Last week I had the chance to conduct an interview with Australian artist LANKS.
Will Cuming is an Australian musician of the highest calibre. He is the man responsible for the LANKS project I have spent many hours listening to in recent years. He is also releasing acoustic music under the alias of Lindsay and is also part of the exciting collaborative project, OK Moon.
His sound has always been unique and intriguing – having a chat with him was a real treat. He is a very smart and humble guy and I am sure you will find what he has to say quite insightful.
Thanks for taking the time to chat Will. How are you coping with the virus?
It’s a pretty weird and interesting time for everyone. I was in the middle of a tour in Australia when it all started getting more serious so I had to cancel that and race back to New York as quickly as I could. It was definitely weird and not so financially great. Now I am in New York again where I’m barely leaving the house. I have been making a lot of music and finishing off things that were not finished. I’m excited to make things and that is keeping me sane and keeps a sense of purpose going. I think we all need to keep active to get through it or else we can become a bit over-whelmed.
I’ve just realised you were releasing under a new alias called ‘Lindsay’ – how has this come to be and what does it involve?
Lindsay is something I’ve been working on for a while. Lindsay is actually my middle name and it all came about because I had a lot of acoustic styled songs that I didn’t feel suited the LANKS project. The songs had a real clarity to them so I was just excited to dive in and make music that was different and wasn’t beat driven. LANKS, over the last couple of years has been me working in rooms with people, collaborating all the time. While I did collaborate a little bit on the Lindsay stuff, mostly it’s just me sitting with a guitar or piano and making it myself. I think I was kind of missing that experience. Sometimes I got into the habit of writing and producing with so many other artists that it sort of felt like I was losing a bit of connection to my own thing.
With Lindsay, I wanted to give myself time to make something that felt really honest. It’s guitar and piano driven stuff. Hopefully, people can unwind to it.
Was it a conscious thing to release it right now – when everyone was locked in?
No, I didn’t release it now for that reason but it feels nice to have had people message me already and let me know that is really helping them with their anxiety. It’s come out in a weird time, my Grandma just passed away and this release definitely holds a lot of memory attachments. It will always symbolize this time tough time for me personally, even though I had been writing the songs over the last few years. I think music has that power where you hear a song and it reminds you of a certain time and place. I’m going to be reminded of recent events when I listen back to this EP for years to come. I didn’t release it for any of those purposes but art does whatever it wants to do and people do whatever they want to do with it.
Where did LANKS start and how did the first EP come about?
It was interesting, I had been playing music for a long time before ‘Rises and Falls’ was released. Originally I had big bands, a five piece, seven piece. The band I had before starting LANKS was an eight-piece ‘Arcade Fire’ type of band where I was writing the songs and just started singing (I wasn’t very good). We had a moment where some of the band members were in another band called Eagle and The Worm too. They had a month where they were recording for their album so our band had no gigs or anything on for the month. My housemate, who does a lot of the artwork for me (he was also the arms in the ‘Settle Down’ video) and I, started a blog together on Tumblr called ‘sketch-per-day’, or something along those lines.
The blog had a little quote at the top from my Grandmother saying ‘To make great art, you have to make something everyday’. It was around September of 2013/14 and everyday he would have to make something visual and I would have to make a musical sketch to accompany it. At the end of that month, it turned out I had created some songs that we really liked. We decided to get the audio mixed and release an EP. That was the first EP and how it happened, I wasn’t trying to do anything with it at the time. I was watching heaps of Anime then, so it was very Anime inspired. It was received well and within a few weeks the first single had exceeded anything I had in my bands so I ended up sticking with it.
The first LANKS tracks I heard by you was ‘Settle Down’ a few years ago now. One of the things that struck me was the fantastic music video that went along with it. What was that all about?
Sesame Street. The weimaraners had human arms whilst they ate on the show. My housemate and I were like, lets do it, but with a human instead of the dogs. It was just a fun idea and it was really hard to keep a straight face. We enjoyed doing it and it cost like ten bucks to make the whole thing.
Your LANKS material is always wonderfully experimental in nature – where did that creative flair originate?
I think my Grandma being an artist was a big inspiration for me experimenting and making different things. My dad is also a great digital artist and my sister is also creative too. We studied jazz together at uni so I think that’s where a lot of it came from. I’ve always been looking for fresh ideas to inspire me and every time I learnt a new style or sound, I would just make music with it. I always remember with ‘settle down’, I was listening to a lot of FKA Twigs and things like that at the time so maybe a bit of that came through somewhere.
I’m always fascinated by artists that change and grow a lot. For example, Bon Iver, he went from folk-y stuff to collaborating with Kanye West. Not to say all of his stuff is the best but he has written some of my favourite songs ever. I like that he is always experimenting with sound and is not just settled in one niche. He reinvents in a gradual way, where you can see where one album fits into the next. This has been my challenge and something I search for. Every artist is trying to straddle that line between being understandable for what you are and not being put in a box. Nobody wants to be put in a box but I think humans do process things like that. I always had an approach to music making that allowed for me to come up with new ideas and sounds.
