Boys the other day at Oslo but couldn’t get in!
Yeah that was sold out which was awesome, but I’m coming back in May.
Yeah, Corsica Studios right?
Yeah but they’re adding another date at a place called the Pickle Factory, I don’t know it myself but they’re going to be on the 18th-19th of May.
So how did you get to know Junior Boys?
Well we’re from the same city in Canada, Hamilton. Because one of my close friends’ brother Matt is in Junior Boys, so I’ve known them since I was a teenager. Jeremy (Greenspan, also Junior Boys) and I have been working together for about six years now. I moved away from Hamilton to go to school and when I came back we started working on songs together.
So what’s the scene like in Hamilton, or is it just you and Junior Boys?
Well...There isn’t… I mean...Canada is pretty boring. There is no scene in Hamilton. I mean there is a local arts scene for sure but it doesn’t compare to New York or London or Berlin. But that’s what I like about it. Because the people that do art there are not doing it for any other reason, like they don’t card about making money or getting famous. So I like that about living in Hamilton, there’s these people doing their weird art that nobody cares about, but they aren’t doing for anybody but themselves.
Yeah I know what that’s like, I recently moved out of the city to the middle of nowhere and people still do their own thing out here but it’s more just for the enjoyment rather than to get big.
Yeah, well it’s also like in these big cities you are where everybody else is, and you’re doing what everybody else does, and I think it’s easy to get caught up or maybe a bit lost in the big bubble of everybody doing the same thing. I think it can be good for some people but for me and Jeremy working on this project together it’s better for us to be outside where everything is happening. I mean it’s also money too, like I’ve lived in bigger Canadian cities before but I was having to constantly work to stay in that city.
Just to stay afloat?
Yeah like I spent a lot of time working in Toronto and it didn’t give me much time to work on anything creatively. So it’s all about keeping your overhang low as well.
In London I spent so much time just trying to be able to afford to live there that I was too knackered to actually do anything I wanted to.
Yeah absolutely. I mean Hamilton is a city where people are living normal lives and doing normal stuff and I think it could be quite inspiring to be around people who aren’t caught up in themselves or their art and don’t really give a shit about your art. I like that, rather than being in a place where everybody is doing the same thing.
So how did the signing to Hyperdub come about?
Kode 9 is an old friend of Jeremy’s, they’ve been friends for a really long time. Like Jeremy and I had a few tracks but we didn’t really have an album together yet and I think Jeremy ran into Steve when they were DJing or something and he asked what he was working on, so played our tracks. Steve liked them and said he was interested in releasing a whole album when it was finished. It’s funny, he was the only person who liked it. Nobody wanted to put out but Steve.
Well Hyperdub are known for always putting out the most cutting edge stuff so maybe that was why. On that note, do you think of yourself as dance or pop music? Obviously most of the artists signed to Hyperdub are electronic acts, and you got number four in the RA top albums of the year list in 2014, but you could just as easily be considered pop...
I think of the music that we make as being some variation on pop music. I think the music I follow the closest is mainstream R&B music. But then maybe what links me and the electronic artists is that the way I like to work best is with samples, and with synthesizers and like hardware based instruments. So RnB and Hip and Techno and House all share that in common, so maybe that’s the common thread, like the way you make all these kinds of music is the same and that’s how I like to work too. It’s hard to group them all, like what is the common thread? I dunno.
That’s what I mean, like you could be thought of as a pop act and have chart success, or maybe you have in America?
But even though house and techno are more popular now than they’ve ever been, as an artist maybe you could be bigger if you were considered pop rather than an electronic artist?
I think that’s where The Yellow Magic Orchestra have been a huge influence for me, and also this album coming up especially. Because they are a band that a long time ago were blending pop music with techno and I think they do it the best. It’s hard to do, without it sounding really shitty. And there is this one album called ‘TuTu’ by this Japanese singer called Miharu Koshi, and Haroumo Hosono whose in YMO he produced her record, and it’s really poppy, like she has this really sweet, saccharine voice but there’s also theses techno elements to it as well. They do it best I think, blending pop and disco and boogie and techno...they do it really well.
