L CON (aka Lisa Conway) is a Toronto-based artist who also performs with the cinema-noir outfit Del Bel. She’s also a composer who has created pieces for film, and live dance. She’s an academic, a songwriter-in-residence, and all around a very impressive person. Lisa has recently released an album, Moon Milk, which is an incredible, dare I say, musical tour de force. Moon Milk was inspired by the short story collection ‘Cosmicomics’ by Italian writer Italo Calvino. Each song corresponds to a short story with the same name. I’d highly suggest that you check out the story descriptions if you’re listening to the album.

Moon Milk is a fantastic album that creates so much mood and so much atmosphere after the first listen and this only intensifies and deepens with each subsequent spin. You’ll find everything from ambient un-identifiable noises, to full orchestras, baroque sounds, stripped down vocals, and some funky beats. Throughout the entire album the thing that cuts through all of the narrative is Lisa’s strong and incredible vocals. You can hear her sing one time and you’ll forever be able to identify her voice. This album has all the makings of a classic and of a piece of music you will want to return to time and time again. Lisa is playing in Hamilton this weekend and you should go and see her!

 

Q – Can you tell us a bit about how you got involved in music?
I started playing violin when I was very young – an acquaintance of my parents offered to lend me a violin and teach me for free, so they took her up on it. My father taught music at an elementary school, and my mother has always sung, so I grew up in a pretty musical household. We lived on a little farm in Northern BC, and had no television, so when I was about twelve I started writing songs just to have something to do. Soon after, I discovered digital recording, and I’ve been writing and recording since.

Q – Who / What are some of your musical influences?
There are so many ! We listened to a lot of Hall and Oates and Fleetwood Mac when we were mixing. I’ve been a fan of the Dirty Projectors for a long time – the record they made with Bjork is stunning.

Q – I love the concept behind this album so much. I have to admit that I had never heard of Cosmicomics and Italo Clalvino but after reading through the wikipedia page and this page I definitely plan to find the book and read it. What you’ve done with these stories and the corresponding songs is so creative. I find it really interesting that your songs are so warm and beautiful and yet they are based on science fiction which can often be cold and pessimistic. Can you tell us a bit about what inspired you to do this project and why this book in particular?
I had recently discovered and fallen in love with Calvino’s writing, and using the book as a framework was an appealing method to ensure my time during my songwriting residency in Sackville was very productive. I think you’ve highlighted exactly what drew me to these particular stories in your question – despite being science fiction, the stories contain real warmth and humanity, and are simultaneously nostalgic and futuristic. At their core, they are just beautiful stories – more fiction than science.


Q – Are those whale calls we are hearing at the beginning of “Distance to the Moon”?
I wish ! It’s actually a clarinet, played by the amazing Karen Ng.


Q – Do you have any other good sci-fi (or other genre) books that you could recommend?
I’m a huge fan of Richard Brautigan (not science fiction). He’s an author I can re-read over and over.

Q – There are a lot of different instruments and arrangements happening on this album. It is amazing how each song sounds so different and yet they all seem to fit with each other so well. Can you tell us a bit about your involvement with the production end of things?

I was the arranger and producer, so perhaps that’s why it sounds cohesive ! The production and orchestration / arrangement process is almost more exciting to me than songwriting itself – I love combining different timbres and sonic colours, and hearing someone else perform the music you’ve written is truly a magical experience. I was very fortunate to work with some extremely talented musicians, and did play various instruments myself as well. My partner Andrew Collins did an incredible job with the recording, played a number of instruments on the record, and was a key collaborator in shaping Moon Milk‘s sound.

Q – Can you tell us a bit about how this process came together. I understand that it was done in Southern Ontario, Eastern Canada, and Ireland?
I wrote all the songs during my time in Sackville, New Brunswick, as the 2013 SappyFest Songwriter in Residence, and started revisiting and revising the demos as a productive form of procrastination during my MA studies in Sonic Arts in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where I conveniently had a lot of access to studios equipped with nice microphones and speakers. Everything was recorded “for real” in various locations around Southern Ontario – The Music Gallery in Toronto, a friend’s studio that was a converted tin shop in Toronto, an outbuilding on Andrew’s grandfather’s old farm near Orangeville, and our rural studio up here in Grey County, where we also mixed everything.


Q – Can you tell us about your thesis project that was done while you were working on this album?
My MA thesis was a creative composition project. I wrote a lengthy electro-acoustic multi-channel piece for 32 speakers – a series of brain “scans” – based on my personal experience with MRI machines. I mostly used sounds I collected from an old analog synthesizer as my source material, and then manipulated things digitally.

Q – Del Bel is such a great band. I think that you guys have a really special thing going on that is such a joy to witness. Can you tell me a little bit about what draws you to the ‘noir’ style of music? How do you divide your creative energy between working in Del Bel, and L Con, and whatever other side projects you may be involved in?
Thank you! Del Bel’s “noir” style evolved pretty organically – I think both Tyler and I find it easier to create music that has a darker undertone, but it wasn’t a conscious decision. Things have luckily worked out so far timing-wise between projects, and I try to make sure I’m not taking on too too much at once. Everyone in Del Bel is really busy with other projects as well, so it’s always kind of a juggling act.

Q – What music have you been listening to lately? Can you recommend a track or an artist?
There are so many records I need to sit down with and have a real listen to when I have more time ! I’m really excited to dive into Angel Olsen’s My Woman, Solange’s A Seat at the Table, Tanya Taqaq’s Retribution (not out quite yet but will be soon !), Jessy Lanza’s Oh No….

Thanks, Lisa!