A Lunice set is something you just have to experience with your own eyes and ears at least once in your life.
The multi-talented maestro throws himself around on stage with stupidly infectious vigour each and every time, firing off string of flawlessly curated hip hop cuts, rolling trap drops and club-crushing crunk beats with an energy that his fans can often barely keep up with.
Born Lunice Fermin Pierre II in Montreal back in 1998, the trap trailblazer tells us that he owes his onstage elasticity to formative years spent as a b-boy dancing competitively for the 701 Squad. As for his talent in the studio and behind the decks, that all came about after hearing what god-level hip hop producer 9th Wonder could pull off in Fruity Loops back in the early 2000s. Before long, Lunice was booking shows and playing with the Turbo Crunk crew, signing to LuckyMe and brushing shoulders on global tours with Kanye West and Hudson Mohawke (the later being a fated connection that eventually gave birth to a little project by the name of TNGHT).
Stepping out of the shadow cast by his rich history with TNGHT, Lunice unleashed his debut solo record ‘CCCLX’ last month. Conceptualised as the soundtrack to a speculative theatre piece and packed with features from emerging scene-shakers like SOPHIE, Le1f, Denzel Curry and CJ Flemings, the album is purposefully structured as an experience with distinct acts, indicated by Roman numeral titles inspired by classical playlists on iTunes.
At the end of November, Lunice will bring all that dynamic new material down under to join Alison Wonderland‘s monstrous Warehouse and Scarehouse projects. We took some time out to dig into the process and ideas behind ‘CCCLX’, making music in Montreal, touring with Madonna, breaking away from TNGHT and life-changing lessons from Kanye.
Best Before: How did growing up in Montreal influence and inform your artistry?
Lunice: I grew up in a pretty collaborative environment. Montreal culture in general is super easy going; there’s no real pressure to compete, so you have more time to think for yourself and plan your artistic direction more carefully. I think the winter season is a huge factor in this because we all find ourselves stuck inside our homes or studios working on new ideas and concepts to have ready the moment spring arrives.
Musically, it’s been pretty diverse for me. There was my mom listening to disco, Grand Father listening to old Filipino tribalistic chanting music, and my older sister listening to the Wu-Tang Clan. I fell more into gaming soundtracks (like Chrono Trigger) because it’s pretty much all I loved to do as a kid at the time. Only when I started breakdancing in high school is when I fully got into rap, funk, jazz and other genres.
You’ve said that the first thing you told yourself after TNGHT went on hiatus is that you’d never make an album. When and how did that change with ‘CCCLX’?
That saying of “not wanting to make an album” is a way for me to conceptualise the idea of putting together a project that wouldn’t be pieced together like a traditional album would. I got that idea from the way I perform on stage and how much of a presence it gives off every time. It’s something I feel I can explore and develop into many different ideas beyond ‘CCCLX’. It’s a way to keeps things rolling.
You pieced together parts of the album in hotels and on the road, but the majority of the record was fleshed out in Montreal. How does working out of home affect your creative process? Do you feel you need to come home to produce your best work?
Home, for me, is the best way to anchor down all the spontaneous and dynamic ideas and inspiration I gather over time from my tours and studio sessions. That’s why I mention a lot about making sure I come back home for a good two weeks before heading back out. But in general, the best ideas can come to you at any point in time, whether I’m at home or overseas.
You recruited some local emerging artists – like CJ Flemings – out of Montreal for this record. Do you feel a responsibility to nurture and put into your local music scene?
Not exactly, but I guess you can see it like that. I’ve approached it more from a “coming full circle” point of view in which we have a new generation of young artists expressing themselves from a whole new platform and environment, which inspires me to look deeper into the new local acts circulating in Montreal and see what we all can create together.
You’ve been open about your love for collaboration and how important it is to you. Can you tell me a little bit about the process behind “Drop Down” with SOPHIE and Le1f? How did that track come together?
SOPHIE emailed me and the LuckyMe team a remix to the song “Drop Down” before it was released because he heard about it and liked it. Being a huge fan of his, I asked if he could send over the stems so I could arrange it and turn this into a feature with Le1f on the vocals. And Le1f first came to mind because he’s an amazing all-round performer and dancer. Next thing you know, this was the final result!
If you had to collage a mood board for the elements that inspired the sound, style and visual element of ‘CCCLX’, what would be on there?
Simple core elements that evoke some sense of longevity, like concrete, wood and plant materials. The mood board would generally be full of different takes on those three elements.
You went on tour with Madonna in 2015. How did she influence you as a performer, artist and person?
