The titles of Lotus Plaza‘s two albums reveal a lot about the project’s shifting aesthetics. 2009’s The Floodlight Collective (Kranky) was a light-saturation exercise in an extremely literal sense, a suffocating gush of effects pedal-generated and otherwise so outsized that it was impossible to tell where instrumental parts, songs, or even Plaza principal Lockett Pundt ended or began.
Meanwhile, the followup Spooky Action at a Distance (also on Kranky) is a definitive grower that unearths its gifts by degrees: an admiration for the clarity and subliminal pacing of tunes like “Strangers” and “Eveningness” gives way to an appreciation for the way Pundt’s vocals are closer to front and center, and then, just like that, diffidently confident songs rooted in traditional indie-rock aesthetics that seemed achingly familiar suddenly become companionable and comfortable.
There are bits and pieces of Stereolab, Flying Saucer Attack, Deerhunter (Pundt’s main gig), and dozens of other acts in Lotus Plaza’s gurgling, chiming flow, but once the current seizes you, it can be difficult to break free of it, or to even want to.
SOTC emailed with Pundt about Spooky Action, how his collaboration with his fiancé Shadya Yavari Nice Weekend came about, and the origin of the name “Lotus Plaza.”
b>I heard that you’re recently engaged. Congratulations!
Yes, and thank you! I proposed last year in August, and we’re getting married this year in September.
That’s just around the corner; you must be really stoked. Given that you and your fiancée play together as Nice Weekend and you’re part if Deerhunter, is there any chance the ceremony will turn into a jam session?
Very excited. There probably won’t be a jam session since it would probably clear the room, but I might play a song there.
You seem to have two sides to you, in terms of your songwriting as Lotus Plaza: there are the structured, contained songs that show up on your LPs, then there are more free-form tunes like your live improvised sets and “Come Back.” Are you more comfortable in one mode than in the other?
I’m more comfortable with the more improvised structure of songs, for sure. They are generally more fun to come up with and always fun to play. With most structured songs, what is there is what you get and there’s no getting away from how it is. It can get monotonous, playing them over and over.
With songs like “Come Back,” you can sort of make up a new ending with it every time. You could even substitute anything at any time during the song and it wouldn’t change anything. I feel like I’ve been writing more structured songs as of late, but some of my favorite songs I’ve written are a combination of the two styles. I like structure, but being able to move freely within structure is the best. Also, in improvised songs, there’s no such thing as a mistake. You commit to it and keep going.
Was “Untitled,” the opener for Spooky Action at a Distance, meant to serve a bridge of sorts from Floodlight Collective?
I had made this long, ambient song out of that synth loop and I knew I wanted to begin the album with it. It makes sense to say that it acts as a bridge, because I feel like the synths at the end of “Black Buzz” are acting as one for what I want to do next with music.
Spooky Action feels more open and less hermetic than The Floodlight Collective did. It’s as though these new songs are able to breathe better. Did you go into this album with that in mind, as a direction?
For sure. I knew I definitely didn’t want to make another record like my first one going into this one. I wanted the songs to be more direct. There’s a lot going on inside each song on my first record that is lost to obscurity by effects, and I didn’t want to do that for this one. I’m not sure how I would recreate a lot of the songs from my first record in a live setting and have them sound the way they do. That was a mission when recording this record: I wanted the songs to be stripped down to five parts, and when played live, not lose their personality and body.
What was the first song you wrote for Spooky Action?
The first song I wrote was “Strangers,” followed closely by “Out of Touch. Both songs began on this kid’s drum set I bought at a thrift store.
Was that set awkward to play?
A little bit. It’s sort of like riding a kid’s tricycle or something. I only used it when I wrote the songs; on the record I used a regular drum set.
“Strangers” does some interesting things with rhythm late in the song, some hallucinatory things that stop the listener dead in her tracks.
I wanted the end of the song to slow down until it had this long, stretched-out feeling—sort of like changing the tape speed or putting a finger on a record and slowing it down.
I did the first demo on an 8-track cassette recorder and changed the tape speed at the end to slow the song and change the pitch down until it was really long and drawn out. When recording it for the album, I wanted to have the same effect, but I decided against the downward pitch that comes with slowing down tape, so I slowed down the drum beat and all the instruments with it instead.
What does the moniker “Lotus Plaza” signify for you, and how did you come up with it?
It reminds me of an exciting and strange period of my life. The name originated during a long van ride in which we were all given a sort of alias; mine was “Lotus Plaza.” I really liked it and got around to using it on what would become my solo stuff. It reminds me now of that period around the time of Cryptograms, where everything was exciting and new to us in a way. Strange and beautiful.
Does it sometimes feel, with Deerhunter, that a sort of routine has set in? Is there still a thrill to writing together, recording, releasing records, and then touring?
There is routine at times, but that can be said about anything that you do extensively—especially something like being in a touring band. You can get burned on playing the same songs over and over for a month straight only to go about a month later and do it over again. It can be numbing at times, and the most rewarding feeling possible at times.
The biggest thrill for me with Deerhunter—and it is something that is impossible for us to lose—is the musical chemistry we have. I think it’s very special and something everyone in the band would absolutely agree with. No matter what fight we got into, how hung over or sick we might be, when we get on-stage and are playing off each other, there is no other place the four of us are meant to be. That sounds silly, but they would agree.
Is there any new Deerhunter music—an album, EP, or soundtrack—in gestation?
We’re always writing new songs independently so there is easily enough to release an album at any point, but we are going to start again in the fall. We’ve always worked quickly, so I would expect something next year for sure.
Of the new songs, “Black Buzz” was the biggest surprise because it’s so stripped down, so austere. What inspired that song, and how did it come together?
I was listening to a lot of Lee Hazelwood when I wrote it, and I wanted it to have that lilting, reverbed-out cowboy vibe when I started, but it turned into something else after I started writing.
I had learned that someone who is very close to me had been struggling with an addiction problem. The song then took on a heavier meaning for me; the lyrics are very personal.
It’s the best song I’ve ever written.
“Jet Out of the Tundra” has this weird dissonance to it in that it marries a lot of sonic ideas: engine driven propulsion, light, weightlessness, breaking glass; it reminds me a bit of Stereolab.
I like that! I had written the chord progression forever ago, and like I do with a lot of ideas recorded it to my phone to refer to later. Most of them don’t get used, but I had forgotten I made this and loved the weird progression it had when I listened back to it. The piano and lead guitar melody came to mind immediately. I wanted it to have the feeling of staring out a plane window, jet-lagged and lost in thought.
How did you and your fiancée come to start Nice Weekend? Is it at all weird to work creatively with someone you’re romantically connected to?
We started to work on a song for fun but then got really into finishing it. We loved the way it was turning out and was really fun to come up with. She tells me what kind of feeling she wants the song to have and I write the music to it. I usually just play guitar for a bit and she’s like “that, do that,” and we write a song.
It’s really a fun exercise since there are no expectations other than to please ourselves and have fun. I think if we were to do it all-out and with an audience in mind when writing songs, it might be stressful, but the way we do it is basically hanging out while writing music.
Was “Dusty Rhodes” written for your fiancée? The lyrics suggest the forging of a close bond between two people.
It was. I would go anywhere she wants, and it’s me asking for the same from her. It’s about longing for someplace new but knowing home is where she is and wanting her to be with me, wherever I go.
Lotus Plaza play Glasslands Gallery with Disappears and Noveller tonight.