Lapalux in interview: Brainfeeder's latest prodigy talks his psychedelic debut
As he prepares to drop his debut album Nostalchic on Brainfeeder, Stuart Howard aka Lapalux talks to us about memory, tape hiss and the emotions buried in his music
Listening to the music of Essex-born Stuart Howard, aka Lapalux, the listener is submerged in a layered, richly textured sonic environment. The producer prefers not to pigeonhole his music – visit his Soundcloud page and you will see tracks labeled with vague tags such as 'know' or 'luxury.' One, now sadly deleted, was even tagged as 'boobstep.' But the majority are simply labelled 'Lapalux' – throughout our interview, Howard insists that his music “speaks for itself,” and that he designs it specifically to defy categorisation. “I always think of albums as a journey,” he says. “From start to finish with Nostalchic, I wanted to emphasise the abstract... with all the layering and texturing, it's almost like its own little world. I think of each song as its own planet, almost. So you can go there and float around in this weird universe with all this... stuff in it.”
And what wonderful stuff it is. Pitch-bent synths and heavily treated vocals sit alongside complex, stuttering rhythms. Found sounds and field recordings drift in and out. Howard's use of analogue tape and esoteric samples to build atmosphere creates his desired otherworldly effect, but tracks like GUUURL, Flower, or the sublime One Thing are anchored with an intensely melodic pop sensibility. When asked whether he sees himself in the same musical camp as an artist like Burial, who also works with treated, timestretched vocal samples, Howard agrees: “His work has influenced me quite a bit, in terms of mucking around with vocals and getting them as 'instrument-sounding' as I can, and messing around with timestretching. I'd definitely say I do fit in the same kind of box. But I try and make it a bit more accessible at the same time. I guess it's bridging the gap between very abstract sounds and more mainstream stuff.”
The vocals of Kerry Leatham, Jenna Andrews and Astrid Williamson are transformed: “I treat the melody line of the vocal, every phonetic sound, as an instrument,” Howard explains. “I like stripping it and mucking around with it, messing it all up and turning it into an instrument, as well as affecting the actual sound and putting it through various bits of equipment to give it a nice tone, make it into a nice artifact. It's good to keep that aesthetic.” Another huge part of the Lapalux aesthetic is the field recordings and found sounds Howard has amassed over the years: “I have a big collection of different sounds, weird recordings, left and right panning, different areas and spaces,” he says. “I just sort of bung it in a folder, no labels on it, so it's kind of random.”
What kind of sounds does Howard use in his music? “Sometimes I'll hear something in a train station, and I'll quickly just record it,” he says. “A lot of recordings, I just keep to myself, as memories – you can draw a picture in your mind a lot more easily with the sound. So sometimes I'll go out, or sometimes I'll just mess around in the house recording bits and pieces – Hoovers and stuff like that. Weird kind of spatial sounds as well, like recording the sounds inside the drum of the washing machine.” Combined with the added “organic feel” Howard adds using analogue tape in his production, he achieves what he describes as “a weird, synaesthetic feeling.”
"I think of each song as its own planet" - Stuart Howard, aka Lapalux
The sound of Nostalchic is heavily psychedelic as a result, with a complexity in the interplay of sound that is sometimes disorienting, even if he always brings the listener back in with a killer melody. For Howard, synaesthesia – which he describes as “the crossover between senses, between music and landscapes. Seeing and feeling music” – is the same thing as psychedelia. “ Yes,” he admits, “there's a correlation between my music and certain experiences I've had in the past with certain prohibited substances!” But this dislocation and dissociation is also to do with an experience Howard had as a child. He experienced 'depersonalisation disorder,' which “makes you feel completely outside yourself. You're not even within your own body, you are floating above your own head. It's very secluded. It's hard to explain,” he says. “I try to get those experiences into my music, and I think about music in a very synaesthetic way. It's driven by visual stuff, by hearing and seeing different things; letting them cross over inside my brain, and then splashing that all over the music.”
Nostalchic is Howard's first full-length album, after a series of EPs which he either self-released or put out via independent label Pictures Music. With two EPs under his belt in 2012 for the seminal LA beat-scene label Brainfeeder, run by Flying Lotus, his style has developed quickly. Howard says that narrowing down the twenty or so tracks which were candidates for Nostalchic was the hardest part of the process. He describes himself as “prolific,” and he has been writing music nearly every day for several years.
“I've always experimented – back before I was doing Lapalux, I was doing weird little beats, and bizarre replicas of what I was listening to, back in the day, doing my best to replicate a range of techniques,” says Howard. “I've learned a lot about how to produce and manipulate sound.” His interest started while he was at university: “I remember in my second year of Uni getting a load of sort of weird, shitty tape machines from eBay, running electronic sounds through tape and trying to replicate weird sounds from analogue recordings... ever since then I've been hooked on that whole sound. I've always tried to get that weird sound and texture from tape, and then polish it up in software and make it a bit more coherent, and whack stuff from the digital side of things over the top of it.” The resultant sounds are neither analogue nor digital, but rather “a weird hybrid of both.”
