Nyles Lannon is a prolific songwriter/artist who plays a wonderful variety of music under different pseudonyms, with each identity representing a different approach to music. As part of the highly-touted slowcore band Film School, Lannon plays a soft, pensive, organic kind of music that is band-focused and collaborative. Under the name n.Ln, Lannon creates instrumental, glitchy, electronic music that is reminiscent of the electronic work of Sufjan Stevens. As N. Lannon, Lannon seemingly combines the too, playing solo-folk music laced with electronic samples and accents. Uniting all three of these projects is Lannon’s remarkable ability to compose melodies that linger in the mind. Lannon graciously answered our probing questions:
How did you learn to write songs?
Writing songs is always very difficult. It is really just perseverance and patience. A big piece of writing is focusing what you want to say and sticking to it, and trying to be objective and not getting too attached to ideas that may not be as good as you initially think they are. I’ve learned that having that discipline allows me to finally complete songs…but how to write a song, like a consistent formula or way of doing things, I’ve never had. To me, songs are about flow, taking the listener somewhere, and I try to have songs unfold in different ways. So to answer your question, I think I will always be learning how to write, since every song presents a new challenge for me.
How did you get your start in music?
My mom forced me when I was about 10. I played drums for about six months and then started playing guitar. I had a horrible punk band in grade school.
How did Film School form?
Krayg (singer, guitarist) asked me to join the band after we played together a bit, he was already playing with Ben Montesano (drums) and Jason Ruck (keyboard) and had recorded most of Brilliant Career, the first LP. Shortly after that I brought in Justin Labo to play bass, whom I was playing with in Justin’s electronic project Technicolor. Then we started writing songs together as a band and we released “Alwaysnever.”
How has the response been to Film School’s Alwaysnever EP?
The response has been really great all around.
What made you decide to go solo, and why have you adopted the varying styles of music that are so different from Film School?
I don’t see it as “going solo”. That makes it sound like I am breaking away from something and that is not the case. I’ve always had different projects going concurrently; it’s just that now the records are finally coming out. Having multiple projects keeps me stimulated and gives me perspective, It’s really important to me. Look at the guys in Tortoise, they have put out so many amazing records in so many different projects and in different styles of music. Look at Markus Acher, Jim O’Rourke. Working at that level is what I aspire to. I feel I have a very long way to go.
I’ve found that the different projects act as catalysts for each other. If I get tired of one thing I go to another – from guitar playing to making electronic music to writing lyrics, all in a day. I can get a lot done that way, and it allows me to stay pretty fresh when working on music, which is a necessity.
As far as the musical differences with Film School, it’s just a different vibe. When I started writing Chemical Friends I had a lot to say, so the music was immediately intimate and confessional. And I love the sound of electronic music, that is a big part of how I make music, so naturally it’s going to have that element – which sounds different than Film School (although we do have some electronic songs). But as the record started taking shape I really wanted to push myself to make something that was unpredictable, that jumped around and redefined itself as the record unfolds. If you listen to Bowie, or the White Album – the albums flow and change constantly, you end up liking songs for different reasons, you build a deep relationship with the record. Bowie takes a lot of chances on his records. I will never touch the brilliance of Hunky Dory, but I can at least try to make something worth spending 40 minutes listening to. It is interesting to me to go in different directions and then see how you can tie the music together.
As you create your instrumental, electronic music, what is going on in your head? What inspires you to write the compositions that you do?
There are two threads in my music, really. n.Lannon is music that I write on the acoustic guitar. The songs are pop oriented, with lyrics and melodies, starting with a melody I have in my head. The other thread is n.Ln, which is entirely based on experimentation with software. Usually I start with snippets from records that I have sampled, computer noise, strange sounds I have found, whatever, and I re-synthesize them and tweak them using software. Its kind of like DJing in a way – I’m not really “playing” any instruments, I’m just listening and taking pieces of this and putting it with pieces of that. The inspiration comes when you hear something that is new, fresh, something that hits you unexpectedly.
Are you pleased with your electro-instrumental CD, Astronomy for Children? Does it convey the music in the way you were hoping it would?
Well, that’s a hard one. I was briefly pleased with it, enough to agree to put it out! Electronic music is tricky because it’s tied so much to the artist’s personal relationship with technology. I make electronic music in a completely different way now than I did a year ago, which was completely different than a year before that. If you were to show me “Astronomy” two years ago I think I would be really happy. I was really into melodic electronic music. Now, though, I’m getting into different ways of making music. But I still like the melodies on “Astronomy”- melodies are forever.
Describe for us the recording process of Chemical Friends? What was it like to combine electronics with your more traditional songwriting?
Well, as I said, with Chemical Friends I wrote the songs initially on the guitar. But that is where the “traditional” part stops. The thing about recording at home on the computer is that I end up continuously writing all through the recording process. I add beats, play with different arrangements, move melodies around. Songs evolve, and it can be great. It can also be overwhelming because you can go in infinite directions. I had to learn how to use electronics and computers without getting constantly distracted. It goes back to that discipline thing I was talking about. It took me years to learn. But once I sat down to write Chemical Friends, it came together relatively quickly. I would do three songs at a time, writing and recording. Each batch of three took about a month, more or less. I scrapped a few songs. All in all it took about 4 months, with a break in there when I released Astronomy.
What is your approach to writing lyrics?
Melody first, always. The melody comes with syllables usually. Eventually I fill in the syllables with words. It can take sometimes weeks, sometimes 5 minutes.
What are some cd’s you are listening to now?
Dub Tractor – More or Less Mono
David Bowie – Hunky Dory
Pole – 45/45
Lilys – Selected
Landing – Passages Through
Fennesz – Venice
Twerk – Living Vicariously Through Burnt Bread
Talking Heads – Remain in Light
Your upcoming self-titled Film School CD is one that we are anticipating greatly. What can we expect from this release?
There has been a lot of time between Alwaysnever and our next release, and during that time we have really grown into our sound. We are very band-focused, and I think now we are all on the same wavelength. Lately our music has been more upfront, dynamic and rocking. I think our next release will have a little more attitude but will retain a level of atmosphere and depth that is our signature. It might not be self-titled either, by the way…
What is in the future of Nyles Lannon?
This summer/fall I’ll be touring for Chemical Friends, recording and touring with Film School, completing another n.Ln record, doing a handful of remixes for people, working on a couple other secret projects…and then Ill start another N.Lannon record and start the whole process again ad infinitum. But right now I need to pay rent and find people to play the songs live! One day at a time…
Any other comments?
Buy records! Keep music alive! Listen to kusf.org. Um…that’s it.