Cherry picked by seminal, independent US label Sub-Pop Co-founder Jonathan Poneman, the man who famously discovered Nirvana, nu-folk duo Luluc dream-weave haunting lullabies. "All the beauty from so much toil, I'll always be with you,” trill the lyrics from Tangled Heart, the standout track from the Brooklyn-residing Melbourne-born duo’s first album, Passerby. Due for release next Monday, recorded and produced by Luluc members Zoë Randell and Steve Hassett and The National’s Aaron Dessner in his garage in Brooklyn. The result is totally entrancing.
Building a quiet orchestra behind lead singer Zoë’s mantra-like, melodic tones, horns, cellos, guitars and pianos play out a poignant longing, adding textured layers to the band’s affecting and poetic lyrics, recounting tales of wonderful joys, crazy loves, painstaking loss and estranged lives. Picturesque scenes take shape, imagined by willow leaves, birdsong, warm sunlight rays and quietly moving waters. Delicately demonstrating the depth a voice can resonate simply by communicating true and raw humanity.
Surprisingly though, the record was inspired predominantly by Punk music, even if Nick Drake and Simon & Garfunkel are abundantly referenced throughout the music. Like looking out of a cottage window, surveying a secluded, idyllic rural scene blooming beauty unknown to the rest of the world. A sad solidarity beckons us to replay each track and to repeatedly enjoy the melancholy each song evokes in its perfect moments of sonic beauty. Zoe and Steve discuss their love of romance, writing music and their mutual appreciation for the craft of each others skill.
Steve: So first, I know you grew up listening to Punk music, and that may have influenced your early songwriting. What was the first lyric of the first song you ever recorded?
Zoe: It's true I grew up listening to quite a bit of Punk music, bands like The Clash, Ramones, Iggy Pop, I still do! But lots of other styles too. Simon and Garfunkel and Paul Simon records were and still are some of my most treasured. Thankfully there was a broad collection of music in my parent’s vinyl cabinet. And then I had a few key people deliver me very important mix-tapes that contained gems like the Ramones that I otherwise not have easily come across in the small country town I grew up in, where access to music outside the mainstream was difficult to say the least. So, the first lyric of the first song… That was some time ago now, and I believe it was "I'm not the first girl to bleed over you". Hmm, not sure I want to print that, sounds little gruesome out of context!
"Long lasting music always keeps the unique fingerprint of the artist, in all its endearing fragility."
Steve: Too graphic?
Zoe: Yeah, and it's not meant to be! Actually I saw this female performer wearing a t-shirt that said 'first girl' on it, I was about 17 and at the time I thought that was a bit naff, to make a point like that felt kinda exclusive and left me bit disappointed. So the beginning of the line came from that, and as continues to be the case with my songwriting, that first idea became the launching pad for the rest of the lyric. And the song was about heartbreak and a crappy boyfriend.
Steve: A very auspicious start if you ask me. Now some people might not hear a Punk background in the music we play, do you think some vestige of it still there? I mean the guy who signed Nirvana and Mudhoney signed us. Right?
Zoe: Well to me Punk music is really just another broad term, which covers a sound, but not necessarily the intent. I mean you can have very safe, mainstream sounding Punk, and that would seemingly go against the idea of Punk, right? So I guess what made me gravitate towards the 'Punk' artists, or for that matter artists of any other genre, is the somewhat subversive nature of it and the broadness of ideas. So the Punk records I discovered as a teenager were brilliant for me in the context of a mostly conservative, gossipy, small town, and I really needed that brashness and kind of 'up yours' thing to keep my head straight in that scene. And I continue to love them. Nirvana are an excellent case in point. I saw them in Melbourne as a teenager, I was out of home, living in a small flat, having a bit of a rough time navigating the small town world, and really was just planning my escape. In the meantime, it was awesome to walk around the school that year in my Neverrmind T-shirt. I just loved looking at the way people responded. There is some vestige of that in the way I write songs. But it's a big canvas, songwriting, and so many things feed into each aspect of the process/ the song.
Steve: What eventually drew you to the more melodic side of making music? You have a stunning voice and I am very grateful you use it for melodiousness and not, say, scream metal.
Zoe: Well like I said, I've always enjoyed a broad range of music and singers, and I've always loved good voices, great voices. There is something unbeatable about the resonance of a human voice, the depth and humanity of it. The first LP I ever purchased with my own cash was Graceland by Paul Simon, for $11 when I was 11! I already knew Bridge Over Troubled Water, There Goes Rhymin' Simon and One Trick Pony back to front. And loved them. But Graceland introduced me to something well outside my purview in Upotipotpon, in rural Australia. I remember the feeling when I began listening to it - being overwhelmed by the beauty, the magic of the sound of the voices of Ladysmith Black Mambazo in harmony, the deep, deep voices. And weirdly it struck me, and it sounded somehow familiar! An incredible experience and record. I was so grateful for it. I've never tired of Paul Simon's work, and I truly want in my own work to make albums you can listen to for a long time. That’s a big key for me, and I hope we can achieve that.
Zoe: So now, to end this, it's my turn to ask a question. What's the best piece of technical advice you can give someone who is working on a record? You've done an amazing job mixing our two records, in my humble opinion. What you got?
Steve: Oh touché! Ok, I think the best bit of advice I can give is to not over saturate a record with special effects unless it's absolutely important to the music. Some artists are inherently shy, so I think it can feel good to cartoonify the music so that it sounds hyper-wonderful. But I think classic, long lasting music always keeps the unique fingerprint of the artist, with all its endearing fragility in full view. So not too much saturation!