The Luyas Are Too Beautiful To Work
From the catchy title track through the album’s delirious finish, The Luyas’ Too Beautiful to Work is a gem of indie pop. The four-person group from Montreal even enlisted their friend Owen Pallett to help make the record, which features lead singer Jessie Stein on the Moodswinger, a 12-string zither. Stein was kind enough to take my questions here.
ELM: What role does intuition play in your songwriting and recording?
JS: Well, intuition is what leads you down any rabbit hole. It is a part of every decision that any person ever commits to, on some level. It’s a major facet of writing songs and making recordings for us especially, because we tend to work entirely on gut decisions. After those gut decisions are made, it’s up to each of us to mentally scrutinize those perspectives, attempting to divorce ourselves from ourselves.
ELM: You’ve said that you initially began as a band “without rules.” Are there any rules, unwritten or explicit, that you have now?
JS: There are no rules aesthetically. We just have to feel good about what we’re doing. We don’t have to like, keep it country, or whatever. That’s what I meant by that.
ELM: Who are your favorite writers (in general, not just songs)?
JS: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Laurie Anderson, Kurt Vonnegut, Bob Dylan, Mike Feuerstack, Pietro Amato, Robin Pecknold, Carson Mccullers. There are tons, but I love those guys off the top of my head.
JS: I remember your mentioning an obscure instrument, the Moodswinger, you had that you said was invented “by a Dutch madman.” Can you tell me more about that? Also, are you fans of Harry Partch and his weird instruments?
I met Yuri Landman, the Dutch luthier in question, totally by chance. I have never known anything really about experimental instrument building, or really given it a second thought. When I heard his instruments though, I was really taken aback and ended up asking him to build me a moodswinger (which to me had the most beautiful sound.).
I think part of it came from being a bit sick of my guitar and wanting to start fresh on something totally different and confusing to me. I’m really looking forward to digging into it deeper over the summer.
I am not terribly familiar with Mr. Partch’s work, but I’d love to learn more about him. My brief wikipedian investigation into his life and work has me curious to research him further.
ELM: What is your live show like for this tour? What do you think about when playing live?
JS: It’s been great. We’ve been playing a lot. It’s a lot more energetic than the record I think. I feel like we’ve become a much better band since recording the record, and that’s pretty exciting. I really love performing and playing these songs with my friends, though I am starting to miss the free time for life and creativity and my usual home diet now that we’ve been out for so long.
On a good day I’m in a totally other world when we’re on stage. It’s kind of like being in a movie where you’re watching a movie. You can’t tell if you’re the show or the people watching you are the show. I think about things like that when I’m playing. I also try to play and sing well.
ELM: Obviously, your sound has matured since you recorded your first album and gained a member. How else do you feel like you switched up your game for Too Beautiful to Work?
JS: Well the focus of the songs on Too Beautiful is a lot more sound oriented and a lot less of a personal exorcism than Faker Death was. As a band we gained a lot of ground and identity between the two albums, and now that it’s been two years since we recorded TBTW I believe the same thing has happened all over again.
ELM: Aside from being in other bands, what other jobs have you had?
JS: I worked in a chocolate store, I was a research assistant at the Montreal Neurological Institute, I worked at an urban sprout farm, I wrote grants, and I once designed a school yearbook for an elementary school.
ELM: On the record, there seems to be a lot of space between the vocals and the rest of the sounds. How did you create that effect?
JS: Volume, panning, space echo, compression, and equalization.
ELM: If you could raise awareness of any cause, what would it be?
JS: Oh Jeez, I don’t know. I’m not very specifically political. I am a general advocate for avoiding bigotry, and am generally against holding down the dispossessed. I don’t know how to solve the planet. I play guitar.
ELM: I don’t feel like there’s a central message on the record (correct me if I’m wrong), but the songs all have a sonic similarity that makes it very much an album and not a collection of songs. How did you achieve that? Were there songs that got left behind?
JS: Yeah, we discarded a number of pieces that didn’t seem to fit aesthetically. I’m not sure how we made the record cohesive. I’m glad you think it is, if cohesion is a metric for goodness.
ELM: What part do lyrics play in your songwriting process?
JS: It’s been different on different albums. This is something I’m working on understanding right now. I’ll get back to you on it if I ever figure it out.
ELM: What songs would you like to cover, either live or on a record? Conversely, what artists, living or dead, would you like to cover you?
JS: I’d like to be really good at singing cover songs. I find it hard though. I want to go home and learn a bunch of Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan songs. It would be great to be able to sing “Sara” and have it be amazing. I really admire people who can pull of being a part of other people’s music. I want to learn independence from the reliance on aesthetic. Not that folk music doesn’t have an aesthetic, but I am very impressed by people who can just sing a song with their guitars and make something so simple and repeated bear meaning.