Toronto artist Lavurn (Lavurn Lee) is somewhat of an enigma. He has been busy creating music under a few different aliases: Cassius Select being dance and club oriented, Fake being darker and experimental. This new one, Lavurn, is focused on R&B, and uses a unique self-sampling method to produce a sound which is familiar, whilst also being entirely boundary-pushing.
When speaking to him, he says that the new record, Lavurn, acts kind of like a hall of mirrors. This is a fitting description, referencing not only the way the record sounds but also the conflict within the lyrical themes. For the album, Lee uses his own experience of a relationship ending to produce a project full of conflict and disparate ideas, which captures the emotional journey one goes through after becoming separate from a partner. The music itself also captures this feeling, taking discordant and unpredictable sounds and melding them together, forming a sort of kaleidoscopic R&B collage. During our conversation, we speak to Lavurn about the new project, as well as his life as an artist.
Hello Lavurn, it’s great to be speaking with you. Congratulations on your new album! Could you tell us a bit about the project?
Hi Robert, thank you! The album is a collection of songs that were written over a period of three years following the aftermath of a relationship ending. Having had romantic experiences afterwards and sharing the songs with friends, it’s apparent how much of the confusion and pain of navigating a romantic relationship is a universal experience.
There is a character (a version of me) that moves completely in confusion through the album. Many of his aims contradict one another, at once he is both attempting to let go and hold on. He wants to be accountable but also wants to be free of responsibility. He wants to be nonchalant but he also desires to be loved, a reaction to rejection. The album is a snapshot of a time that was very emotionally turbulent for me.
This record seems like a personal one, touching on your own emotional journey and life. Was this something you were doing consciously for the project? I say this as a lot of electronic or R&B music can be quite distanced, or ethereal rather than personal.
The record is definitely much more personal than any of my past releases simply because my vocals are at the forefront of the music. There was a large chunk of time where I hadn’t written any lyrics that dealt with my own life. The lyrics I’d written in BV (Marcus Whale, DJ Plead) were exercises in machismo. And so to return, years after, to writing about myself did feel a bit awkward initially. It felt like when I was a kid and I would write love songs on an acoustic guitar, except this time the feelings were real. Some of the lyrics are quite raw too, just plainly and simply illustrating a feeling, as opposed to masking it in a vehicle of metaphor and analogy. So in that way I’m really nervous for people to hear these songs.
The production on the record is incredible. The assembly of melodic electronic instrumentation and heavily processed vocals creates a really beautiful yet haunting soundscape. What process did you take for the production on the project? Did you take any inspiration from your contemporaries?
Many of the songs on the album were assembled using self-sampling techniques. Collecting different motifs and samples from songs and mismatching them into a collaged type of DIY music. For example, the verse for one song might be taken into another song, half-timed and turned into the chorus for another song. Or I might write an entire song over a single sample and then take out the sample and double time the track and lay completely different chords underneath the vocals. Or change the melody of the vocals completely using pitch shifting and autotune. This was done not only with vocals but as well with beats, textures and melodic samples.
I’m not sure if it's that apparent, but many of the lyrics have been repeated in different songs in different ways using this method. The whole record kind of acts like a hall of mirrors in this way. To me, the album is one long song that is being rewritten, reperformed, and recontextualised at each step.
Much of the music I was listening to at the time was contemporary R&B. Artists like inc. no world, Miink, serpentwithfeet and Ouri. I was rinsing that Kehlani record, It Was Good Until It Wasn't. Revisiting a lot of old Tim and Bob productions. I don’t know how much of that music has seeped into the record although the string and key sounds in JK do slightly nod to the lush sample choices of Tim and Bob productions.
I definitely don’t have any of the singing range of those artists, I’d barely call myself a singer. And honestly, I’d barely call myself a producer. It’s like if a producer wanted to make a vocal R&B record but couldn’t afford to hire professional singers. I’d like to think this was really an exercise in songwriting more than anything else.
You have released and performed music under a few different aliases. Cassius Select and Fake, for example. Could you tell us a bit about Lavurn, and what you’re aiming to capture under this name?
For years, I loved the idea of the alias as different worlds. So Cassius Select inhabiting club music, Fake being noisier experimental music. It used to give me this feeling of ‘oh, this is a clean slate, no baggage.’ But in recent years, I’m not sure what that kind of separation brings anymore. Perhaps songs already create their own singular worlds. Part of it as well is the so-called need to create different social media accounts when you don a new alias. Not that any of that is necessary, but much of that part of the music industry really turns me off. The promotional part of it all, all that shit that surrounds the music. Honestly, I just haven’t found a way to integrate that kind of stuff in an interesting way into my practice.
The idea to release this album under my own name, Lavurn, was encouraged by Jarred and Tom (who run the Sumac label). We wanted to push the idea that this music was R&B, and the singular name of Lavurn already somehow had that vibe heavily. Gives a nod to male R&B names like Tank, Loon or Case. At its most basic, this is R&B music. Rhythm-based loop music with universal human musings overlaid on top, which I think can encompass a large variety of colours and textures.
