Michael Lovett on new LP Pure Luxury, American influences, music videos inspired by vintage films, and incorporating big concepts
Michael Lovett has always aimed big musically and it’s evidenced on new album Pure Luxury which sees him expand into new sonic territory while taking inspiration from some bigger global issues. NZCA LINES, the name he releases music under, is a reference to the 2000 year old Peruvian geoglyphs (designs and motifs etched into the ground – look them up online) which only seems to confirm that he’s someone who looks beyond the obvious when making music.
His previous two albums, 2012’s eponymous debut and 2016’s Infinite Summer, were broadly influenced by sci-fi ideas but for his third album the context is much more embedded in the real world with themes that touch on environmental damage, consumerism, overpopulation and pursuing human relationships via the internet. He’s an in-demand musician, forming part of Metronomy’s touring band and also having played with Christine & The Queens. He’s usually based in London but speaks to us from Brooklyn where he’s been temporarily located after getting married to his wife in the US earlier in the year before the pandemic hit.
How have the last couple of months been for you?
It’s been a bit up and down. I started to release new music at a really weird time but I was definitely unsure as to whether it was a good idea to do that. There was so much going on but it was good to release the music. In March and April I was doing a lot of live streams on Instagram which was good, it felt like there was a bit of a community in a way. Actually directly talking to people who like my music was really positive. But there’s also been times when emotionally things take a dive for whatever reason, like being inside and feeling isolated with all my tours cancelled. So I’ve experienced both sides.
How does it feel to be releasing a new album at this time? Did you consider delaying?
There’s a lot of people involved in the process of releasing an album and there’s quite a bit of energy around it which I think might just get lost if you delay stuff for too long. It was nice to push ahead in that respect. I’m excited to actually release something and apart from the fact that I can’t play live it seems to have gone pretty well so far. People have been hearing the tracks and songs have been played on the radio and people are seeing the videos. I think the frustration for me has been not being able to see through some of my ambitions for videos for other tracks. The first one we released was made before lockdown and I had a clear visual identity for the album which we’ve been able to achieve to some extent which is great as we did a lot of the stuff before February but with the newer videos I’ve had to make some compromises but also has forced me to be creative in different ways so it’s led me to do stuff that I wouldn’t have done otherwise. I’m trying to see the positives.
What was the background to the new album?
I first started working on it during the summer of 2016 after I released the last album. I guess I’ve always been busy doing lots of other things as well which sometimes slows me down a bit. I was busy touring with Christine & The Queens that year but during the summer I was able to make a start and I did some demos. Writing the album has involved a number of different stages and different writing techniques. When I started I was making demos on an old digital 8 track, an unglamourous piece of equipment, just trying to write some songs on a piano and guitar and not thinking too much about what they would finish up sounding like. That was fun and the song For Your Love came from those demos, just drum machine, piano, bass and vocals with the intention that i would have to re-record it, there was no way I could use those for anything. That was a good starting point, from there I just really learned how to produce a lot more in this process. I didn’t have a consistent set up, I was just trying to figure out a way I found fun and interesting to make this new music. Conceptually there was a whole other thing in terms of themes of the songs.
Yes, some of the tracks are inspired by bigger issues – was that something you felt compelled to include in your music? (Larsen for example is about Larsen C, the ice shelf that started to break up in 2017)
Yeah, it felt like I couldn’t not include some things about that time. During this second stage of writing in 2017 I was in New York, around the time of the Women’s March which I went to with my now wife. It was a weird time, everything was quite raw and I felt quite angry. I was trying to make music that was exciting for me and wasn’t restrained. I ended up with these quite complicated dance tracks with shifting time signatures and there’s this song Larsen which comes from that time that is the most politically charged. It was a combination of making stuff that was quite freeing and thinking about what I really wanted to be saying.
Do you find putting fairly heavy hitting lyrics like that to accessible music quite a liberating experience?
Yeah, I was trying to write lyrics that were politically aware and conscious but also keep it fun and make it engaging. I hope that track is engaging. Larsen is the sound of me having fun, there’s a section where it totally changes and breaks down into a slow middle part and comes back in with a silly drum fill at the end of the song.
There are some tracks on Pure Luxury where it seems you were really pushing yourself creatively, like for example with the processed vocal and funkier sound on second single Real Good Time. Were you deliberately striving to move your sound on for this album? How did that track come about?
Yes, I was and I think working with collaborators really helped a lot in that respect. The song Real Good Time changed a lot over time. I started writing it while I was on a plane in Mexico weirdly but then I started rephrasing it into this funk track, thinking about what could benefit it. Getting Sarah Jones (drummer in Hot Chip) and Amber Strother from King (Los Angeles-based R&B twin sisters) to sing on that track was amazing because suddenly it made it three dimensional and brought it to life in a way that my voice couldn’t. It just completely changed it. It was the same with the bassline on that song. I was in Los Angeles visiting King and we just hung out for a bit. I knew Paris was a really good keyboard player but when I was there she was insanely good. She can just do that P-Funk thing so well. So I asked if she was ok just playing around with the bassline for this song and she did a couple for me that I recorded. There were all these extra things in the bassline which she did that were so organic and I sort of ended up ‘doing a Frankenstein’ and combining what she did with the original. I learned so much from seeing her do that that it influenced the way that I played the solo on that song which I recorded later.