Have you ever thought about going down the major label route, and following the path to overnight success?
Well when there is lots of money involved there’s lots of people telling you what to do, what you should be doing and how you can make the most money. I don’t really have any interest in that particularly. The thing I like about Hyperdub is they never any pressure on Jeremy and I, like ‘this is what you should be doing’ or ‘we think you should be doing things this way’, like they’re very...no bullshit. They’re like ‘this is when we wanna release your album’ and then when you hand it in they tell you what is good and what is shit, y’know? That’s a great way for us to work cos I don’t work really well under pressure. So yeah I don’t have any big label aspirations.
Is there anything a major label might be able to offer?
Bad outfits maybe? Actually I don’t need any help dressing badly!
Do you have a set way of making music or is it always different every time?
Well there definitely isn’t a set way. A lot of the times I’ll start with drums, or a loop or something. But then a lot of the time Jeremy will have a loop that he wants to use. It’s never the same. But the most consistent way is that I’ll have a sketch of some chords, or drums or melody. Like I always get really impatient with ideas, like I have new ideas every minute and when I show them to Jeremy he’ll start to flesh out the ones he likes. And that’s how we’ll work back and forth till we get something that sticks.
Do you feel like your sound has changed from the previous album to this?
Yeah I feel more confident with my singing the second time round, for sure. And I think with the first one there was a lot of uncertainty, not just with the sound but also with the record itself like we didn’t have any expectations, so when it went really well Jeremy and I were both pleasantly surprised. So I think with the second one we wanted to do an album of pop songs.
So what would you consider pop?
I dunno like top 40 things. Things I hear on the radio. But I think the definition of pop used to be a lot more open. Like things that were considered pop in the 80’s, like ‘Art of Noise’, would not be charting in 2016. But then ‘Moments in Love’ was a huge pop song. So I think people have got conservative in their definition of pop. What I hear when I’m driving in my car when I’m driving in the States, or what I used to see when I was watching MTV, like that’s what I’d consider pop.
I think that’s the difference between the UK and America in terms of pop. Like the US does have a lot of big production R’n’B in the charts whereas we just seem to have mostly EDM.
Yeah there is a difference for sure from North America to the UK and Europe. Like I grew up R’n’B being pop music, it’s what we listened to at parties and stuff like that.
So is that what you would consider as the main influences on your sound?
Yeah I definitely listen to a lot of Hip Hop and R’n’B drums, and totally try and rip off what they’re doing! Like if I’m in the studio and I’m feeling lost I’ll stick on a Youtube and just listen to what the drums are doing to get me out of that rut. Not to make a song based on it, but more just to keep my brain active. But then there’s my side but also Jeremy’s side as well, he had a much stronger dance music background as well, so he’d be able to talk about the production side of it more.
So who did you listen to growing up?
Oh man I loved people like Janet Jackson, Paula Abdul, Mariah Carey, I also really loved Steely Dan growing up. I went to school for jazz music, so was super into Erykah Badu and Jill Scott cos I was doing a lot of jazz at the time. It seems accessible to me because I was studying jazz because a lot of it was based on jazz. R’n’B as well, like if you learn about R’n’B chords you realise it’s all really similar to jazz chords. So it was accessible to me. So I think jazz and R’n’B informs a lot of what I do today. And when I say R’n’B, not just modern R’n’B but tracing it back to its jazz roots.
So who are you rating at the moment?
Well Dj Chose just put out a really awesome album, the single off it is called ‘Everywhere I Go’, that’s such a great song. I’ve actually just been listening to this one Trey Songz album from last year called Intermission Part 1 & 2, and that’s such a good album.
So what’s the plans for the future, obviously you got the album coming out soon, I guess you’re gonna be touring for a while?
Yeah the record comes out May 13th, and there’s a lot of shows. It’s planning for the headline tour really. So yeah just shows, there’s going to be a couple of weeks here and there where I can come back home and maybe make some music but mainly just shows.
Have you got any festivals planned at all?
Yeah we are doing Primavera, but other than that I’ll just be doing my own tour.
Thanks for the chat Jessy...
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