I’ve heard that this project has been in the works for three years between multiple different cities. Do you think this time has been important for the record?
I’m not sure. To be honest, I’m quite slow and lazy when it comes to finishing things. If I was left to my own devices I’d probably never finish any music ever. I’d like to stress that much of the reason for this record existing is mainly due to the encouragement and guidance of Jarred and Tom. They are dear old friends of mine and have heavily influenced the way I make and listen to music even to this day. At the time I was between Berlin and Toronto, while Tom and Jarred were in Sydney and Melbourne respectively. Going on group calls to talk about the album was also a way for all of us to stay in touch. For me it's hard to separate my friendship with these two and the assembly of this album. We would talk about what certain songs meant and how that related to our own personal lives.
I am most definitely my own worst critic, and for ages I just didn’t think the music was any good. I think partly this was also due to the emotional circumstances I was in at the time. It took their encouragement to be able to see that the songs had substance and potentially something that people could relate to. I tend to be quite negative and downplay my own art, but it makes me really happy that this was something I did with people I respect and love. Although the conception of the album was about my break up, it has come together due entirely to my relationship with good friends.
What about the geography? What have these cities and spaces contributed to the record, if anything?
I’m not sure how much geography has contributed to the record. I think it has somewhat, but I’m also not very good at talking about it. I’d say the move from Toronto to Berlin was at least a big change in terms of my own personal life – it was a spontaneous decision to move there in the dead of winter. I had a handful of good friends that were already living in the city, but it was a difficult and strange time. Lots of time alone to spiral into weirdo configurations.
The city is dreadful in mid-winter and then it completely changes when spring and summer come. I had almost stopped making my own music when the weather got warmer. In that time, I had also met Daemon (an artist from Oakland) and we started making tons of music. Making music with him was extremely fun and showed me a new way to build songs. I think some of that style of songwriting influenced the way I wrote the album.
Are there any specific moments on the record which you are most pleased or proud of?
There’s been quite a lot of good feedback on the song JK. It was actually written in 2023 and was added as a last minute addition to the album. The one song on the album that is about a new relationship. One that has also since ended. I wanted one song on the record that is about what happens after a breakup after years of dating around until you land in a place that feels safe again. Lyrically, it’s about being around someone who just effortlessly makes you laugh even when you're trying to be serious. The kind of love and affection that feels so easy to sit within. It’s also the one track on the album that feels overtly hopeful and light to me.
I also like CCC quite a bit. Maybe the most abstract song on the record, and I like the way the vocals are sort of half cut off. It’s the one that feels like the most ‘collaged’ in its construction. One of my favorite lyrics is “she be my laksa when I wanna rapture” in Little Mother. It’s in reference to a Malaysian restaurant Jarred and I would frequent called Malacca Straits in Sydney. The description for their laksa is “Rapture in a bowl.”
The video for Mezzanine is super interesting and really captures the mood of the track. How was it working with 011668 for the video? Why did you reach out to them specifically?
I had met 011668 when they were in Berlin working on a multimedia performance for the i8i collective that took place at Trauma Bar. I was amazed by the video work they had done for the collective: The Premeditated Nature of Economy, which I highly recommend everybody to watch. I’m not so much a fan of a lot of 3D-rendered video work but theirs is stylised in such an elegant and beautiful way. They’re a very kind and soft person, and I loved not only their video work but also their sculptural and musical pieces. I was a big fan of their work so it seemed like the right call to ask them to make the video.
Do you have plans for performing the record live? If so, we would love to hear if you have any big ideas!
I would love to perform the record live, honestly, I’d just love to perform live again. That was sort of my main squeeze years ago but DJing has taken over purely for financial reasons. I’d like to remix the songs for single guitar and drum compositions, maybe play over some samples. Really stark and minimal, no vocal backing track.
I’m writing a lot of music at the moment that will be easier to play live. I’m writing with a guitar again. A lot of trip-hop learning textures and colours. There will most likely be another EP that will come out on Sumac later in the year and so we might find a way to do those songs live as well. Honestly, I’d love to play live a bunch this year, it used to be my bread and butter, it's where I'm most comfortable.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us! Do you have any projects or collaborations in the works which you would like to tell us about?
Thank you! Daemon and I have a record coming out on Banoffee Pies c later this fall. I’m super excited about this record. It’s trying to pull attention to that continuum of early-00s hip hop and R&B sound that was propelled by what I’d call the Virginia Beach sound, i.e. Neptunes, Missy Elliot, Pharrell and Timbaland. Its a ten-track album called Smise. A collection of b-sides from this album will also be compiled into an EP that I will self-release in the next coming months. There will also be an EP of songs that were written within the last year that will come out on Sumac label that will explore trip hop as a continuum. We’re already in the process of putting that together.