PHOTOGRAPHER: Bert Spangemacher
INTERVIEW: Justin Ross
Eloquent, thoughtful, and sincere. Son Lux fans are drawn into the carefully crafted world of Ryan Lott and his bandmates Ian Chang and Rafiq Bhatia for these three reasons. Meeting with the men behind the music of Son Lux, it is easy to see why: Ryan is a genuine and authentic voice with an intelligent and intuitive approach to making music, a welcome departure from the often mechanistic and over-produced world of pop music. Ryan’s music may seem familiar to some in a comforting, almost wholesome way because it draws from and builds upon a multitude of tropes, genres, and styles of composition from classical, to contemporary electronic music. Son Lux is a study in contrasts and an example of how inspiration can come from all around us.
We caught up with the band when they were in Berlin on the European leg of their tour to promote their new album Bones and they surprised us with the announcement that this was a sort of homecoming for them. The very first time the trio played together as Son Lux live in concert was at the venue, Bi Nuu, where we met to discuss what it is like to be on tour together, their unique and collaborative approach to music-making and their singular sense of style.
Justin: How does it feel to be back in Berlin?
Ryan: It’s cool. Very excited for tonight, the first show we ever played here was really fun, but I think we are a lot better than the last time we played here and it’s kind of a different show. It’s our own headlining show.
Justin: How did you guys meet in the first place?
Ryan: Well, I met Rafiq first [in New York]. We have some friends in common, some mutual musician friends and we actually met online.. [Rafiq:] On Tindr [laughs].
He e-mailed me about doing a show together at the time, that I couldn’t do, but I listened to his music which was completely fantastic, and I could tell right away it was constructed in a way that was really unique and that I felt an immediate kinship with and that was really rare.
Justin: You see a piece of yourself in it.
Ryan: Yah, exactly. So, unfortunately we couldn’t do the show together but I invited him to collaborate on Lanterns, our previous album, which I was working on at the time. Shortly after that, I scored a film called The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby and Rafiq was a big part of that as well, which we also did remotely actually.
When did we meet in person?
Rafiq: It wasn’t for a long time actually. We did have a two hour Skype hangout one time, I was telling dumb jokes. That was fun. We didn’t actually really meet in person until we started rehearsing for those Joe’s Pub shows [in NY] that we did.
Ryan: And eventually I needed to create a band in order to tour Lanterns. So, immediately I knew I wanted to work with Rafiq and I knew Rafiq would be instrumental in filling out the ensemble. And then he had worked with Ian. Ian plays in and had played in tons of bands and he had a good amount of videos and I saw them. The thing that really attracted me to Ian’s playing is that he is like a chameleon. He could play this really sick, improvisation-based forward-thinking jazz and then he could also play really mechanistic electronic sh*t on SPD and acoustic drums as well. And he was adept at playing with click, which is when, in your ears you have a metronome and you are able to organically sync all kinds of different things if you have a common click, and it’s not something that every musician can do. That was another skill that I knew was going to be useful.
As soon as we started to rehearse I felt really confident in these guys. I didn’t feel so confident in myself because I really hadn’t performed very much at all. But pretty quickly, we had had four rehearsals in a cramped space, and then we played to a full house here [at Bi Nuu in Berlin].
Justin: It’s interesting, you said you collaborated a lot online before ever meeting, now that you guys are spending all this time together on tour, do you work face-to-face more, has it changed?
Ryan: You know we still do work remotely. A lot of Son Lux music is still made very privately, very geeky sessions of personal experimentation. But we are constantly sharing ideas. Even last night we were cycling through our voice memos on our phones remembering this and that ideas. Oh, send that to me, etc., and so we are always keeping in mind the possibility that at any moment a great idea could emerge, and when we are together a lot of great ideas do emerge.
Ian: There are a surprising number of ideas for great songs that start out in sound check, or one of us will start playing something, and another person will play over it. It’s really fun.
Justin: How does touring effect your creative process? You pick things up along the way where you are going?
Ryan: As a trio, the touring process kicked off our creative process, because initially Son Lux was my personal project and then I formed this band to be my live band, but then the creative chemistry that we had as we were sharing day in and day out together, that chemistry created a bunch of new life for me and creative life, so that’s when the live band morphed into Son Lux proper as a trio.