The most important takeaway I got from that tour was how she’d bring me and the performers into the green room for a get together before every show to remind us how small we all are in this whole world, and how lucky we are to be in this very position to go out, do what we love and make people happy in the process. It truly is a humbling experience.
Choreography and visuals play a big part in your live presence. What is your background with dance and art, and how intrinsic are they to the live presentation of what you make in the studio?
A lot of this derives from my breakdancing background. But a lot of the theatrics come from what I’ve learnt doing theatre in high school and studying cinema in college, which still involved putting together a play at some point. So a lot of my creative process does interchange with how the rhythm of a beat would connect to the way I dance, for example.
“From the music and performance to the art and lifestyle, I want to make sure they know that this is something I grew into, rather than what I one day decided to become.”
When you’re pulling together tracks in the studio, are you simultaneously conceptualising how it will play out live? At what point does that become a part of your creative process?
Exactly. As I’m working on a track, I’m thinking about not only the performance but the stage design to compliment the show and the lighting style that should go with it. The track “CCCLX – III (Costume)” is a track I made for my lighting director, Shaun Murphy, as a solo for him to have fun with.
When people ask you what kind of music you make, how do you respond?
I just start it off simple with rap music, and then I let them build from there. I’ve learned to just let people label things how they see fit. If I were to force the idea that I’m not ascribed to any specific genre, then the people would have a more difficult time trying to discuss something that doesn’t have a label. So I start with rap music, and then they can go anywhere else from there.
I’ve heard you say that you’re at a point now where you’ve embraced imperfection. How did that influence the making of ‘CCCLX’?
It has influenced the project to the extent of being almost excited by the idea that one can improve after a big project. A lot of the time we’re taught to feel that once we put out a big project, we can’t follow it up with anything else. But over time I’ve come to realise that improvement is infinite, so it should be embraced and explored.
I’ve seen you say that the structure and order of ‘CCCLX’ was inspired by classical music playlists on iTunes. Can you expand on that?
This was from a text formatting design point of view, and I also wanted to figure out some way to create some replay-ability by changing the names to parts like “CCCLX – I” and so on. The listener can either go through the whole album or just the parts to get a completely different experience.
You played “Mazerati” for Kanye. How did he respond?
I remember as the track was playing, he was mumbling some rap flows to himself. As the track ended, he turned around and said, “I really like the synthesizer idea in that track. Try working on just that and see where it goes”. What blew my mind was the way he was able to zone into parts as if he had the stems to the song and focus on what would actually turn into a good idea. To this day I’ve used that process of breaking down my own work, and it’s been nothing but inspiring.
This is your debut album as a solo artist. Do you see this as a clear distinction of who you want to be as an artist away from TNGHT? What did you want to establish and achieve with ‘CCLX’ in terms of your artistry?
Yeah – you could say that this debut album is a way to distinguish myself as a solo artist from TNGHT, but also as a general artist for myself to the world. ‘CCCLX’ is the fully rounded presentation of who I am and where I’ll be able to bring things moving forward from here. From the music and performance to the art and lifestyle, I want to make sure they know that this is something I grew into, rather than what I one day decided to become.
“Distrust” is a huge collaboration. Can you tell me about the process behind the track?
I first started the track as an instrumental, but after meeting Denzel Curry through a few festival runs and getting to know his body of work, I knew that he needed to be involved in this project. He chose “Distrust” out of the bunch, and the only guideline I gave him was to write his lyrics in the same way he’d perform it live. He sent the vocals back and I was completely blown away with how theatrical his vocal tones were. He then introduced me to J.K. the Reaper and Nell to add the final touches, and everything came together naturally – as if they’ve been performing it together for a long time.
How do you plan to up the ante on your live show with the tracks from ‘CCCLX’? What can we expect to see when you come to Australia next month?
The new stage design resembles a minimal outlined version of a living room, with stairs behind that lead to a upper platform. This ends up creating more of a playground-like environment; there’s more things for me to interact and perform around – similar to the “Mazerati” music video.
Lunice’s album ‘CCCLX’ is out now:
You can catch Lunice’s incredible new live set at Alison Wonderland’s massive Warehouse and Scarehouse Projects and a special stop in Perth. Here’s the lowdown:
WONDERLAND WAREHOUSE PROJECT
Friday 24 November / Adelaide
Friday 1 December / Hobart
Tickets and info here.
WONDERLAND SCAREHOUSE PROJECT
Sunday 26 November / Brisbane
Saturday 2 December / Melbourne
Saturday 9 December / Sydney
Saturday 16th December / Auckland
Tickets and info here.
Sunday 10 December / Belvoir, Perth
Tickets and info here.