Question in the Form of An Answer: An Interview with Jessy Lanza

It’s easy to assume that Jessy Lanza is just the angelic voice, but she’s first and foremost a producer. The Ontario native has a degree in Jazz, and was studying for a Master’s in...
By    January 23, 2014

Jessy+LanzaIt’s easy to assume that Jessy Lanza is just the angelic voice, but she’s first and foremost a producer. The Ontario native has a degree in Jazz, and was studying for a Master’s in Musicology until she dropped out to focus on making music. Both her late-father and mother were musicians, and her production partner, Jeremy Greenspan, is a member of the Junior Boys production group, from Hamilton, Ontario.

Her album, Pull My Hair Back, out on Hyperdub Records, was ranked #20 on our Best Albums of 2013 list. Son Raw called it “one of the sweeter and more seductive records of the year,” and Adam Wray added “it’s a rare thing to get a debut that’s clear in intent and sharp in execution, to be both so full of ideas and so effective in communicating them.” So when she came to New York for her current tour, performing one night in Brooklyn and one in Manhattan, I caught her show to hear the album, which sounds even better live. Opening the set with four consecutive bangers, the entire crowd went seismic. Her command of live instrumentation while singing and vibing is absolutely sensational. Many shouted “we love you” and then one jested “Who is Jessy Lanza?!” to which she replied “she’s nobody.” Don’t believe her, she’s a star. – Brad Beatson

Would you rather spend the rest of the tour wearing Jodeci leather or Cam’Ron’s pink fur?

The fur.  I’m not a leathery person, so if I had to choose, it would be the fur. That Cam’Ron hat is sweet, the pink. It would probably get dirty pretty fast.

What’s your favorite Dipset song? Any member in particular?

“Dipset anthem.” I like Juelz Santana, he’s pretty good.

The Whistle Song?

Yeah it’s good, I mean the “Anthem” kind of sums everything up for me. “The Whistle Song”  is good, I kind of forgot about it, it was in the back of my mind.

I was reading that you treat vocals more as hooks or what will sound better, rather than worrying about the lyrics?

Yeah I mean that’s just because I’m not very good at writing lyrics, you know? Like if I was a really good lyricist, than I would probably put in more time, but I feel like it’s a waste of time for me. It’s one of those things where you’re either kind of good at it or… I’m just kind of working with what I have.

You’d rather produce and actually make the sounds, right?

Yeah, for sure. That’s more fun for me.

What types of acts did your dad do the sound for? Did he ever bring you along?

DJs. Yeah, he did but like I never hung around for the actual performances because they were after-hour, rave type of things, and I was probably 12 so I went home. But my cousin for instance, he plays in the band Azari & III, he used to DJ and he’s from Hamilton as well, so when he would throw these parties, he would DJ. Jeremy [Greenspan], who I did the album with, he would DJ as well.

Were you ever able to see some of your 90’s idols growing up, like Janet, Mariah, The Neptunes?

No, Ginuwine did come and play in Hamilton, but I was too young to go. It wasn’t an all ages show.

I think he’s trying to make a little bit of a comeback.

Is he? I know that he has been releasing records, like he put out something in 2010 but I think it was kind of more schmaltzy. Like not good slow jams, I think it was a little too far on the “midnight love” kind of vibe. To be fair to him, I haven’t listened to it thoroughly. If he went on a tour though, I’d be pretty tempted to go and see him.

I also read you’re a big fan of Jeremih?

Yes! He has an EP with Shlohmo coming out in February I think, that I’m really excited about.

Your album cover was inspired by Blade Runner, do you have any other favorite Sci-Fi films?

Yeah, I have lots. There’s this really early Cronenberg movie called Scanners that I just rewatched. I hadn’t seen it since I was a kid, and it’s really good. There’s this weird movie called Phase IV that’s all about ants taking over the world… it’s amazing. I have lots, I could go on… any kind of schlocky sci-fi films are pretty great — I like to zone out and forget about things and relax.

They create different worlds. Kind of like this album, I read that that’s your intention when you’re making music?

I mean for me that’s what good music is about, when you can listen to something that will take you to that other place, that has that sound, or that vibe or whatever you want to call it, it’s really important for sure. Or for me at least. For everybody (laughs).

Is 5785021 more closely related to 867-5309 or 2-8-1-3-3-oh-8-zero-zero-foh, hit Mike Jones up on the low? Was that the intention there, to make a phone number song?

Uh, I think it’s more Mike Jones, yeah, his song’s awesome. Ginuwine has this song, “550 What,” where he’s just rhyming numbers and it was really catchy. Yeah I was just like, I want to write a phone number song.

What types of sounds have you explored with your MPC2000XL?

It’s a sampler so I’ve been sampling from records, but I haven’t been using it as much as I’d hoped. I tried sampling my 707  and putting it through the MPC, just because sometimes when you’re clocking older drum machines it’s harder to get them right on, but MPC’s are really for your timing.

Do you ever go crate digging?

There’s a couple of really good stores in Hamilton where you can still get, if you’re willing to look through crates, stuff for a dollar. You’ll end up buying five records and then one of them will be great. But you only spend five dollars so it’s worth it.

Do you ever make music on the road?

When I’m staying in hotels, that’s when I download a lot of stuff, or I listen to new music, or I find samples that I want. So I’ll spend time doing that, so when I get home to my studio I’ll have ideas for things. I’m not so good with soft synths or just working with the software, I wish that I was because some people are so good at making incredible music just with the software, but I need more tactile stuff, or a combination of the two.

What have you been downloading recently?

I just downloaded this girl named Tink, from Chicago, she just put out the second chapter of her Winter Diary mixtape. TeeFlii has this mixtape called Who the Fuck is Annie? and he had a project with DJ Mustard. I like DJ Mustard a lot, he’s pretty amazing.

DJ Mustard’s kind of taking over right now.

Yeah, definitely, he’s like the Mike Will Made It of now. You hear his name, or you hear the little tag that he has, that he puts in the intro of all of his tracks.

When you’re making music do you kind of just “let it happen,” instead of setting out to make something in particular?

Yeah I have a lot of unfinished ideas so, the tracks that do get finished are basically from five different versions of one track with similar ideas, and then one of them will just click. I edit a lot, I think making a good record is throwing out half or 3/4 of a bunch of stuff, it’s all about shedding material for me, because I have like so many terrible things that I’ve done, that it’s just bad. I think you need that. You need to make a lot of bad stuff to make one thing that’s good.

Would you ever consider doing any production work or vocal work for a hip hop artist?

I’m always a little weary of doing guest vocals just because I enjoy the production side of things so much more and I don’t want to fall into a pattern, because I think people already assume that I only sing to begin with, so I think it’s good to be careful with what you guest vocal on. But yeah, if DJ Mustard asked me, I don’t know that he will, but I’d be pretty into it.

You’re at a party that’s winding down in front of a piano, what song do you play?

The only song that’s coming into my head right now is “Fuck You All the Time” by Jeremih, but I don’t know if that will translate very well into the piano, but that’s all I can think of off the top of my head.

Hoda or Regis?

Who? Who was the first one? Hoda, who’s that?

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