SON LUX @ STRANGE MATTER, MAY 28
With their complex, tightly constructed rhythms and melodies, their intentionally ambiguous yet meaningful lyrics, and the effortless blending of three individual musician’s distinct styles, Son Lux’s May 28 performance at Strange Matter is a show that you don’t want to miss.
Son Lux actually began as a solo act, the brainchild of musician Ryan Lott. Lott’s first experience in music was as a child, unwillingly – his parents forced him to take piano lessons. He wanted to quit, but they made him continue, as a way of teaching him discipline. Though he wasn’t interested for a while, his first moment of inspiration came when he found himself wanting to change things in the classical music he was playing. When he realized that music was something that he could have a hand in creating, instead of just playing things that other people had written, was when it started to come alive for him.
From 2007 to 2012, Lott worked as a professional musician in New York, writing commercial music full-time while working on music for Son Lux in his free time. He wrote music for advertising, which he describes as a very different process from creating music for his own solo project. However, he says that the experience refined his technical skills and forced him to learn how to respect music that he might not listen to on his own, since he had to compose many different kinds of music for different audiences. Both of these are lessons that he brings with him into the music he creates with Son Lux, which blends various styles and incorporates electronic technology in a natural and seemingly effortless way.
Lott has also written scores for films, including the 2015 adaptation of John Green’s Paper Towns, and has collaborated with a myriad of other artists. In an interview with Creep magazine, he said that “collaboration confronts the creative process with both new limitations and new possibilities. The only thing more conducive to the creative process than new opportunities is new limitations.” In 2014 he collaborated with Lorde on a reimagining of his song “Easy,” which was originally released on his 2013 album Lanterns. She wrote new lyrics and recorded her own vocal parts, which she sent to Lott, and he composed the new arrangement around her voice. In 2015, he created a short piece for “The Art Assignment,” a PBS video series hosted and produced by Sarah Urist Green, which challenges viewers with creative prompts. Lott invited viewers to collaborate virtually with him by making pieces that responded to his work, and received responses in the form of animations, video art, dance, and more. He worked with actress Tatiana Maslany for the music video “You Don’t Know Me,” joined with Serengeti and Sufjan Stevens to put out two albums as the collaborative hip hop group Sisyphus, and has collaborated with an endless list of musicians – Peter Silberman of the Antlers, These New Puritans, Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire, and Elena Tonra of Daughter, to name a few.
However, despite collaboration being a large component of his music, Son Lux was, for many years, a solo project. Though he worked with other musicians, he never let anyone else into the “sacred space” of composing for Son Lux. But after three albums as a solo musician, he decided to find other musicians to work with so that he could play live shows without prerecorded parts. He initially recruited drummer Ian Chang and guitarist Rafiq Bhatia only for live shows, but the chemistry that the trio ended up having onstage “changed the game” for Lott, and they released a fourth Son Lux album as a trio in 2015. He describes their experience onstage as a conversation, saying, “You don’t have to rehearse a discussion with friends. Someone picks a topic and you run with it.” Their live performances leave space for improvisation, for flexibility, for interacting and playing off of what each individual brings. Even within any given measure, there is opportunity for any of the three musicians to alter the music and improvise, and the other two will respond. This leads to a dynamic live performance where every show is different and the music, complexly composed but naturally flowing, has new potential in every moment. Just as the young frustrated Lott discovered years ago, Son Lux’s music is alive in its possibility for change and movement.