Musically it feels quite a well balanced album, with some energetic, upbeat tracks next to some more slower, considered tracks. Was that balance in mood something you consciously worked towards?
I guess it was conscious in the sense of putting the tracks together on the final album. The first songs that I did were the most relaxed but then I ended up on this thread of making Real Good Time, Pure Luxury and Larsen which had more of a late 90s aesthetic, quite frenetic, quite intense. At one point I was going to try to have the whole album like that but then it felt quite tiring and it needed that journey of having some of those slower songs. I wasn’t sure if they would work together initially. Real Good Time involves this quite sleazy character and it’s quite ironic but then some of the other tracks are quite direct and sincere. Hopefully it’s a good balance.
You wrote some of the more energetic and maximalist songs on the album in New York. Do you think they reflect the location they were created in?
Completely. This album was the first time I’ve written music in different places. Being in America around the time of the Trump inauguration all that political stuff felt really present even if I was just in the apartment where my girlfriend lived. It was inescapable. Around that time I was going to record shops and they happened to be playing 12 inch remix 70s stuff. It was good to hear things that I would never have heard on my own. That allowed me to think more about what I wanted to make. I remember hearing about how when Phoenix were making Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix they spent a load of money going to different cities in which to write songs. I really liked the idea of that. The songs were definitely influenced by the place where they were written.
Your music has always had a strong visual, stylised element to it (in terms of album covers, videos etc) and it feels to be the case now more than ever. Do you set out with a strong aesthetic in mind or does this develop over time?
It develops, definitely. For this record I had to find what it would be. The first album was a quasi concept record, the second record was me getting into more hard sci-fi ideas and wanting this ridiculous detailed illustration for the album cover and that kind of stuff. On the last album I felt it quite hard to bring that into videos and things apart from the one for New Atmosphere that I made. It was a difficult aesthetic to bring in so for this album I needed to move away from that. This album cover is just an idea I had for this lounging, reclining singer where it’s very glossy but the body is trash and waste. I knew I wanted fashion type photography for the image used on the album cover and then we took it from there.
The video for Pure Luxury is great – how did that come about?
It took a while for that idea to come but I knew that I wanted some kind of dancing video. I imagined it as a 1960s TV show where you have girls dancing and that evolved. I had the images tied with the song really, I storyboarded out the rough ideas and just built on it with my wife, who’s a director. It felt like it needed to be fun and I wanted to have objects of luxury in it. I thought a good way of doing it would be to have cardboard props and paint them gold. We had been watching lots of Busby Berkeley films and musicals from the 1950s which were incredible, things like An American In Paris. We took a lot of influence from them. There’s a film called Gold Diggers Of 1933 (the film that features the song We’re In The Money). It’s amazing, you’ve got these girls with big quarters and dollar signs, it’s the perfect reference.
At the most obvious level it feels like Pure Luxury is a comment on consumerism/desire of humans to own stuff? What’s your view on that?
Yes, it’s about the idea of accumulating material goods in a world where the environment is messed up and we are destroying stuff. There’s a photograph of Nigel Farage and Donald Trump shaking hands in front of a gold door that I specifically had in mind. The whole concept of “what is luxury” seems bizarre to me.
Are you always on the lookout for new sounds?
For me it’s always essential that I’m discovering things as I go. If I’m not doing that it’s not very exciting. I’ve fallen into that trap before when you think you know what you’re doing but it doesn’t end up how you imagine. Having said that, right now I’m at an in-between stage where I’m looking for something to spur me on. There’s still a lot of good contemporary stuff coming out like LA Priest who have just released a new record. When I listen back to my last record it has a certain sound and a certain palette of instruments which I feel I’ve tried to move away from.
The record is released again on Memphis Industries. It feels like a great home for your music in terms of the label’s musical outlook and the fact there seems to be a lot of like minded, progressive acts on the label (I’m thinking people like Field Music and Dutch Uncles). Do you feel any sense of affinity with those other bands on the label? How has your experience been with Memphis Industries?
They are a very hands off label. It’s very much like a partnership between the artist and them, maybe more than other labels. Also, they curate the stuff that they release. They are great at facilitating, always good at putting out nice vinyl and really care about the music they release. Personally I was a really big Field Music fan when I was younger. I still think they’re great. I love how precise and mathematical a lot of their music is. I really like their Commontime and Measure albums. There’s also a new band on Memphis Industries called Stats also who are really good.
Do you have any plans for the rest of the year or are you just waiting to see what happens with the pandemic?
Yeah, it’s going to have to be a bit reactive. I was going to be touring with Metronomy later in the year but that’s not happening now. I hope I can release more videos related to the album. I’m also doing a special live stream gig on 15th July. I have a show at Heaven in London in October but we’ll have to see if that happens.
Pure Luxury by NZCA LINES is out on 10 July on Memphis Industries. Further information can be found at nzcalines.bandcamp.com
NZCA LINES plays a ticketed livestream concert, a virtual album release party, on 15 July. Tickets cost £6, but are limited, and are available here.