Famously hailing from Steeltown, Hamilton-honed electronic pop star Jessy Lanza is currently Zooming in from her treehouse recording studio in Redwood City, on the outskirts of Silicon Valley. While that jumble of imagery may seem discordant, it’s also a decent encapsulation of Lanza’s music. Juxtaposing dark lyricism and honeyed vocals with calmly euphoric computer beats and an earthy authenticity, her new album has been a much-needed balm.
“I feel really stressed most of the time, even when I don’t have anything to be stressed about — and that makes me feel really guilty, like, what’s wrong with me that I can’t be appreciative? Now, in a time when I really do have something to cry about, it seems suitable,” says Lanza. “It makes me happy to think that people could listen to the album and feel better.”
“It’s funny, because I thought this year, I would be back on track”
How she wound up surrounded by Ewok forests discussing All the Time, her latest longplayer for U.K. imprint Hyperdub, is (like all stories nowadays) a plague tale. Lanza actually moved South a few years ago —setting up shop in Queens, New York while touring her presciently titled 2016 album Oh No — but was on a pre-release European run when the world fell apart.
“We played a show in Switzerland,” she recalls. “The Alps were separating Italy from St. Gallen, where we were, but they were obviously freaked out. They were making people show IDs at the door to keep people who might be Italian out. That was the first indication that this isn’t normal and is going to get pretty bad.”
They made it back stateside, but having booked a suddenly-cancelled tour from early April in L.A to October in Montréal, Lanza had let her lease expire. With New York collapsing under COVID, Lanza and her partner fled in their van, driving cross-country to take refuge with his parents in northern California. (The van would later be iconically re-purposed for her Boiler Room set.)
All the Time was already “mixed, mastered and ready to go,” so while the rollout went awry, the record was only delayed until late July. If it sounds a little different from past releases, that’s not the pandemic, but because it was the first record Lanza did long-distance, with longtime Hamilton collaborator, Juniors Boys’ Jeremy Greenspan. “It was kind of weird to work [like that] because I’m so used to us being super-close, but it was fun,” she says, adding she still drove back and forth from New York to Hamilton each month.
She was also influenced by the artists she met in New York – “I didn’t feel so cloistered away this time around,” she says – and the creative opportunities that come with being far from home. “I did a lot more on my own,” she adds. “Setting up my studio how I like it, and just experimenting.”
Lanza also got bolder lyrically, dissecting her cynicism and emotional distress, and even putting them in the liner notes, despite how vulnerable that made her feel.
“I felt like such a mess the past few years, and it’s funny, because I thought this year, I would be back on track,” she laughs sardonically. “But it’s a good lesson. You can make all kinds of plans: I’m going to put out this album, and I’m going to tour, and I’m going to like feel normal again. And that couldn’t be further from reality.”
But, she adds, “so much of my music is about feeling rejected and not being good enough. It’s such a loud feeling for a lot of people. [All the Time] is an effort to quiet it for myself — and I hope that it would work for others while they’re listening.”