Your debut album was titled twenty-seven and it touches upon the pressures you put on yourself to succeed in your early/mid twenties. As someone who has suffered from these feelings too, your words were a great inspiration to me. (No Question there, sorry)
I get a few messages from people about that. That was what that whole album was about. I think we all put a lot of pressure on ourselves to achieve and succeed. One of the things I’ve noticed about the current times (during lockdown) we are living is the way social media has stopped being a place for people to gloat about their achievements. I think if you spend too much time on Instagram and sites like that, you can begin to question your own purpose. We sometimes weigh are hopes heavily on the wrong things and we should be content on being happy and getting by without paying too much attention to what others are doing. Identifying what makes you happy and giving yourself an internal road-map of how to get there is important.
You’ve recently moved to New York – How have you taken to the move so far?
We moved in late November last year. My wife works at the New York Times and she got a job in their office here so we made the big scary move. It is very exciting being here and I didn’t know to much about the city before arriving. I spent a bit of time in LA before but not much time in NYC when I was in America before. It’s a pretty amazing place and I’ve met with lots of really cool people here already It’s a weird time to be living in the epicenter of a pandemic. It feels like I could be anywhere as I’m just inside all the time. I don’t know what it will be like living here, it will be interesting to see how things change here in the next six to twelve months.
Will you be looking to do collaborations with US based artists in future?
At the moment, it’s hard to go out and network with any New York artists but I’d love to do some collaboration’s over here. I’ve got a lot of Australian collabs coming through still as it is where my friends and my network is. I’m driven by that close network but I’m excited to get out and meet people here and see what the New York landscape looks like. There are a lot of amazing Australian artists that I’d love to support over here. Nick Hill who sang on Rebound is one of them – I think he is phenomenal. As is JANEVA too, of course.
Dustin Tebbutt is one of my favourite all time musicians too – How was it working with him on the OK Moon project last year?
Yeah we put out an album last year. It was a collaborative project called OK Moon. It’s with Hayden Calnin, Dustin Tebbutt and Xavier Dunn. I’ve listened to Dustin’s music for ages but didn’t know him personally before Dunn made the connection initially. We did a session together and somehow we all felt we had connected, that was about three years ago. We spent the next year and a half/two years, making a full album together. I’ve actually written more songs with Dustin than anybody else – we’ve probably written twenty songs together by now. I am just a fan and he is one of my best friends and a great guy.
What are your experiences with touring around as a musician?
It depends what type of tour it is. In Australia, touring is kind of weird where you can’t really do lots of dates in a row generally. Regional stuff is very small so there are only a few cities where you can play. I remember when I toured with Vera Blue, it was seventeen dates in less than a month or something. There were four or five consecutive nights in a row throughout that one. I remember getting sick at the start of the tour (it always seems to happen like that). Looking after yourself is the main thing for an artist to ensure.
Looking forward, I can’t visualise what the future of touring is going to be like post lockdown. The industry is built in a way where most people don’t make money except on touring so there are definitely some challenges ahead. I was supposed to come over to Europe and play a few shows for the Lindsay project in July/August but it’s looking like that is pretty unlikely.
Have you seen any good services helping musicians during this period of uncertainty?
I’m mostly still tuned into Australia but over there we have a few really good ones. ‘Support Act’ is a great organisation that commits ,essentially all of their money, to crew and artists who apply for support. It is pretty amazing. On top of that I have friends who run an initiative called ‘Feat’, which is less about coronavirus per say, but is equally as important. They are musicians who are building solar farms to make touring more sustainable. They have got some big investors like Vance Joy behind the initiative. That is really incredible too. We cannot forget that a lot of musicians gave their time and work away for free to raise funds for the bush-fires. Loads of artists were so generous and it’s very hard to watch those same people now struggling a couple of months later.
I like to finish by asking you about your experiences on life as a musician and if you have any advice for anyone starting out?
Picking music as a career can be a challenge. I am really passionate about sustainable business models and I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years learning digital marketing skills – which I now do a bit of freelance work with too. I wanted to be more empowered as I feel that running ads to send people to a streaming platform where you make a fraction of a cent is not really sustainable. It’s challenging to grow a music business, especially without touring. I think for young artists the best thing to recommend is to figure out a way to make records cheaply or affordably.
Think carefully about whether you really need to sign up to labels and things like that. Giving away high percentages of your record sales equates to a lot of money. I think artists often fail to question what they are getting in return and for what term the deal lasts. I’d advise musicians to put all of these factors into a spreadsheet. I think musicians getting acquainted with spreadsheets is a great thing early on.
Find the correct balance for yourself without impacting on the creativity of your work itself. Artists can often put their creations in too high a basket and sometimes a hungry person might come along and take advantage of that. You have to give your art the best chance. Give it the best artwork you can, don’t spend all your money on a video but if you can make something some nice content, do it. Try make it all to a high standard – give yourself a chance and give it time. Be patient, it might take people three or four years to find your music.
I hope you enjoyed that lovely in-depth interview with LANKS
Check out last week’s interview with NPR Tiny Desk Contest winner Quinn Christopherson here.
Interviews on the way – Callum Pitt / Baiyou
About ‘The Sound Sniffer’
The Sound Sniffer is a music blog which is still only a baby – Founded and run by Kevin Coakley in early 2019. He is a music writer and ghostwriter. ‘The Sound Sniffer’ also runs gigs and showcases in London since Oct 2019. The showcases are picked from artists we find in our submissions inbox.