“Everything Deserves Attention”: An Interview with Lunice

Will Schube chats with Lunice about Montreal rap, TNGHT, and lessons from Kanye.
By    September 20, 2017

lunice

You probably know Lunice as the other guy in TNGHT, you know, not Hudson Mohawke. But before the Canadian producer, born Lunice Fermin Pierre II, found himself sampled by Kanye and touring around the world in the most popular electronic duo outside of Major Lazer, Lunice was just a damn good rap producer.

With CCCLX (360 in Roman numerals), Lunice is attempting to re-assert his voice as the north’s finest purveyor of trap and electronic leaning rap production. He shouldn’t need to prove his voice as Montréal’s finest party starter puts on an electric live show filled with his bass-rattling beats and cinematic melodic arrangements. With CCCLX, Lunice transforms his legendary live show into the long-player format, recruiting up-and-coming local talent instead of reaching out to his big name associates. Part of this choice was due to cohesion—getting everyone’s schedule together for a producer’s album can be tedious. Also, Lunice just wants to put on for his city. The young kids hold their own and the result is an album that works in multiple movements, small EPs packed together into an epic album. Depending on how close your ear is to scratching pavement, maybe Lunice is already a household name. Or maybe you just knew him as one half of TNGHT. With CCCLX, that’s never going to be the case again.

We speak with the producer from his manager’s office in New York to discuss incorporating taste into his live shows, meetings with Kanye, and the real goal of the TNGHT project. —Will Schube


You feature a few young Quebec emcees on the new record. What’s the Montreal rap scene like?


Lunice: That’s something I’m discovering over time. For a long time it used to be only Francophone rappers, which makes sense because it’s in Quebec…But now there’s a whole new generation of 17-23 year olds that are mostly Anglophones, to the point that you can’t even catch their accents. That used to be another vibe, too, that you could tell they were bilingual; even for me, sometimes my accent slips. I guess because of the internet, the way these kids grew up on it, they were influenced by more international culture. They pretty much created their own wave and it’s really cool. There’s a new generation of producers as well, people who are really expanding the sounds, and the whole rap concept, really. Right now, it’s a discovery for me as well.


So you think this new generation of Canadian rappers and producers helped inform the sound on CCCLX?


Lunice: Oh yeah, definitely. I started off with a list of other rap features. I sat down at a festival with 2 Chainz with an idea, the concept of the album. I started off with that, and then I started coming across younger rappers and I really liked the idea of all these newer talents getting together and creating a whole new vibe. That was the intention. There’s a lot of room to work with. I’ve come to learn how to work with different artists. Because at the end of the day we all have plans and scheduling is very difficult. I didn’t want to complicate things. It’s a lot easier to work with new talent.


Records from producers can often feel like a bunch of big names thrown together. Is that part of why you decided to keep it a smaller affair with undiscovered talent?


Lunice: I was trying to hone in on my sound. I wanted my features to play with the look of the album. Flying Lotus once explained that features were more a part of the instrumental than the musician being featured. I really like that idea. I implemented it in my own way. More or less part of the instrument, but also part of the act. The song is more of a part of my soundtrack, and the feature comes in as an actor or something like that.


It reminds me of a jazz record in a way. These rappers are soloists.


Lunice: It’s crazy that you mention that. I’m hugely influenced by jazz as well, the creative process of that genre. The different eras of jazz.


When you brought these rappers in, were you working with them on verses and how they fit? Or were you sculpting your productions around their ideas?


Lunice: The first song on the record was my first time writing up lyrics because the timing of the beat was pretty unusual. It was more of a waltz tempo. That was something that was a bit more difficult to catch from the jump, so I helped CJ Flemings get into it. Other than that, I wouldn’t go too deeply because I didn’t want to intervene on the writing process. For features in general, though, whatever they wrote I wanted to think about how it’d sound on stage and how it would look on stage. It worked for me as long as it looked and sounded great.

That idea came about because I did theater in high school. They explained that when you’re on stage, you exaggerate features and pronunciations. That stuck with me over time. On stage, I’m very aware of what I might look like. I do it really big just because I know how it’ll look on stage. I tried to implement that on all the features.


You’re known for your live shows. In the studio, were you attempting to keep the energy up in service of the live show?


Lunice: The moment I started the album, from the first track to the end, the tracklist was made from how I studied classical music compilations on iTunes; how they put together certain parts and sections. It made the tracklist look like a program, and hopefully it’ll help the listener realize that you can listen to this record in different parts. The record felt like a few different EPs put together. I was trying to figure out a way to make an album replayable without it being all about hype. It’s more like tuning into a radio station.


You’ve been working on this LP for a long time. As you worked with other people and gained more experience, did your process ever shift or alter?


Lunice: The process was pretty separate from all of the other creative projects I was involved in. When I do collaborative work, that’s immediate. It happens in that moment. I love it that way. It’s a lot more honest. The result comes out so nicely. With myself, I go back and forth, but it’s a nice balance between conceptualizing, thinking, and getting a fresh take on my musical ideas, and the execution, the conclusion, and putting everything into the track. When I’m working on music, everything is immediate, in that moment. But I know when to stop, take a step back, go out into the world, and then come back with a whole new take. That’s how the album formed over time.

