For a rock star, Lockett Pundt is pretty shy. While that would likely be said about anyone famous for standing next to his gregarious Deerhunter bandmate Bradford Cox, Pundt's presence has always been notably withdrawn. He looks lost in thought even while summoning an enveloping guitar noise. That conspicuous internal quality is the main reason that Spooky Action at a Distance is such a surprise. The new record from Pundt's solo project Lotus Plaza isn't so far off from what he's done previously. But its openness, its shunning of obscuring elements, feels like a big step forward (even if it stops a few stops short of being truly confessional). The refinement has paid off, earning the album glowing critical notices on its release earlier this week.
Prepping for a spring tour and a fall wedding, Pundt took time out to participate in an e-mail Q & A. In addition to his newest songs, we discussed love, fear, astrophysics, Roxy Music, and other important mysteries.
The L Magazine: Do you play every instrument on this record?
Lockett Pundt: Yeah, I played everything. I sort of treated the studio like a huge 4-track. I would lay down a metronomic loop, guitar track, or drums, and sort of go from there. That's pretty much how I do it at home anyways.
Did the songwriting all start on guitar? Do you ever use anything else to start writing a song?
I do most of my song writing on guitar or bass. A lot of times it might be a guitar loop, and I fashion chords around it so that it plays around the key of the loop. It's my favorite songwriting tactic for sure. I may or may not include the loop, but I think I do more often than not. Both "Strangers" and "Out of Touch" were written on drums first. I did the drums first on "Strangers" and then got a guitar and wrote the rest. The drums are what wrote it for me, though. Same with "Out of Touch," the drum pattern had this sort of swing to me, so i tuned a guitar to open D and sort of mimicked the swing by playing the open harmonics on the strings. I would have never written a song on the guitar like that without having the drums as they were. I want to start writing on a piano in the future.
In a few places on the record, the guitar tones put me in mind of shoegaze bands. But with your voice mixed up above them it ends up less overwhelming than that and much more direct. Was that a concept for the record going in? Something that emerged as it was being recorded?
I wanted to keep the sound more direct than I did in the past for sure. I don't really listen to any shoegaze stuff anymore and it's not really want I want to do. I overuse a lot of delay and reverb but I tried to check those tendencies a bit more on this record. I wanted to clean things up a bit and have the songs breathe a bit more.
With Lotus Plaza material (or Bradford with Atlas Sound for that matter) how early do you play it for the other Deerhunter guys? Do you want it to be totally finished first, like a present to give them? Or do you let them hear it earlier in the process?
Usually if I like the song i'm working on, I finish it. So, by default, the songs I would bring that I liked enough to show everyone would be finished. I couldn't stop halfway through a song I was really excited about writing and not finish it!
What was your aim in starting and ending the record with still, ambient moments?
I wanted this album to have an introduction instead of going straight into a pop song or something. I also hoped that it would be sort of an identifier of the album. Something you hear and know what you're listening to within the first second of hearing it. The ambient moment at the end is different. It's supposed to be the stark feeling after the character of the song goes to sleep. There's a sense of false peace that slowly gives way to a sort of uneasy feeling. That's what it is for me.
I read somewhere that your parents were sort of Roxy Music obsessives when you were growing up. What’s your favorite record of theirs? Do you think it’s influenced your taste? Which Bryan/Brian do you identify more with: Ferry or Eno?
Avalon is my favorite, and maybe an odd choice. It's the one I was most familiar with growing up and what my mom named her home business after. I knew all the words, or what I thought the words were, from listening to the tape over and over in our crumbling Peugeot. It turned me on to other new music later in life that I had no idea was connected to each other. I just thought it was some weird soft rock stuff my parents loved, but they had some cool taste. I do identify with Eno a bit more musically, though. Getting into the Eno records had much more impact on me musically than the Ferry ones.
How did you first come across the Einstein phrase, “Spooky action at a distance”? Is thinking about quantum entanglements, physics, the cosmos, etc., something you find yourself doing often?
In the past i have read bunches about astrophysics and space. More than anything else really. It is something i have always been kinda obsessed with since I was a kid. If I could do or be anything on the planet, i would be an astrophysicist. I'm not intelligent enough to be of any use in the field but that's where I would be if I could. It's such a fascinating, strange, and completely alienating world to look into. Reading about it changes the way you look at everything around you! It turns the familiar into an array of confusing probability and seemingly random occurrence. I never go a day without thinking about it. You have to remind yourself of how things really are. It's easy to get wrapped up in ego and the human condition, but I find there's a serene humility in thinking about your surroundings and the day to day on infinitesimally small and large levels. I ran across "spooky action..." in a lot of books I was reading, but I think the first one was a book about string theory by Leonard Susskind. I loved the idea and the phrase and knew I wanted to use it for something.
Lyrically, are you still working in a more or less improvisational way, as you’ve mentioned before? A song like “Black Buzz” for instance, seem more formed and narrative than stuff from The Floodlight Collective?
I don't improvise many lyrics anymore. Some parts of songs, maybe, but overall I tend to write them out now. "Black Buzz" is something I definitely wrote out and probably my favorite song on the record. I feel like I got what I was trying to say out in a way that isn't overly cryptic or obvious. It has story that is honest to me. I definitely have been trying to change how I write lyrics into something more honest.
A lot of the songs seem to be about friendship and companionship more than romantic love, maybe. Is that true?
Yeah, I write about friendship a lot in my songs and a bunch on my first album. It's just as important to me as love. I hadn't written too many love songs in the past, at least not ones on Deerhunter or Lotus Plaza albums. I do write them, but they are not obviously love songs lyrically. They are usually about something else and indirectly a love song. I've started to write songs that resemble more of a love song. I'm working on finishing the lyrics to one right now for tour next week.
You’re getting married this year. Is your relationship with your fiancée something you’ve written about as a songwriter, or something that factors into this record?
I've written love songs for her that she will only hear. She's the center of most of the songs I'm writing now. She was the focal point for a lot of my record, but in a different way. She is my mirror and I get a lot of my inspiration from her whether it be a love song, or a personal revelation she help me discover. She is my love and helps me understand and push through my fears. Most songs in history are about fear and love.
You’ve spoken about stage fright previously. Has fronting Deerhunter on songs like “Desire Lines” on tour so often alleviated that at all? Or is performing as Lotus Plaza like starting from scratch?
Well in Deerhunter, the attention is diffused over 3 other people so it's not so bad to sing here and there. I'm rarely the focal point for longer than a few minutes. In Lotus Plaza, I'm sort of starting over again and the emphasis will be on me. Especially since it is established as a solo project, even though i'm with a band. I get nervous even thinking about it, really, but I want to try it. But yes, I still get really bad stage fright. I was the kind of kid that on the first day of school would nearly pass out when it was time to stand up and say your name and something about yourself. The anxiety would stack up watching each kid before me do it until it got to me. I was dizzy, my heart pounding. I still get that.