Steady Flexin’: An Interview With Lunice

Ahead of his set at Field Day this weekend, Ed Ledsham catches up with the Montreal producer to discuss the evolution of his sound, taking tips from Kanye and his explosive TNGHT project with Hudson Mohawke

Canada’s Lunice Fermin Pierre II, more often known as simply Lunice, has found his profile recently skyrocketing off the back of TNGHT, his collaborative project with Scottish producer Hudson Mohawke. Riding the rapturous reception of tracks like ‘Higher Ground’ from their 2012 debut EP, the duo’s frenetic stage show combined their own material with other rap favourites and found Lunice showing off his considerable background in dancing – as he also did alongside longtime friend and fellow Montréal resident Jacques Greene in Azealia Banks’ video for ‘212’. The project is currently on hiatus, but the way Lunice tells it, the duo’s casual and spontaneous approach to production might result in new material at any time.

TNGHT might have made Lunice a semi-household name, but his solo work has been equally consistent: two EPs, 2010’s Stacker Upper and 2011’s One Hunned for Glasgow’s LuckyMe label, as well as production for Rick Ross affiliate Rockie Fresh and former OFWGKTA member Casey Veggies. His 808-heavy and clearly Lex Luger-influenced production work has found people aligning his music with the burgeoning trap sound, alongside contemporaries like Baauer and Flosstradamus, yet he’s keen to describe his music as simply hip hop. Last year, TNGHT’s track ‘R U Ready’ was used for Kanye West’s ‘Blood On The Leaves’, from the latter’s epochal Yeezus album, and Lunice was called to West’s famous boot camp album sessions, where he received a few pointers from the man himself.

Ahead of the producer’s appearance at this weekend’s Field Day festival, the Quietus caught up with Lunice to discuss lessons learned from working on Yeezus, flipping drums into melodies, and how TNGHT emerged from swift jam sessions with Mohawke.

You’re working on an album – what’s it likely to sound like?

Lunice: I started it at least two years ago, [but since then] I was just learning from all the experiences through the TNGHT project, and I hoped to add those towards my album. I just want to make it a little bit different from a regular kind of EP or album – I want to approach it in the same way I do my shows. I’ve got a lot of energy at my shows, I’m very performative; that gave me the idea, I want to try to translate that into a musical project, having the same energy I have onstage and on my album.

Would you consider yourself to have any artistic but non-musical influences?

L: Most people might think that I’ve come from a musical background, but nobody in my family was in any kind of band or played anything. I just picked up music from breakdancing really, that’s what got me to listen to music, and in general I was just a creative guy – I just like to draw, I used to do photography, I used to do video art. I used to do a lot of intermedia stuff, that’s my shit! [laughs] I guess that’s what makes it like I’m someone that’s traditionally trained. I’ve got this method, where I don’t know if this is a chord or not, but it sounds right to my ears – that kind of vibe. I play with that.

That must have been difficult when you first started making music.

L: I mean, beat-making, making melodies was hard. I used to play the piano, I was pretty decent, so that was the only thing I could hold onto in terms of coming up with melodies; but at the time I [still] just couldn’t, so my early beats were really sample-based. That was a really early stage of making music, so I wanted to learn how to do that part of it, and also learn melodic styles from samples for future reference or future influence. So then, when the time came, I started to practice a lot on different synths and try different sounds. It’s an interesting way now, where I’ll sometimes use melodies as percussion; that’s what I do with a lot of my productions, I’ll take a snare and use that as a melody. Like on [TNGHT’s] ‘Bugg’n’, that melody is a snare I took, and I slowed it down and made the melody. Stuff like that.

The LuckyMe crew are Glasgow based; coming from Montréal yourself, how did you originally get involved with them?

L: I crossed one of them through MySpace. It was Rustie actually [laughs], which is funny ’cause not many people know that Rustie is basically the core of everybody who I end up meeting. HudMo, then meeting everybody else, it’s all ’cause of Rustie! He added me way back, then I checked out his page and I was like, "Oh this is crazy", then next thing I see HudMo’s page and Mike Slott’s page, The Blessings – and I looked, and they’re all from Scotland! I was like ‘What’s going on here?’ Next thing you know, I meet a friend of mine from Montréal – Jacques Greene, he does his own night and we’re organising our nights – and one day we just booked the whole crew. That’s the first time I got to meet the crew: Rustie, HudMo, Mike Slott, The Blessings and so on. Dominic [Flannigan, from LuckyMe] hit me up for my first EP, and ever since then we’ve been friends.

