Son Lux, The Perennial One-Man Band, On Teaming Up

June 22, 2015

Son Lux, the brainchild of Ryan Lott, is a sprawling musical project. It’s a mix of post-rock, electronica, hip-hop, pop, and even a bit of classical — a sound as varied as Ryan Lott’s career. He’s classically trained in piano and composition and he’s written music for commercials, scored feature films, composed music for modern dance companies, and collaborated with a slew of artists across genres.

Lott joined NPR’s Scott Simon to speak about the long journey to his fourth and most recent studio album, Bones. Hear their conversation at the audio link, and read an edited version below.

Scott Simon: Tell us about your early years in music, particularly your classical training. Do you think you can trace that to what you’re doing now?

Ryan Lott: Well I didn’t come from a musical family. In fact, in my very early years, music wasn’t really even an important part of life — it was something you heard on a road trip. But it was a family rule for us to play the piano. It was really a matter of discipline more than anything. It was one of the best things my parents have done for me, especially the fact that they didn’t let me stop when I hated it. Something happened, though, after a few years: I began to feel an urge to write my own music and change what was on the page. You know, that Mozart wrote, I felt that maybe he should’ve written something different [laughs]. As soon as music became something that I could author, it suddenly came alive for me.

Let’s listen to a track, if we can, from the new album. This is ‘You Don’t Know Me.’ What’s going on with your voice?

I was on the edge of laryngitis.

I mean, it’s quite affecting.

I recorded that vocal as a “scratch” vocal, a placeholder to show my band members the vocal idea. And they basically bit back and told me, no way, we have to keep this. It was cool, working in a group.

Your first three albums were solo projects, and now you’ve got a couple of collaborators. Has Son Lux changed drastically because of this?

Collaboration’s always been at the heart of what I do, but I’ve never welcomed [anyone] other than my own ego into the inner sanctum. Now I’m working with the two guys that I found initially just to be able to play live, Ian Chang and Rafiq Bhatia. And something about the chemistry we had right away on stage just changed the game for me.

There seem to be a lot of songs on this album that have the theme of a person who wants to be free.

Definitely some sort of liberation, some sort of escape. When we were making this record, we were making it on the road, mostly while touring Europe last year — and it was a rough year to be away from home. There was a lot of really difficult news pouring in from across the pond. Subconsciously, we were really impacted by it, and now that I hear the record through someone else’s ears, I can hear a lot of frustration in it.

I have to ask, in what ways do you not feel free? You’re a musician, you travel around the world, you record songs. Going through TSA can be a little demeaning sometimes, I suppose.

[Laughter] No, you’re right. That’s well played. This not me complaining; there’s an internal life going on as well, and I think the expression of a desire for liberation is a universal one. I think if we’re all honest with ourselves, we’re not the people that we want to be. And even just starting there, I think it’s an applicable expression.

Why the title Bones?

Well, generally, I like to avoid directly stating, “This is what this song is about,” or “This is what this title’s about,” partly because I’m not quite sure. I’m often sort of caught up in the creative process in a way that I feel a bit like a bystander, and I’m also arriving at lyrics and even melody very late in the game. I don’t create a melody and chords and then develop ornamentation around it, orchestration and arrangement; I sort of work backwards.

But looking back, it’s actually an applicable title. This is the first record I’ve made with a band, and in that sense we’re forming the foundation or the bones of something greater. If that’s the only explanation, I think it’s a good enough one for me.

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