By Jackson Howard, Daily Music Editor
Published March 23, 2014
Ryan Lott’s music is, well, hard to describe.
With Leverage Models
Monday at 8 p.m.
The Magic Stick
Lott, better known as Son Lux, has three solo studio albums, three EPs, a project with Serengeti and Sufjan Stevens as Sisyphus, a handful of arranging and programming credits on feature films, a performance with the Young People’s Chorus of New York City at Carnegie Hall and a weeklong residency at the Joyce Theater with a dance company, among other projects. Prolific might be an understatement.
It is this ability to seamlessly fuse inspiration and collaboration across a myriad of genres and styles that has cemented Son Lux as one of today’s most exciting, mysterious and forever-expanding musicians. His voice — light, floating but piercing — is yet another instrument and, as on his excellent 2013 release Lanterns, is usually complimented by his own lush, operatic and oftentimes schizophrenic production. Still, while solo work takes up the majority of his time, collaboration continues to provide inspiration.
“I always look for people who are similar to me in a way but also very different,” Lott said in an interview with The Michigan Daily. “I find that collaboration is a really successful avenue to discover new things about myself and music in general.”
Recently, Lott collaborated with Lorde on a revised version of “Easy (Switch Screens)” a track from Lanterns. The result is magical — over Lott’s syncopated and sparse drums, Lorde sings with a drawling menace found nowhere on Pure Heroine to create a masterful and cryptic landscape that is really a genre of its own.
The collaboration came about through Twitter, where Lorde, who Lott described as “an impressive and very cute chick,” reached out to Lott to express her love for his first record. After the two connected, they decided that Lorde would track her own vocals and write to the original instrumental. Lott described the process as a give and take, a kind of response and reaction in which both he and Lorde truly collaborated to revise, if not recreate, the first version of “Easy.”
For someone who puts so much effort into every collaboration and studio release, it’s not surprising that Lott put massive amounts of work into developing his live show. And if you know his music, you can imagine that it doesn’t translate onto the stage the way other artists’ music does.
“The way I create music is not by writing out all the music, giving parts to the players and capturing it on a microphone … I never think of music that way but on stage that’s exactly what you’re doing,” he said.
As a result, Lott and his team spent significant time reverse engineering, programing and generally reimagining his music in order to design a live show “that honors the recording in such a way that it makes for a unique live experience,” he said.
On his current tour, Lott is joined by Leverage Models, an expansive and infectious dance-rock collective fronted by Shannon Fields. The group released its self-titled debut album last October to impressive critical praise from a who’s who of independent music outlets.
As can be expected from any artist signed to an independent label, Lott has a love/hate relationship with the music business and music coverage. Discussing the recognition he received from Lanterns, Lott said, “I wish I could say what distinguishes that album from my previous albums … I do know the sad truth, that part of the reason is plain, old-fashioned money.” It takes money to create an album, money to tour and money to promote. Basically, being an artist takes a whole lot of money, a lot more than the average listener most likely realizes.
In addition to funding projects, there’s the coverage to deal with.
“While my second record was really well-reviewed, some key people didn’t review it, like Pitchfork refused to review it. That kind of took me out of the equation,” Lott said. Still, as much as he makes music simply for the art, he can’t deny the benefits that come with being acknowledged by big publications.
“(Pitchfork) gave a track from Lanterns ‘Best New Track,’ which I had mixed feelings about, but I was happy with the impact in that it trickled down,” Lott explained.
For “buzzing” and independent artists like Son Lux, something like a Pitchfork commendation can be enough to bring fame and a new legion of fans. But Pitchfork review or not, Lott’s continuing to make music — whether on his own, with Lorde or with one of the countless future projects he’s surely dreaming up — and rest assured, it’s going to sound like nothing you’ve ever heard before.