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L'RAIN

Lrain

L’Rain is one of pop’s great syncretists. Across the course of three albums, the New York native and former assistant curator at MOMA PS1 has been “approaching songness”, making music at the peripheries of psychedelia, ambient, techno and neo-soul without ever arriving at a fixed point. Her previous album Fatigue involved no fewer than 20 collaborators, whose presence reverberated throughout in clapping games and gospel choirs breaking out into song. Fatigue was barely half an hour long, but contained within it was a lifetime of feeling, and its acclaim brought L’Rain new levels of renown, including tours with black midi and Animal Collective.

I Killed Your Dog, released on October 13th and workshopped alongside Andrew Lappin and Ben Chapoteau-Katz, is a thornier prospect. It is more jagged than anything the artist has done before, with Strokes-style guitar freakouts and at least one song that sounds like a demented cereal advert trapped inside an analogue TV. With song titles like 'I Hate My Best Friends' and the title track, the album introduces a new proposition: L’Rain as villain. Where her previous output felt like navigating layers of possible pasts and futures spiralling out in an oneiric haze, I Killed Your Dog is aggressive and bright in a way that suggests a newfound immediacy. Yet brightness does not necessarily equate to positivity, and the album has an appropriately haunting vision of a world spiralling out of control. “End of days,” she sings dolefully on 'Our Funeral'. “Are you ready?”

When TANK caught up with L’Rain, real name Taja Cheek, to discuss authorship, contrition and apocalypses personal and universal, she was in her New York apartment with her new puppy Icon perched calmly in her lap. Cheek’s evident love of her dog cast a perverse contrast with the canicide of the title, emblematic of the intriguing disjunctions that have informed Cheek’s output over the past decade. Listen to her TANK Mix and read our interview below.

TANK You opened Fatigue with a question from [musician] Quinton Brock, asking “What have you done to change?” It's been two years since then. Do you have an answer?
L’RAIN I was wondering if you would ask me this question because I've been reflecting on this a lot. At the end of Fatigue, my life was pretty much in the same place, but now that enough time has passed I think things have changed. I feel more self-aware as a human being. I think self-awareness counts for something, if not everything. I’ve healed from an injury, I’ve made a whole other record, my day-to-day life has changed a lot. I'm working on more independent curatorial projects and have moved on from [MOMA] PS1. 
TANK What motivated the decision to leave PS1?
L’RAIN I love PS1 a lot, but I’d also been there a long time and I felt I needed to know who I was outside of an institution. It was just so wrapped up in my emotional, professional, and personal life, I forgot who I was as an individual person. I'm now able to create my own schedule, and work on the projects I want to work on. Even when it’s stressful, it's a stress that I've created, and that feels right.

TANK This recent album feels more like a full band effort. How do you relate to the name L’Rain in light of this? 
L’RAIN I remember the first time someone called me L’Rain. I was walking down the street in Crown Heights, and this bass player I know was like “Hey, L’Rain!” and I felt really weird. Now it feels like it's a part of me. For a long time I was trying to figure out what is L’Rain, I had just assumed this identity and didn't really think about it. I was having a hard time explaining that it was me, and also the band. Now it's just a more nuanced definition of what it means to exist as a project. 

TANK I Killed Your Dog was inspired by a love of early synthesisers. Could you expand on that?
L’RAIN I was thinking about some of the early synth pioneers, about this weird moment of synthesiser technology where people were making these new instruments, but they were also using them for commercials, and the radio. I thought that was just so strange, that both of those things were happening at the same time on parallel tracks. On a sonic level, I was inspired by Raymond Scott and Delia Derbyshire, among others: what they did all sounds so new still. [Producer] Ben Chapoteau-Katz is a big synth nerd, and him becoming a synth nerd is tied to the project as a whole.

