When I heard my first Lapalux track, he had just signed to Brainfeeder as their first UK artist. His style was being called “post-dubstep”, which suggests that he heard dubstep, and thought “I should make music too”. The story doesn’t quite go like that. Stuart Howard was a student of sound before dubstep and ‘beat scene’ were even ideas. You can hear it in his 2008 Forest EP, his first release. It’s a world of texture, waves of emotion, and frenetic disorientation that was informed by an intense study and absorbtion of sound aesthetics, with music production being more a means to an end and this pure expression being the end in itself. He creates his boundary crushing sound through a century-spanning sonic palette, always focused on the character of his sound sources and how they work together. With each release leading up to March 25th’s highly anticipated debut LP “Nostalchic”, his fusion of R&B melodic and harmonic motifs with neck-breaking beats and meticulously nuanced textural movement has fully taken shape, as has his mastery over the most dense yet lucid sound-world in modern electronic music. Lapalux doesn’t use these influences because they’re chic, he does so because his life’s work is to reconcile all these sounds into something beautiful.
I had the great honor of catching up with the man himself in February to talk about what it means to be releasing his first full length album, working with vocalists, and his creative process.
Continued after the jump…
First of all, why the name Nostalchic?
Ha, I don’t know It’s just like, the name Lapalux, how I came up with that. Just really random. Just two words or like a phrase conjoined into one little word. I thought I kind of worked for the whole sound of the thing as well. Some of it sounds like it’s R&B and stuff like that but a lot of it is nostalgic in a sense of using old technology to record on and using old samples and making it vintage and digital and new as well, so I just smashed it all together really.
It seems like the sample treatment in your music is an intrinsic part of your style and original sound. Is that deliberate?
Yeah definitely, I mean I use a lot of the same processes like limiters and audio effects and stuff in Ableton and hardware and stuff that I’ve got dotted around and I tend to use the same equipment to produce the same sort of sound so everything’s kind of coherent in that respect. But yeah, it all stems from listening to all sorts of different genres as a kid and I’ve always been interested in getting everything and putting it all into one idea and making that sound coherent to the next thing I make and all pieces of the puzzle kind of collide and fit together and sort of smash ideas together.
Your music has always felt to me very emotional, and it seems as your work progresses the emotional range has increased and each emotion has become more palpable. “Strangling you with the Cord” versus “Forgetting and Learning Again” and “Moments” all seem to carry different emotions all of which are powerful.
Yeah it’s weird actually cause whenever I try and sit down and make a track that suits the mood that I’m in right there and then, for instance if I try to make a really sort of dance-hally, sort of bangery kind of song, It will accidentally end up kind of turning into some sort of weird ambient track. It’s a very bizarre thing. I think It’s all subconscious really, because with a lot of the songs on the album I didn’t intentionally set out to make those tracks. In the track “Without You”, I didn’t actually intentionally sit down and try to make that track really somber and everything but subconsciously I was going through a lot of weird times at that stage when I started making the song so I guess it all sort of comes out in unexpected ways in the track and I end up turning this thing into what it is on the album.
How much time does this the work on this album span?
Probably all in all, about a year, I’ve just sort of been through a lot of different tracks and a lot of tracks didn’t make the final cut actually and I’ve been working since about a year or two ago but probably in the last year I’ve been working on it and trying to get it up to a standard where I’m happy and mixing tracks about where it didn’t really work and re-mixing my own tracks, into making it work and fit in the album and generally messing around with it until it all fit together.
The last few releases have all been EPs, and the LP is a big milestone for you. What does it mean to you to be finally putting out an album?
Yeah, it means a lot actually I’ve always sort of thought the biggest milestone is to be releasing an album, a full-length record, and saying here’s my sound, it’s a big body of work, like, this is where I’m gonna go and this is what I’m gonna work on, and this is what I’m all about. EPs are sort of testing the waters, seeing what I can get away with really, and the LP is like where I can really just say ‘This is me, like it or not’.
I like that phrasing, “seeing what you can get away with.” Sounds like “seeing what you can hit people with that they’ll respond back, ‘I like this’”. It really just goes to show that people can be pushing a lot further into these sort of organic, crazy sounds.
Yeah, I think sometimes a lot of producers get scared of actually switching it up and releasing an EP that’s a little bit different from the last one and maybe it’s not everyone’s cup of tea and stuff but you still get fans that sort of like that sound and, like different bits from different EPs and hopefully It all comes together in this album where I’ve mixed a bit of everything from what I’ve been working on from as far back as the Forest EP, and I think there’s something for everybody on there.
So I really like the song you did with Kerry Leatham, “Forgetting and Learning Again”, and I read that you’re working with Kerry again on the LP and I’m just curious, what’s it like working with Kerry and working with other vocalists in general and how does that creative process go?
