After reflecting on the long process that went into piecing together his long-awaited debut album, producer Lunice realizes that it's similar to fishing, one of his favorite pastimes that his grandfather taught him as a child. "I got so obsessed and I think it's because of the reward you get from waiting," he says. "To this day I still fish and now it's become my way to generate ideas as well because you are generally in one space and you're focused on one path and it leaves you in a nice void."
Lunice has been a fundamental piece of Montreal's complex nightlife scene ever since the establishment of Turbo Crunk in 2006, but for the past five years the producer has been on hiatus. During that time, the 29-year-old has been touring non-stop, working with other artists, and putting the finishing touches on projects of his own. Before the hiatus, Lunice released his Stacker Upper and One Hunned EPs on LuckyMe. That same year, he also had a hand in shaping Azealia Banks' iconic breakout single "212." From there, he teamed up with Hudson Mohawke and formed TNGHT which had a good run until 2013.
Last week, Lunice finally returned to drop C CCLX, his first full-length album. While the self-described "stoner opera" project features a handful of artists such as Le1f, S-Type, SOPHIE, Denzel Curry, Nell, and JK the Reaper, the original list of collaborators that Lunice had in mind was more high-end with big names like 2 Chainz, Future, and Big Sean. Instead, he switched gears to reconnect with his roots in his hometown of Montreal. He adds, "It was part vocal talent and part in the moment kind of features."
We recently spoke to the zealous producer about the experiences that ultimately lead up reaching this milestone—from Jacques Greene booking his first gig to being flown out for a private studio session with Kanye West. CCCLX is out now via LuckyMe.
You were on hiatus for a few years. What were you doing during that period?
It was a good five years and it all started from when I was thinking about how am I going to approach this debut album. The one thing I've always observed from other people around me is it's almost like a stressful start to things because you have to put together an actual album, you need to get a bunch of features, so there's like a wide shield of where you can really go. The first thing I thought was, "OK, I don't want to make it feel like an actual album. I want to approach it more as putting a project together." So what I mean by a project is I'm extending my ideas and designs toward a stage with how it will look, how to perform within it, and how the sound will come out of it. I'm really looking from the inside out…I sort of come up with all of these concepts and ideas and it took a lot of time because it takes a level of understanding from places in the whole industry of how you want to approach it. Everybody wants to come off with something fresh and different, but how do you do that?
So that was a whole thing for me to get deeper into and do a whole lot of research and reading into different autobiographies. A big one I've mentioned a lot is Miles Davis' autobiography in terms of how he shifted jazz as a whole and brought it to the modern industry by just simplifying things. So that whole idea, as well, is a way that I wanted to approach the album. Five years passed by, but I feel so much more focused in where I want to be.
How did you initially get into producing in the first place? What was your entry point and what made you want to pursue this as a profession?
I've always been a person that is very curious. Anything that feeds my curiosity I get completely obsessed with. I will always remember that time with my old beat box. When I was a kid in elementary school, I would do my hip-hop with my friends where we would act out scenes and I would stop and have my friend replace me. We were in grade three or four doing this. So I was always very involved with wanting to create things in general, like making my own little radio station. I made up my own card games like Pokemon cards at my school. And then it extended by the time I was in high school.
When I got into beat boxing, at that point I started layering my voice and I was like, "Huh? I can totally do beats." So my curiosity extended that even further in thinking, "What if I were to compose that?" By the time I was a teenager, I would always be keeping notes, so when I remind myself about that I was like "Huh? I think I should just try that and see what happens." I really put my time into stuff like that and then eventually I had samples and it opened up a whole new world. And that's when I got hooked and realized there's so much more to discover.
You played a major role in shaping Montreal's nightlife scene, specifically with Turbo Crunk. How did everything come about?
Something I don't really mention that I don't know if many people know is my first gig ever was booked by Jacques Greene. He was running his own night, and then he found me on MySpace because I was a fan of LuckyMe and he was like, "Hey, have you ever DJ'd before? I like your beats." I was like, "No, but I actually happen to be working on a DJ set for my friend's house party." He was like, "Do you wanna set up for tonight at our spot?" And I said, "Sure." That was my first gig ever and it was wild. I remember that night, by the end of it, we were all looking at each other thinking like, "We should get all together and start our own thing." And then came about the name Turbo Crunk.
We were really heavy on the hype and Lil Jon was really popping at that time so that's where the name came about. The idea was playing a lot of rap music with a mix of electronic influences. That really sort of created a nice platform to purely experiment where there were no setbacks to anything. It was a really nice way for us create new sounds over time. Every week we would have new songs and we would all go back in the studio and try to make something bigger. That's sort of how we developed our sound over time.
Let's talk about the album. Where did the title CCCLX come from? What's the story behind it?
For the title I wanted to start with something like a really broad subject, but just enough for me to explain myself. One of the little recurring patterns that I've done is this cyclical concept. Like there's a cycle of life, how places come around and come back again… So that whole idea was really fascinating because it sort of relates to the idea of what makes things timeless as well. Whether it's music, art of whatever it is, it always comes back as if it's never left. It never was part of an era at that time no matter how many times you look back at it.
