FaltyDL hangs off the edge of the sofa, and pulls up a YouTube video for me to watch with him. It's a preface to our conversation, he insists. It's also a boiling hot day, but indoors seems comfortable enough for him. The video is of himself, Drew Lustman, hugging the wall of a New York subway train, as he watches a dancer contort along the aisle to one of his new tracks, 'Do Me'. There's the spectacle of it being interpreted as so by the dancer, of course, but watching Lustman gingerly watch from afar is just as revealing. The video then becomes something of a meta-playlist, as each video documents the one before it with another layer of lens: camera, laptop and phone. It's a re-presentation of himself over and over that, on hearing his forthcoming album In The Wild, begins to make sense.
It's been around 7 years since the New Yorker started releasing his own music - robust, ambitious and frankly underrated music - but he still figures himself as a slight presence in the world. After the success of his last album Hardcourage, however, In The Wild sees Lustman indulge, confess and break out in ways that, again, frankly, few of his peers manage to articulate so thoroughly. As the playlist ends, we get to talking about the past year of his life, and what brought him to In The Wild.
Below, too, is a pretty special mix for THUMP from Lustman, which features exclusive, new material.
THUMP: To start, I have to say that In The Wild is very absorbing. What happened in the year between your last album, Hardcourage, and now?
FaltyDL: Yeah, it’s intense. I think it’s hard to passively listen to In The Wild. Hardcourage came out last March, and I had a lot of writer’s block after that. I was touring off the back of that album with James Blake, and maybe doing a few remixes, but gradually I just stopped writing.
Really? You’ve always felt like such a constant.
FaltyDL: I was writing poems and short stories that, now, maybe two people have read…. but I couldn't write music. I was talking to Thom Yorke at the time, and I confided in him that I couldn't find it within me to write again, and he told me: “Stop thinking too much about it. Get out of the house, go outside, do something which isn't music.”
What do you think brought on the writers block?
FaltyDL: The process of compiling Hardcourage was really difficult. I wanted to put it together in one way, the label wanted to put it together in another, and so there was a lot of push and pull when it came to the singles and the edits.
So the story of Hardcourage was more of a struggle in the end?
FaltyDL: Don’t get me wrong, Ninja Tune’s campaign was really great, but I mean more in terms of the content. I have a version of the album that sounded like a Moodymann record to me. Some of those tracks did get picked up, though: some are going to go out on Swamp81, and others I’m going to put out on my own label, Blueberry.
Did you feel that Hardcourage didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to, then?
FaltyDL: I’m happy with it, and people like it, but somewhere down a fairly short path, from studio to release, it was being talked about in a certain way: “joining the ranks of Four Tet and Jamie XX”, etc. I was like, ”Woah, that’s way too ambitious.”
Ambition isn’t necessarily arrogance, though.
FaltyDL: Sure, I mean - there’s some “big room” material on it, but maybe we should all try to be more humble about everything, you know? I think I’m afraid of skipping steps. I’m afraid of a career that just - drops out. I feel that my work to date has been more of a steady incline than anything else, so when things happens it feels more deserved. That, and I can handle it better.
Do you feel that, perhaps quietly, that you kept your music on a precipice in order to avoid blowing up?
FaltyDL: Here’s the thing: Floating Points still hasn't done his first album. I mean, he’s done the double packs and whatnot, but he's so loved and respected and he hasn't, technically, released his "debut" yet. I can't imagine that pressure. I’m so glad that this is my fourth. Looking back, it was really easy for me to put out my first, huge chunk of work in the beginning, especially on Planet Mu: press 1000 records, sell slowly, only do a little bit of press. It was all very manageable. But, no, there’s no deliberate holding back because I’m afraid of what might happen. I don’t have a pile of secret heat at home.
I’m sure you do….
FaltyDL: Well, ha, yes, I do, but I’m giving it all to Le1f. I’m working with him right now.
Amazing. So how did the process of In The Wild compare to Hardcourage, then?
FaltyDL: Well, we got Mike Paradinas to help me compile the album, which was dope. This made it the best of both worlds, because I had Ninja Tune and Mike pulling all of this together with me. Mike’s a champion. He’s just walking around in Rick Owens all day, listening to footwork with his new baby, ha.
Anyway, since the process of compiling this album was easier than the last, I also felt like that could get a bit weirder on it. I’ve never been one to think: “Now I need to bring in something Latin”, or “Now I need to bring in something more like Underground Resistance." I’m just thinking, “What will sound good right now?” I’m also extremely disorganised with where I keep my samples. When I open a file there could be anything in there, so I just fire at random and see how they fit. Chance is a real thing, but the first hit is usually the best one.
Yeah. First thought, best thought.
FaltyDL: Completely. I make one track per day, over the course of about 5 or 6 hours. Then I listen back to it the next day, tweak it a bit more, and then it'll be done.
That’s much like what Machinedrum said about his process to me once: making tracks on the plane, playing them that night or that week, and then tweaking them according to the crowd response and how he hears them when played out.