TANK The album is sonically intense and confrontational. Where is that coming from?
L’RAIN Everybody has been so kind about Fatigue, and I feel really grateful, but I'm noticing the way that it's talked about and how certain kinds of experimental music can be treated really carefully. I don't want to be in a situation where I end up looking back years from now and think, “Oh, I've somehow become separated from the world”. These very particular kinds of spaces are shielded from real life, especially coming from museum worlds or the art world in general. It’s a big part of my life but I'm also very sceptical of it. I wanted to show the other sides of me, and maybe that will protect my music from being handled too carefully.

TANK There's a sense that this album is grounded in some reality, not to say that Fatigue wasn't, but specifically with a newfound sense of embodiment. I do have to address the elephant in the room. Why is this album called I Killed Your Dog? I feel bad talking about dead dogs while I'm looking at Icon. 
L’RAIN I know, it's very perverted! That was my experience making the whole record, singing about dead dogs in front of dogs I love. A lot of times, I'll just freeform lyrics, but “I killed your dog” just came out fully formed, I knew that was the lyric from the very beginning. It was shocking to me. I was talking to Ben about what we were going to name the record at the end, and he was like, “Oh, we should call it I Killed Your Dog”, which I realised was a joke now. I wanted the title to make people feel something, and I wanted it to feel bad. For me, it asked a lot of questions: why did you do this? Do you feel bad about it? What did the dog do to you? What is your relationship to the person that owns the dog? It casts a lot of questions, it casts doubt on me as a narrator. I got way more attention for Fatigue than I anticipated, and I am wary of being a symbol for anything, so I'm saying, “don't believe me”. I also wanted it to feel like it does when you hurt people that you're close to. I wanted that to be immediately palpable. I hate saying the title but that's why it felt right.

TANK  There's a lot of power in saying, “No, I reject my authorship, you should reject what I'm trying to tell you.”
L’RAIN I think there is a lot of destruction in being relatable. I always try to toe the line. I want to talk about my own experience only because I feel like that's all I have authorship over and I want it to resonate with other people. I don't want to be too relatable. That's how we get to celebrity, which is not good, generally speaking.

TANK Some of the lyrics on this new album have an apocalyptic feel, speaking about the end of days. Where did this sense of foreboding come from?
L’RAIN I just have a flair for the dramatic. Fatigue was very much about myself, but ended up also being about the time I was living through. That's also happening here. I'm thinking about the end of my little worlds, the end of a friendship, or relationship, or whatever, which feels like the end of life as you know it. But when I listen to I Killed Your Dog now, all I can think about is everything that is happening in the world. It's kind of inextricable for me.

TANK A lot of your songs have been made from a sound bank of audio recordings and conversations – I know you’re conscious about not using the word “archive”. Is there a difference in how you're approaching found sound for this album?
L’RAIN It somehow felt sought after. At the beginning of the record I was looking for another recording that I couldn't find and ended up finding this Bill T Jones recording. I thought it was amazing and I emailed it to myself. Some of the sound collages in Fatigue I barely remember making, I just had saved them working on something and filed them away, but I very much remember making these. I ended up recording some of the band's voices, or had them record themselves, which was a difference in process. I knew I needed that recording instead of it being this loosey-goosey, intuitive sound collaging process.

TANK You've described your process before as “approaching songness”. Do you feel like you've approached a song here? Or do you think it's still mellifluous, ambient, and incomplete? 
L’RAIN I still think it's approaching songness. It's not there. Eventually, I would like to actually write songs. Maybe the next record, but I feel like I'm still in this middle area, which felt good when I was making it; it feels right for this project. Eventually, I think I will actually sit down and write real-girl songs.

TANK In the album, you also reference 'Need Be' from the prior album, and you also did that in Fatigue from the self-titled album [2017's L'Rain]. What motivates this self-referential system?
L’RAIN I hope that at the end of my life, you can look at the whole project and keep finding connections and things that are going on. When I start a new project, there's always two things that I try to include, which is something from the last record that I can approach in a new way, and a reference to a birthday, and so I tried to have both of those things. It happened organically with Fatigue, and then I was like, well, maybe I should keep this going. I want it to feel like a complete body of work that makes sense. ◉

I Killed Your Dog is out on October 13th through Mexican Summer