Well I don’t actually like sitting in the studio with another person, If it’s a vocalist or if it’s another producer because I think that ideas can get misconstrued and lost and a lot of things, you know, you get up and make tea and something and you have a chat for ages and won’t actually get down to work when the idea is there, so I tend to do a lot of stuff over emails and you know, toing and froing with the vocalist or the other producer and taking something away from them like vocals or a little bit of a beat or something like that, and actually sitting down there and waiting for the moment where I could actually use them and where I could actually fit them into the track that I’m working on, or even another track, you know a lot of the tracks that appear on the album with Kerry actually weren’t initially the loops that I sent her and I actually manipulated them them to fit a different beat like “oh I’ve got that vocal from Kerry” that she sent me a while ago for another track, and use that in place of the other thing that I was working on and sort of vibe with that for a while and I like stepping away from it for a little while and actually being able to think about where I’m gonna use it and manipulate it and mess around with it until it fits.
I remember hearing some of that type of vocal manipulation as far back as your Forest EP. Is there anything else from your Forest EP that we’ll hear make a comeback? You have parts where we hear this scratching-of-tape sound. it was very Hip- Hop. Does that stuff make a comeback at all?
Yeah there is quite a lot of that. Actually, the intro track, called “I am Cysts”, has a lot of sort of old rewinding tape and stuff like that and I’ve tried to incorporate that, and the album starts with sort of Forest EP kinda sounds and it ends with the same sort of thing as well with a track from Kerry actually where It’s tape driven and I recorded a lot onto the tape and the intro outro are sort of “tape aesthetics”, but throughout there are really flexes of R&B and Hip-Hop and dancey sorta stuff and you know so It’s a bit of a meandering journey, where the start and end points are sort of exactly the same so yeah It makes another appearance in there, definitely.
It sounds like your style would not be the same without the influence from tape-cutting and editing and concrete music and sound objects. How long has that approach been involved in your work and when did it start?
It started when I left home and went to Uni and started applying reel to reel players and got really hooked on trying to make things sound a bit old and I’d work out and emulate different styles and techniques of old recordings and stuff like that, using the tapes and stuff like that. and yeah I sort of just used this old crappy “realistic tape recorder” I bought off ebay about 5 or 6 years ago and all the belts have sort of worn out and everything and it’s in bits and pieces and I’ve used that all the time and It’s always had a place in my heart that weird cassette, sort of artifact-y sound.
So in order to get your signature pitch shifted effects, is that also done with the tape?
Yeah, some of it I’ve modified the tape recorder to allow me to speed up and slow down the tape, actually whilst it’s playing and stuff like that, but a lot of it is post editing as well and messing around on ableton and a bunch of different effects but its all sort of digital/analog crossover and everything sort of mashes into each-other.
Do you think your style’s going to continue down that road of crossover?
Yeah, personally I like music with a bit of soul and depth and character. I like songs that have a lot of their own unique qualities being recording techniques and stuff like that. I don’t tend to listen to a lot of “digitally” kind of music like full-on skrillex dubstep or stuff like that, For me It doesn’t really work. I like something with a bit of depth and soul and characteristic. And I’ve always been interested in production and emulating that sound from analog stuff and that’s always interested me.
What can people expect from these Lapalux live shows you’ve got lined up for this year?
Well it’s a little bit different from what I usually do. It’s really crazy. A lot of tunes I’ve sort of sped up and messed around with and remixed with my MPD and a trigger finger, with additional midi synced up with that, and it turns into a collage-y live set that doesn’t have a strict flow, but rather goes on tangents. I introduce bits and pieces of songs where I want and I don’t stick to any sort of bpm rules, I just switch, feel the vibe out, mess around with these bits and pieces on the fly.
Can you tell me about “guuurl” and making that song, what it’s about, and the direction it’s going in?
It’s a strange one, “guuurl”, actually because It initially started with this lyric I wrote about making love to a lovely young lady, but it was something I was working on that wasn’t really going anywhere. I ended up sort of remixing it into a more strictly driven electronic track, and it is a step away from what I normally do, but it’s a part of the journey, and also a part of the journey the album takes you on.
Watch: Lapalux – “Without You (ft. Kerry Leatham)”
Can you talk about the process of making this album? Specifically how the album as a whole was conceptualized and developed and how all the pieces came together? For instance, I never would have expected that the tracks were remixes of themselves since they feel like they have such intention to them.
It’s quite weird actually, I have so many bits and pieces like 4-bar loops and things I could have worked with but I always just bounce them down and keep them in a folder that I’ll look through later when I need inspiration and mash things together again, and I end up trying these things out and experimenting with them. My whole goal with making this music is trying to get something that doesn’t work with something else and trying to make them work in some weird way together and that what I get off to about making this music.
I come from a visual arts background, and when I first started listening to your music I always pictured your sound as a very visual tangible thing. Do you ever see your music accompanied or inspired by a visual element?
Yea I would say It’s a lot inspired by visuals. I take photos of certain things and try to photograph bits and pieces of things but it’s kind of a synesthetic approach to the way I make music and it is very full and textural and there is a lot of comparison between that and physically looking at visual.
Are there any visual artists who inspire you?
A lot of Kandinsky work. As well as Peter Max, a lot of his massively pastel colorey crazy shit. Just a lot of stuff on the internet. Sometimes I’ll just sit down and flip through Flickr and just look at certain things and just get inspired by that, as well as just even looking out of the house. And the weather as well. It’s snowing here at the moment.