Ahead of his new album, Sensorimotor, I spoke to Jeff McIlwain, aka Lusine, about his inspirations, background and creative process. Sensoriomotor is out on the 3rd of March on Ghostly and looks to follow a string of wonderfully melodic albums, including 2009's "A Certain Distance", a personal favourite of mine.
How did you get into creating electronic music?
I was pretty fascinated with the sounds I was hearing off the radio in the early nineties and really wanted to know how those sounds were made, so I bought a drum machine and a workstation and it kind of took off from there.
So when you sit down to write an album, what’s your creative process? Do you have a theme in mind, or do you just go for it and see what happens?
It’s usually based off of a style that I’m liking and so I’ll start off with that in mind, but it usually turns into something completely different. There usually is an initial spark of an idea, whether that be from a song I’m hearing or some new technique I want to try. Usually a combination of the two.
What’s new for you in 2017?
Well, there's Just a Cloud which is out, it's the first single to the album which comes out on March 3rd. It’s called “Sensorimotor.” I also am finishing work on a film score for a movie called “State Like Sleep.” I’m co-scoring it with my friend David Wingo. I believe it will premiere at Cannes, but I’m not sure.
Lets talk about your vocalists, how did you meet and decide to collaborate?
I met Vilja when she was on a trip to Seattle to participate at the Red Bull Music Academy, where I was asked to be a production engineer. We’ve been working remotely ever since. I’ve also worked with a few friends from Seattle, as well as my wife Sarah. Tom, who I worked with on the new album, used to work with my label, Ghostly. This was before he started recording as Benoit Pioulard on Kranky.
Let’s talk about vocals in your songs, me and some friends once sat down and tried to figure out the lyrics to Two Dots and I’m still not sure I know entirely what they are. Do you create the lyrics for your songs or do you leave that to someone else?
That track is about a love triangle I believe. I recorded them back in 2005. But, I didn’t come back to them to write a track until a couple years later. It was just a sketch idea of hers, but there was something I loved about the way she sang them. I cut them up and spliced them together in a different way though.
On the topic of the lyrics to Two Dots, why is it irresponsible to make a triangle?
I believe it’s a metaphor for a love triangle. “Two dots joined by a line might be detached by a crime.”
Who are your main musical influences?
It’s a tough question because it changes every year. So, my musical influences twenty years ago are far removed from the stuff that influences me these days. These days, I think it’s less about “who” then it is about what particular elements of different tracks are interesting to me. Like, the big bold synths from someone like M83, the layers of arpeggiation of a group like Emeralds, or the strange sample based production techniques from DJ Koze. It’s not always the whole package, but little bits from different artists that help to inform my music these days.
What do you like to listen to in your spare time?
I’ve been working out to The Field a lot. It’s really strange music often, but it puts you in a trance while you’re running. I loved the new Jamie XX and the last Caribou albums. Beach House is a pretty big staple in my house. I also got the new Loscil on vinyl this Christmas and it’s been getting heavy rotation. This Fennesz album, Bécs, is also a really great and interesting album.
Are there are any up and coming artists you have your eye on?
Good question. I’ll be curious to see where this duo KLLO on Ghostly goes. She’s got such a great voice, and the production is super tight. I would be interested to hear them venture into new territory. There’s also a local artist in Seattle named Jenn Champion that has been in the indie rock scene for a while, but has started venturing into electronic territory. Her single, called “No One,” was great. I’m interested in hearing more.
Do you feel like you’ve evolved as a musician since you started? If so, in what ways do you think you’ve changed?
Yeah, a lot. I started out much more in line with the kind of glitch Warp style of production, but started venturing out into more vocal and sample based music. I got really into dance music, so I kind of did that for a while. I’ve been trying to incorporate more acoustic instruments into my music, but it’s slow going, and I don’t always know where it’s headed.
When you produce now, are you still using the same equipment as you were 10 years ago or have things changed?
Some of it is the same, but I’m always upgrading and trying new things. I’ve recently started going back to writing sketch ideas with the MPC1000 and I’ve been collecting hand percussion and trying to do more recordings with a looper I just bought. I appreciate music that sounds a bit messier, less overly-sequenced. It’s not something I do very well, so I’m trying to work on loosening up my sound a bit.
If you had to categorise your music in terms of genre where do you think it would fall?
It depends on which album, or which track I think. Overall, I’d just say left field electronic music: sometimes experimental electronic, sometimes experimental dance music, sometimes experimental pop.
I’ve seen your tracks remixed a lot – do you enjoy seeing your own tunes reconstructed? Do you have a favourite remix?
Yeah, it’s a lot of fun hearing other people’s take on my tracks. I can’t say that there was just one that I liked the most. They are all pretty unique.
Do you enjoy collaborating with artists or working alone?
I collaborate with David Wingo on film scores and I collaborate with my wife on vocals and lyrics. Aside from that, I like to mostly work on my own, or take someone’s vocals and deconstruct them.
What about live shows – do you have any planned?
I’ll be headed to Hong Kong on March 11th, and then a bunch of U.S. dates are in the works. West Coast, East Coast, a couple dates up North, one in Austin. Kind of all over the place.
Tell me about the name Lusine, how did that come about?
In the late 90’s. I just liked the French translation of “the factory.”