From Dessner to Dickinson, Luluc Recounts Inspiration Behind Latest LP Dreamboat

Zoe Randell and Steve Hassett of Luluc (pronounced “Loo-Luke”) have been riding the rollercoaster of pandemic feels, just like the rest of us. While it wasn’t in their plans to be back in Australia for the indeterminate future, the duo have been embracing the beauty of Sorrento. For those readers unfamiliar with Sorrento, it’s a picturesque, coastal town in Victoria – just outside of Melbourne – that attracts beach-loving holiday tourists, surfers and artistic types looking for some solace from city life.

“We visit every year, usually in the summer,” says Randell, “but this is the first time we’ve stopped here for long enough to experience the winter and smell the first hints of springtime arriving. Melbourne is very different to New York; the light, the colours. It is quite a magical experience, like catching up with an old cherished friend.”

Randell and Hassett founded Luluc in Melbourne in 2008, then moved to Brooklyn, New York in 2010. Their indie-folk sound has attracted attention and acclaim for each of their three past records (2008 debut Dear Hamlyn, 2014’s Passerby, and 2018’s Sculptor) from NPR, Uncut, and artists ranging from Iggy Pop and Sleater-Kinney’s Janet Weiss to Lucinda Williams, who Luluc supported on tour. Luluc’s latest, Dreamboat, is already hot property. It was featured on NPR All Songs Considered (a personal pick of host Robin Hilton), and single “Emerald City” featured on Australian radio, Double J’s Mornings show.

Co-produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner, “Emerald City” is one of the many Randell was working on pre-pandemic, when life as usual, frenetic and glorious in New York, was taken for granted. Dessner had invited Randell and Hassett to Berlin for the PEOPLE Festival (run by Dessner and Justin Vernon), which is where the three artists began work on Dreamboat. The album was recorded across both Berlin and their Brooklyn studio, then mixed in isolation in Sorrento.

Guests on the album, other than Dessner, include Bon Iver’s JT Bates on drums, and Arcade Fire’s saxophonist, Stuart Bogie. “I took a few songs to PEOPLE Festival that were close to finished, but these particular songs both Steve and I felt needed different instrumentation and textures,” says Randell. “So, a couple of the songs on this record have beats and synths that Aaron played, as well as two incredible drummers. But with all these newer sounds we’ve explored, it is still very much in keeping with our vibe. Really we feel like we can explore any sounds we want to, if the song is there at the core.”

“Emerald City” is gloriously atmospheric. Randell’s melodic voice, a lullaby, effortlessly graces a downtempo, glitchy beat that hints at the restlessness of urban life. “Finally sleep takes the wheel,” sings Randell. “I won’t let this pull me under, I won’t let you pull me under.”

For Randell, inspiration is not as clear cut as sounding like, or taking influence from, other musicians. She refers to the practice of drawing from the artistic richness of books, music, sights, smells and ideas as an act of synthesis. “For us, our art is a whole-life pursuit, so I draw from all forms; books, film, nature, art, photography and of course music. Often I’ll go deep with an artist, a record, or an author, that captivates me, and kind of let it wash over me, leave it’s impression.”

“All the Pretty Scenery,” for instance, came into being as a result of Randell’s immersion into Emily Dickinson’s poetry, an exploration of a time before our modern imaginations were affected by all-pervasive technology, before iPhones dictated what we know and how quickly. “I was inspired by some of the pictures she created,” Randell recalls. “It felt like time travel. Like I could experience some sense of how her outlook was influenced by the times she was living in. That got me thinking about writing a poem, or lyric, that reflects my experience of the world now as distinct from her time.”

To that end, the album is thoroughly appealing to a modern listener while still being a romantic thing – a creation that recalls vinyl jazz records, the raw and textural joy of a real album that requires full attention and dedicated listening from beginning to end. Don’t press shuffle.

“That auto-shuffle function that happens makes me crazy!” admits Randell. “Songs are like chapters in a book or scenes in a film, so I very much want people to hear them as we create them. I love how you get to know an album, how you hear the next song in sequence before it even starts playing. I hope people at least start out listening to the sequence we created. The songs can stand on their own of course, but I think it helps to get to know the world that’s been created when you’re hearing a new album.”

Though touring, as we’ve become accustomed this past six months, is off the table, Luluc will be offering live performances online once the duo have organised how and when they’ll deliver these. It will be intimate, far from their opening slots for the likes of The National, J Mascis and Dinosaur Jr., Father John Misty, Fleet Foxes and Jose Gonzalez, likely closer to their past performance for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts in 2014. But the album itself unravels like a gift; as the world is forced to run into the brick wall of enforced lockdowns and cities become sparse places where people scurry – eyes down and distant – from their home to pick up takeaway and straight home again, it feels nourishing to spend time in the lushness of Luluc’s dreamscape.

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