Over burgers and fries, Wonderland chats to the man behind Son Lux and the score producer of the upcoming teen flick, Paper Towns and his new record “Bones”.
Upon meeting Ryan Lott – the name responsible for post-rock, hip-hop outfit Son Lux – his talent and musical know-how comes to the fore in its full entirety. Son Lux has taken off since being described as “Best New Artist” of 2008; since releasing two EPs, two LPs and collaborating with some serious music industry talent. With a re-imagined EP on the list featuring Lorde and other creative collisions that include Peter Silberman of The Antlers, Richard Parry of Arcade Fire, fellow Sisyphus band member Sufjan Stevens and infamous Beyoncé producer Boots, Ryan highlights that he isn’t just about one project but a kaleidoscope musical ventures. Not only making waves as a musical artist, Ryan is also just as well known for composing the soundtracks to Looper (2012), Don Jon (2013), The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2014) and most recently, the upcoming teen comedy Paper Towns featuring model-actress crossover Cara Delevingne.
Based in New York, Ryan manages to catch up with Wonderland during his London visit – just one of the many international stops he will have to make this year. In between playfully showing off his new gleaming white converse “kicks” to giggling over the love for his new found British slang word “chunder”, we dig deep with the talented musician on all things from song lyrics to recording a hit single with Bronchitis.
So your real name is Ryan Lott, what’s the story behind your stage name Son Lux?
Initially it came from the desire to create a separate identity for myself for a particular project, so that if at any moment I wanted to abandon the project or create something else that was rather contradictory, I wasn’t going to throw anyone through a loop. You know, I knew about myself that I’m rather omnivorous as far as my musical tastes and urges and I wasn’t quite sure yet what this new idea I was conjuring was going to be. It hadn’t articulated itself. I just thought it wise to come up with a new name for it, rather than give my name to it. It also creates a certain liberty as well; I didn’t anticipate that. I like the idea of a two-word name, because it’s like a person’s name: first name and last name. I also like the combination of words that were inherently pretty contrasting, and the word “lux” from the latin “light” is from a dead language that is routing in something ancient and yet lingers with us. And then “son”, it means different things to different people, depending on where you are in the world. It appears in different languages. It has a universal open sound, so I like that contrast and ultimately contrast is about everything at the heart of Son Lux.
At what point was it that you realised you wanted to become a full-time musician?
I think I was probably… I mean it was a slow discovery, initial urges were young. Very young. I was just a kid. I think I rationally made the decision, maybe in my freshman or sophomore year in high school. But I think I knew before that, kind of deep down. So yeah, there’s no turning back. I started taking piano lessons when I was five or six, it was the family rule. It wasn’t because my family is musical or anything like that, it was a matter of discipline. Through middle school we had to do piano lessons and I’m really glad, because I know ultimately I would have found music but I wouldn’t have had the head start that I did.
What did you listen to growing up?
Because music wasn’t an important part of my family, I wouldn’t listen to anything apart from the radio. Whatever that was happening around me, anything I absorbed. And then I played in a band – it’s funny – I was always in bands that wanted to write their own music. I’m actually just kind of realising that. We would steal little bits of other people’s music though, it was kind of democratic. Then in middle school I played grunge because I’m old, so I was playing Nirvana in 1991 when it was super fashionable. I think that Nirvana was super weird because it was like the thing that the misfit kids and the cheerleaders all agreed on. Isn’t that amazing? You can’t even imagine that right now. There really isn’t a modern day equivalent, and that’s kind of because rock is extinct. Hip Hop has taken it’s place, but Hip Hop is ubiquitous in the same way that Nirvana was – it’s hard to explain. I was sentient enough a human being to really recognise it, I didn’t understand context back then so I didn’t realise the significance of it. That whole grunge era… and fucking Red Hot Chilli Peppers? Blood Sugar Sex Magik dropped, it was just a great year for music. You think about a band now that’s really big, in ten years they’re not going to really big. And if they are, it’s going to be kind of ironic but Nirvana never became ironic. Everyone just kept liking them. They disappeared but whenever you heard it, it was always good. It was never like “oh do you remember this song”. Even still, when that shit comes on the radio, it sounds incredible. There was an era in the nineties when music from the fidelity standpoint, music was doing something really special and it was before the whole Lo-fi reactionary stuff, which has its own charms, I’m not hating it, but there was a golden era in the nineties that was really special.
You’ve spent quite a bit of your career composing music for commercials, and you’ve recently put together the score for the Paper Towns movie starring Cara Delevingne. How do you go about composing music for the screen?
