“I guess the luxury of not being able to do full tours and play sick shows every week is that we’ve been able to cater these experiences while coming up with a vision and a concept that we’re confident that we’ll execute.”
Lespecial pushes the sonic envelope so far that it falls off the table into an artistic abyss of creative originality. The trio, based in both Boston and the New York village of Millerton, combine electronica, funk, jam, and rock into a sound they brand as “heavy future groove.”
What’s especially remarkable is that Luke Bemand, Johnny Grusauskas, and Rory Dolan are all multi-instrumentalists, a setup that carries their sound to incredible heights. This immensely talented act will play the Falmouth Drive-In on Oct 9 for two sets, with the first performance being a live score of a 1920s horror flick and the second one having the band play original material in the midst of a visual escapade.
Bemand and I spoke ahead of the show about a couple of singles the band put out earlier this year, and we also touched on streaming from their studio, a socially distanced music festival they have later this month, and an exclusive announcement pertaining to a new album.
Before COVID-19 hit, Lespecial released two singles—“Machine Elf” back on Jan. 7 and “The Vessel” on March 3. The first single has a trip-hop vibe to it while the second one incorporates a lot of synth and electronic elements. What did you guys aim to accomplish with both songs?
Those two singles are just a part of this album that we’ve been working on, and I’m pleased to say that we’ve completed it. It’ll be released later in 2020. … We have both of these songs on the album, but they’re two different mixes. I think people will find when they hear this album that, to me, it’s the most cohesive Lespecial album we’ve ever made. It spans a lot of genres, but it feels inherently what our band’s sound is.
There’s tracks that are like “Machine Elf” that have that trip-hop vibe, and there are others like “The Vessel” that are more driving and electronic. There’s also dark and progressive music and kind of everything in between. Both singles give some ideas to what the flavor will be when it all comes together on this project. It’ll have this vision and this vibe that I think will really resonate what we’re all about at this point.
It’s interesting to hear the comparisons and contrasts between both singles while giving a preview of what’s to come. You guys have done a couple of virtual performances called “Cheen Streams” that have been recorded and broadcast live from your studio at the Music Cellar in Millerton. Who came up with the idea to do these, and do you think this approach to livestreaming will be a thing the band will do in the future to try out new material?
For us, COVID-19 gave us the opportunity, like everybody else, to reassess, look at our project and figure out how we could move forward. We were touring constantly, while writing new material and testing it out on the road, but it was refreshing for us to just get back to our studio and write, compose, and film. We were paying attention to other bands’ streams and thought that it was a cool alternative to bring people together on the internet, but clearly it’s no substitute for a live show. We knew that it wasn’t a substitute for the experience that we like to present as a Lespecial concert. Our concept with Cheen Streams was us wanting to do something different while taking advantage of being in our home studio and provide a look into the window of what we do there.
We were able to do arrangements and instrumentation that we’ve never done before. We were able to use a Steinway grand piano, and we’ve obviously never been able to perform on stage with that. We were able to use some different synths and be in that whole setting, so we did arrangements and songs that we weren’t able to physically do live. It gave us a cool thing to do, but we never wanted to make it a substitute for our live shows.
For the upcoming show, you guys are going to be performing two sets, which includes a live scoring of the classic silent horror film The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari. What are your thoughts going into doing this at a drive-in?
We’ve always looked at the drive-in formula as another opportunity to do something different within this model. Again, it goes back to how we were never going to replace that feeling of a Lespecial show in a crowded club or at a festival, so we thought that we could do something different with it. We’re all into movies; I am admittedly the horror movie nerd of the bunch, and doing this thing was a no-brainer to me. I’m surprised but thankful that no other bands have done this yet, so I’m happy to be one of the first to do a live horror movie score in October.
We are into the drive-in model; we did a small private event in Lake George, New York, back in June or July. We just wanted to see what the experience was like in terms of fan experience but also in how everything was run. It was a great time and a great introduction to it; now we can do it with a vision and a concept that we’ve wanted to do for a while. We’ve been working on various film score projects throughout the pandemic. We’ve been working with Vice on a new web series they’re releasing, and it gave us our foray into film score music, and we love that kind of stuff. The concept of being able to do a partly improvised and partly composed drive-in horror movie seemed like such a perfect idea.
Now that we’ve started to work on the music, lighting, and design for this, we have some really cool ideas, and I think it’s going to be a new, unique thing to bring to a drive-in.
On the following weekend, Lespecial is putting on a socially distanced festival called Le Getaway in Kent, Connecticut, with New Haven funk act Eggy on Oct 17. How did the process of the whole thing go down when it came to planning it all out, and what are the specifics of the festival to make sure folks are staying safe?
It’s been a long process. We’ve been going back and forth between both shows. I guess the luxury of not being able to do full tours and play sick shows every week is that we’ve been able to cater these experiences while coming up with a vision and a concept that we’re confident that we’ll execute. We’ve talked with all kinds of different people in the industry leading up to Le Getaway, including the owner of Club Getaway, David Schrieber, where the festival is taking place. We’ve been in constant contact about how we can make sure this is done safely and properly. They’ve been operating all summer with social distancing guidelines and reduced capacity, so the venue itself felt very confident that we could do this.
It became clear that this can happen, but more importantly, it needs to happen. We’re all hit with news on social media every single day about our favorite venues closing down, and it’s becoming a very difficult pill to swallow. The question of is live music going away forever? is becoming a real one, and it’s something that we can’t allow to happen, and we need to work together to make sure that it doesn’t happen. I don’t mean to say that Lespecial is going to save the music industry by doing this event because we need every patron there to participate, have a mask on, and respect the rules to show that live music is capable of adapting just like every other industry.
We feel 100% confident that this can happen. We’ve been doing walkthroughs, and we’re going to have socially distanced lawn seating in a massive area. We’re also going to do some socially distanced camp activities as well with a pingpong tournament and other activities that’ll be announced closer to the date. We wanted to take every precaution to make sure that it could be done in a way that adhered to the distancing guidelines, and we think that with this infrastructure and the crew working it while working together with the patrons we’ll be able to pull it off responsibly.
Going back to the beginning of our chat, you talked about the new album that Lespecial is working on. Do you have a name for it and a release date set yet?
The album is called Ancient Homies and it’ll be out on Dec 4 via Ropeadope Records. Like I said, we all feel that this is the best album we’ve ever done. That’s obviously very subjective; I think every time you put out an album you need to feel that way, but this one really does feel like it encapsulates all of the energy that we skimmed the surface of in the other albums. This feels like a culmination; it’s the strongest thematic album that we’ve done, and we got the strongest performances. We’re extremely excited for people to hear it.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.