Lucky Paul is not your usual faceless electronics producer. In fact he had to have his arm twisted to even consider releasing music with his label Somethinksounds, who are getting ready to drop his second record: Elephant Island, later this month. The Berlin based producer moonlights as Feist’s tour drummer and being wary of the potential pitfalls of the recorded music industry, he was in no desperate rush to release a record just for the sake of it. Which most definitely puts him against the grain. Having enchanted us with ‘I Thought we were Alone’ and the upcoming ‘Elephant Island’ (where Stravinsky meets Burial) as well as fascinating us with tales of trips to India and Korea to study traditional music, we had to sit the man down to find out some more.
Hey Paul. I know you have travelled extensively to learn music. Tell me about your experiences in Korea and India.
I lived in Varanasi, India for a month with the Mararaj family. They have been musicians through the generations for the last 500 years. They have lived in the same house for that whole time and passed on their family’s music in there. They are born into it and work very hard, hours and hours a day for their whole lives. It was an amazing experience where I got to see music and life in a whole other light. Korea was much the same. I studied for seven months there with Bae Il Tong, who is just as devoted to music as the Mararaj’s. He lived by a waterfall for five years and sung into the water for 15 hours a day, living off mostly berries and plants. Having to endure the cold winters, he built himself a small hut out of branches and leaves. This was all to understand nature as closely as possible and its relationship to music. Studying with someone like that for seven months was a life changing experience for me.
What exactly did you study?
In India I mostly studied North Indian classical tabla. My interest wasn’t directly connected to that, but as I had studied tabla drumming earlier as a teenager, I knew the technique so it was a good place to start. My primary goal was about living the way they do and trying to experience music and sound the way they do to. In Korea I studied Pansori music, which is like an ancient Korean blues or operatic style of music. It is really stripped back, utilising just a singer and a drummer while at the same time being incredibly powerful and emotionally charged. The drumming is full of space and is all about supporting the singer as intimately as possible with just a simple drum. The singing is really intense and loud, it takes a whole heap of energy. Traditionally the pieces would go on for several hours. So, as my teacher Il Dong recommended, I studied mostly singing with him as opposed to drumming. That was strange for me having never really sung, but I learned a great deal about what I wanted to learn and had an intense musical experience I will always be very grateful for.
What was your original inspiration for going?
I have always been interested in different approaches to music (music therapy, free improvisation, devotional music). Different ways of seeing its purpose all together. In the west we tend to see music as primarily a form of art or entertainment whereas in other parts of the world, music is seen as many other things. So I set out to experience these different approaches.
I hear you were busking when you first came to Berlin. What was the music like?
I had spent a few years learning and developing a setup where I could make beats on the fly using things like looping pedals, samplers and homemade synths. The idea was to make live, improvised music with this crazy setup and see where it took me.
How does your study in India and Korea and then with busking influence what you are doing now?
It’s all pretty subconscious. I definitely don’t set out to make some weird new fusion of any kind ie Flylo beats meet Korean Opera all tied in with a homemade synthesizer and an Indian sound. So it’s more in the ways I hear and feel music that these things influence me. The studies in the east definitely solidified my thoughts and practices on the importance of the body and focusing its energies in the creation of music. Busking taught me to put myself out there, not to care too much about what people think and to commit to that moment’s inspiration. I try to bring these things into what I do as much as I can.
So were you making music before you came to ‘electronic’ music so to speak?
I was always playing in bands as a percussionist or a drummer. But my introduction to creating pieces of music were always electronic.
What influences your lyrics – specifically Elephant Island, is it about Shakelton’s trip to the Antarctic?
That’s a question to ask Mara! [vocalist]. I really had nothing to do with the lyrics, except when we were making the track, my homemade synth I made from a lunchbox was making some icey kind of sounds that might have made Mara think of Antarctica. But he wrote all the lyrics and came up with the melody. Mara is awesome! So far, none of the songs I have released have been my lyrics I make the beat, the singer does their thing then I get all nit picky on sonic details and arrangements.
Were you following much electronic or dance music before you started making it?
I used to make a living playing percussion with DJs in my hometown Auckland, so that was really my first main experience of dance music. I wouldn’t say that I followed it very closely though. My interest in electronic music came from J Dilla and his genius sense of rhythm. I’d never heard electronic music sound so human before.
What influences you outside of music?
Everything. I try to find music or inspiration in everything I experience. Nature, art, animals, yummy food, life situations; good times, bad times.
What music influences you?
I try to stay as open as I can, so its hard to pinpoint. No doubt the sounds I have been releasing have stemmed from the LA beat scene then moved to more of a James Blake side of things. Now I seem to be getting more interested in great songs that have stood the test of time. Music that makes people dance. And free improvisation!
You held out before releasing your first music with Somethinksounds – how come?
I went to Berlin to busk and try live off music in a very DIY manner. I loved the feeling of it being so grass roots. I would burn a cd-r, print off a cd cover, play music outside, people would hear me, then give me money for that cd. I’d then go buy food with that money to keep playing music and stay alive. The food I bought with that money always tasted so good because I knew I had earned it by putting love into something. The stories I’d heard about the industry effecting the way artists worked, damaging their passion for [making music] concerned me as I felt I was on to a good thing and was happy to stay on it. So it wasn’t about Somethinksounds, it was about joining the music industry in general, signing a record deal, playing that game, getting on the machine, selling my soul to the devil, etc,etc…
And so how is it working with STS?
On hindsight Im so glad I chose to do it. No way are they the devil!! Making music as well as you can is a full time job. Getting music out there is a full time job. If you try to do everything yourself, one of those two things will suffer. They are a young and new label and any lack of experience they may have, they make up for it in sheer passion for music and determination in getting it heard. I love what I see as an almost punk diy attitude they have to slamming into the industry and making their mark with eclectic original music. Super happy to be a part of it.