After hearing Jessy Lanza’s slick electropop confections, it’s difficult to imagine that she has the capacity to be anything less than chill. But as the Canadian singer/songwriter explains, she has her aggro moments…just like anyone else. Thankfully for the safety of slowpoke grocery store patrons (which Lanza jokes are one of the targets of her ire) she has an outlet to keep those feelings in check.
“It’s one of those things I think for a long time I didn’t bother with,” she confesses. “It’s so common. I put it to the side, ignoring the way I was really feeling for a really long time. I think it’s more of a reason to talk about it. Because it is so common for varying degrees for people to experience anxiety…I have a funny relationship with doing music. It’s the only thing that makes me feel better when I’m feeling shitty. But at the same time, having a career in music is like the worst career path to choose for someone who’s prone to anxiety and depression. It’s so unpredictable. But what isn’t unpredictable as far as life choices and careers? But I think the music industry is particularly volatile when it comes to money and success. In that it could end at any given moment.”
On Pull My Hair Back, Lanza’s debut album, the musician sidestepped those feelings, instead concentrating on a confident sense of minimalism, pairing sparse dance beats with her emotive sing-speak. Many tracks, including the eyebrow raising “Fuck Diamond” sparked a discussion about the collection’s low-key sensuality. (It’s a topic that Lanza is hesitant to discuss further, pointing out—correctly—that any discussion of women’s sexuality in music must be expanded into a larger conversation about women’s sexuality as a whole.)
Oh No, Lanza’s second album, doesn’t so much flip the script as it does fill in the lines. Along with romantic and musical partner Jeremy Greenspan (Junior Boys) Lanza haunted her Hamilton, Ontario studio, playing with beats and textures. The aim was accessibility, but it took some experimenting to get there (a willingness, she credits, in part, to an intense jazz school education). It wasn’t until they wrote what would be come her first single, a track that couples her conversational vocal style (“when you look into my eyes boy, that means I love you.”) with a sparse backbeat, that they found what they were looking for.
“I think Jeremy and I both knew we wanted to do an album that was poppier than Pull My Hair Back,” Lanza explains. “‘It Means I Love You’ was a moment where, even though it’s not a typical-sounding song on the album, it does sound different than all the rest. I think after we finished that song it helped focus the direction for the rest of the record.”
And then there’s the L word. Lanza is quite aware that love in all its permutations seems to follow her throughout the album. And given the extensive history of songs on the topic, she knows this isn’t the most untilled of soil. But that’s okay, she says. It’s the emotion that matters. And she’s got that in spades.
“I always get funny about lyrics,” she confesses with a nervous laugh. “They’re always a bit of a struggle…I’m not trying to be Leonard Cohen or something. I’m not particularly good at writing lyrics. I think maybe reverting back to my emotions is a default of sorts. If lyrics are too labored I find it just kind of ruins the song.”
The self-evaluation sounds harsh. But there’s a smile implied in her words. Her work has given her so much, even though the joy often comes as part of a mixed bag of emotions.
“The general feeling is that music in my life is so positive in so many ways but it’s also a great source of anxiety for me because of the fact it’s unpredictable,” she confesses. “It got me thinking about existing in this album cycle where a year of my life is where I’m writing the album. You’re at home and then there’s this buildup to the release and then there’s press, then you go on tour, that lasts for a year, year and a half depending on how well your album does. Then it goes back to this totally mundane existence where the only constant is that I go to my studio every day. It’s too boring to talk about. It’s totally banal. My life is totally boring and domestic. I live at home with Jeremy and we hang out with our cats and I got to my studio. Somewhere in there the album happens. The only out of this consistency of going to our studios is a year later the album is finished. That’s everybody’s lives if you’re an average person. Things go unchanged and then somebody dies and then another few years. Big changes, you don’t know when they’re going to come. Then your life changes forever. Then it continues on that route.”
It’s the grind of life, which everyone has to negotiate in one-way or another. At this observation Lanza laughs, acknowledging the universal nature of her statement.
“Yeah,” she cracks. “That’s a nice way to put it, for sure.”