FaltyDL: Travis’s stuff is super club-orientated, so I think in large part that’s the best way to do it. I mean, I do try things out, but I’ve only become confident enough to play my own songs out in the last year or two. I won’t even write a whole song, just..... a special kind of loop. I’m not a great DJ, so I have to depend on playing exclusives I've written that day.
To be honest with you, I don’t know how accessible In The Wild is compared to my previous albums, but I want people to hear this record way more than Hardcourage. When Hardcourage came out, I was very nervous about people’s opinions. I thought it wasn’t exactly the record that I wanted to do. I think Hardcourage is very polished and soft, and, in hindsight, I was writing for other people in mind and not just for myself. I’ll write for myself a year and make 100 tracks that I like, but then I’ll find 14 or so tracks that are going to work for other people. It always feels like a bit of a compromise.
How have you worked through that?
FaltyDL: I’ve stopped saying no to myself in a lot of different indulgences. I’ve stopped being like, “No, that’s too weird.” I’ve not said no to any idea that’s come into my head. I’ve pretty much tried everything I’ve wanted to so far.
What does In The Wild look like?
FaltyDL: I think the record looks different depending on what angle you're looking at it from - like one of those two-way hologram cards, I suppose. The big thing that I think the album is about is sexuality: how it’s not black and white, how grey it all is, how the 17 tracks are 17 different attempts to crack my own code. I wanted to get something out there that felt very honest for me. I think we are not as free as we think we are. I think we put a lot of constraints on ourselves. There are a lot of weird social faux pas, and we’re always so anxious. When I go to Le1f’s shows, I see that melt away for a time. Le1f is so inspiring. The environment he breeds (and feeds off) just by the sheer force of his openness is amazing to me.
What of those ideas are translating within In The Wild? What is "The Wild"?
FaltyDL: This album is my shield. It’s a lot of me. "The Wild" is anywhere outside of my apartment, really. It’s Brooklyn. It’s being here. It’s talking about it. I’m afraid of going out sometimes because I don’t want to see that person that I know, but it's not out of fear of the unknown. It's a fear of the familiar. No one told me to be afraid to go out because I’ll run into someone. "The Wild" is the idea of what might happen to us, outside - and of our own fears.
In The Wild feels the most tactile you've ever been: the disparate is quite tightly wrought. It's like pulling on a rope, and having a huge net burst open.
FaltyDL: Exactly. At some point, you have to sit back and realise that, yeah, you do want to make cool dance records and put out a couple of 12", but I'm an artist, too. I am self indulgent, and I want to make records to please myself. If I don’t make music, I’m miserable.
In The Wild is also quite long, at just under an hour. I’ve had a fairly recent obsession with short albums - it's a sort of lust for directness, I suppose - but I really enjoy In The Wild because, in part, I can see that it’s not so much about how long the release is, but how and where you manoeuvre within that time period, you know?
FaltyDL: Yeah for sure – and it’s also about doing different kinds of records. Like, Rory Porter and Kuedo are such inspirations for me. I mean... if you start making dance records and journalists put you into a box, you did that to yourself. If a journalist pigeonholes an album you make as 2-step, dude, it’s because you made a 2-step album. Don’t complain. The doors are wide open for you to make whatever you want. You just have to go there. Anyway, another thing that really influenced me was that I've been watching a lot of films.
What kind of films?
FaltyDL: Terrence Malick films. Just, such beautiful films.
Well, that makes sense.
FaltyDL: This is weird, and I feel like I can say this comfortably now, but I helped to make a very early version of the sound design for the new Terrence Malick movie. I got sent a hard-drive with 100G of samples on it, and I started making ambient loops and sending them to the film’s editor, back and forth, for months. I don’t even know if any of the music is going to be in the final cut, but those loops were what they edited the movie to, so the music is still very much woven into it all for me. That was really cool, to be honest. I must be doing something right if I could be part of that conversation.
What is it about his films that grab you?
FaltyDL: It’s the sheer force of emotion that can come through in a split second. How a chord change can make you want to just cry.
This album is so emotive…. I feel like you've finally stopped bottling up.
FaltyDL: My father got sick last year. He had a stroke. It was devastating at the time, but he’s had this miraculous recovery. He’s at like, 90% of himself now. The thing is, though, the next one is going to really kick his ass, and this is the most intelligent, articulate, amazing human being I’ve ever met in my life. All of my drive comes from this guy.
He now has ADD because of the stroke, so he has way less of an attention span. It can be hard to watch, but then I snap out of it and think, “What the fuck are we wasting time for here?” I could be angry at this guy for shit that happened when I was younger, but he’s 70 years old now. Let’s become friends again. He also suffered from aphasia, which means that he couldn’t talk at all right after the stroke. When I had a meal with him last week he didn’t say very much, but the fact that he was speaking at all made it such an amazing conversation for me.
I wish I could relate more directly but, all that frustrated energy....
FaltyDL: I bottle all this shit up and put it into my music. That’s the rope you were talking about before. That rope is why I say "Yes" to all these shows and tours. Even though I’m uncomfortable leaving the house, and I’d rather be home producing for rappers and movies, I really fucking want to see Tokyo, you know?