The diverse NYC dance producer premieres a new track talks sexuality and poetry
If FaltyDL’s new album were a hashtag, it would be #sorrynotsorry, or possibly #nofilter. It’s a crude way of thinking about it, but that fits: In The Wild, like so much of Drew Lustman’s output, is cut through with a wry smile in track titles like “Some Jazz Shit” and its bubbling, gurgling palette of sound. Here more than ever before, Lustman has let go of the need to control or refine his playful urges in the production process to come up with tracks that are frothy and full of life, taking unpredictable, impulsive twists - yet despite himself, he’s also apologetic about their strangeness, emblazoning the album’s back cover with the word “SORRY” and writing a poem in lieu of a press release that ends with an apology. Hence, the hashtags: he’s defiant in the face of his compulsion to apologise, and determined not to filter himself (sorry).
I met Lustman last month at Ninja Tune HQ to talk about the introspective and experimental journey he’s been from the third album Hardcourage to In The Wild. He made and promoted the latest LP without the aid of a manager, and threw himself gleefully into the process of it, which is obvious in the face-brightening way he talks about all the aspects of its creation – from writing the accompanying poem, to choosing the tracks, to curating a crowd-sourced video project. Over the course of our chat I find out that a commission to design ambient soundscapes for Terrence Malick, an appreciation of the films of Steve McQueen and a desire to actively make music his mother doesn’t like (no matter how much he may want to apologise for it) are all crucial ingredients in his new, wilder sound. Listen to jungle tune “Heart & Soul” exclusively here, and read on to get a peek at the actual heart and soul that was poured into this record.
Why call your album In The Wild?
It’s funny, you’d think that would be the question that I’d be able to answer really quickly, but I’m still figuring it out. I think that’s part of it. The album is about trying to figure out your own identity. A lot of it has to do with sexuality, and a lot of it has to do with life passions and how you’re spending your actual day-to-day, and I think those two things are linked in a way that we maybe don’t discuss as much as we should.
In what way?
People project an image and a lifestyle, and some of the first things that go into that are your sexuality and your preferences, and that goes into making other minute decisions such as what you wear and how you carry yourself and the words you use, and who you talk to and all these things, consciously and subconsciously. You notice that I’m making this up as I go along? The whole idea of how I interact with the world and how I articulate is that it’s an ongoing process, and so is sexuality, and so is identity, and all these things. I hope I haven’t figured it out yet, I hope it keeps changing and that life is full of weird experiences.
“(‘Do Me’) is all about sex... whether it's really aggressive or really sensual”
In the poem that accompanies the album, you end every stanza with “Never apologise” - and then you end the poem by apologising. There’s a sense of humour to that that I think runs through the whole album, that tension between being totally unapologetically sincere and then pulling back and making a joke.
I literally am that person. I had to be taught the concept of saying no to helping someone or offering something that might not be the ideal situation for myself. I would say yes to every gig... That relationship is how you handle saying yes and no to your parents. It comes from when you were a kid, I think. So there are these giants that are in your life, these figures that you don’t want to upset but you also want to stand apart from and evolve from – that’s where it’s like “no, I’m not going to apologise,” but then when you walk away it’s like “sorry, though.”
Is this something you think about a lot in relation to your public and online persona – that urge to say stuff and then to apologise for it or retract it?
Well, yeah, I mean I want to be like “sorry if that record wasn’t good enough.” It is definitely about my persona online. I keep threatening to get off Facebook but I just can’t do it. I’m so plugged in. I really respect friends of mine that can say less. Sometimes it’s output as well – even less music, just a couple of 12”s a year. Take Joy Orbison for example, he just puts out a 12” or two a year. He’s a pretty quiet guy, and I respect that. So I’m torn between both worlds.
At what stage in the process did you make “Do Me”? I feel like that’s quite a pivotal track.
Right in the thick of it, in the middle of it. I’ve got a bunch of edits – I’ve got a 2-step version of it, and I’ve got a bunch of different dubs. But when it became what it is now, the five minute epic sort of thing, I definitely felt I was crossing something. He’s just saying “do me, do me, do me.” It’s all about sex. It was a big track for me, when that happened.
He’s saying “do me harm,” right?
I don’t know what he’s saying. I hear “do me hard,” “do me harm,” “do me huh.” I think it’s “do me” like, “fuck me.” That’s what I hear. But it’s not bad – wherever your mind goes, if you think of like a weird scene from that movie Irreversible, or if it’s a really aggressive “do me” or a really sensual “do me” or whatever, I don’t think either one is wrong. And I don’t think anyone should have just one experience. They should be in charge of what experiences they have... it’s all about being okay with your own decisions.
This track is where I feel that sense of humour, that feeling that you’re sort of kidding coming through the most.
