Son Lux’s music can be described by people through very contradictory terms: minimalist, maximalist, relaxing and entrancing, schizophrenic and bursting with energy – an “art of opposites,” as described by frontman Ryan Lott.
The New York-based group’s music is often not easy to pin down or find a consensus opinion on. One thing you can say though, is that Son Lux – previously Lott’s moniker, but now a trio featuring Lott as well as guitarist Rafiq Bhatia and drummer Ian Chang – have a style that, if nothing else, grabs your attention right away and elicits some sort of reaction.
On Tuesday, the trio released Son Lux’s fourth studio album Bones – their first album to be released on Glassnote Records; the home of Mumford & Sons, CHVRCHES and Phoenix, among others – and featuring collaborations from Elena Tonra of Daughter on the track “White Lies”. In particular, the first single “Change is Everything” features grandiose, operatic vocals from Lott over fluttering strings and a pounding drum, as well as an innovative stop motion music video, which uses pins and thread to make different moving images such as people singing the song – a combination that ends up fitting the song perfectly.
Speaking to Shoeclack following their soundcheck before their show at Calgary’s Central United Church for the 2015 edition of Sled Island (their first ever performance in Calgary), Lott uses a number of different terms to describe some of the big differences between Bones and his previous LP, 2013’s Lanterns, saying that Bones is “more visceral”, “more extreme”, “dense”, and has “an incredible amount of texture” to it.
“With Bones, there’s an immediacy to it that I think I hadn’t achieved yet,” he says. “Musically speaking, the songs are generally briefer… it’s a more immediate approach. I guess I’m, in a way, packing more punch into less time, and it’s not a patient record in that sense. It has a fever to it.”
Following the release of Lanterns, Lott called on Bhatia and Chang to help make his music come to life onstage, which then snowballed into Son Lux becoming a band – an evolution that Lott says influenced Bones the most, as all three members produced the album together, though Lott still leads the group.
“What happened was, we were on tour together – because I had formed this group to tour Lanterns – and we discovered right away an incredible chemistry together, both personal and creative,” he says. “It was really natural to begin writing together, and then the more we knew each other [and] the more we gained a trust for one another, it became a no-brainer to make a new record together.”
Furthermore, the band delivers music that comes from various reference points – for example, the song “This Time” features influences from latin music, including drummer Chang playing a cajón – which Lott describes as being an important part of the band’s music.
“That is the thrust of Son Lux, which is to juxtapose sounds and ideas in ways that you wouldn’t expect, and to discover mutualistic combinations of sound,” he says. It’s in those mercurial equations that I feel that there’s a lot of exciting opportunity, sonically and musically.”
The band isn’t the only thing Lott has on the go musically, either: he’s also a part of the alternative hip hop trio Sisyphus, with Sufjan Stevens and Serengeti, as well as having composed the scores for recent films such as Paper Towns and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby. Lott also used to work full-time making music to be featured in commercials. With regards to the latter two, Lott says that although he’s making music to serve something else, it’s still a “really rewarding” process for him.
“The reason why it’s rewarding for me is that… it injects limitation into the equation,” he says. “You are forced into a place creatively where you have to solve a puzzle. When that happens, you have to engage a certain aspect of your personality and a certain aspect of your brain in order to solve something that you otherwise would have solved differently if you were following your own creative whims. In that process, you discover something about yourself.”
Despite Lott having all of those extracurricular musical activities on his resume, Son Lux’s main focus is on promoting the newly-released album and touring on it for the remainder of 2015.
“That said, we do love to continue to write. I don’t think it’s something [in which] we have a choice; we’re always writing,” he says. “In fact, most of Bones was made on the road – we played 160 shows last year and made this record… Integrated into our schedule and our routine is an ongoing creative process, [and] there’ll be some surprises for sure this year. But for the most part, our focus will be on touring.”