INTERVIEW: Swept away by the ‘Undertow’ of Son Lux

Swept away by the undertow of Son Lux’s introspective new album, we look into what forms the currents of their sounds and the music they make.

Last month, experimental American band Son Lux unveiled the highly anticipated Tomorrows I – the first chapter of their ambitious three-volume album, the remaining of which will be released over the coming year.

Also read: A world of feels and textures with Son Lux’s ‘Tomorrows I’

We must admit. We were pretty much blown away by the intricacies and sublime textures in this phenomenal new release. There is a sort of dystopian yet utopian feel to the music, and an introspective yet retrospective touch to it as well. It is intriguingly stunning, almost surreal even…

We decided to ask the band more about their music as a band, including this first chapter, what it took to make it, and what’s next in this surreal trilogy.

AL365: Hi Son Lux, Vanessa here from AsiaLive365. Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Congrats on the new album Tomorrows I. It’s a phenomenal one, and we’re loving all the fine nuances and sounds in it – there’s such a very introspective and retrospective feel to the album! How long did the whole creative process take for this sublime work and why the decision to break it up into three volumes? 

Ian Chang: Thank you Vanessa, really happy to hear that it’s resonating with you.  As we were finishing our last album Brighter Wounds, the itch of starting a new idea had gone unscratched for a while, so the day after we turned in the masters to the label in the fall of 2017, Ryan started to churn out a new idea every single day.  I can’t remember how long he kept this up for, but it was enough so that we started out with 30+ new ideas, which was way more than we’ve ever had when working on an album.  This was one of the factors for breaking up the release into three volumes, but I’d say the main reason for approaching this season of work this way was to give us more room to explore.  This format gives us the space to let our ideas breathe more, and the freedom to interweave songs with instrumental pieces.

AL365: In terms of textures, colours and feelings, what can we expect from the upcoming volumes?

Ian: We’re actually still working on Volumes 2 and 3, so we’re in the process of figuring that out!  I will say that volume 2 is shaping up to be more energetic overall than volume 1, and in some cases quite urgent.  Also expect to hear bits and pieces of music interwoven throughout the three volumes. That’s something that we’re having fun with, it almost feels like developing a character over multiple episodes of a season of a tv show.

AL365: We understand that the lyrical content of the album was written over three months. Given the current situation in the world, particularly since the beginning of 2020, how would you say the prose, words, or lyrics have shaped themselves in each song, and how has the constant shift in paradigm in the somewhat “dystopian” world we live in now, changed or moulded your album?

Ryan Lott: The world hasn’t really shifted, in my opinion. It’s our collective perception that is changing rapidly, especially among those of us white folks who’ve only ever enjoyed a convenient relationship with oppressive powers, and indeed, relied on the “catastrophic clockwork,” as David Dark puts it, of systemic racism. That mechanism has always existed under a superficial surface, benefiting me and terrorizing others unlike me. That surface is peeling away again in places, as it does periodically, revealing its machinery. I’m thankful for this revelation, and I welcome the responsibility that comes with it. The lyrical content of Tomorrows is, in part, my response to this responsibility. However, to be honest, I’m having a difficult time reconciling the call to raise my voice with the fact of my unjustly loud, white voice. I need to “sit down, be humble,” while also standing up in front of a microphone. I have a lot to work out.

AL365: As someone who listened to your music for the first time this month, I was immediately drawn to the lush ambient textures of ‘Dissolve’, the dystopian almost slow-dance atmosphere of ‘Plans We Made’ and finally the decadent-like strings in ‘Involution’ that almost seemed like ripples in time or of worlds. If you could pick a song each (or three songs in total) from this album (or from a previous album) for someone who has never heard your music before to listen to, what song(s) would it be and why?

Ian: ‘Last Light’ – This song is at the outer limits of what we’ve discovered is possible for us, and as a band that is rooted in experimentation, this feels as representative of us as our more popular songs.

‘Only’ – The foundation of this song was created by accident when we were improvising in the studio together to give a camera crew some BTS footage. It represents us in our most natural state, breathing and playing together. Grateful that the engineer had the instinct to record it!

‘All Directions’ (from Brighter Wounds) – This song goes to all of the places- it takes a tender and vulnerable idea and eventually reaches one of the most explosive and epic peaks that we’ve ever created.

AL365: What sort of music or artists did you guys grow up listening to, and how do you feel their music has influenced the way the three of you come together as Son Lux?

Ryan: The only real way to answer this is that our listening was encyclopedic. Collectively we listened to Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Beethoven, Louis Armstrong, Madlib, John Coltrane, Biggie, Bartok, Jimi Hendrix, MF Doom, Tribe Called Quest, Nirvana, Flying Lotus, Cornelius, Portishead, Bjork, Alice Coltrane. Nothing but Prince for an entire year of high school.

AL365: As musicians, what aspect of live performances do you miss the most?

Ryan: The real-time exchange between each other and the audience. The unpredictability, the exploration, the moments of new discoveries through improvisation and connecting with the collective energy of room and its inhabitants. Seeing new places and meeting new faces.

AL365: Is there anything you like to add or say to your fans out there?

Ryan: See and celebrate the humanity in one another. We need to find what we have in common, and fight against systems that marginalize any particular group of people. We need to go to war with walls, not build them. We need to sure up the bridges that already exist between us and build new ones. We need to put down all of our weapons. We are grateful for our fans. We hope our music offers a space for reflection, for challenge, for introspection, and most importantly hope and joy in the midst of whatever chaos might be going on in a person or the world around them at that moment. We love you!

Son Lux comprises members Ryan Lott, Ian Chang and Rafiq Bhatia. Listen to their album below and be swept away (like us!) by its ambient undertows and ‘dystopian-utopian’ textures…

Cover photo by: Djeneba Aduayom





Let me know what’s up!

Be up to date of the news and events from Asia Live 365