Over these years, I really began to understand why people react to me on stage. I would watch videos the way a boxer watches his matches. I’d figure out what worked and what didn’t. I wanted to set a lot of things up for overall longevity; saving sketches for future projects, things like that. I wanted to figure out what makes things timeless. What’s the process behind that? There’s no answer, but if you keep things consistent, it can become timeless in that way. I just want people to go back and remember. I still have people hitting me up about “ID.” I love it too, but it’s really old! That idea is really fascinating to me. I really obsessed over that, making things last long. It’s research and development.


So you view this record as a breeding ground for your future projects?


Lunice: That’s exactly the initial idea behind that. That’s crazy you picked up on that. I’m glad [laughs]. The first thing I told myself was, ‘I don’t want to make an album. I don’t want it to feel like I’m making an album.’ I wanted it to feel like a project. A project of a broad idea. That’s why I called it 360. ‘360’ applies to the physical aspects of life and how things come together from beginning to end. ‘360’ can also apply to things being well rounded. I design a lot of things by trying to appeal to the five human senses. That’s why my show is very physical. If the venue is small enough, I have the ‘feeling’ aspect. I can go down from the stage and reach the crowd. You have the sonics, then I also bring an incense burner on stage. Now I just need to figure out taste!


You’ve done some pretty crazy stuff in the past few years between working with Madonna, Kanye, and TNGHT. Are there any experiences you can pull from working on these massive scales that you applied to this project?


Lunice: The track “Maserati” was something I showed Kanye. The first version sounds nothing like it does now. I was stressed out, I was afraid he was gonna think it was wack. The moment I played it, he just started mumbling raps to himself. He turns around and says, ‘Yo. Interesting idea.’ He started off with that. There’s a synth loop that’s the main part of the song now. He was like, ‘That loop there. Just go off of that.’ I did. It became what it is today. What I learned from that, though, is that you shouldn’t disregard anything. Everything deserves attention. You should actively give some amount of attention to everything.

He didn’t tell me any of that, but I picked that up from what he told me. Some people will criticize without aiming to fix things, I like to figure out problems and attempt to solve them. There’s more care to it. That was a huge thing to realize.


Being in TNGHT has overshadowed you a bit as a solo producer. Is this record an attempt at re-asserting yourself as Lunice, the producer?


Lunice: Definitely. Exactly. From the jump, when I came up with the name TNGHT, we immediately made it clear to put both of our names underneath it. The reason I came up with the name TNGHT was because I wanted it to sound less like a duo or band and more like a club night. That was before The Weeknd, PartyNextDoor. It was truly out of the idea of trying to make a club night. It was trying to be a general, ominous event that might make people curious.

Coming from that angle and having our two names, it can be hard to avoid when you have public attention. It makes sense that they thought of us as a duo. It turned into a strong effort in brand consistency, not pushing anything in our audience’s faces. But people still thought of TNGHT as Lunice and Hudson Mohawke. It was my idea to separate the TNGHT project after our Australia tour because we knew where things were going because of the hype surrounding the ‘trap’ label. We didn’t want to be part of it in that way.

It’s a tricky thing, it’s a fine line. You want to keep your creative control in tact, but it’s really hard to do that in a hyped and maddened environment. It’s nobody’s fault, it’s just how culture is when people love things. It’s up to us to make sure we do the right thing in terms of every next move. The idea was to separate and work on our own albums. If we were to make music again, we need it to feel exactly how it felt the first day we did it, which was no intentions, just having fun. The only way to achieve that was to separate and do our own things, then come back with a whole new idea.

That’s similar to how I do my solo music, too. I do something, I’m satisfied with what I’ve put together for that time being, then I go away for a while. Then I come back with a whole new take so it’s the same kind of structure to the previous project. That’s kept us fresh and made people more aware that we’re separate artists as well.


In an old interview, you talked about how you make rap music. Other people can label it ‘electronic’ or ‘trap,’ but you consider your work rap music. Do you still feel like that’s the case?


Lunice: Definitely, because I come from the hip-hop culture. The hip-hop culture to me, at its core, is all innovation from any front. It doesn’t need to fall into Atlanta or New York or the usual look of rap. When it first started, you had Zulu Nation looking like space explorers. Everyone was going all out. The creative output was extremely high. That’s what I’ve always seen hip-hop as. I’m in that world, just trying to bring together different cultures and ideas. It’s just an easy place for me to start. If I were to start with, ‘Oh, I make this kind of genre,’ it might get too complicated because I might not know much about it but I know a ton about hip-hop.


Your music is often described as cinematic. How important is it for you to create music that works on multiple levels?


Lunice: It became really important by the time I got into approaching this album. I figured out that people had stronger reactions to my shows than the music itself. I thought, ‘What’s in the shows that gets them?’ It was my stage presence. I tried to interconnect everything and find a reason why people reacted a certain way. The reason why I move a certain way is a change in the song, you know? I take note of that. The way the song will transition into a different vibe, that’s a reflection of something I noticed on stage from the audience. I’ll put in a complete change because that’s what the crowd enjoyed the most. I build these songs scene by scene. I found my style and sound in a way. I’m very comfortable with what I’m doing. I can see the potential to do many different things within it.