Justin: Amped it up so to speak.
Ryan: Yah and for me, if I think about making music with Son Lux, it’s not just about what I can come up with in my own brain and in my own little closet, but it doesn’t exclude that, which is cool. There is still that personal sacred space, which is cool with making music, it’s just augmented.
Justin: And shared. Where is that sacred space for you? Where do you go to focus on the production?
Ryan: I have my own studio in my apartment in Brooklyn, and Rafiq has his own studio now.
Rafiq: I do now! It’s great.
Ryan: This man [Ian] barely has his own bed, because he is always on tour, always on the road. So probably your iPhone.
Ian: Yah, my phone is a sacred space.
Ryan: I mean it’s incredible now what you can do and maintain incredible mobility. Ideas genuinely do emerge from a phone or from an app, a beat app, from a voice memo, just humming a melody.
Justin: What do you do to prepare for a gig, are there any rituals or routines you go through?
Rafiq: Well yah, you know we’ve done 200 shows since last January.
Ryan: 230 or 240 shows by now.
Rafiq: With a nine pound guitar on your shoulder and doing pretty athletic maneuvers, over time I really wore my shoulder out. I was feeling numbness and all sorts of things in my arms, so I do these stretches to open up my upper body before we play. So physically speaking that is one. But all of us tend to be relatively relaxed and before we go on stage we have a hug. A group embrace before we go out.
Justin: That’s sweet.
Rafiq: You know there is something, it’s a small thing, but there is something to be said about it. [Agreement all around] There was one show where we didn’t do it and I think we all noticed it.
Ryan: Did we do that?
Rafiq: Yah, there was one show.
Justin. Never again! Tell me more about your style… are there any items you have to have to put you at ease?
Ian: I’ve pretty much worn glasses since I was five and so, well I tried one year with contacts but I wasn’t into it… I’m really blind. I get really tired when I can’t focus my eyes and its kinda dark, so glasses are really big for me. Lately I’ve been wearing one pair of boots. I think I’ve been wearing these Palladiums for ages, especially on tour, I’ve been packing really light.
Rafiq: Yah, really light is an understatement, he lives out of a suitcase yay big. And he always has room in it. It’s like the bag in Harry Potter.
Justin: You guys all wear glasses?
Ryan: I definitely prefer them to contacts.
Rafiq: I’ve never even tried contacts.
Ryan: I tried soft contacts for a day and I ripped two in a single day and my parents were like we can’t afford that and I felt so distraught. So then I got glasses and I wore pretty terrible glasses my whole life until I met my wife and she convinced me to get cool glasses and basically these are the glasses.
Justin: What are these cool glasses?
Ryan: These are Moscot and these guys are YEARS old. I’ve had these for seven years! I need to get a new pair, but it’s funny you know I feel like I’m just going to get these same ones.
Justin: These are your only ones, you don’t have any spares?
Ryan: I have some custom Moscot as well that are clear and then a long the top they have a root beer fade, and then they are dipped in black so they have a pretty unique look. And then my sunglasses are also Moscot, but they are the lemtosh.
Justin: Where does the name Son Lux come from?
Ryan: Originally I wanted to have name for this project I was developing. I started to explore the pop idiom, as well as some more adventurous, experimental ideas, and trying to find a fusion between the two. I liked the idea of not using my own personal name. And now, I’m especially thankful I didn’t do that now that we are a trio. I liked the idea of a two word name because it feels personal, like a first name, last name. I was experimenting with simple and symmetrical words because graphically that was important to me. Using the word Lux, which is Latin for light, it’s a very specific word that’s rooted in a language that’s dead and it’s very sort of contained and evocative and specific. And then the word Son or Sōn, in English it has a familial feeling, like son, of son and daughter and it also has a very open feeling to it. But Son feels sort of open, and ironically feels sort of brighter than the word Lux. I wanted symmetrical words that felt inherently contrasting. Because musically that’s something that we are always trying to do, find curious contrasts that still fell symmetrical.
Justin: It’s interesting because when I saw your Tumblr it sort of made me feel that way, with lots contrasting textures and parallel shapes. And now I see why they call you guys intellectual pop, that was quite an in-depth answer, so thanks for that!