Q&A: Lanu

Lanu: Her 12 Faces (Tru Thoughts, 4/19/11)

Lanu: “Beautiful Trash”

Lanu: Beautiful Trash

In order to fulfill his eclectic musical interests, producer/multi-instrumentalist Lance Ferguson created a separate solo image known as Lanu. Vastly divergent from his work with Australian funk/soul band The Bamboos, Lanu’s material combines dreamy pop melodies with hip-hop beats and electronic atmospheres to create a tasteful, lounge-worthy sound.

Lanu’s recently released second album, Her 12 Faces, displays a realized emphasis on songwriting and -crafting. But the 12-track collection also handsomely balances instrumental tunes with lush vocals by Australian pop star Megan Washington and others. Here, Lanu discusses his progression as a solo artist, working with the French language, and collaborating with Washington his newest record.

What couldn’t you achieve with The Bamboos that you’ve done with Lanu?

I try to push [The Bamboos] as far as I can, but at the end of the day, it’s still basically a soul/funk band. I’ve tried to sort of push the boundaries within those genres, but there are things I simply couldn’t do in The Bamboos —  I couldn’t really do a folk song or I couldn’t do stuff that’s too electronic. I guess for a while I was trying to use The Bamboos as a vehicle for all the music I liked, but I realized that there was this stuff that would never really fit. So I went back to my solo project and thought, “This is the best place to do this kind of stuff” — more electronic-based things and pop influences as well.

What elements of The Bamboos do you incorporate into Lanu’s material?

I guess a track like “Beautiful Trash,” the original version, has a kind of soul / ’60s feel to it, in a way. The music that comes out of me is always going to have some sort of thread running through it. But I don’t think there’s a literal sort of funk or soul influence in the Lanu material as such.

Compared to your debut, This is My Home, the recent release sounds more indie and lounge-worthy. How did your approach or inspiration change between albums to explain this contrast in style?

To me, it’s almost like it’s two different artists in those albums. I did the first Lanu record around 2006, and at that time, I was really influenced by music that was coming out of West London, and also hip hop and electronic music coming out of Detroit. [This is My Home] was my first album as a producer, and listening back to it now, it’s almost self-indulgent to me. I was more focused on the production aspects than the song writing and emotional content of it.

It’s kind of difficult for me to listen to that album, because it feels cold to me. So when it came time to do this new album, I wanted to flip it up the other way and make the emphasis be on the emotional elements and the songwriting. I think that at the end of the day, maybe Her 12 Faces is an album that makes people feel stuff more than the first one. I may have matured emotionally as a person — [but] probably not really. (Laughs) But maybe I have a little bit, so the emphasis is more on that.

What does Her 12 Faces reflect about you as an artist?

Going back to the first album again…there are songs on it that are more based around club music, where song structures are different than in pop or folk music. I think that as time has gone by, I’ve become more focused on trying to become a songwriter; therefore, this album is reflective of that. I don’t want it to be in a box of “this is traditional songwriting and this is not,” because I think that it’s totally open to interpretation. James Blake, for instance, is deconstructing what we consider to be a classic pop song, and I am totally into that. So it’s not that I want to go verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus — have it totally structured. It’s just that I’m thinking about that stuff more, and before I wasn’t even thinking about it. Now I’m more focused on trying to make good songs that work.

What about Megan Washington’s vocals do you think complements your solo material?

Meg hasn’t really broke into the US scene too much yet, but in Australia, she is a massive pop star. So it’s interesting to talk to people from overseas who aren’t aware of that aspect. In a way — this sort of sounds weird — but using Megan Washington on a track in Australia is like someone using Katy Perry on a track in the States.

Because she’s so busy and has a crazy media/touring schedule, she actually could only come down to the studio for an afternoon. I’ve sent her sketches of these songs — some of them were completely written, like “Roosevelt Blues.” I had written all the lyrics, so she just came in and sang that one almost like a session singer, and “Fall” was like that as well. “Beautiful Trash” and “Hold Me Down” were basically just instrumentals, and we literally put them together and wrote them in the studio as she was putting the vocals down. So it was a fast process, but she’s really cool with that. Because she comes from a jazz background in the beginning, she is good at improvising and comes up with stuff really quick.

When choosing Roxy Music’s “More Than This” to cover for the album, did you have a specific idea for what you wanted to accomplish in your version?

I’ve done a few covers over the years, and I’m not into the idea of faithful covers. I think that a cover version needs to change the song up into something that’s reflective of your own style or a vision you have. I think it’s redundant just to straight-up cover something the way it already is. That song is just one of my favorite songs as a pop song. I came up with the idea of doing it, and I just wanted to go for the most unlikely concept. And, at the time, that was doing it in French. I found this Casanova of a French man who sings traditional French music down by the ocean out here and thought, “This is the perfect guy to do this.” Musically, then, we sort of gave it an electronic arrangement that builds up slowly. Megan thinks that it sounds like something from The Lion King soundtrack. But I really like it, actually. It comes out of nowhere in a way.

The title track, “Her 12 Faces,” is French as well. How do you use language as an additional element to Lanu’s material?

I’ve been to France a few times just touring, and I really like it there. Well, as cliché — and that’s to use a French word, anyway– as it is, the sound of the language aesthetically to me is one of the most beautiful languages. So as someone who’s focused on how things sound when I make music, I thought about the most beautiful language sonically, and to me, it’s French.  [“Her 12 Faces”] is this thing I wrote that is in the style of a Greek tragedy; it’s sort of a moral tale. I wanted to disguise it in a way because it would have been a little cheesy to have it literally spelled out in English. So I sort of wanted it to be a little more mysterious. The lyrics of that song are sort of a metaphor for relationships and choosing the one person that you want to be with for the rest of your life and all that good stuff.

Do you intend to translate Lanu to a live setting? If so, how will you recreate the material?

Obviously, The Bamboos is a live band, and playing live is really important to me with every project. I’m kind of on the lookout for a vocalist that I can tour and work with and also write with. I think that the vocalist that I find will end up writing material with me for the next record as well, so it’s a pretty important decision and choice to make. But I want to get over to the States and Europe in the next six months. What I want to do is have the singer who would be a female singer, and I will probably use just two other people at the most. I think that it will be more stripped back. There will probably be drums, guitar, keyboards, and vocals, then running some samples. Even in the world of electronic music, people really like to see people doing stuff and hitting stuff and playing instruments. So I think that whatever I do, there will always be that element to it.

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