Something a lot of people don’t understand about film scoring is that you actually do have the whole film to work with – you see the whole film. It’s really important because you have to develop music that is going to be portable and able to adapt to various scenes in a film in order to create a consistent theme or a consistent vibe, or an inconsistent one depending on what the film requires. Someone telling you about a movie and someone showing you a movie is a totally different experience. So you see an early-finished cut, and there’s a lot of crappy stuff about it and it’s kind of half done. So if they’re driving a car there will just be a green screen; there’s technical or temporary things that are rough about the film. What a lot of people don’t realise about films is that nearly all of the voices are re-recorded. So Cara goes into a studio and she sees a big screen of herself acting and she lip-syncs to herself – or she does the opposite of lip-sync – she replaces her voice. It’s difficult. It’s one of the skills of screen actor. We have the film to watch and then we cultivate the themes around the different characters, we determine the palette. Paper Towns was fun because I got to do traditional score stuff, but I also got to do song score stuff and instrumentals on the record.
You’ve just recently revealed your second song ‘You Don’t Know Me’ from your new album, what’s the inspiration behind the lyrics?
I mean, there’s a lot of audible frustration in that song [laughs]. I think I like to avoid saying what a song is about because I feel like it’s really important for people to bring their own meanings and associations to a song and it’s almost besides the point what I think the song is because it lives outside of me. That said, it comes from a place of being perplexed and being frustrated. There’s anger in that song. We wrote that song on the road last year. We’re all from the United States and you know, spending most of the year away from the continent at a time when there was so much formative change happening and perplexing, frustrating and depressing news. We wrote that song and the whole album in that environment, mentally. There’s a lot of bright life giving energy in the record but there’s also a lot of darkness and desperation.
And it features Moses Sumney and Hanna Benn from Pollens. Where did you meet them? Did you seek them out or did the collaboration just happen organically?
Uh-huh, yep I did. I was looking for interesting voices and for people who don’t really fit into a category. I always try to work with instrumentalists or vocalists who are creative artists, not just performers because I’m looking to conjure something from them that maybe they haven’t conjured from themselves but have the ability to do it. There’s a creative conversation that happens in the process when I work with people. It’s important for me that they can bring their own voice, their own intention; that they can truly be themselves. It’s my job to facilitate that, but at the same time bring out something in them that they haven’t had the chance to do themselves. It’s responsive – I’m not telling them what to do. I create prompts and guide improvisation. Do you know Hanna’s stuff from Pollens? Well that group doesn’t exist any more but she’s endeavouring to write her own music now. She’s a really remarkable singer and creative person. She doesn’t really fit in to any category. I hope we can make more music together; she’s really special. Same with Moses, man. Actually, we recorded him on two songs and one of them just didn’t make the cut for the album but it will come out eventually. Sweet guy, a really really sweet guy.
I read you recorded “You Don’t Know Me” while suffering from a nasty bout of Bronchitis, why did you decide to go ahead with the recording and not rest up?
[Laughs] Yeah, that’s right. Well, the only reason I recorded it was to create what’s called a scratch vocal. A scratch vocal is a temporary vocal, just to get the idea down. It wasn’t supposed to be a final version. It wasn’t that I liked it so much, but I played it for the band and my manager to show them the idea and they all said “this is fantastic”; you shouldn’t record it again because it has a special quality. They gave me the confidence to listen to it just imaging it wasn’t me and then I said yeah, there is something special about it. It’s consistent with the frustration of the lyrics. I think that’s when you have to decide whether a take is good or not, is the quality of it telling the story as well as the lyric itself? What kind of intention is bolstering it? If the intention is there than it’s a good take.
It’s amazing. So how does your other band Sisyphus differ from the kind of music you’re making as Son Lux?
You know, Paper Towns I did as Ryan Lott, because ultimately it’s a stylised teen movie. It’s not consistent with the band, but it’s still me. So I think I have been blessed to have lot of different opportunities to write lots of different types of music and different kinds of projects for different purposes. I think I’m the exact wrong person to ask what’s unifying or what’s different about each thing, because it’s all me. Friends will see an ad and can tell that that’s you. Maybe it just means I have a discernable voice but I don’t think it’s that. It’s impossible to say.
Okay, last one. What else is on the cards for Son Lux for the remainder of 2015?
So we’re going on tour and are back here for Visions Festival. It will be our first time playing a festival with our friends The Antlers, I’ve been friends with Peter for a long time. They’re great, they’re sweet guys too. This record is going to come out, and Paper Towns is going to come out. We’re going to tour a lot in Europe and the UK and we’re about to start a six-week North America tour and circle around the continent. We come back six weeks later and finish in New York. I’m sure we’ll manage to make new music while we’re touring, too. It’s easy to be inspired.
Son Lux’s record “Bones” comes out on June 22nd via Glassnote Records.
Words: Hannah Sargeant