In conversation with Son Lux

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Interview by Shannon Lawlor

Son Lux are an experimental three piece currently located in New York, USA. Originally conceived as a solo entity for multi-instrumentalist Ryan Lott to explore, the project developed into the genre-less mammoth they are known for today with the full-time addition of live members, guitarist Rafiq Bhatia and drummer Ian Chang.

To date Son Lux have released numerous EPs and five full length albums, including their recently dropped studio album titled Brighter Wounds released via City Slang. This time around, the album focuses on personal affairs rather than previously explored universal themes, chronicling enlightened milestones and accepting inevitable departures throughout the mysteries of life. Brighter Wounds is an illuminating journey through the unexpected, trailing from familiarity, but not quite like anything you’ve ever heard before.

We caught up with Ian Chang and Rafiq Bhatia of Son Lux on performance risks and puzzling structures:

For anyone foreign to Son Lux’ luminous euphony, how would you personally describe the music you create?

Ian Chang: It is luminous euphony that is perpetually dancing with foreboding dissonance.

Son Lux released their fifth studio album Brighter Wounds on February 9th via City Slang, could you give us some insight into the theme of this album and it’s recording process?

IC: We didn’t have any set themes in mind when we started to make Brighter Wounds.  The process and the environment we are in reveal the themes of the album to us over time.  Our process usually starts with exploring a small sonic or musical idea.  As ideas develop, some fall by the wayside while others get fully fleshed out into songs.  Once there are a good number of songs in the mix, we let the songs tell us what the themes are and which songs should live together and why.

How will Brighter Wounds differ to 2015’s Bones conceptually?

IC: Ryan wrote from a much more personal place on Brighter Wounds.  He was going through a lot of emotional turmoil (the birth of his first child and the loss of a close friend), so it was only natural that he turned to music and songwriting to help hash out his feelings.  Even though the lyrics are still universal enough for listeners to create personal relationships with them, they come from a deeper need of personal processing and coping.

Utilizing strange timings, imaginative sounds and hauntingly overt vocal techniques, how do you feel this kind of sound translates to a wider audience? Do you feel confident in your experiments, or do you find it hard to express?

IC: At heart, Son Lux is an experimental project, and I think that we are most confident and excited when we are inspired to try things we haven’t heard before.  If we tried to be a band that strictly adhered to idiom, we’d be mediocre at best.

Son Lux are somewhat known for their discretion behind meaning to avoid any interference with one’s own portrayal of a particular piece – any chance you could detail the inspiration behind ‘Slowly’?

IC: I can’t speak for Ryan on the lyrics, but I do know that the song was initially built around a rhythmic idea that Ryan had about displacing kick drums by tiny increments.  Exciting isn’t it? 😉

As someone with a vast knowledge of electronics and digital sound, do you find it difficult to create a certain piece of music without getting too caught up in it’s technicality?

Rafiq Bhatia: I think all three of us have been in the headspace of getting too caught up in the technicality of a piece of music, though it’s not always about the electronic or technical aspects. At times, the rhythm or the form of a song can feel like its own puzzle. Ryan often says he’s much more comfortable behind a computer in a studio than he is at any instrument — Ian and I aren’t quite there yet, but we’re working on it.

Are there any musicians, artists or producers you collectively admire? And who do you think would fit well in collaboration with the Son Lux ethos?

RB: There are many, and we’ve worked with a number of them already: music we’ve made together has featured Hanna Benn, Moses Sumney, Dave Douglas, Olga Bell, and a fair number of others. In fact, folks like the members of yMusic, DM Stith, and bassist Jack Hill have appeared on enough of our songs that they feel like part of the family. But there are certainly others who we’d love to add to the equation. I think one thing that is exciting for all of us are artists who can shock our system a bit, challenging our assumptions and pushing us into the unfamiliar territory where discovery occurs.

Improvisation is definitely important during a Son Lux performance, how would you compare the process of recording an album to experimenting live on stage?

RB: Well, there are the obvious differences in process. Building an album in the studio is a long, drawn-out process for us that involves a lot of isolation and also usually results in somebody listening to music by themselves. On the other hand, live performance is a communal, risk-imbued activity. But besides those contrasting circumstances, there’s an aspect of experimentation that is central to how Son Lux makes music. We’re always trying new ideas and techniques with uncertain results, listening, imagining, and responding — which are some of the same principles at play when we improvise together live.

Is there any part of the world that you’d love to visit with Son Lux which you haven’t already?

RB: Almost all of our touring has been in Europe and North America, so there’s a wide world out there that we have yet to explore! We’re hoping to make it to Australia/New Zealand/Japan in the not too distant future, but Africa, Asia, and South America would all be amazing places to experience.

Besides releasing your gorgeously haunting fifth studio album in February, what does the future hold for Son Lux? Any tours, installations or film scores lined up?

RB: We’re touring most of February and March, and will reconvene in May for a run of dates with the great Kimbra. We can’t say too much aside from that just yet, but watch for lots more news from Ian and I in the weeks ahead as well…

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(Image credit: Alix Spence)