LO-FANG: LORDE'S TOUR OPENER
ON HIS DEBUT RECORD BLUE FILM
By Ryma Chikhoune
Photo by Lexie Moreland
Leading up to his debut record release party at Brooklyn's Baby's All Right, Lo-Fang a.k.a. 30-year-old L.A.-based musician Matthew Hemerlein was making frequent trips to New York, playing intimate, packed shows around the city. Tonight, he's back, performing in front of yet another filled room, but this time it's bigger – much bigger – as he plays the last of three consecutive shows inside Roseland Ballroom, opening for Lorde, the 17-year-old Grammy-winner who casually handpicked him to join her 16-date North American tour.
Blue Film is something you've never heard before. Singing all vocals and playing all the instruments (violin, cello, piano, guitar, upright bass...), the classically trained musician showcases his talents in a rich and unique blend of electronic, classical, and R&B (take a listen to his newest single "When We're Fire" below).
We first met Hemerlein, a Maryland native, a couple of years ago, when he was playing in D.C. as part of "Family Hemerlein," a monthly variety show put together by the District's Brightest Young Things. On the eve of his record release, inside the Lower East Side's Cake Shop, we caught up and talked about his move to L.A., recording Blue Film, and touring with Lorde.
Blue Film is out now via 4AD, their first release of 2014. See Lo-Fang live, when he returns to New York, playing Bowery Ballroom, on April 27th.
Hearing you play again felt like seeing you forever ago in D.C., but much louder...
You just have to turn the amps up.
What was your reason for moving to L.A.?
It was for the obvious three – weather, women, and weed. No...for music. L.A. is a great creative community. They have unparalleled studios. I had met this producer [François Tétaz] from Australia, who was moving there, and we clicked really well. It made a lot of sense to head to L.A. All things were pointed in that direction.
How do you think your music evolved after meeting [Tétaz]?
It’s just fascinating to finally meet somebody, who you actually really, truly value in terms of their opinion and the feedback they give you. You take it and push it a lot further. It just creates a dialogue in the creative process, and from that, I think I had much more exciting results. It pushed me to hear different things in my music and explore different areas of my skill set.
In a couple of days you'll be touring around the country, opening for Lorde. How did you two meet?
She got a copy of my record through my publisher and her producer, Joel Little. He really liked Blue Film and asked if he could send it over. Joel and I were initially just Twitter messaging one another, DM'ing (laughs). Then, Ella [Lorde] and her boyfriend James came out to a show. He took some pictures, and we hung out a bit after. It was the second show I was playing in L.A. There were probably under 20 people there. It was free, on a Monday night, a total warm-up thing to do.
And she's like, come on tour with me?
Kind of. Two weeks later, yeah. I had been working really hard on making the show sound really excellent, rehearsing a lot. I wasn't expecting anything–I mean, you can't expect for anything like that to happen.
How did your band come together?
Daniel Marcellus, who does programming, I met through a woman named Laura Escudé. I wanted to do this complex electronic technique, and she put me in touch with him. It turns out that Dan has a background in jazz performance from Peabody [Institute], a great conservatory in Baltimore. He's also from Maryland, so we know a ton of the same jazz professors. We both had this formal musical training and just hit it off. Then, I brought in my friend Paul Taylor, who I met through a mutual friend in Berlin. He had been on tour playing drums with Feist for two years. He's excellent with contact mics and live sampling, creating found sounds live from specific objects. He also handles the keyboard parts. It just made a ton of sense to have Paul come in and share his creativity in the live process and recreate a lot of the sounds in his own way. I wanted to keep it a trio. I think it's a strong number and allows me to be free to sing and move from one instrument to another.
You just played on David Letterman. You have more TV performances coming... What's that like in terms of playing live?
I feel like you step into that environment and adjust to it. It’s a different feeling for sure from playing a live show for an audience, even though it’s using the same skill set. The energy in the room is just way different. There’s a lot more control, but also more variables. Everything’s under a time crunch.
Have you stopped and thought about this tour you're about to embark on?
Abstractly, but it hasn't sunk in. I don't know...
I guess I’m wondering how you’re feeling.
I feel great. Rehearsing has been fun, and it feels right. We have a really good base level, showing these songs to people and giving them a way to step into this record. The musicians I'm touring with, Dan and Paul, and I can see these different horizons that we're going to work towards getting, as well. It's going to be great, now that I'm actually thinking about it. I'm excited.