Though he already has three albums to his name, Ryan Lott, the man behind the indie, hip-hop, electronic fusion band Son Lux, said his most recent album, “Lanterns,” is the first one he has properly released. As a result, the events toward the end of 2013 were stressful and intense in a way Lott didn’t expect or anticipate. That said, however, he is grateful for the process.
“It’s a big mixture of feelings,” he said, sharing how he feels to have finally released “Lanterns” to the world. “There’s obviously, like, the exhilaration of like, wow, this thing that’s been gestating for, you know, in the case of ‘Lanterns,’ three years…like, people are gonna hear it, people are gonna, like, develop, like, stories in their lives around it. This is the soundtrack, you know. It’s also going to take its place among, like, great music that I love, and also music that I hate, and on people’s iPods. That’s, like, amazing. It’s gonna take on its own life. And I think that’s such a rare privilege to be able to create something that becomes part of people’s lives…it’s a very intimate thing.”
Currently, Lott is on a three-week European tour supporting the album, the first date of which was in Berlin. Since he arrived a day before tour officially began, he had a bit of time to hang out and see the sights.
“I’m kind of an explorer,” he explained over coffee at San Remo Upflamör, the afternoon of his set at Bi Nuu. “I really enjoy historical cities in general. One of the things that is, like, a super bummer about the United States, is that we didn’t bother to develop…our cities. We didn’t give them the chance to develop lasting cultures, you know? So, now it’s like every town in America looks the same. It’s fake-nice. It doesn’t look like shit, it looks nice, but it looks like the kinda nice that if you didn’t do anything in 30 years it would look like shit…so to be in a place like Berlin that has so much, incredible history, you know, like phases of history…”
He trailed off, before likening Berlin to graffiti culture, something that is always changing and recovering itself, but never with clean, cut and dry results.
Though he was alone for the conversation, on this particular tour, Son Lux is a trio, as Lott brought a guitarist and a drummer along with him.
“We all kind of do a bunch of different things. [One guy is] just playing guitar but he’s doing a lot of like, sort of sonic exploration with, like, pedals and things like that. And my drummer plays electronic pads as well with his drum kit so he’s triggering a lot of sounds that are particular sounds from the record and is able to sort of create a hybrid setup between triggering the sounds that I’ve made for the record and the acoustic drum kit,” he said. “And I’m doing keyboard parts and triggering, like, loops and different sounds and singing and doing vocal effects and stuff.”
For a musician like Lott, who does most of his work in the studio, writing and recording music often carries a lot of possibilities. But when it’s time to hit the road, determining how the music will be presented live can admittedly be a struggle.
“It’s super tricky. It’s a big reverse-engineering endeavor, you know. The key is, like, thinking about what’s going to be effective live versus what’s effective on the recording, and knowing that those are two different things,” he said. “And it’s not necessarily even…as simple as thinking ‘oh what’s foundational in a song?’ Because what if what’s foundational about the recording won’t feel right on stage? Then you’re fucked basically. So for me it’s just thinking about, like, what’s gonna work, what’s gonna translate live.”
However, even more challenging than reworking the music for a live show is the simple act of performing, in and of itself.
“The person I am as a musician is, like, very much at home in the studio by myself and, like, a cup of coffee, quiet room, sound. That’s like my home. So whether I walk next door to perform or I travel to Berlin to perform I’m leaving my home in a very deep way,” Lott shared. “But this tour is my best opportunity yet to become a better performer and to tap into something that I know that I can do well. I can find it, I can find my identity as a performer as well. But to be honest, it’s a foreign land that is sometimes a painful place.”
In spite of his somewhat introverted performing personality, Lott is not shy about working with others, something that he is largely known for. These are also partnerships that push him to be more open and not have to control every aspect of the project.
“In any collaboration I definitely like to have a certain level of control,” he said. “But at the same time, what’s most important is that my collaborator feels like they can be themselves, cause that’s why I’m collaborating with them. It’s because of something about them that I’m interested in that I can’t bring.”
In addition to collaborating with his wife, a dancer, Lott is also known for being one third of the project Sisyphus, which includes Serengeti and Sufjan Stevens. The trio’s debut album is due in March, but Lott said that he couldn’t share much about it.
“Our one rule was when we were writing it, coming up with ideas, and testing ideas…it was always ‘how’s this gonna feel at a party?'” he said with a smile.
It’s precisely this songwriting process where Lott comes alive. You can even see it in the way his eyes light up when he talks about making and producing music. For him, there is nothing better.
“The single most rewarding part is the process of discovery in the studio. And it comes after lots of experimentation. There’s these little moments where something comes as a total surprise. And it’s like nobody else is around, nobody else sees it. It just happens. That’s where you realize ‘that’s the essence of this piece. I’ve found the heart of it and now I can get behind it,'” he said. “That’s a really really special moment. And it’s a moment where it feels like, you know, my physical body is like taken up into it, you know, as well as my mind…it really is, it’s a high. And it’s best when it’s unexpected. That’s the thing, ‘cause there’s a bit of humility to it because…it’s the moments that you didn’t expect…they’re the most magical because you don’t know how they happened.”