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Escape Velocity

New Expression: LUCI Interviewed
Alex Rigotti , October 26th, 2022 08:47

North Carolina-born, New York-based LUCI speaks to Alex Rigotti about developing a ‘new genre’, her relationship to John Coltrane and her eclectic new EP Juvenilia

Photo by Ryon Odneal

LUCI is literally following in the footsteps of John Coltrane – the legendary jazz musician is her paternal great-great uncle. Born as Lucianna Ania, her music is an entirely different world, however. “Pray for me, I’m acting up / Black as fuck, is that enough? / Now my taxes up” she chants on ‘Ash & Dust’.

Growing up in Charlotte, North Carolina, Ania was immersed in a multidisciplinary environment from a young age. Attending the Northwest School of the Arts, or “a much cooler Glee” as she puts it, exposed her to the worlds of dance, design, theatre, and fine arts. She had a brief stint in trip hop band Defbeat – it was after a fateful gig in Asheville that she made the decision to properly pursue musicianship of her own.

In the aftermath of Defbeat’s demise, Ania is now based in New York, and wildly experimenting with her sound. Her new EP, Juvenilia, paints a portrait of an individual artist in the making. There’s an emphasis on guttural, embodied vocalisation in the pained wails of ‘Gnarly’, and more R&B-inflected moments of vulnerability on ‘Trippin, Trippin, Trippin’.

The view from Zoom shows that Ania bleeds creativity: her studio is adorned with her paintings, often featuring bodies painted in bold, fragmented strokes, with smooth contours and dynamic brushwork. She joins tQ to talk about the day she became a musician, her attempts to create a new genre, and the day she found out she was related to John Coltrane.

What convinced you to turn music from a hobby into a career?

Lucianna Ania, LUCI: When I graduated high school and started doing my thing, I moved to Asheville and I had all these songs I had been writing and working on and no way to record them. Finally I dropped an EP [Alcohol And Stonerisms]. It actually did well on the scale that it was at, I got a really good response from it.

I started getting invited to these musician meetups and at first I was really shy because I had been in a band before. I never outwardly was at a random party with a bunch of musicians and people that I thought were more talented than me and taken the microphone. Nobody was paying attention and I was drunk as hell. One of my friends walked up to me, and she was like, ‘You should just take the mic!’

Eventually, I took the microphone. Nobody was in the basement. I didn’t even know there was that many people at that crib. I started singing, I closed my eyes. A couple transitions later, like everybody was down there. It just became like this weekly thing. And I was like, ‘Oh, shit, I guess I do this!’

How has your sound evolved to the point it is now?

LA: One of the guys on drums [Jackson Scott Thornton] is one of my good friends who was actually the lead producer on 'UK Lollipop'. [Glass Animals’ Edmund Irwin-Singer also mixed the EP.] After that set he just would not leave me alone for months. He kept begging me to come to his house and jam, and I finally did. Within like a week or two, we met these two other guys who were perfect, and within a week of that we had already written a few songs and figured out we have good chemistry and we're playing shows.

It was just a whole new expression. I had already been into so many different types of music from screamo, death metal, like alternative, but I was only making blanket hip-hop, R&B sounding shit – like, Kid Cudi, Chance the Rapper vibes. But then when I started fucking around with live instruments, it really changed the game for me, just being able to puppeteer back and forth, which is why I break down beats the way I do now. Because I genuinely miss that freedom. Just because someone sent me a four bar, eight bar loop, that doesn't mean that it can't be taken to another level; it can still feel like a journey.

I feel like a lot of my sound is trying to recreate Defbeat, because my band is pretty much a myth. You literally would have to have been there or talked to people who went to Defbeat shows to hear about it. I really have been scarred from that loss for a long time. I'm feeling good now because I'm still ending up where I belong, but I'm trying to recreate that really big, full, radiating sound: like listening to Ozzy Osbourne sing.

You say you’re trying to start a new genre. Can you tell us what that’s about?

LA: It’s the reincarnation of the idea of imagining that jazz, blues and punk music all happened at the same time, instead of being responses to each other. I feel free and technical like a jazz musician, but also free and ignorant, like a blues singer – not completely ignorant, but there’s more looseness.

But I don’t want to call myself a jazz musician because I’m not a jazz vocalist. I do sing the blues, but I’m not something new. It’s got a punk energy, but it’s not. Nobody can call it hip hop or R&B. It could be trip hop – for some reason, no one has said that. If I were to say anything, I wouldn’t call it alternative, I would call it trip hop, because it is hip hop and R&B at the heart for me.

You know The Wiz? The way that I sing, perform, create music, and what I share with people feels very Oz-like, because it’s very out of this world.

How did you find out you were related to John Coltrane? How did it make you feel?

LA: Honestly, I don't know a bunch about John Coltrane. I'm not a jazz nerd, but it is cool because sax is my favourite instrument next to bass.

I learned that through my birth father who I wasn't in contact with until I was 16. I find out that my birth father is also a rapper and producer. He was really into the scene doing things in Charlotte and stuff when he met my mom – it’s part of the reason they ended up getting together. And then I find out my great-great uncle on his side is also John Coltrane!

I think one day we were just talking about shit. My mother deals with a lot of trauma from her past and is incredibly closed off. She never wanted to talk about my father or much of her past leading up to me being born . She doesn’t talk about anything, and she never wanted to talk about my dad. I don't know if my mom knew about John Coltrane. There’s so many things I didn't know.

As I watched some of his documentaries and listening to him play and the way people talk about him, I'm like: this is how people talk about me. This is what I want to do. He changed shit, he was really organic and doing stuff that people wouldn't even think to do because he played naturally. No one is the same. And that was very apparent, his approach, as rebellious as he was – he had a smart ass mouth!

LUCI's debut EP Juvenilia is out now via Don't Sleep