Yeah – I grew up listening to Frank Zappa, a lot of things that were like “we take the music seriously but we do have a sense of humour as well.” And that to me is the apex - speaking of apex, Aphex Twin as well. It’s like, sense of humour, but serious music. The “do me” sample is from an acapella that I ripped off a B-side of some old R&B tune or whatever, I don’t remember who it is. Before I put in the “do me,” I added that Berlin kickdrum, just a 4/4 (grunts). I never do anything 4/4 like that, so I’m sort of making fun of that whole thing at the same time. You know, really polite tech house and techno, it’s just eating itself up, it’s just referencing itself over and over again, which I think is a problem. So then I added the “do me” part and I was like okay, we’ve got something.
In the poem you also mention that “Heart & Soul” is a “female” track while “Greater Antilles” is “two parts masculine” – what do you mean by that?
“Heart & Soul” is like a jungle tune. I think you would associate that with an aggressive male dance crowd, a male producer possibly, but to me, the emotions I’ve felt in my life because of my relationships with women have been far stronger and more aggressive to me. Not in a bad way, but it feels like being shaken, like a jungle tune, more than my relationships with men. Those feel more delicate. And "Greater Antilles", that’s my favourite track on this album. Originally, this album was sort of inspired by Shame, the movie. That final scene, where it’s that apex of classical music and he’s in the threesome and then he runs and he sees his sister at the hospital, that whole climax: I wanted the end of the album to feel like that. I wanted it to feel like, holy shit, I’ve just exposed myself, now I can start working on myself. I think there’s hope at the end of the movie Shame, and I think there’s hope at the end of this album too.
It’s interesting you’d say it was inspired by a Steve McQueen film, I feel like he’s a good reference point for that level of detailed, gradual build.
Yeah, that’s such magic, what he does. I saw a short film he did at the MoMA in NY (Deadpan), where he’s just standing there, it’s in black and white, it’s like four minutes and he’s standing in front of the frame of a house. And it falls right over him.
He’s known for his unflinching, uncomfortable takes on things - was that what inspired you?
Yeah, like in Hunger, the conversation between Bobby Sands and the priest. It’s one take. It resonates. Everyone has a little bit of guilt about their sexuality, I think. So that part resonated with me. But yeah, (Shame) is just such a solid look at something, and it didn’t go off plan, there wasn’t a side of the story that didn’t go answered. I felt like I watched a complete idea.
When you spoke to Dummy back in 2013 you said you weren’t a producer but an artist - this album it feels like you’re taking that stance even more firmly because it’s such a cohesive release, from the art to the poem to the music.
If I’m being honest, I think I said it out of defence then, and I believe it even more now. Because with Hardcourage, it was like, tunes. “Straight and Arrow,” “She Sleeps” - those are like, 16 bar intro, 16 bar chorus, 16 bar drop, it’s very whatever. I was feeling very conflicted about putting out a record that was the most accessible thing I’d done - because that was the one where my mom texted me and was like, “I get it!” and I was like, “fuck. My mom gets it, my career’s over.” But it’s the same thing, it’s always me having this existential crisis, trying to figure out “where am I at?” Because I can’t articulate it, I need to get it out through my music. And I think that’s what being an artist is. But not in the “artiste” way - it’s far more depraved. It’s far more egotistical and self-serving.
What’s the difference?
I just get really annoyed when I see an artist bigging up themselves, in any medium: sculptor, painter, writer, actor, musician. The coolest thing you’ve done is you’ve figured out how to make a living out of doing your passion and not going and sitting at a desk job.
Did your work in sound design have an influence on the way you worked on this album?
Well, last year I was doing the coolest thing, and I didn’t talk about it consciously because I wanted to make sure it happened. But I was doing sort of preliminary early sound design work for the new Terrence Malick film. My cousin was editing for him for a while and they’re very close... Terrence came across my music and then the editor of the movie sent me a hard drive with about 100G of samples, and I just started making these five minute ambient tracks. It was just so they could edit to something, because it’s very early days - you know, movies take like 10 years anyway. So that got me out of myself, I wasn’t writing Falty DL stuff, that got me into a completely other frame. Also if I sent them anything that had anything recognisable, any modern convention like a delay pedal or anything that you knew how it could possibly be made, they’d be like, “no, it’s got to be more abstract, it’s got to sound like we can’t figure it out.” It had to sound like abstract, ambient, I don’t know, whale noises. It was really cool.
Did you apply that approach to your own stuff?
I think so; the Greater Antilles stuff is really orchestral in parts. Yeah, just thinking more - I mean, “cinematically” is kind of a cheap way to describe it, but yeah, bigger. Or just different. It’s like exercising your muscles, you’ve got to change it up a bit. It gets really stale doing the same thing over and over again.