Earlier this year, London-based label Hyperdub released Pull My Hair Back, the wonderfully sensitive debut by classically trained Canadian vocalist Jessy Lanza. On the nine-track album, with the sparse but bewitching ‘Kathy Lee’ as first single, her minimal and dreamy voice floats atop sublimely produced electro R&B, making them a graceful and effortless pair. We talked to her how in the end the small stuff matters most
Google chat interview by Basje Boer, photos shot by Aaron Wynia in Hamilton, Canada
‘I find that memories of pretty unremarkable things are the ones that last’
What do you need within reach when you’re on stage?
Ah, of course… Who did you confer with while working on your debut album?
I wrote and produced the songs with Jeremy Greenspan. It was just the two of us, really. Although I would play songs for friends and get their opinion. And I would show my sisters what I was working on for sure. And my mom.
Did you get good feedback?
They’re very supportive. I think I could have played them anything and they would have been supportive.
How did you ‘find’ your sound?
Well, I started to write on electronic instruments rather than acoustic, so I just experimented with synthesizers and drum machines. And Jeremy has a background in dance music, which factors into it as well.
What were your musical references? Because you can hear a variety of genres in your music.
Yeah, I like a lot of different music but mostly electronic-based R&B and dance music. I listened to a lot of modern R&B singers while making the album – like Jeremih or Omarion or Ciara. But I like ’80s boogie and R&B as well, like Patrice Rushen and Kashif.
What are the top three things you couldn’t have made this album without?
My Juno-106 is one. The ARP Odyssey and the SP-12. We used those three pieces of gear a lot.
And what about the random stuff you can’t make music without? I don’t know – sushi? A certain TV show? Maybe I’m way off here…
Umm… Coffee? To write music I need to be constantly listening to other people’s music and seeing shows. I find that really important when I’m trying to be creative myself.
Do you idolise anyone?
Prince. The-Dream. They’re both pretty incredible. They’ve written some serious bangers.
And what about their stage personalities? Are they things you aspire to?
Ah well, I wish I could pull off something like what Prince does but that’s wishful thinking! I always try to make people react but in the way that Prince does? I don’t think I could compare. Maybe one day…
Do you have holiday plans yet? Who do you spend your holidays with?
Nothing special, really. I’m just going to hang out in Hamilton with my family.
Do you have any particular holiday traditions?
Well, my family does this traditional Italian meal that’s kind of fishy and oyestery. It’s kind of gross, actually, now that I think about it.
You just got used to it?
Oh yeah, I’ve been eating that fishy pasta for a long time.
Do you enjoy spending the holidays with family?
Well, I see my family so much anyway that it doesn’t seem like Christmas is particularly special. My family is very close – a stereotypical Italian sort of family.
Sounds kind of romantic.
Oh, it’s not! I wish. Families are funny. At least, with mine it’s sort of love-hate, you know?
What do you think are the kind of memories that last?
Well, finding out that my record was going to be released was a very happy moment. And I find that memories of pretty unremarkable things are the ones that last.
Oh, I don’t know. Something off-hand someone says, a scene from a movie… Just regular, everyday stuff that for whatever reason sticks in your memory.
Maybe in the end the fishy pasta will be the one thing to stick with you.
Ha-ha, that’s true! The fishy pasta really resonates…
Jessy Lanza makes her Dutch debut at OT301, Amsterdam on 4 December. She’s joined by fellow Canucks Doom Squad, as well as Frames By local visual artist Viktorija Medvedeva, who’ll be showcasing her work as part of our ongoing series curated by Pllant/Marieke van Helden. The show is free for Subbacultcha! members.