Interview: Jessy Lanza On The Inspiration of Caribou and What Pop Music Is Really All About

Pairing sensuous R&B vocals with an undercarriage of techno and pop music ephemera, Jessy Lanza’s second LP Oh No found a welcoming home in many of 2016’s ‘Best Of’ end of year lists. A critics’ favourite, the album traverses the pure pop staples of love and longing with resonantly earnest lyricisms and idiosyncratic production. Lanza weaves a unique vision of an intelligent yet emotive strain pop, delivered it on her own effervescent terms. When not on the road battling a demanding touring schedule the hardworking producer-songwriter resides in the small Canadian city of Hamilton, Ontario trading musical ideas with collaborator Jeremy Greenspan. Ahead of her Australian debut at 2017’s Sugar Mountain and Sydney Festival, we caught up with the eccentric artist to discuss the influence of Caribou’s Dan Snaith and the key drivers of her creative process.

Relative to first album [Pull My Hair Back], Oh No put forward a more minimalistic, poppier and vocal-driven sound. Were you anxious about how listeners would react to the stylistic jump?

Yes, there was moment in time where I was feeling really self-conscious about singing without affecting my voice as heavily as I’d done on the first album. But then, I just had this moment where I realised that if I was going to do another album I might as well just go for it! I realised that I just didn’t care if people didn’t like my voice because “sounded shitty,” who am I trying to impress? I think a lot of singers that I admire have really strange voices and it was like there was some weird person inside of me that was trying to get out. Like am I trying to sound like a Disney princess? I don’t know! But it just occurred to me that I was worried about trying to impress some person that didn’t exist; the album was just me needing to come away from that sort of thinking a little bit.

I love the freestyle influence on Never Enough. What inspired you to go in that direction?

That song was directly inspired by the project I worked on with Morgan Geist called The Galleria. That was a freestyle project and you’re right in the sense that I was totally ripping off what Morgan had done *laughs*. I was so happy with that project and so excited to work on it. After I began working on Never Enough and VV Violence as well, those songs are directly influenced by the project with Morgan.

Many artists define their music in opposition to pop. But with you seem to embrace it, albeit on your own creative terms. Do you think there should be more room for people exploring their own pop sounds within the conveyer-belt industry of Top 40 pop?

I like things that are more experimental. I like a lot of ambient music. I like things that aren’t catchy that don’t have hooks, but I feel like I have always come back around to songs that have melodies I can remember. For me that’s what defines pop music, pop music is things that are catchy and have hooks. I think ultimately that’s my favourite type of music. It’s what I like and what I keep coming back to listen to over and over again. So I think that my music is directly inspired by that because I’m not going to pretend to be something other than that. It’s what I always come back to, what I try to emulate the most.

Jeremy Greenspan (also one-half of fellow Canadian electro-pop duo Junior Boys) has been your partner in writing and production for the last two LPs. How would you characterise your creative dynamic?

Jeremy is really great to work with because he accepts that, in the same ways I do, that the majority of what we do is no going to be good. In order to make something that’s good you really have to go through a lot of bad material and he’s not embarrassed about that. This makes me feel like I can write something that’s shitty or do something that’s bad. Some people have an ego that’s too big for that or they don’t want to make themselves vulnerable in that way.  You know? They have that air which is like “I’m a genius and everything I make it amazing,” which is just total bullshit.

So it’s an ego-free environment?

Yeah, It’s just fun, he doesn’t take himself too seriously, he’s gun to work with and we never fight in the studio. He comes at it from a fun place which is great for me because often it’s too easy to take what you’re doing too seriously.

You’ve collaborated as well as toured with Caribou’s Dan Snaith. But funnily enough, you’ve actually known him for some time. I’ve heard that you went to high school in the same city?

He’s a bit older so I didn’t know him at the time, he and Jeremy and Dan knew each other in high school, but I definitely knew of them because people who do electronic music in Hamilton are very few and far between. When I was in high school they were like touring internationally which was a really big deal! I always looked up to them.

What are your impressions of Dan as an artist coming from a similar background?

Dan and Jeremy have something in common; they’re both really incredible musicians. Dan played piano in the jazz band in Hamilton; Jeremy’s a really good guitar player. I think the thing I really admire about Dan is that he has this appreciation for a lot of different genres of music. He’s also of this mentality where he works really hard on his albums and he’s put out a lot of albums. For him, it didn’t happen overnight. I’m trying to remember where Swim is in his discography, I think it’s his fourth album… he’s just put out so much music. I’m not going to speak for him, but he obviously has a passion for music. Even if Caribou wasn’t really big he’d still be doing it.

It seems like your music is constantly evolving. When you’ve reflected on your previous material in past interviews it has seemed like every one of your projects has informed where you have gone next, a lessons learnt sort of thing. What have you taken away from the latest album?

Oh my god, I honestly have no idea *laughs*. I really have no clue! I’ve been listening to a lot of music lately, as always, but I have no idea.


Jessy Lanza tour dates:

Fri Jan 20: Meriton Festival Village, Sydney Festival (Tickets)
Sat Jan 21: Sugar Mountain Festival, Melbourne
Sun Jan 22: Jack Rabbit Slim’s, Perth

Image Source: Windish Agency