You were involved in production for a track on Yeezus. How did that come about?

L: It was pretty unreal. I was getting all the e-mails and that, and I was like, "Really? Ok." That’s the thing, though – hearing about it and having the anticipation of it not happening, but when it did happen I was so focused, I was like, "Ok, let’s do this." The whole process was pretty straightforward, he heard and liked it a while ago – he used it for a fashion show two years ago. That was unreal. It was a humbling experience, because he’s just a completely humble guy – does not interrupt conversations, knocks at the door before entering, completely straightforward, low-key, completely calm. It made me see things more clearly, it was more reassuring, like, "Ok, I can totally do this shit I’m doing right now. I’m going to go all out now, if this guy is doing this shit and he’s up there, it’s like, green light." That whole experience felt like a good push for my ideas that I wasn’t sure about.

Were there any direct ideas he gave for your music?

L: He made me realise how I could sort of analyse people, in a sense. Say, if you said to somebody "Hey, how does that chair look?", if that person said "ugly", then I know who you are now. You’re a person where all you could say was, "Oh, that’s it", you can’t just say, "It would look nicer if it was a bit smaller." That’s what he was like in all the sessions – he’d be like, this part is dope, maybe try and chop it up a certain way. So it’s very informative, and that’s something I’ve carried on; even with live feedback through the Red Bull Music Academy too, talking to other producers. That kind of vibe, on a completely different level, but it’s the same kind of work process, which is nice, I wasn’t expecting that. I didn’t know what to expect afterwards. It was good to know that it was a completely enjoyable experience.

One of the interesting things about Yeezus is that it’s very experimental in sound. Do you feel like rap is able to push experimental sounds like that into the mainstream?

L: Definitely, especially on that album. That album represents to me our scene – LuckyMe, Night Slugs, Numbers, y’know, the whole crew. It represents us in a way, it’s our creative underground put into a mainstream light. ‘Cause other friends of ours that are on the album as well in terms of production credits, like Brodinski, it’s great to see how it’s come together and bridged. I’m really happy that it’s bridging to the right people, in a sense. I wouldn’t have minded if anyone else was interested in us in terms of our ideas, but it’s a great start that it would be through the G.O.O.D Music channel. Now also with Hudson Mohawke on Drake’s album, it’s really starting to bridge on to the right people, and from those right people it gets to the whole of the hip hop community and whatnot. But really we’re all hip hop heads, the whole crew. We just want to bring our sound to that whole community, and make it an even better culture.

How did you and HudMo first get together to form TNGHT?

L: That came straight from when I heard a remix of his, an old remix of Gucci Mane, I think it was ‘Party Animal’. That was the most simplistic, straightforward rap track I’d ever heard him make at the time. So immediately I e-mailed him and was like, "Yo, this is amazing". [We sent each other some tracks], and I was like, yo, we should work on some stuff – we were on the same level of ideas, in that he was trying to simplify and I was trying to simplify my stuff even more. But we didn’t do it until two years later when I was in his studio; he was just like, "You wanna start on this track?" The first song I swear was ‘R U Ready’ and the second ended up being ‘Easy Easy’, on the same night. The next day we did another few songs – we did a lot of songs in a couple of days. That’s the reason why we’re both working on our albums, so we can come up with something new when we get back to working on the project again.

Did you have a strong idea of what you both wanted to achieve with that first EP?

L: In a sense it was really just one idea. One idea was to make it as crisp as possible. We wanted to make it so clean, so crisp, that people just pay attention to it and notice it, like "This is something." We weren’t expecting a huge reaction. It was just some tunes that we worked on, out of that moment, and from those songs we polished the ones we really wanted and made sense in terms of composition for a track list. Almost like a jam. It evolved like that.

Do you have any future plans for TNGHT?

L: Of course. We sort of like to work on our own thing, then catch up and see what new [ideas] we come up with. Then we start something new from that. So we’ll definitely have future plans, but you never know what’s going to happen. I like that, we’re not rushing it. We keep it very spontaneous and in the moment.

Lunice plays Field Day in Victoria Park, London, this Saturday, June 7; head here for tickets

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