So that whole idea of timelessness—how does one come about making that kind of content or art?— is what really fascinated me. That's something I wanted to look into and predict what the perfect kind of structure is because it's the same as you start from the beginning, and as you go through things throughout life you gain knowledge, and then you come back to the beginning but with a whole new set of tools to really get into the next phase in life or whatever it may be. That whole thing is very rejuvenated and regenerated, but a recurring concept that helped me focus on a lot of different, deeper ideas within that world. That's also why it took that much time because I was really trying to figure out a foundation to my work, not just put out work because.
"Mazerati" is my favorite track off the album, I really love the build up.
It's cinematic, it's theatrical… It's all the things I've thought about the moment I started the album. "Mazerati" was the song I started on actually. There are so many things that made me take time for this project. One of them is "Mazerati" because that was the first song that I showed to Kanye West when I was in a session with him in Hawaii. I showed him this song and what's interesting is the first version of "Mazerati" is not at all what it sounds like today.
What was really fascinating was when I played it I was really afraid that he was going to be like "This is whack, get out of my studio" type of shit, but he wasn't like that at all. He was fully open to zoning into something and I couldn't understand what at first and all of a sudden he would start rapping full bars. What's really fascinating is he doesn't immediately go like "Oh no, I don't like it." I remember he went something along the lines of "That's a good idea, this sound." And I asked him what it is and he said "The synthesizers on the track. That's a good sound, I like that. Build on that sound. Build on that and see what happens."
It immediately opened up a whole new angle to the way I approach music because what I've learned from it is that you don't necessarily need to object yourself on paying attention to detail, but you should always give the right amount of attention to everything so that way you don't really burn yourself out because you're going through the same track 10,000 times. You sort of make the best out of what you have and then you move on, so that's what I learned from that kind of session. I was like "Man, I'm going to start working on that general idea and then taking a step back and doing other things like other sessions with other artists and I might learn something from them that I can bring back on the album."
Big shoutout to Sam for that, because it was pretty straightforward in terms of the collaborative effort. Dominic, one of the founders of LuckyMe, hit me up and he always talks back and forth about different ideas whether it's the album or anything in the future that we might do. Sam was one of the ideas for people we might work with at some point. So one day he hits me up with one of his videos where he uses a lot of gaming units to create these amazing visuals, and I'm huge on gaming—I grew up on games as a kid and everything. He's the first to me to conceptualize that gaming aesthetic but put it on and make it as pure visuals to look at.
Just that idea alone, it's one of those things where you just love the artist so much that you just want to give them the project. There was a simple, general structure to it which was everything I do is very performative which explains the performance within it. So with my aesthetic of performance and with his aesthetic of the images, he thought about how to get the dancer to move and having all of these crazy obstacle allusion visuals to come within it. The result is amazing. One of the beauties of the Internet is how fast you can put this together—not the actual visual, but the communication and the concept and put out a project like that.
You've been around for a while, but your debut album is finally coming out now. It's been a long time in the making so how are you feeling about reaching this moment?
It's very unheard of, in terms of where we're living now in this whole digital, Internet world of information. When I first started the album I aspired to stop using social media for the most part. I stopped using Facebook, I toned down on the amount of tweets that I would tweet, I kept things more straightforward. The only thing I was the most active on was my Instagram, because I do photography and I love video, but that was my only creative outlet at the time. Funny enough, I was thinking "OK, when the album's going to be out I'm all in social again," but now I'm thinking to myself that I've gone through such a nice disposition where I'm so mentally happy in terms of my relationship with the internet and my relationship with my fans in-person. It's a nice balance.
One thing I noticed that's happening is sometimes I would look through Reddit and read different threads that people would be talking about me and the one fascinating thing was that no matter what, it almost feels like I have a direct line with one of the kids going to my shows. They would talk about the album and the next comment would be "I just went to Lunice's show last night and it was super cool." I like that idea of making it a bit more intimate and a very direct line with a few people that can then go to the threads and talk about it indirectly for me. I'm hoping to do a bit of that more.
Lastly, what is happening with TNGHT? What are you and Hudson up to?
The one most important thing we wanted to do is that we wanted to brand it the right way so that there are two musical artists within this project rather than making it a duo, but you can't prevent that when it's out there and people don't know about us. So what I'm focusing on is that once they find us is that then they will slowly learn "Oh, these are two separate guys." That's sort a different angle for us because we come from our own foundations. That's why whenever we brand TNGHT there is always both of our names right underneath it subtly not to put it in people's faces, but it just puts it in their mind overtime so eventually they'll know both of us.
They key aspect of how I wanted to keep everything fresh for us is that I had come to the conclusion that we had to stop this project we can go back to our work and go back to how we started this. Remember how I was talking about the whole cyclical concept? So the TNGHT project starts and it created a whole kind of vibe within the industry, and then we can always come back with fresh ideas is to come back to the original point of how we came together because we both needed our own projects and we were at a certain point musically in terms of what we were trying to do in sound. That's the only way to get something really fresh so now he's finished his album and I've finished my album. I recently went to a spot and in that session we did stuff exactly how we did it on day one, and that's pretty much all that I can give you.
Photo by Mathieu Fortin