Jessy Lanza

Skype interview by Zofia Ciechowska
Photos shot by Aaron Wynia in Hamilton, Canada

Jessy Lanza is on the cusp of releasing an album we’ve been excitedly waiting to hear since we memorised every note of Pull My Hair Back three years ago. Listening to Oh No before it’s officially released is a treasurable experience. The album is formidably poppy, body-moving, bearing the premonitions of the good times we seek and live for, music that makes us elated. Each hook is a friendly tug back on to the dance floor and each new song feels familiar and different in all the right ways. So much so that you want to high five Jessy’s album and loop it for hours.

Months away from spring when Oh No is to be released, Jessy peers at me from her webcam, winter sunshine beaming from behind her, leaving a hazy orb of light around her head and shoulders. A purplish leafy houseplant dangles in the background, slowly coming in and out of focus as she speaks. It hailed the night before and the confines of her home couldn’t be more comforting. Her every word is considered and patient. We’re a few months away from a wave of changes in Jessy Lanza that we cannot predict, but we can sense they will be great. We’re in between. And so we ponder what is known now and from the past, and we tease and tempt what the future holds. We discuss creating newness in a place that has always been her home, not feeling guilty about feeling good, finding the right spaces to create, and her personal and musical partnership with Jeremy Greenspan. We part after a while of to-and-fro with a bubbling feeling of excitement that Jessy is back to share more of herself with us. We’ll be giving back on the dance floor.

We’ve not heard from you for a while. I’m curious to know what’s filled your days in that ‘in-between’ period, for want of a better word?

I’m also experiencing these big gaps between the album being finished last summer, press planning, an upcoming tour and my album release is coming up in May. 2014 was really busy because I was touring a lot. And then I did a project with Morgan Geist and released ‘You Never Show Your Love’. This time last year I had just come home from the tour I did with Caribou. It was a period of adjusting to being back home in Hamilton. I was thinking I needed to get going on new material. I was focused on collecting resources to get started on this new record, working a lot out of my studio here. I have no idea where the time went – suddenly it’s three years since Pull My Hair Back came out.

What’s it like, sitting on a pile of amazing stuff that’s about to reach a huge amount of people, but you can’t pull the trigger just yet?

It’s nerve-wracking and exciting at the same time. When there’s too much time it’s hard not to second guess. Oh, we should’ve re-edited this, or gone silver instead of gold in the video we shot – what messages are we sending? I think there’s an advantage to putting things out fast, but when you have a bit of a wait, it gives you time to think about what you’re doing. I am so excited for the next couple of months.

Do you remember what release day felt like first time round?

I couldn’t believe it was happening. I was nervous. I always am. I don’t get my period for, like, six months. It’s fine to let go a bit though now, it has to go out into the world. That time I had no idea what to expect. There was a big build-up but after it felt fine. Now I think I’ll approach it with more calm than I did that time, but I’ll probably still get a little nervous!

You’ve always lived in Hamilton, Ontario. What’s it like to be in a place for so long and build your career from your base there?

I grew up five minutes away from where I live now. I’m a sentimental person and a homebody – I don’t like admitting it, but I am. I’m very attached to my family. My mom and three sisters still live in this town. I need to be close to them, I can’t really stay away from here for too long. When I was in my late teens and early 20s I had this urge to leave, like so many people do at that age. And yet, there hasn’t been a place that feels quite like this place makes me feel. I always end up coming back and shouldn’t fight it. It’s taken me a long time to accept that realisation. I kept on thinking I needed to move, I needed a change of scenery and everything would be better, instead of realising that introspection was causing all of these problems in the first place.

You move within your town though to make music. Can you say a little bit more about that?

Jeremy (Greenspan, of Junior Boys), my partner, is the person I live and create with. It’s important for our relationship to establish separate spaces for creation. If I lived alone, I’d probably have a studio in my bedroom, but together that’s not how we operate. It would otherwise get too overwhelming, sharing our home life and our musical relationship all in one space. That’s also one of the reasons why we live in Hamilton, Ontario. It’s a town where I can afford to have a small space nearby to go to daily and create. For me it’s about repetition, going to my studio every day, even when I don’t feel like it. I’ll go there and start cleaning my sample library, trawl through YouTube, I might start manipulating a sample I hadn’t worked on for a while, and then a song might come out of that. I never know when it’s going to happen, so I make sure I go to the studio every day, in case it does happen and I’m fortunately in the right place to create.

Your relationship with Jeremy Greenspan comes up a lot in the features about you. How do you wish your relationship was perceived by onlookers?

The thing I do see all the time is this kind of inability for journalists to grasp the idea that Jeremy and I both work equally together. It’s really difficult for people to get it and then they write about it in a way that isn’t what you’re talking about. Either it’s Jessy is a solo artist who does it all by herself and Jeremy is a tiny footnote, or Jeremy does everything and Jessy sings. We work together on everything – production, songwriting! It’s a weird block for many people in the industry to understand this and then explain that the music is jointly ours, but the project has my name on it.

Yeah, we often see artists as these isolated units if they play solo instead of being nodes in a network. I’m curious to know who you’ve crossed paths with in between Pull My Hair Back and Oh No?

On that note, I’ll actually be playing with an awesome drummer called Tory on this tour! My close friend Morgan Geist lives in New York and we worked on this project called Galleria, which was so wonderful. And I love the guys from Caribou, especially visiting Dan Snaith and his four-year-old daughter in London. Now that I’m saying it out loud, I think I keep my network small. I like it that way. When it comes to things that have been influencing me lately, I love the stuff that’s coming out from Atlanta right now; Awful Records’ Abra, Alexandria, Father are very cool.

‘I embrace the term “pop”, in all its authenticity and artifice’

You say that Oh No is about feeling good. What are you looking to awaken in your listeners when they hear it for the first time?

I really wanted to do an album of pop songs, not that the first one wasn’t poppy in some way. I think this one is more straightforward than the first one. The songs are more ‘up’. They’re more forward, they have a lot of hooks, they might be easier to get into. I was really inspired when I toured with Caribou and saw these huge crowds being affected by their music in a very euphoric way. And Jeremy is inspired by pop music from all different time periods too, which is why we brought that to the forefront of this album. I embrace the term ‘pop’, in all its authenticity and artifice. I have no issue with people putting up a complete facade as their brand, but that’s just not me.

Do you think that music that makes people feel good has a tendency to be undervalued by the artist community?

I don’t think there’s any lack of negativity, you don’t have to look far for it. Just because someone isn’t talking about it, doesn’t mean that they don’t care. And not everything has to be about the terrible things that are happening. That’s just not me to focus on that in my music, it wouldn’t be genuine. And if people don’t want to listen, they don’t have to!

You’re off on a big trip soon, what are you taking and what are you leaving behind?

I’m leaving behind my two cats with my mom! I have this amazing diffuser that glows different colours, I’m definitely taking that. I put water, peppermint and lavender in it to chill out. No other comforts of home are coming with me apart from that.

Jessy Lanza’s Oh No is out now via Hyperdub. She plays at De School, Amsterdam on 26 May 2016. The show is free for Subbacultcha members.