Decide one day to go traveling from Australia to Brooklyn and, objectively speaking, some might think of that plan as not just a trip, but a grand journey of sorts. After all, it’s no short distance, and the change of scenery from vast Australian landscapes to floating steel skyline certainly makes for one dramatic shift of environment.
While electro folk band Luluc (Zoë Randell and Steve Hassett) can very well speak to this change in backdrop, the Brooklyn-via-Australia duo have long since adjusted to the ways of New York City’s five boroughs, having moved to town back in 2014 after Aaron Dessner offered to co-produce the band’s sophomore album at his recording studio.
During the course of several years following that breakthrough moment in the musical landscape, both Luluc and Dessner went on do plenty more creative projects, collaborations, and performances, with the former recording a third album in 2018. Now more than five years beyond that initial collaborative milestone, Luluc and Dessner found their way back to one another for the duo’s fourth album, Dreamboat. Yet now, each party comes to the table with new creativity and new professional perspective.
Though Dreamboat harbors Luluc’s long nurtured musical foundation of gossamer vocals and lighter acoustic fare, under the familiar stylistic hood, Randell and Hassett made a different dramatic change this time around, with their decision to release Dreamboat independently, rather than with their established label Sub Pop. This change, combined with the plethora of new musical ideas and production approaches Dessner has explored in his own right, means while some creative elements seem the same fro Luluc, Dreamboat opened the door for Luluc to map all new routes for their new vessel to sail.
Ahead of today’s release, Luluc’s Zoë Randell spoke with American
Songwriter about their perception of the music industry, what it was like
teaming up with Aaron Dessner again for Dreamboat, and more.
American Songwriter: You have been making music for over 10 years now and have likely seen and-or experienced first hand, a wide assortment of changes to how you have to navigate the industry. What was it about this particular moment in time that made releasing Dreamboat independently, feel like the right decision for Luluc at this stage in your career?
Zoë Randell: Well I guess we’ve always felt pretty independent as artists, even with our labels, who we still cherish. For this record though, we really felt the need to be more nimble, to release the work on our schedule, rather than through the label machinations which have an inevitable lag. So it was an artistic decision which, despite being very close to a deal, Sub Pop understood and supported. We try to navigate everything that way. It was clear to us both that we felt a much greater sense of agency and high wind in our sails to release this record now. It was really obvious, our minds quickly opened back up to making new work, feeling buoyant in the knowledge of this record coming out now. So here we are in isolation, living in Melbourne again for the first time in 10 years, but there’s still movement and we’re not taking our time or energies for granted.
AS:To that same end, how was it preparing for
the release of this project amid the intense hardships that emerged for both
the music and broader entertainment industries this year? How did you handle
the needs for sudden and unexpected changes to things like performance
restrictions, studio access, recording challenges, safety hurdles, etc.?
ZR: We tend to just put everything into the recordings of the album, and we do most of that work ourselves. It’s work that we normally do at home and in relative isolation, so on that front it isn’t too different for us. It’s still emerging how much and for how long live shows are off the cards. We’ll adapt where we can, and in ways that we feel good artistically about. Really I feel fortunate to have the skills to know how to work in this way, and that is why we felt it was important to get the record out now; it is what we can offer, it’s what we have to give.
AS: Much like the overall style of Dreamboat contains stripes of your familiar and cherished, delicate folk sound, this album also reunites you with Aaron Dessner. What are some of the most notable changes in creative ideas or approaches that were brought up either by you or Dessner, when Dreamboat’s songs were coming together?
ZR: For me the key to any song, and it’s musical world, is listening to the idea. They always have an energy that you’re trying to capture, and bring to life. But that can’t happen with stylistic or instrumental constraint! So while our first album was incredibly minimalist, and quite gentle or delicate as you say, we’ve never felt bound to that. As people, you grow and change and the same goes with the music. So we I guess are open to changes from one album to the next, but that is not a conscious decision in either direction, so much as it is a result of what the songs are asking for in their essence. For this album, the two songs we created in Berlin with Aaron were both initially written on guitar and piano, but only to state the chords.
I felt very much that a song
like “Emerald City” needed a whole other sonic place to dwell; that guitar was
not right. The song has an intense energy and scenes of agitation. The beats
and synths that Aaron played, the two human drummers playing in unison in a
most unexpected and electrifying way…the tumult this all created in musical
form was just what the song needed. I could not have predicted this is what it
would be, but knew straight away it was right. Aaron has always clicked with
our work like that. In any case, our approach has always been to stay open, and
listen to the idea.
AS: What do you feel is the most significant stylistic or performative trait your music has developed over the years, that this album might not have showcased if you had released this album independently back in 2008?
ZR: Well perhaps the newer listener might not be aware of just how minimalist we can be! But, again, we don’t feel bound to create records in a certain genre, or style. That said, we do have a ‘sound’, I guess, that is inherent to us, from our voices, to our bent. I think that is very strong, because at the heart of all of our work is the song first and foremost, and the voice/melody. That is where all the really heavy lifting is. To make the song feel like it’s own thing, not owned by me, not owned by anyone, but a place, space, atmosphere, world, a picture that you can be in, that’s yours to step into. All that is sorted out when you write, and in how you sing. And I genuinely think you can dress a song up in lots of ways if you get that part right. There’s taste, and environment and all sorts of mitigating factors that’ll shape it for sure. But in the end you need to trust the artist.
AS: You open Dreamboat with “Emerald City,” which was also the LP’s lead single. The song describes physically working and mentally sorting, through a hectic stir of emotions and restless thoughts. How much of that song’s placement at the top of the album was a conscious choice and was it your intention to set a tone of “in progress” so to speak?
ZR: “Emerald City” off the top was conscious in the sense that it is the first chapter in a collection of songs which is turned out to loosely be about the power of ideation. And having the character in the opening track battling their ideas, dreams, hopes seemed like a good place to launch from. The album is about dreams. And what we make of them, what we can make of them with effort. The energy we have, mental and physical, and what we do with it…where we direct it, is what our life ends up being. And that is a constant battle we have with ourselves. And whatever is hurled our way, how we deal with it, how we perceive it, how we handle it. And how bound we feel, or how much we can allow ourselves to dream. I love that Dolly Parton line – in Working 9-5: “you dream about it don’t you…”
AS: Given Luluc now has total creative freedom, where do you see the band’s creative objectives and ambitions going from this point forward? Is Dreamboat just the first leg on a decisive stylistic journey or might you take a more freethinking approach, with the occasional unexpected sonic detour as time goes on?
ZR: Well yes again, that will all depend on the songs, and what they need, what they ask for. I grew up on early punk music and I still tend to shorter songs, not milking anything to much or for too long. And often not a lot of chords, though it’s a rule I’ll happily break if need be. It will probably be more a case of the latter in your question, because the one thing that is clear: it has to start with writing first. With that as the basis, the voice, the lyrical world, the melody, a lot of the framework is somewhat of a constant. But hopefully just in a good way, that you know it’s us, and that people can enjoy the explorations we make, knowing that our intentions are to serve the songs, and trust from that we’ll never waiver.