"Everything had to feel extreme..." - NZCA Lines talks his new LP Pure Luxury
In his first two recorded outings as NZCA Lines, Michael Lovett has created two LPs steeped in otherworldly themes and ambitious sci-fi, all set to playful electronics.
But, for his latest effort Pure Luxury, he has come back down to Earth. Although it keeps Lovett's bouncy, colourful and rich take on electronica, this new album is inspired by the political turmoil on both sides of the Atlantic.
The LP features a slew of top-draw collaborators, as Lovett, who is a touring member of Christine and the Queens, flourishes across the nine-track record.
We spoke to Lovett about the making of the album, releasing during a worldwide pandemic and why this is a playful and political album...
It’s a very strange time to be releasing a record, have you managed to enjoy the process at all?
"Yes, it really, really is a strange time to be putting a record out! We were due to release the first track Pure Luxury on March 25th, which in terms of the pandemic was obviously a pretty mad time. I definitely considered postponing the release, but ultimately decided that with the future being so uncertain, it’s not like there was a clear end in sight. I’m glad that I decided to proceed as planned. This album is themed in part around the failures of capitalism and the destruction of our environment, so at least it felt somehow relevant to the times."
"I’ve actually really enjoyed getting into regular live streams, which I was doing daily at the start of lockdown, and at least twice weekly later on. It’s been nice to connect with fans and the online community. However, it’s definitely been stressful and worrying - one puts so much work into making an album, there’s a real fear that it could get lost and all be for nothing. In the grand scheme of things though I’m very lucky, so I’ve also been counting my blessings the whole time."
When did you start working on the songs for Pure Luxury?
"I’ve been writing since I released Infinite Summer back in 2016, but the core of the album started to take shape around late 2017 and into early 2018. I’d been visiting the US quite a bit, and the political situation felt quite raw. There's a lot of anger in the air. And my own feelings about Brexit and the state of the UK. This all fed into the writing I was doing, which in itself was also an attempt to let my personality speak a bit more through the music I was making."
Did you have an idea of how you wanted this album to move on from Infinite Summer?
"Definitely, although it took a while to find how. I wanted to move away from the sound palette of Infinite Summer, which was predominantly analogue synths and influenced by French dance music and soundtracks. I actually started out writing this record in a very stripped back way, just a piano and drum machine, perhaps a bass guitar, to work on songs rather than thinking about production. Gradually, I developed a way of working that excited me, which for me is often about finding a new process or tool that does things I wouldn’t do automatically."
"My overriding theme became ‘Extra’ - everything had to feel extreme, whether it was an ambitious arrangement, an abrupt change that made me smile, or something really grandiose like a disco string section. I still like the tracks from Infinite Summer - there’s a melancholy in there that’s very true to me - but this new music brings me back to a playfulness I think I’d lost a bit."
You largely worked on the album alone, but can you talk us through some of your collaborators?
"In a weird way, this has been simultaneously the most isolated album I’ve made, and the most collaborative! I’ve been really lucky that so many amazing musicians were up for contributing on the record. Sarah Jones, who played drums with me on the last album, sings some backing vocals. There's no actual drumming from her because we were never in the same place for long enough, but her voice is beautiful."
"There’s also vocals and some synths by Los Angeles based group We Are King, and guest vocals by VIAA, also in LA. Their vocals really bring to life 'Real Good Time', 'For Your Love' and 'Primp & Shine'. Then I’ve got drums from Kwake Bass, who’s from a great South London community of musicians and works with Kate Tempest and Sampha."
"Also on drums is Liam Hutton, who plays on 'Larsen'. The strings were arranged by my friend Josephine Stephenson and performed by the 12 Ensemble in London, which was such a great experience. There’s also some extra BVs from JATA aka Jacob Vetter, a German multi-instrumentalist I know from Margate, and a sneaky guitar solo by Kristofer Harris, who mixed most of the album and co-produced some tracks."
What kind of album is this lyrically? Is there a theme to it?
"The overarching theme is a sideways look at excess, questioning society’s upholding of wealth and status as desirable ideals, with a bit of pro-environmental commentary thrown in. However, there’s also some moments of quite simple romance and heartbreak, which I hope to provide some respite from the political stuff."
"It’s the most personal album I’ve written, and it took a lot to allow myself to express these things in lyrics. I love it when a song catches you and only later you understand its subject. Hopefully, some people have that experience with Pure Luxury."
Which song on the album took the longest to get right?
"The whole album was quite a journey, and I have a tendency to double back and change things if they’re not clicking - sometimes to my detriment. I think 'Prisoner of Love', that perhaps took the longest because it wasn’t written as the whole song from the start. It came from two different songs which I joined together. I knew I wanted to make a track in a piano-led disco and in a French Touch style, and eventually, that’s what came out, but it was a long journey for something that now sounds so straightforward."
And which came together most quickly?
"Actually, the title track Pure Luxury. I got the whole song figured out in a day, with the chorus and everything. Then figuring out the right verse lyrics and the overall production took ages. That’s sometimes how it goes."
It’s a nine-track record, was it your plan to keep it short and sweet? Or is that simply the way things worked out?
"This is the first time I’ve really had an excess of songs for an album. In the end, it felt like these tracks worked well together, and the other songs tell a story that I can hopefully pick up on for the next release. It’s not really that short at about 35 minutes. That’s long enough, really!"
When did you decide on Pure Luxury for the album title? Were any other titles in contention?
"Actually it seemed very obvious, especially as Pure Luxury was the first song that gave me the shape for the album as a whole. One day I’d like to release an album where the title isn’t also a song title. Like Nevermind, or Loveless."
Have you been able to make any live plans? Or is everything simply on hold at the moment?
"We have a big show booked at Heaven in London for October 28th. Right now it’s not cancelled, but we’re all waiting to see how things evolve. It would be amazing to be returning to live shows by then, but it has to be safe for everyone. I can’t wait to be able to play this music live."