Over And Over: The Return Of Jessy Lanza
Jessy Lanza has never sounded more assured than she does on ‘All The Time’. While her complex pop blueprint has always rewarded repeat listening, this collection of songs feels somehow sleeker, warmer and more candid than anything on ‘Pull My Hair Back’ and ‘Oh No’. Perhaps surprising considering it was her first album recorded long distance with regular collaborator Jeremy Greenspan, found her adjusting to the bustling surroundings of New York after leaving her hometown of Hamilton and marked a period in her life where she was “working through a lot of, for lack of a better word, my feelings”.
When we speak via Zoom, Jessy’s staying with her partner’s family after a scrapped tour in March forced her to unexpectedly return to the US, where an expired lease and no hope of finding a new apartment left her with little option but to slog the vast route from New York to Redwood City. Hooked on dark UK true crime podcast They Walk Among Us, the days-long journey was made in her beloved campervan, which took centre stage in a recent Boiler Room set and adorns ‘All The Time’s cover. It was, she reflects, “a whirlwind couple of weeks”.
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A few months on and we’re living in a world that Jessy couldn’t possibly have envisaged when writing ‘All The Time’, but it could very well be the album the world needs right now. With influences ranging from Kara-Lis Coverdale, HAUS of ALTR’s recent output and a constant discovery of old R&B, pop bliss once again wrestles with exhilarating club claustrophobia.
All the vital Lanza components remain intact; those entrancing vocals, glistening synths, meticulous drum patterns and hypnotic choruses that tunnel into your brain like all great pop classics. But if previous album ‘Oh No’, undoubtedly a masterpiece of modern electronic music, leaned into the clubbier side of things, ‘All The Time’ sharpens the songwriting, with ‘Baby Love’ and the tender ‘Alexander’ (which originally started life as an Alexander O’Neal cover) finding Jessy looking inward with greater honesty than ever before.
‘Oh No’ received plenty of acclaim when it was released in 2016 but it also took a toll that prompted a well-deserved break. “I toured a lot with ‘Oh No’ and I was pretty burnt out afterwards. I did a bunch of tours by myself, which fucked me up a little. I will never do that again. I was naive to think that I could just bust through alone. I don't know what I was thinking,” she laughs.
“I first started writing songs that turned into ‘All The Time’ in mid-2017. But I definitely needed to reassess what I wanted to do and come out of this tour burnout that I had. And then I also moved from Hamilton to New York and that was a big adjustment and took a long time, just to feel good about making music and settling into a new life.”
Once Jessy found her feet, New York brought about a regular show with The Lot Radio and helped her cross paths with numerous scene stalwarts.
“Through moving to New York I got to meet people that I've been fans of for a long time, like DJ Swisha, AceMo, MoMa Ready, Kush Jones and I got to actually hang out with them and see how they worked. And that was a huge, huge inspiration and an influence for me. So being around that was a huge privilege and it never would have happened if I hadn’t moved to New York.”
She adds: “You can do all you want over the computer and, of course, amazing things happen that way but it is really nice to have that in person, seeing people’s studios and just being around them.”
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Clearly, amazing things do happen remotely, which is how ‘All The Time’ came to fruition, aside from a six week reunion in Hamilton where Jessy and Jeremy mixed the record. The pair’s usual process - trading short drum patterns, simple chords or minute-long loops that had caught their ear remained - but eagerly receiving each other’s edits became a new, riveting aspect and made for some unique results.
“It was still pretty fun doing it apart because it was really exciting to get Jeremy's changes. You know, opening up a new project and seeing what he'd done and he'd have made all these edits and stuff. I mean, it made some of the songs pretty crazy. I think ‘Face’ there was a lot going on in it because Jeremy and I really did our own things to it in our own studios.”
Despite the lack of space in her apartment limiting her to three keyboards in a cramped makeshift studio, echoes of modular equipment are heard across ‘All The Time’, with tracks such as ‘Like Fire’ and ‘Badly’s mesmerising crescendo benefitting from the bubbling, otherworldly reverberations.
“I did really long takes of the whole song, I would just do things on the fly and I was learning how to use stuff. I didn't really know what I was doing. So I’d just punch patterns in and I had this little Moog Mother 32 semi-modular thing, just having fun, trying to figure out how to use the equipment. And that's what's so fun about the modular sections, you really get the unique things. Some of it can be really bad,” she admits. “But when you hit on something great, it’s good.”
Like the album’s differing musical process, ‘All The Time’ prompted Jessy to explore more personal themes in her songwriting for the first time, which revealed a newfound fearlessness.
“Why do I do music? How am I feeling? What do I want to express in this? I just felt like...yeah, why not? I felt like being a little more brave about it. I definitely don't annunciate things very clearly, like I use effects and it's more fun that way. Doing the lyrics and liner notes was…it's not really being brave but, for me, this is a big step. I would never have done that on the last two [albums]”.
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Pondering unfounded feelings of frustration and her role in previous relationships, she explains, brought a fresh outlook. “I felt like I was really going through a lot of growing pains writing the record. It totally helped me work through a difficult period in my life, for sure. I do feel a lot better at the end of it.”
“And I think the thing that made me feel the most crazy when I was writing the record is dealing with this persistent irritated and angry feeling and I noticed how I walked around being pissed off all the time and, when you don't have any reason to feel that way, it really makes you more pissed off.”
“What the fuck. I need to get some perspective or self-awareness here,” she reflects. “So yeah, I worked through a lot of that stuff and it helps. I was thinking a lot about taking out those feelings on your partner or your family. You know, those bad habits. For me, I would never treat somebody I don't really know well that way.”
We often lash out at the people closest to us, I offer, and Jessy nods in agreement. “Exactly. It really bothered me that I felt comfortable doing that. And I was noticing that the problems in my new relationship were like a lot like the problems I had in all my other relationships. It really started to dawn on me that it's, you know, not really the other people that are at fault.”
A pause, a deep breath and another smile. “So the record was really this very long winded way of saying that I was working through a lot of those sorts of things.”
It would be a disservice not to mention Jessy’s beloved campervan which has served her so well, too. Having been her home on countless tours and offered an escape route during the pandemic, you begin to understand the solace that she takes from it and a sense of normality that can be found in few other places.
“I think being in New York and living in this really different place where I felt like I was a bit of a fish out of water made me feel really weird. Why do I feel homesick? Why is it so hard for me to adjust to being here? I think the van was the one thing where I felt, this is my van. This is what I’m comfortable with. I think of all the time I spent driving in it, going to shows and all the time in between, and the shows make me so incredibly nervous. But afterwards when you're in the van…it’s like the release time.”
“If we didn’t have the van, we wouldn’t have been able to get here. I feel uncomfortable a lot of time and the van is a comforting space. The van is such a huge part of my life as a musician. It’s silly but it’s real to me.” With its gorgeous articulation of intimate themes, albeit alongside all the Jessy Lanza stylings we know and love, you suspect that many listeners will find similar comfort in 'All The Time'.
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'All The Time' will be released on July 24th.
Words: Lee Wakefield
Photo Credit: Milos Jacimovic / Jenia Filatova
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