How do you go about transforming complex compositions created with unlimited time in the studio into a live show performed by three people on a stage? For Ryan Lott, aka Son Lux, the buzz-garnering composer/producer indie darling, it’s a golden opportunity.
“It’s a lot of reverse engineering – a huge challenge but really fun,” said Lott recently from Berlin, where he and his band had just landed from their New York home base to begin a month-long European tour.
“It makes the composer in me happy. You get to continue writing these pieces of music instead of leaving them stagnating. My instrument is the studio, and the album is a performance of my instrument. Because that instrument doesn’t come onstage with me, it’s inherently difficult, but it’s also a great opportunity to reinvent these songs and find alternate expressions for them.”
Lott has been expressing himself eloquently in many different facets since his 2008 debut album, At War with Walls and Mazes, won him accolades and prompted NPR to name him New Artist of the Year.
Described as a cross between the discipline of the classical concert hall and the urban experimentation of the darkened hip-hop club, Lott’s music, created under the guise of Son Lux, has been characterized as “liquid soundscapes, born of beatwise means, rich in their orchestral warmth, always hinting at some divine unreachable height.”
For the past six hours, Lott and his two bandmates – Rafiq Bhatia on guitar, Ian Chang on drums – have been rehearsing for their Berlin tour debut in the hopes of approaching that height.
“I’m purposely working with players who are improvisers and open minded about the way they approach music,” said Lott. “I instigate the process, but from there, it’s relatively democratic about where we go.”
“We’re a trio but we’re all doing lots of different things. Rafiq is playing the guitar but also doing a lot of effects with his feet.
And Ian is using pads to trigger a whole variety of sounds that aren’t just drums. And I’m singing and using the synth to trigger vocal effects and other things. So there’s quite a full sound.”
Lott has been attempting to create new sounds and compose music since learning classical piano as a grade schooler in Connecticut.
By the time his family moved to Atlanta when he was in high school, Lott had expanded his palette to guitar and drums.
While studying composition and piano at Indiana University, Lott began writing for dance choreography, something he continued when he moved to New York in 2007 and began working as a composer for an ad agency.
In his spare time though, he spent countless hours in his room, recording samples and his voice to create a hybrid of electronica, hip-hop rhythms, and ethereal vocals.
Son Lux was born.
After spending four years writing and recording At War with Walls and Mazes, Lott completely upended his method when he was invited to participate in the 2011 RPM Challenge, that required musicians to write and record an album in one month. The change in writing style wasn’t an issue, and the ensuing album – We Are Rising – again struck a chord with listeners.
For his third and most-recent album, Lanterns, Lott went back to the “spend a year recording” mode, and with the help of some high-profile hipster guests from The Punch Brothers and The Antlers, he produced his most realized work. And along with a high-profile collaboration last year with Sufjan Stevens, the success prompted him to leave his ad composing day job and morph into Son Lux full time.
Lanterns alternates between orchestral pop, haunting minimalism and the juxtaposition of dense arrangements and Lott’s whispery but penetrating voice. Not your average pop songs.
While he realizes the term “composer” might be pompous sounding for a performer in the pop indie realm, Lott said he does aspire to something more than songwriting.
“I think there is a difference between composing and songwriting – I generally don’t consider myself a songwriter,” he said. “I wish there was a better word than composer – it’s a super-broad word and comes with a bit of snobbery.”
“I just make music that I hear in my head, and music that I discover on the way as I experiment. I’m always responding to the process of making music and using my intuition, so in that respect, I am a composer. But maybe a better word would be ‘investigator.’ I’m always investigating and following some sort of muse across the room.”
Son Lux’s muse brings him tonight to The Barby Club in Tel Aviv for one show.
‘I THINK there is a difference between composing and songwriting – I generally don’t consider myself a songwriter... I just make music that I hear in my head, and music that I discover on the way as I experiment,’ says musician Ryan Lott, aka Son Lux.