A new album is enough to keep most artists plenty busy, so it’s tough to imagine when Ryan Lott has had time to sleep. Not only is he riding a wave touring and promoting the new Son Lux record, Bones, but simultaneously on the promotion train for the movie Paper Towns, for which he also wrote the score. His saving grace may be that he recently expanded Son Lux from a one-man-band to a trio with the addition of Ian Chang and Rafiq Bhatia. Aside from taking some of the daily pressures off (“These guys had to do double duty with load out and load in, soundcheck, things that basically didn’t explicitly require me. They really picked up the slack,” he comments), they were also at least part of the reason for Bones’ bigger sound. We caught up with them to learn just how the integration works and talk some politics for good measure.
Paste: Tell me about bringing on these two new fellas. It’s not the Ryan Lott Solo Extravaganza anymore.
Ryan Lott: I kept the extravaganza part. This is the first Son Lux record where more than just my ego was invited into the room. I’ve always been a pretty ravenous collaborator, so the leap wasn’t counterintuitive. But I’ve never had collaborators who shared the central role with me. I’ve always been working with people much more peripherally. And we still do. As a trio, we still are engaged in that kind of collaboration, inviting different kinds of people to catalyze creative sparks for us in the process of making music to challenge our own creative habits. But yeah, for the first time, Son Lux is a trio. That metamorphosis was the primary influence for Bones.
Paste: With your kind of music, it would seem you’re looking for something so specific in collaborators, because this isn’t your usual kind of rock and roll. This isn’t by-the-book formula. For the two of you, did you instantly see Ryan’s vision from the beginning?
Ian Chang: I think we all share certain values and things we’re drawn to in music. I’m the drummer, and between Ryan and I and Rafiq, too, I’d say that everyone in this band is a drummer. We’re all drawn to off-kilter rhythms. Also, I think we’re all interested in creating different, really weird sounds.
Rafiq Bhatia: The interaction between those sounds and rhythm, how the rhythmic implications of sounds sometimes is a big unifying thing between the three of us.
Lott: Right, so what they said is really interesting, because what your question was, “I bet you’re looking for something really specific in collaborators, so why were you drawn to these guys?” The question is a little flawed.
Paste: Oh, thank you…?
Lott: You’re welcome. No, but what I was looking for in bandmates was actually an open-mindedness, a broadness. A broad approach to music that wasn’t limited to the scope of their vision as seen through the lens of their instruments and that’s distinct in what we’re usually looking for in collaborators, which is a certain specificity. “Oh, he does that thing,” and “That’s the thing that he does. Oh, that person’s voice is particular in this way.” So for outside collaborators, yes, but for people that I was interested in yoking with for redefining the identity of Son Lux, I was looking for people who were approaching music with an incredibly open mind and who obviously had the capacity to develop musical ideas beyond what they could execute with their instrument. They were, and are, producers.
Paste: Ryan, you didn’t come from a musical family. I bring that up because the old formulas would not be imprinted. That’s the first really attractive thing about Son Lux, especially with Bones. Those formulas don’t exist here. You have choruses, all of those bits…
Lott: We do now. At War With Walls & Mazes, the first record, one of my primary reasons for developing that project was to see if I could abandon binary form, if I could abandon verse-chorus and explore unitary form, but hold on to other conventions of pop music. Over time, as the project developed, that’s only one of the things I’m interested in. So we do now have the occasional hook and chorus.
Paste: Like in “Change Is Everything,” one of the great first singles off of Bones. By the way, well-timed on the release. The hashtag #lovewins being so prominent, what a great moment to have that song, that it could take on a whole new meaning.
Lott: In a way, it’s the luck of the draw. In another way, we all perceive a certain breaking point, both good and bad breaking points. Last year felt like an incredible tipping point. Socially and politically, it was hard to separate that, I know speaking for myself from my own metamorphosis, making such a change last year both with the invitation of these guys but also just the pivot to a touring schedule and life. Lanterns, the last record, was the first record I ever toured. Originally these guys joined me with the primary goal to be a touring band, but quickly that evolved into something greater. So I think the timing of that song has deep personal meaning for me, but you’re right. There was something in the wind.
Paste: A lot has happened politically in the last few months in some really positive ways. Now we’re going into the election cycle. Do you feel like there is a momentum? Are we in that moment in the ‘60s? Do we get to enjoy that?
Bhatia: I think there was a lot of progress made in the ‘60s, but I think, I’m also speaking for myself, concerned about some of the same things, which is this global, especially among well-educated, well-off, liberal kids, there’s a global sympathy. But if that doesn’t get channeled into doing anything significant about problems that weren’t solved in the ‘60s, and still require a lot of work to solve now, then hopefully we’ll find a way not to let that history repeat itself. But I’m definitely concerned about that.
Lott: It’s tempting to get really emotional about particular landmarks in a way that induces apathy. It’s tricky to avoid being content with the current beautiful moment and assuming it will catalyze future change. I think ultimately, the change we wanna see in the world is genuinely a daily activity and a daily fight. I share a celebration with you in the strides we made as a country.
Bhatia: I think we all do. I’m not saying what I’m saying to take away from that at all. It’s just when you put a strong foot forward in one direction, it doesn’t mean that 10 steps backwards in the other direction should go unnoticed. All of us are thrilled for the positive things that have happened but we’re horrified by so many of the other things that continue to happen and in some cases go unnoticed when we take the moment to pat ourselves on the back.