The tracks are so intricately layered – does he find it difficult to know when they are finished? “Usually, most of my time is spent taking elements out of the mix,” he says. After the “initial burst of inspiration” he has to leave a track,come back to it, and start stripping away some of the layers: “Sometimes the layering osbcures what I'm trying to portray in a track, so I'll go through it meticulously and take parts out,” he explains.
Howard describes the Brainfeeder crew as “very open and free – open to all sorts of ideas.” He occasionally gets feedback from Flying Lotus and other artists on the label about his work, and he does claim FlyLo and the others as influences. But in general, the working relationship is designed to let Howard do whatever he wants. “It's great to be able to do your own thing,” he says. “It's really refreshing.”
He doesn't get to see the Brainfeeder crew as often as he would like - “ obviously there is a massive pond between us” – but he plays with them when they are in Europe, and plans are afoot to tour America later in the year, possibly with a stop at Low End Theory in Los Angeles. “For this tour, it's just myself and my machines,” says Howard, who is about to embark on a string of dates in Europe. He has been working on bespoke audiovisual software to handle his visuals, and promises a mind-blowing performance. In the future, his ambition is to put together a Lapalux live band. Other plans include writing a beat or two for the newly-signed Brainfeeder rap crew The Underachievers.
The name Lapalux is a fusion of the phrase 'the lap of luxury,' and Nostalchic follows suit. “It's a combination of 'nostalgia' and 'chic,'” says Howard. “I was trying to describe the sound of the album, rather than just giving it a title – trying to bring out what the actual quality of the sound is, and where I'm going with it. It's very nostalgic, in terms of the sounds and the production techniques. But on the other hand it's quite polished, and fresh – quite 'fashion-y.'” The album artwork features a collage of over 600 photos taken by Howard's father, showing Howard and his sister as children, and featuring shots of “weird places” the family went. “There are lots of images of things we did in the past,” says Howard. “Things I would have found embarrassing, maybe, back in the day – but it's quite nice to go digging into your past, now and again.”
For Howard, speaking to the press about his work can be awkward: “I find it hard to describe my sound,” he says. “I know how I felt at the time, but I find it hard to explain it using words. It's kind of the whole point of my sound anyway. People can make of it what they will. There are themes, and emotions, tied up in every single track that I make. Personally, it's hard for me to place my finger on a certain idea or sound, because to me it all sounds very different – different moods, different ideas. Maybe someone else would think the complete opposite. I think the music speaks for itself. I'm much more of a studio guy, sitting working away with my headphones on, rather than trying to explain it. I bury all my emotions in the songwriting, and get it out that way.”
Howard's first encounters with electronic music in a live scenario happened late: “I used to live in a very secluded area, just houses, and one shop, and nothing else really going on,” he remembers. “It wasn't til about sort of sixteen or seventeen, when I began going in to London, and encountering some kind of middle-of-the-road electronic stuff. Going to see Crystal Castles and people like that.” The club scene and its attendant here-today-gone-tomorrow genres never influenced him: “I've always discovered things through word of mouth. Going on the internet and finding out weird little 30-minute previews on Bleep.com. Back in the day I used to have dial-up internet, so it was really difficult to download anything, or get with any kind of program. I've always been detached from the whole scene, and I kind of think that's where my sound originates.”
This is an important thing for Howard, perhaps echoing the dissociative experiences he went through as a child: “When you seclude yourself from outside influences, you go inside yourself a lot more, and dig a little bit deeper. Stuff comes out that isn't influenced by anything,” he says, and laughs. For him, “the lack of influence is a massive influence.” Isolation is key to his process. “I've always been secluded from scenes, from what's hip and happening. I don't go out a lot – I'm used to being alone, and going inside myself.” The first wave of MySpace, and now Soundcloud, is a preferable way to bring in influences: “When you're in a 'scene' – the London techno and house scene or something like that – all this stuff comes at you, but what do you do with it? You get buried in the scene.” The internet is the perfect alternative for Howard – the stream is always there, but he is “able to turn it off.”
Going back to the question of genre, Howard becomes animated: “It's always been a joke to me,” he says. “I hate going on YouTube sometimes and seeing people asking 'What genre is this?' It seems like it really bothers them that it can't be pigeonholed. I don't think music should be seen in that way at all. Music should stand on its own two feet, and just be like, 'Fuck everyone else! This is what it is, take it or leave it.' The stuff that I'm doing, I don't like classifying it by genre, or in any way. People can think of it what they like. I really just don't like pigeonholing things.” With Nostalchic, Howard manages to stay several steps out in front of the cloud of scenes and movements, making music that nods to nearly every electronic genre in existence, and many that haven't yet been named.