Posted Mar 7th, 2011 (7:06 pm) by Terri Wise

Sometimes you encounter something with a creative spark and a magnetic energy, something new and unique that impresses you and sends your head spinning into a flurry of curious questions. You wonder, “What is this, and where did it come from?” You want more. That was exactly my experience when I encountered The Luyas opening for The Pains of Being Pure at Heart last fall.

Their varied instrumentation that included French horn, bells, and a colorful sort of electrified zither called a Moodswinger; their unconventional song structures and syncopated rhythms; their mysterious and at the same time smiling and playful stage presence; and singer Jessie Stein’s bright, slightly off-kilter woman-child voice all so impressed me that I left the show thinking of their performance, of their songs, and of how I could hear more and find out more about them. Upon the release of the band’s second album, Too Beautiful to Work, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to chat with Jessie about the band’s story, their ongoing growth, their creative process, and their many connections to the broader arts community.

Inyourspeakers: You guys have described yourselves as a “weird band,” and I think you have a pretty unique sound, so I thought I’d go back to the beginning a little bit and try to see how the sound may have developed. How did you start playing music?

Jessie Stein: Well, as a teenager I loved alternative radio rock, and I guess I just was the right age to get into some pretty brutal post-grunge stuff, and Radiohead, which is still great, and a bunch of other terrible commercial bands. I listened to the radio a lot as a kid and ended up starting to go to shows as soon as I could and trying to teach myself guitar in high school. I got it in my head pretty seriously that I was going to start a band. It’s kind of organic. I used to play in rock bands. I moved to Toronto when I was 18 and started playing in an indie rock band that was basically obsessed with Pavement. I moved back to Montreal eventually and started collaborating with people that I play with now in the Luyas.

IYS: Can you tell me a little bit about their backgrounds?

JS: Everybody actually liked Radiohead a lot. We’re all the right age to have really fallen hard for them as teenagers. Piet started playing French Horn in an orchestra and then went to jazz school and ended up messing around with his instrument,t and kind of starting to make weird noises with it because he’s sort of a rebellious person by nature—in the most loving and wonderful of ways. Mathieu studied jazz piano and grew up in Ontario, and Stef studied jazz drums. Those guys are all sort of from a jazz background but in different ways.

IYS: So were they playing professionally in non-rock bands before they started playing with the Luyas?

JS: Yeah, Stef played drums in a jazz band. He was just telling us about how when he was really young and in school, he played jazz drums on an Alaskan cruise ship. All of them played in different groups, some of which were instrumental, some of which were pop bands. Mathieu and Pietro played in a group together called Torngat, who were an instrumental trio—a really beautiful trio, who made some really great records. Pietro and Stef also played together in Bell Orchestre, which is another instrumental band—a little moreswoony and a little more rock influenced. This band kind of happened pretty casually. We just started playing together when I moved to town and kind of tinkered at it, made a record pretty early on. We just got more and more deep into playing with each other. It’s almost five years now we’ve been a band.

IYS: So was that record that you were referring to Faker Death?

JS: Yeah. We made Faker Death after being a band for just a couple months. We wrote a bunch of songs and quickly recorded it just for ourselves and for our friends, and then we didn’t end up having much time for a little while. We didn’t finish recording our new record until about a year ago, which is par for the course for first time releases with new labels. Once you finish the record you have to find someone to put it out, and it takes a long time. Everybody gets antsy—classic complaint. We didn’t set out to create something for sale. We just started off playing music together because it was interesting and what we were coming up with was sort of intriguing.

IYS: So how did you meet them?

JS: I met Piet and Matt through seeing them play in Torngat and they were fans of my old band, and I was a big fan of their band. Originally I wanted to do a collaborative record where I would hand over all of the arrangement duties to Torngat and I would write the songs and they would try and organize them musically. I kind of wanted to have a bit of a divorce from my aesthetic, my zone of 90s revivalism. And that didn’t really work out. Their drummer was busy and I ended up just collaborating with Pietro a lot. He ended up telling me that we should play with this guy Stef. He played with him in Bell Orchestre for a couple shows. It sort of felt right, so we kept doing it. It was a really organic formation. The same system applies to the way the music has turned out. Everybody just sort of follows their intuition and it kind of just comes out that way without working too hard at crafting a sound.

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