Music by VICE

Jessy Lanza Doesn’t Want Any More of Your Tote Bags

Ahead of her debut Australian tour we chart the rise of the Canadian R&B musician from restaurant server to BBC radio host.

by Matthew Miller
16 January 2017, 1:39am

Five years ago Jessy Lanza was a young piano teacher living and working in Hamilton, a former steel city located outside of Toronto. Since then, the producer who pairs sensuous R&B vocals with techno and pop, has become one of the most talked about in electronic music.

Her 2013 debut Pull My Hair Back, co-written and produced with fellow Hamilton resident Jeremy Greenspan of Junior Boys, created a flurry of excitement. But the more vocal-driven Oh No, that fused compulsive, synth-heavy footwork with dreamy r'n'b, included some of 2016's most perfect pop.

Jessy's 2017 will begin with a tour of Australia, that includes appearances at Sugar Mountain and Sydney Festival, and a return to the studio to work on a new album later in the year.

We caught up with Jessy to chat about free swag and choosing between her children.

Noisey: What were you doing five years ago? 
Jessy Lanza: Working as a server and teaching piano.

In Hamilton?
Yes, at a Lebanese place called La Luna and I got lots of free food which was really good. [laughs] But in between working those jobs, I was working on music a lot. It was a really busy time. A really uncertain time as well because I had a lot of hopes for the future but I really had no expectations. Looking back, my life now is a lot different but it's interesting that you ask as the other day I was being thankful for what's happened and what I've achieved in the past few years. It's easy to kinda get down and feel like you're not doing very much, and then realising that, yeah, in the past three years, I mean I have done a bit. It made me feel good to think about it and to say it out loud. 

A lot of musicians have worked in hospitality and service industry.
Yeah, I think at some point everybody should be forced to work a customer service job. I was really shit at it because I just…  some people are really good at putting on a happy face and remaining calm. [laughs] Of course I have a lot of sympathy for customer service because people… well, there's a lot of rage flying on around there. 

So it's helped you appreciate your current gig?
Yeah, I'm really lucky to be able to do what I'm doing. So sometimes it feels like my patience is thin and I'm stressed out about a million other things that aren't a thing. But ultimately it's like a small thing you have to get past. As much as I value what I've learnt from working as a server, I do not want to go back to doing just that. I'll take what I'm doing now. [laughs]

Your parents played in bands when you were younger. Was it rock n roll?
Yeah, they did a lot of covers. I always laugh with my mom about it. A few years ago Jeremy got an OB-Xa which was the synth that Van Halen made famous at the start of "Jump". I told her that, and she's like, "You know, I used to sing "Jump'!" [laughs]

[laughs] So are you going to remix some of your parents old covers?
Ha ha, no. They did do some original music too. But to be honest, my Dad passed away when I was 16. Even though that was forever ago, I'm very much like, I'm fine with it, I haven't been able to bring myself to listen to any of those old tapes. I know one day I will but… I haven't yet. 

I just saw you posted an Instagram pic of your Korg Poly. Is that your instrument of choice? 
That's so funny! Yeah, I'm still sitting beside it! The power of social media. The one I have is broken. There's a few missing keys and a couple of dead keys, so it's a bit frustrating to use at times. I'd say my favourite that I recently got is the Roland JX-8P that came with a programme. It sounds really nice. It sounds really really pleasant.

Are you getting approached by companies to use their equipment?
I wish [laughs]. That would be amazing. I think Roland doesn't—They're known for not giving deals to people. I think that's one of their things. They're just kinda like, "Yeah, we know everyone loves us." 

Do you get swag when you play Primavera and the big festivals?
No, I mean I've gotten free shoes for a festival. I've gotten more tote bags than I know what to do with. If you want a tote bag, then go to a festival. [laughs] They're always gonna give you free tote bags.

You're right. There's only so many tote bags you need. 
Yeah, I never have to use a plastic bag at the grocery store. I have so many bags.

You're playing Sugar Mountain which is a music and art festival. Is there any Canadian artists we should be keeping an eye out for?
Yeah, there's a painter in Hamilton named Manny Trinh. I actually share a studio space—well, I'm in the back and she has her painting studio in the front—but my friend Christina Sealey is a visual artist, and she also makes techno music as well called Orphx. She's great too. So yeah, I'll shout out Christina Sealey and Manny Trinh, they're both from Hamilton and they're amazing. 

Nice. Do you have any art hanging in your apartment or on your walls? 
Well, I mean it's pretty expensive. [laughs]

Yeah, more expensive than a tote bag!
Definitely. But I actually have another artist from Hamilton. His name is Matt Jelly and Jeremy actually bought one of his new pieces a while ago. So yeah, I have a Matt Jelly original. 

Does Jeremy own a bar in Hamilton?
Yeah, he does!

Is it a regular bar or one that pretends to be a dive bar but is actually a cool bar? 
Yeah, it's definitely not a dive bar. It's nice. I mean I don't really drink so I don't spend much time hanging out in bars [laughs]. So I'm not like an expert on bars, you know.

I saw you were going to be a part of this BBC radio residency. What's that about?
So every month I do a one hour program on the show. I think it's going to happen till June, possibly longer.

Great. So does that involve you playing mixes and tracks or are you the host, like "Hey you're listening to BBC, this is Jessy" kind of thing?
Exactly. I mean, I'm not… I don't know how much talking I'm going to be doing. The option is definitely open if I want to.  It's like my own show, I just do what I want.

Artists often freak out when asked to choose a favourite song and claim that it's like choosing between a child. Well, screw the kids. Do you prefer "VV Violence" or "It Means I Love You"?
Firstly, I was going to say that I would never treat my music like children because I hate some of them [laughs]. You know what I mean? I would hope that I definitely don't have unrequited love for something that I do, that's totally delusional and weird. But, I would pick "It Means I Love You". I like "VV Violence" but I think I like "It Means I Love You" just a little bit more.  

Jessy Lanza Australia 2017:
Jan 20 - Sydney Festival at Meriton Festival Village
Jan 21 - Melbourne at Sugar Mountain
Jan 22 - Perth at Jack Rabbit Slims

'Oh No' is out on Hyperdub.