NO RULES The Luyas

The Montreal combo, with connections to Arcade Fire, Bell Orchestre, Final
Fantasy and more, aims to follow its heart.

 

BY JENNIFER KELLY

 

“When we started the Luyas, the concept was that there were no rules
about what it had to be or what it had to sound like,” says Luyas singer Jessie
Stein. “The band was conceived as a band for fun.”

 

The Luyas have been keeping it fun for roughly half a decade now,
playing secret shows in and around  Montreal,
relying on non-traditional rock instruments like French Horn, strings and a
12-string, three-bridged lute called a Moodswinger, and recording two albums. The
first, Faker Death came out as a self-release in August 2007 and was
reissued the following January on Pome Records. The second, Too Beautiful To
Work
, arrived this week on the much larger, much more visible Dead Oceans
label.

 

Stein says that the record’s title, which is also the name of its
opening song, is partly a reference to a girl she knows who seems to get by
solely on her looks. But it’s also an observation about her band’s languid,
dreamily gorgeous sound, which proved to be a surprisingly hard sell when she
went out to pitch it to labels. “People kept saying that they loved it, but
they didn’t know what to do with it,” says Stein.  

 

The Luyas began with Stein and her friends Pietro Amato and Stefan
Schneider, all living in Toronto
as part of the Blocks Recording experimental music scene. Stein was in an indie
pop band called SS Cardiacs. Amato and Schneider had a three-piece instrumental
outfit called Torngat. Their sounds could hardly have been more different, but
they became fans of each other’s work and embarked on a lasting friendship.

 

Later, when Stein turned up in Montreal,
she began to think about collaborating. “I thought, it would be awesome to just
take my songs and hand them over to somebody whose aesthetic sensibility was so
different from mine,” she says. “To let another set of ears and another style
of musicians arrange it. I guess I got that inspiration from the record
Destroyer did with Frog Eyes.”

 

By then Amato and Schneider were both in Bell Orchestre and Amato had
toured as a horn player with Arcade Fire. Stein began playing casually with
Amato, in the process incorporating one of the Luyas more unusual elements, the
French horn, into her songwriting. “It was more because of the fact that he’s
Pietro than because he plays French horn,” she says. “He was my friend and he
was a musician. There has never been any notion that, ‘Oh, we need a player who
plays this.’  So it’s a really organic
band. Everything happens for some natural reason.”

 

Schneider joined next, and the band began playing live as the Luyas in
December 2006. They released Faker Death on their own in 2007. In 2010, McSweeneys  writer Sean Michaels documented a secret
show in Montreal,
where would-be concert goers were summoned to a meeting point, blindfolded and
led by rope to the show venue. Michaels’ called the Luyas music “an art-pop
that’s supple, gold and silver, with messy choruses wedged between swells of
scattered sound.” A week or so later, Stein was at SXSW, taking meetings and
trying to find a label for her band.

 

For Too Beautiful To Work, the band added a new member Mattieu
Charbonneau.  This first album for Dead
Oceans also has string arrangements by another old Blocks Recordings friend,
the composer Owen Pallett, who was once Stein’s roommate.

 

 “Owen’s a really good friend of
mine. I met him when I was maybe 18 and living in Toronto,” she says. “He was writing the first
Final Fantasy record when I was living with him.  We’ve gone through a lot together through the
years, eight years.”

 

The mutual confidence built up in that long-term relationship allowed
Stein to simply hand over her tunes and allow Pallett to realize them more
fully. “I really trust Owen. He’s known every piece of music that I’ve made
since I started recording music, basically. So I know that he has a very good
sense of who I am.”

 

For Too Beautiful to Work, Pallett arrived at the studio one
day and took over. “He just walked in, and he said, these people are coming
today. How much time do I have?  He
called a bunch of his friends, and just told them what to do.  It was amazing.”

 

“Owen’s an incredible conductor,” she adds. “He’s very good at getting
people to do a very specific thing that he wants them to do.”   

 

The full palette of instruments transforms the Luyas’ dream-like songs
into lusher, more complex compositions, as on the album highlight “Canary,”
where a wash of strings adds tension to Stein’s languid vocals. The Moodswinger
plays a role on that song as well, first in its traditional guise as a
strummed, stringed instrument, and later in a giant crashing sound as Stein
moves the third bridge mid-cut.

 

“The third bridge on a Moodswinger is a sliding bridge, kind of based
on the concept of a screwdriver under the strings. It slides on two metal bars
pushed up on the strings at different positions on the neck to create different
overtone structures,” says Stein. Normally, a musician would set the third
bridge at the beginning of a song and leave it there, but it is possible
to reposition it on the fly. “You can do that, yes, but it makes a big, loud
scary noise,” says Stein. “In ‘Canary,’ that happens. When it goes to the
instrumental section, there’s a big crash.” It was no accident, and Stein would
do it again in a heartbeat. “It was a total move,” she adds impishly.

 

That sense of play is maybe the central think about Luyas. This is a
band that’s always willing to try something new. For instance, the song “Too
Beautiful to Work,” was one of the last ones to be recorded for the second
album, after new member Mattieu Charbonneau had joined Stein, Pietro Amato and
Stefan Schneider. Along among the CD’s tracks, it has an antic, manic,
dance-friendly vibe, with careening piano lines and a percolating electro beat.
“We never made a song that is remotely like that one before, but that’s the
spirit of our band,” she says. “To do whatever… to follow our hearts.”

 

 

The Luyas kick
off a major American tour next week – check out their tour dates right here.

The Luyas Present “Everything Is Outta Sight” | a film by Derrick Belcham & Vincent Moon from A Story Told Well on Vimeo.

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