Meet a man driven wildly by music. A man classically trained, but rewired with his own two hands. A frequent collaborator, occasional curator and consummate “man behind the curtain” now emerging at the front of something yet unnamed. Somewhere between the concert hall and the club you’ll find his haunting liquid soundscapes, born of hip-hop composition, o’er-strung with chant, hinting at some divine unreachable. Meet Son Lux.
Ryan Lott was born in Denver in 1979. At 2, he moved to California; at 5, to Connecticut. His father made industrial adhesives; his mother made the home; he had one brother and one sister. He was the youngest. Piano lessons were a family rule and Ryan began at 6, counting down, in tears, the clicks of the 15-minute egg-timer. He hated it, and by the age of 12, he knew he wouldn’t be a classical concert pianist; instead he’d be a composer. He’d offset this revelation by performing covers of “Lithium” and “Suck My Kiss” on guitar and synths in middle school dance bands. His parents brought him to Atlanta for high school; in turn, high school brought him drums, punk bands and a piano teacher who smuggled him a few lessons in jazz and pop.
In his third year studying composition and piano at Indiana University, Ryan began collaborating with a ballet student who would become his wife. Writing music to her choreography set off a hunger in him that would soon grow into megalomania. In the newlyweds’ post-collegiate home of Cleveland, Ryan conceived a multimedia art gala dubbed CONNECT. The series’ second event featured 30 artists of various inclinations; he collaborated with 20, while entertaining dance commissions countrywide. With his wife and a friend, he founded the charitable ASH (Art Serving Humanity) Ensemble, and composed a piece for saxophone and tape that debuted in Slovenia. Back home, Ryan found himself performing to New York City for the first time—from inside of the Guggenheim—and collecting on two prestigious Ohio arts grants. In 2007, he moved to New York, accepting a job as a fulltime composer. His 12-year-old self smiled; Ryan should have rested.
But something was growing inside of the man. Through all of this teeth-cutting and accomplishment there was something pushing against his guts: Ryan Lott needed to go solo. For three years he’d been compulsively collecting sounds—thousands of them—one and two-note fragments sampled from his personal collection and the local library’s. He turned his trained ear to recognizing consistent aural hues, built a palette, then began arranging not by melody—as a composer would—but by rhythm, as a beatmaker. He’d been making an album without realizing it. Now, for the first time, Ryan set out to make the music inside of him. It’d be a sort of pop, but divorced from verse-chorus form. And he’d sing (also a first), but his words would be small snippets—things read or overheard—open-ended and repeated like chants. Finally, he’d write additional parts for piano, sax, flute, bass and guitar to be played live—by himself or by friends—then interwoven. Single notes became pulsing electronic orchestras; simple words became transcendent: Son Lux was born. And with it, the album At War with Walls and Mazes.
As befits the Ryan Lott legacy, Son Lux’s debut performance was a headlining college festival slot alongside Sufjan Stevens and Emmylou Harris (the result of winning a songwriting competition). His second show was at New York’s Knitting Factory, opening for Sole. Played live, At War becomes a thing of shifting parts and rhythms, Ryan breaking down the songs and reassembling at will, while overhead digital visuals warp, coil and collide in improvised harmony (courtesy of At War cover artist Joshue Ott). The impression left is warm and colorful with smatterings of darkness, something alien yet familiar, easy but undefinable. Like all good art, Son Lux is tapped directly into that great otherworldly unknown that feels right at home in the world we actually know.
Ryan composes two pieces of music a day for Fluid NY, a thriving music and editorial house, recently wrapped his third large-scale collaboration with the acclaimed Gina Gibney Dance company, and is working on the next Son Lux album.