Food for thought is a big bowl of chili, and Lafawndah made it. This year at Durham’s Moogfest, located at the intersection of technology and art philosophy we had the pleasure of hearing Lafawndah speak on the methods behind her music which can sometimes sound like madness when stood up next to your run-of-the-mill modern synthy pop song. She has found a way to make her craft truly potent and not by accident. Her process is a great case study for artists looking to hone their concept and even the fan exercising their capacity to appreciate more.
meditation + contemplation.
approach to individual style.
“The way I think about music is by dividing it into elements. I have production, the way that I use my voice (with my melody), and the words. I always think about these things in separate blocks. Something I’m really interested in is dissonance, so when these 3 blocks don’t align...”
Lafawdah’s aim is tangibility in her music and experience is a very complex phenomena. Because life is not so simple and clear cut, it’s her opinion that if you have these 3 blocks not aligned, it follows that you have a more complex and layered account of an experience (the subject of the song). She notes that a good example of this is Solange’s A Seat at the Table. The entire album is sung in a rich vibrato; the most angelic soft voice, but she's talking about her struggle filled experience as a black woman in America. When it comes to the relationship between production and voice in the album, they match; but there is a major disagreement going on between how the production sounds and what is being said. If the album had the sound of anger it would have been digested very differently by the public.
“My goal is to offer songs that feel cathartic, so that the people who listen can use the song as a tool.”
Due to the fact that you can (in a way) control how people receive the message you’re sending or how it’s colored, music can be a tool of inspiration to listeners. When doing this she says you have to find a tone that works because often times If you try to make a song directly about a big world issue it can come off sounding “corny”. She combats this starting off with really personal lyrics on a small scale and by the time we meet the chorus you realize that She’s opened the conversation up to a bigger issue.
“I’ll text my friends and be like ‘can I say this’ and they’re always like ‘no, no one would ever say that’ and I think ‘ok i’m gonna use it then.’”
Lyrically, since she not American, English is not her first language so she ends up employing all types of dictionaries and thesaurus’ when she writes. She tells us that this tends to give her access to an otherwise hidden structure for her lyrics. It’s quite odd to sit down and look at her lyrics because of this but they make sense in a multi-dimensional way because of how she has structured the language in her verses. She cited this as the reason she did her Ace of Base “All that she wants” cover. For her, Ace of Base’s use of odd language is one of the reasons her music stays relevant because there is value in relistening.
“I think [Ace of Base] has the weirdest lyrics. It’s just slightly weird and I like that. I like that there is room for bending the language. That’s why I like writing music in english; I have less reverence to a language that is not mine so I can twist the words more freely.”
[Still on Ace of Base] “I can say something that is really bad english, but I know people are going to get it and for that reason it will mean more. I love being playful with language. Like grammatically her sentences all work out but they're just off. I thought [All that she wants] was a song about pregnancy for the longest time.”
Lafawndah talked to us about her struggling with only having words available when it comes to lyrical expression. This struggle is what helped her to etch out her interesting set of methods, which all grew out of her desire to get more from words.
“Another thing that is fun for me is to write in Spanish because my Spanish… Spanish I speak like a 5 year old. It forces me to write and describe things in a really specific way. When you have to describe the river, or a tree, or anything you get this 5 year old fairytale way of speaking. It changes perception”