Lusine (the nom de guerre for electronic musician Jeff McIlwain) has been recording and performing his emotively melodic yet abstract brand of electro wizardry for nearly 20 years. Stylistically the music varies upon the particular release, ranging from experimental to ambient to dancefloor to pop. Overall it tends to lean toward the beautifully introspective and mellow end of the instrumental spectrum. Most of the songs have a single body structure yet never approach repetitiveness since they’re constantly morphing in complex and subtle ways. Even the most sedate ambient tunes are fluid in motion and evocatively describe the narrative of an unfolding story hidden within the track layers. All of Lusine’s music has confident direction and intent. In a world full of ‘filler’ electronic music it’s so refreshing to find an artist whose albums are consistently thoughtful and meaningful.
So without further adieu, let’s get to the interviewin’!
[SWB] How long have you been creating music, what motivated you to start being a musician, and has that motivation changed over the years as you’ve been polishing your craft?
I started sometime around ‘93 or so, maybe just before I met YOU Trevor!
[SWB] What genres would you say your music falls under, if any?
I think it depends on the track. My older stuff would be categorized under experimental/idm, whereas in the past 5-10 years or so, it’s tracked more towards dance and vocal style electronic.
[SWB] There are so many genres these days, in your opinion is it still worthwhile to describe a band’s style using genre references or have you found a better way to get the point across?
Sure, because a lot of people compartmentalize their taste and like to search for music based on the genre. But, I myself would not necessarily use genre descriptors to describe my music because I tend to span more than one.
[SWB] Tell us about your previous album releases . . .
My last album release came out in late 2009 on Ghostly. It was called “A Certain Distance” It was a much more upbeat release than the one that came before it, “Language Barrier” which was a totally ambient release coming off the heels of a very mellow film score I had just finished.
[SWB] What project(s) are you currently working on?
Working on a new album, trying to throw in some live drums, which is fairly challenging for me, because I’m usually very program heavy with my percussion.
[SWB] Tell us about how a new Lusine song typically comes into being from start to finish . . .
Well, it depends. I usually mess around with a small phrase on some instrument, whether it be synth, guitar, or percussion. Once I’ve got a really nice groove going with several layers, I’ll break it out and start making a full track out of it.
[SWB] I’ve heard that you use a combination of DAWs like Ableton Live, Steinberg Cubase, and FL Studio. What’s the purpose to this approach? Does it complicate the workflow?
I think it actually simplifies the workflow for me. It makes it so that I don’t have to worry about the organization of my tracks and I can just experiment as much as I want in programs like FL Studio and Ableton. Fl Studio is much better with the sampling, programming, and fx than anything else I’ve messed with, but it has a pretty basic audio editor. Once I have something I like, I’ll start exporting tracks out for final editing in Cubase, which is much better at managing audio . But, it’s not uncommon for me to have something like 200+ sample tracks in FL Studio. Without being able to export out and start fresh in Cubase, I’m not sure how I would manage.
[SWB] You’ve done some feature film soundtrack scoring. What has that experience been like? What kind of time frame do you typically have to work within, and how much does the scheduling influence the final artistic outcome?
Usually a film score takes about 4 months, but the last one I worked on took about 1 year on and off, because of a 6 month delay in the release date. I love working on films, but it’s nice to jump to something totally different once I’m done.
[SWB] You’ve been known to sample unusual sound sources. What are some of the best ones you’ve found and how might you have applied them in a musical context?
I find that samples with lots of transients-sticks, pebbles, leaves, etc.. are very useful for extra percussion, and ambient sounds like malls and airports are really nice for added layers of texture and atmosphere. Sometimes, just snippets of conversations can be thrown in for rhythmic effect in strange ways as well.
[SWB] What triggers inspiration for you?
Usually listening to other music inspires me. Sometimes watching films can give me inspiration as well.
[SWB] Tell us a little about the equipment you use as far as hardware and software toys and tools . . .
I have a few analog synths that I use for the heart of the synth lines and a little digital rack that works well for the pads. I’ve got a couple of guitars, bass guitar, violin, and cello that I like to sample in. I recently acquired a nice vocal processor that’s useful for harmonies and very weird vocal sounds.
[SWB] What’s your current favorite hardware? Software?
My favorite is my Arp Odyssey M3. I’ve had it forever, and it’s my go to synth for creating very specific sounds because it’s the most capable thing I own. I recently made a temporary trade with a friend with my other Arp Odyssey for his Mini Moog Model D, which has been quite fun as well. It has a rounder sound, less sharp, and they compliment each other well.
[SWB] As far as gear/instruments go, are you more prone to owning a few highly versatile items, or a larger selection of ‘one trick pony’ specialty pieces?
I like versatility with my gear. I’m not crazy about owning stuff that really just does “one thing,” but I do have a couple of things that are really only useful in a small capacity (ie step sequencer, vocal processor, analog filter, etc..
[SWB] What role does production play in your creative process?
Well, it’s completely interwoven. To me, production is a musical process, so it’s something I focus on every step of the way.
[SWB] How often do you perform, and where? How often would you prefer to perform, and where?
Sometimes I perform a lot, especially when I release an album. Lately I haven’t been touring much, but I am off to Australia mid-May, and I anticipate the touring will increase in the months to come.
[SWB] What does your live performance setup consist of?
[SWB] With the radical shifts in the music industry in recent years (record labels shrinking, direct artist interaction with fan base via social networking, file sharing, etc) where do you see the business side of music going in the next 5 or ten years? How much time do you devote to promotion/business as opposed to being creative?
I don’t devote any time to that stuff, I pretty much let the label handle that, they’re better at it. I feel like the record label serves a large purpose in the music industry. I can’t see anything changing in that arena, because they are the taste makers. Writers, publicists, and fans need a filter in finding good music, and the labels are a good way of bringing the artists that they respect to the forefront. The only major shifts I’ve seen recently is that the major labels are losing some influence to all of the indie labels that don’t have the barriers to production and promotion that they used to.
[SWB] Where can people go to find out more info about Lusine?