Jessy Lanza’s music splits the difference between dizzying euphoria and blinding rage. Take, for example, the hypnotic chorus of “Lick In Heaven,” the lead single from Lanza’s third record All The Time: “Once I’m spinning, I can’t stop spinning.” It could be taken literally, a representation of dancing with abandon. Or, you could choose to see it with a darker tint: as a figure spiralling out of control, or a twister destroying everything in its path. The song provides no easy answers, warping and looping until it ends, unresolved. A rush of blood to the head, it seems to say, is still a rush of blood to the head: euphoria is euphoria, no matter how it’s elicited.
All The Time is steeped in this kind of surreal darkness, finding its tension in moments that toe the line between light and dark, comedy and tragedy. While it is by no means a departure from the plush, immersive mix of club-pop, R&B and bubblegum footwork of 2016’s superlative Oh No, All The Time still manages to situate itself on brand new ground, Lanza using her familiar palette to meditate on anger and emotional isolation with grace and ingenuity.
All The Time is heavy with the weight of upheaval, and although it stops short of being an out-and-out ‘finding yourself’ record with all the attendant hippy-dippy trappings, it does have something to say about the grisly emotional by-products of life as a working musician. Written in the wake of a grueling solo tour and an emotionally dislocating move from her hometown of Hamilton, Ontario to New York City, All The Time, Lanza says, zeroes in on “a lot of really ugly feelings: being really angry, being really upset, being in a state of self-loathing.”
Anger is not a new concept in Lanza’s music — see: Oh No’s sublime “VV Violence” — but All The Time coincided with Lanza’s first attempts to quell the anger she found herself constantly engulfed in. “I don’t think of myself as being an angry person, but I noticed that a lot of the fights I was getting in with my partner were really similar to the fights I’ve had in previous relationships,” she says. “Writing the album, I was very inspired to just figure out what was going on.”
“I think I just had this fear that at the end of my life, it would be like a film noir — the twist would be that person was the murderer,” she continues. “It’s like, I’m the asshole at the end of my life. It wasn’t everybody else.”
Speaking over FaceTime from San Francisco, in the studio where she just wrapped filming on the video for All The Time’s opener “Anyone Around,” Lanza opened up about anger management, her move from Ontario, and her relationship with footwork.
“I just had this fear that at the end of my life, it would be like a film noir — the twist would be that I’m the asshole, [not] everybody else.”
The FADER: How did you find the atmosphere of moving, and moving to New York especially, changed how you thought about your music?
Jessy Lanza: A huge influence for me was getting to hang out with like.. I met DJ Swisha, and AceMo, and Chris Jones, and they were like these people that I’d listened to for a long time. The first time I became aware of Swisha was when my friend Sherelle, she’s from the UK, played me this bootleg remix that Swisha had done of my song “Never Enough,” and I liked it more than the original track. When I moved to New York I got to meet him and hang out with him, and see the way that he worked and made tracks. If a track wasn’t working, he would just be like “fuck it,” and move on, which is the opposite of [me.] I would really get so precious about stuff, and I was quite annoying to myself in that way. That was a huge influence for me, just being able to hang out with them and see the way they worked. They worked really fast and it was really fun. I was feeling kinda shitty at that time, too, so it had a huge influence on me.
Do you think if you had spent your whole career in New York you would still make the same kind of music?
I think being sentimental is such a big part of my music. I write on emotions that are based so much in my childhood, and my family is so interconnected to my music. I’m very glad that I left Hamilton, because I think it helped me to grow as a person, but at the same time, I’m so tethered to that place — my parents were both musicians and they set me in that direction. It wouldn’t have been the same if I hadn’t spent as much time there as I did. I’m very close to my family.
So, you’ve spoken about coming to terms with anger management issues around the time you were making this record. How did that process begin, of realizing you were struggling with anger and then learning to cope?
The album helped a lot. My partner and I would get in these banger fights — I’m sure lots of people can relate to [the point in an argument] where you could say sorry, but then a lot of the time my pride gets in the way and I just go full hog. [In every fight] I kinda choose to go nuclear and not back down.
I’m sure you’ve seen the video of the Trader Joe lady, who just throws her basket. She’s a fucking maniac, and you can see she had a choice: you don’t have to be the psycho lady in Trader Joe’s. But there she is. I would never do that, but in those private fights with my partner, I made the choice so quick, I didn’t even know that I had made it, I let my pride get in the way. I think it was just noticing that these issues were kinda following me around. Up until that point it had been easy to blame [whichever] partner, maybe I could blame Hamilton, I could blame a lot of things. The reality was that I felt irritated all the time, and I was sick of feeling that way. I was mad at myself too, because I don’t really have much to complain about in the grand scheme of things.
Where do you think your anger was coming from?
I think I was frustrated with myself — I had moved to this amazing city, I was working, doing what I’d always dreamed of doing, being able to play my music for people, traveling. I found that, in 2017 I had been touring a lot and doing a lot of tours alone, which was pretty hard, to travel by myself. I think some people like it, but I’m just not suited for that. I just found that I was feeling sad, I wasn’t happy with what I was doing. I was trying to figure that out, like, what’s going on with me? When I was in high school all I ever wanted to do was leave Hamilton and tour — I thought if I could do that I would be happy. And then I was doing those things, and I was really annoyed with myself, like, why isn’t this good enough for you? Anger is such a palpable feeling these days, and people have so much to be justifiably angry about, but it’s like, what do you do with it? You don’t want to be the lady throwing a basket in Trader Joe’s, it’s not helping anybody.
Did you ever have the urge to make the tone of the music on All The Time match the tone of the lyrics?
I think on the ballads… “Ice Creamy,” for instance, is about how I just was really… I couldn’t sleep without taking pills, which was a really dark period for me. Even in singing it, I was like, “I’m gonna make this about how much I love pills,” and really it’s a love song, and I’m almost embarrassed to say that out loud, so I would kinda camouflage my voice. It’s a hard thing to talk about, so I definitely used the vehicle of the pop song or the love song or my vocal effects as a way to hide a little bit. But it’s fun! I have fun doing it.
Were there any significant changes in how you produced this record?
I had a lot of modular and semi-modular equipment that I was really keen to learn how to use, and a lot of it I didn’t know how to use at all. A lot of the songs like, started off as experiments, trying to use this equipment I was unfamiliar with. I spent a lot of time punching in patterns, tweaking stuff on the fly, going back and editing. A song like “Face,” for instance, I did a lot of passes [on] and then edited it together afterwards, so there’s a lot of squirty, burpy, bloopy sounds that just came from messing around or experimenting. It was fun to incorporate those learning curves into the songs.
Footwork has become such an important part of your music — I feel like some musicians will dip into a genre they like for a couple of tracks or an album maybe, but since “You Never Show Your Love” it’s just been a given for you. Why do you think, of all styles, footwork felt like such a natural avenue for you?
Being able to work on that song with DJ Rashad and DJ Spinn was just such a huge moment for me. Not to sound too corny, but it was a dream come true, being able to do that. I think I’ve been riding that wave of being able to work on that song with them.
Being able to see how DJ Swisha works, too — we started off talking about him — I just found it so inspiring seeing how they work — Swisha especially; I didn’t get to work in person with Rashad or Spinn, it was just sending stuff back and forth — I just feel so inspired by it. And it’s just so different from the way I work on stuff, because I just get so stuck on whether something’s good or bad, and should I play this for people, shouldn’t I, and I just get really precious about it. It just was so much fun. It just reminds me why people listen to music in the first place, why I listen to music.