We’ve gushed plenty here at TWJ about how much we love the work of Ryan Lott, aka Son Lux. His new album We Are Rising was painstakingly constructed under the crunchiest of time crunches — 28 days to be exact. Lott was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about making We Are Rising, and the creative process in general. Check out the unedited Q&A below!
It’s well-documented that you put together We Are Rising in 28 days. It’s also understandable that you were reluctant to do it at first. So what made you decide to go for it?
Limitations are always integral to my creative process. I impose them on myself to avoid developing habits and getting lazy. Roadblocks along the way help me find the less-traveled paths. In a time of so much power at one’s fingertips, technologically speaking, I think it’s increasingly important to restrain myself in certain ways. But I had never considered time as a limitation. Thinking of it that way made me realize that the idea was not so foreign to me. And the other reason I said yes is regret. I knew I would regret saying no, and always wonder what I would have created.
Is working under a time crunch like that somewhat inspirational? What surprised you about the 28-day process? What did it teach you?
I learned I could trust my gut reactions. I couldn’t say that a year ago. And you never discover something like that until you are tested. I was confident in the abilities of everyone I enlisted, but I was surprised that I was able to pull everything together into a coherent whole. I was also surprised so many people came along to help–photographers, videographers, editors, designers. It was pretty amazing to be in the center of so much collaboration.
You worked with an interesting cast of characters (Shara Worden, The Antlers frontman Peter Silberman, yMusic and DM Stith among others) for this album. How did that interaction help the process?
Well, I agree. I haven’t even met in person two of the folks who are on the record. It was a crowd. And the diversity of talent represented is wild. Everyone involved brought something amazing, so it’s hard to say what wasn’t affected by others. It’s difficult to describe, but the way music comes alive in others’ performances and interpretations is always a little surprising. But if you’re working with musicians in top form, the surprise is more often than not a good one. That unpredictability lends an energy that keeps me on my toes creatively. Yes, I can plan, but I must also react and adapt. This process was accelerated in February, and it felt like a super awesome roller coaster.
If you had to boil down the theme of We Are Rising to three words, what would it be?
Ooh, I stay away from talking themes and meanings. Sort of risks cheapening the listeners’ own experiences and personal interpretations of the music.
You blend the orchestral and the electronic quite well. What makes you gravitate toward that combination? Do these songs feel like a collage of sorts when you’re done?
I’m not sure why, but I’m fascinated by the juxtaposition of unrelated things. So musically, I love the re-contextualization of sound. The “color” of one sound changes when paired with another, and this change is particularly dynamic (to my ear) when the two sounds have disparate properties, and even cultural associations. But the “songs” do not feel like collages to me, though the process is certainly collagist. They feel more like reincarnations of something. And actually, I’m not sure I could answer so broadly. Each song feels unique.
What kind of projects outside of Son Lux are you working on currently?
Well, I have a day job composing at Butter Music + Sound, writing music for broadcast, radio and internet ads mostly. On top of that I have ongoing collaborations with choreographers, including my wife, Jennifer McQuiston Lott. There are other Son Lux things, too. A NEW new record, for one. A remix. And I’m wrapping up a secret collaborative project right now that I’m very excited about. But… it’s secret.
You’re a composer, a producer, a remixer and an performer. Is any one of those roles your favorite, or do any of them feel most natural for you?
Hmm… It’s the yin and yang of all of them that keep me level. Though performing is the odd man out. I’ll take a day in the studio over a night on stage any day.
My absolute favorite moment on We Are Rising is right around the 75-second mark of “All The Right Things,” when the intro opens up into the beat and the horns. What’s the best part about constructing moments like that?
Surprise is the best moment of all. Maybe that’s why I like to use surprise a lot in my music. It’s such a wonderful part of making it. I’ll have a feeling about something, and I’ll try it out. When it works the way I had intended, it’s good. But when it works mostly the way I had intended, but with a slightly surprising result, that’s fantastic. Composing is constant discovery.
If you weren’t making music, what would you be doing?
Figuring out how to make music.