Interviewed on May 9, 2017
What The Sound had the opportunity to catch up with Canadian electro-pop artist Lydia Ainsworth following her Los Angeles play in early May. Her set at The Echo included an anonymous dancer, a mesmerizing dress, a drummer, and a cellist. Lydia most recently released her second LP titled Darling of the Afterglow and this was her first headlining US tour. Her debut album, Right From Real was released in 2014 and since then she has supported Chairlift, Purity Ring, and Yeasayer on the road. We really dig Lydia's sound and were super into her live set, so catch it next time she rolls through your town. Follow our conversation below to find out the reason behind dancers live on set, Toronto vs. Montreal bagels, on-the-road jams, and more.
What The Sound: I loved your live set and all components of it. The dancer, the cellist, drummer (with pads, electronic kit, and cymbals), the computer, and the keys. How does your live show and studio time differ in set-ups? Was studio time less fun than on the stage? Are they comparable?
Lydia Ainsworth: I think the two are completely different. The record features live drums in places, bass, guitar, and the process was different because I was recording a lot of the songs while I was writing them so it was kind of like a creative process at the same time as recording. Whereas, when I'm performing, the creative stuff has already been thought out. Now I'm just expressing an emotion on stage. A different mindset. In terms of having the cellist and the dancer - I didn't have a dancer in the studio with me. That is cool, though; I would love to do that next time. That could be really neat. I just needed to figure out an economical way to go on tour and tour in an exciting way. If I had all the money in the world, I would take an orchestra or a full band. For now, I think it's a great balance.
WTS: Did you record your album in any particular cool setting?
Lydia: Yeah, I recorded it in a bunch of different places, but I start something wherever I am, in a bedroom, or on tour. It really takes on shape in the studio, I recorded stuff at a studio in Toronto called Phase One. That's a really old studio that's actually closing, it's been around since the '80s and they have an amazing Neve console from the '70s. The same type of console the Beatles recorded on. I recorded a few songs from my first album there, so I really like working there. That's where I recorded most of it then I mixed it at another studio in Toronto called Noble Street Studios, it's a newer one and nice.
WTS: Who are your touring musicians? Friends from home?
Lydia: I toured the whole way with just one musician, Zach Mullings, he was on drums. I asked a drummer in New York to come on tour but he was busy so he recommended Zach, and I never met him before but he turned out to be a great drummer, great guy to tour with - laidback, I couldn't have asked for a better tour mate. Then, I met a different cellist in each city. So, there were 13 cities and a few of them I couldn't find a cellist. I had dancers also in each city. I have scores all written out and I'll send them and the tracks before we meet up, and then in soundcheck we go through some of the tricky bits and it worked out great.
WTS: Is it stressful finding the cellist and dancer per city?
Lydia: It is. It's tiring to meet a new person, teach them what they need to know. I'm going on tour in Europe and hoping to find a cellist to go the whole way and figure that into the budget this time. I think that's worth it.
WTS: Yeah totally. I think the cello is crucial to your live show.
Lydia: Yeah, to have the organic string sound I think adds a lot.
WTS: Where did the inspiration behind having a dancer on stage with you come from? Where did the costume originate?
Lydia: The music videos for this album featured dancers. I worked with a great choreographer in Toronto and he introduced me to three dancers who were featured in all of the videos. In one of them, the video for "Afterglow", the one that's simple, black with dancers behind me in masks, that's the costume that each dancer per city is wearing. So, the costume came from the video itself. The video was inspired a little by "Eyes Wide Shut", a little "Stranger Things". I just like the idea of having someone in a mask. It's funny when I meet the dancer for the first time they're polite and shy and then as soon as they put the mask on, they assume all these crazy moves. I tell them I want them to be free, experimental, and as weird as they want. It's like all their inhibitions go away. That also feeds into my performance, I love the energy on stage. It's always great to have a dancer - it adds a lot to my own performance.
WTS: You've had some great opportunities already, but if you could tour with anybody, who would it be? Dead or alive.
Lydia: Obviously Kate Bush. David Bowie. Annie Lennox is one of my favorite singers ever. I was just talking about this the other day with a friend of mine who recently discovered her album, Diva. It's a timeless record, so well produced. Her voice is incredible, her lyrics, her message.
WTS: What music do you listen to that bleeds into your performances and songwriting?
Lydia: Annie Lennox. Film scores are inspiring to me, I love Bernard Herrmann.
WTS: Did you go to school for music? You played some keys in your live performance but do you play another instrument?
Lydia: I grew up playing cello, I was never good, but I did study it all through high school and university, and I studied composition in school and got really into film score, so that's my background.
WTS: You being from Toronto, are there any local bands you recommend?
Lydia: I'm the wrong person to ask. I don't really consider myself a real Toronto local. I left after high school to move to Montreal, and then from Montreal, I moved to New York. Since my album came out I've been traveling around. Toronto is my base, and I record there, but I'm in my own bubble when I am there.
WTS: Any on-the-road jams?
Lydia: I've never listened to T-Rex before. I've had different drivers in each place, and this young kid, Jordan, picked us up in San Francisco and he was playing a bunch of T-Rex, I was blown away questioning how I had never listened to it til then. "Cosmic Dancer" I was listening to on repeat.
WTS: Are you a fan of Montreal bagels?
Lydia: Yeah, well I don't know. Toronto bagels don't get enough credit. They're small, sweet, and soft. Gryfe's Bagels, north on Bathurst are great, they melt in your mouth. They're my childhood.
WTS: I know nothing about fashion, but your dress last night blew me away, it was mesmerizing and funky. Is this a dress you wear often? Where'd you get it?
Lydia: This dress weighed about 10 pounds. Shoulder pads, heavy duty like-curtain tassels, maybe one hundred of them. The weight of the tassels were amazing for the movement, if I swayed my body, they would sway with me. The actual weight of it was unbearable, when i was three songs into my set I was like 'oh my god, I don't know how I'm going to continue'. About four years ago I was in L.A. and I was trying to get a stylist because I was going to shoot promo pictures. Someone reached out to my label asking if they had anyone who could team up with them and my name was put forward. I ended up working with this amazing stylist, Brett Nelson, and he hooked me up with this incredible Calvin Klein off-the-runway dress and that's the dress I'm wearing in my promo pics. That was such a great opportunity and he and I have kept in touch, and now he is a pop-stylist. He's the main stylist for David LaChapelle, and he's also the fashion editor for Schön! Magazine in the U.S. He's just amazing, he styled the new Perfume Genius video. I called him the day before my show as I was looking at my tiny bag that, at the end of this tour, I no longer want to look at. I asked if he had anything I could wear, and he was saying it was so last minute but that he had this dress. So nice of him to let me wear it. Then, he called a friend of his, Venus, to make me those PVC red Opera Gloves, they were so tight. It was a very uncomfortable costume but I think it was worth it.
WTS: So, what's next?
Lydia: I'll go back to Toronto and then I'm going on tour again in the UK and Europe. Then I go to Japan right after for a festival and a tour.
WTS: That's exciting, travel the world, fun times.