Words: Alex Synamatix
Photography: Jason Turner
It’s been a steady rise for Cardiff’s talented young producer Lung. Since his first release on Kokeshi achieved great acclaim back in December ’09, he has signed up to one of the largest record labels in Drum & Bass, Med School, the experimental arm of Hospital Records.
With a comfy three album deal from Med School and collaboration with High Contrast under his belt already, it looks like Lung is not going to be a one hit wonder, that’s for sure. His approach to mixing influences from Drum & Bass, Dubstep, House, Techno and ’80s Synth Pop makes for a unique sound that is instantly recognisable and captures many people’s musical hearts. With a good DJ ability and an incredibly modest personality, it’s no surprise that this young talent is rising through the ranks at an alarming rate. With all this, it’s easy to forget that he is only 21.
Those who are well informed on our mixtape series will already be more than familiar with Lung, as he gave us our first (and currently only) Drum & Bass mixtape in the form of 010: Lung. On the brink of his first solo EP release on Med School, we sat down with the man behind the moniker, James Ellaway, to talk influences, music, Cardiff and how his life has changed since his first ever release.
It’s been a while since we featured your first ever release back in December 2009, how has life changed for you since then?
I dunno, to be honest. It’s pretty much the same – I’m still living at home with my parents, still can’t afford anything [laughs], but I think the main difference is I’m working a lot more. It feels like work, but in a good way. Even if I’m not really having a lot of stuff to do, I’m making stuff for myself to do. So production wise, I’ve just been writing and writing, trying to get an album together. Just treating it like that, grafting away at it. Gigs have increased, but could still increase more [laughs]. So, just kind of plodding along and keeping at the same thing, but going in 110% now.
You signed to Med School last year. How did that relationship come about?
I got a message from the guys, basically saying “Do you want to come down to the office in London and have a chat?”. I didn’t really know what to make of it to be honest. I wasn’t expecting the outcome that actually happened. I knew they had the publishing arm and stuff, so I thought it might have been something to do with that, but when I went down and they offered me this three album deal I was just like “What the fuck?” [laughs]. I didn’t see that coming!
Do you feel comfortable at Med School? Do you feel like you’ve found your home?
Yeah I love it. When I started out with Kokeshi, that was great as well, Alicia (Alley Cat) is wicked, she really looked after me. I guess in a way, when I signed up with Alicia I was so young and still didn’t really know what I was doing, it was all kinda just me experimenting with music and she kind of nurtured me and started building this profile up. It was good to get a sense of direction. After that, Alicia was actually the one that put my details forward to the guys at Hospital, so the link up was quite nice. I’m hoping I’ll still be able to work with Alicia in one way or another at some point, and the guys at the label (Med School), they all get along with her as well and vice versa. It’s nice. I’m working with some good people that really look out for the artists that they work with. It’s like a mutual interest thing… You put in a lot of work, you get a lot back out of it.
Tell us about your collaboration with High Contrast. that must have been a highlight of your career so far.
It was crazy. It was really surreal. I’ve known Linc (High Contrast) for a little while now, but the first time I met him it was a really daunting experience. I was thinking “Fuck, this is High Contrast. This guy’s a legend!”. It was just really surreal. I’d known him for a while before we actually got in the studio to do this thing. He had this tune sort of in the works. He had this piano part down and these drums and stuff, so I came round and basically he was just like “Let’s write a baseline or something for it”, so I came in on that angle. I did some work with him on it in the studio, then I did a bit myself at home – those big pads and stuff, signature Lung blips [laughs]. Man, just in one word, it was surreal, but I was really pleased with the outcome of that tune. It’s quite a different one for him as well, which is why I think that maybe in some ways it stands out a bit. He hasn’t really done anything around that sort of tempo before. It was a really interesting project to work on.
Since your first release on Kokeshi, you’ve reconnected yourself with your D&B roots. Why is this?
When I started out producing electronic music, I was really into Drum & Bass and I was writing the shittest tunes [laughs]. It was all just a big learning curve and I was really struggling, not just to write tunes, but also with the technicalities of producing. Then I started cottoning on to some Dubstep – I remember hearing ‘Archangel’ by Burial and even a few of the early Nero releases. I know they’re miles apart, but I started getting into that fairly early-ish Dubstep sound and just thought “I’m gonna have a go at making this”. That’s when ‘Afterlife’ happened. It came together quite accidentally really. I was learning how to use the sampler in Logic and I had these vocal parts, and that’s what that weird sort of ghostly, haunting vocal is in Afterlife. The tune just kind of built up around that. I sent Alicia a message on Facebook, just like “Check out this tune” and that’s when it signed up. So, I kind of set up this other alias then, which was Lung. Just a random word choice to be honest, to differentiate it from my other stuff I was making. That’s when I really started to feel like I was learning stuff, production wise.
Would you say that an early Dubstep foundation, artists like Burial, still have a big influence on you now?
Yeah, totally. Once I found that I’d been learning all these new things with producing Dubstep, I was like “Right, I’m gonna go back in and write some Drum & Bass”. A lot of these techniques and these sounds and stuff, I learnt by listening to that kind of early Dubstep sound. Even just watching tutorial videos, that kind of thing, it all helps. I learn best by doing, so I just try stuff. Trial and error all the time, and sometimes you have a happy accident, much in the case of Afterlife. My production is so different to that tune now and if I was to write that tune now, I’d probably write it completely differently, but that’s just hindsight. That’s the whole process of learning anyway. But with regards to how that may have influenced my new EP, I was fairly comfortable with what I was doing production-wise at the time, even though all 4 of the tracks on the EP were written at different times, over the space of a year probably. There’s no real particular influence sound-wise behind the EP, it was all just stuff that I was enjoying writing basically, and it sounded like they should all be together, even though they’re all different tempos. It just worked I guess.
A lot of your music seems to pull influence from ’80s electronic artists. The way that you don’t seem to connect genres with tempo is very similar to artists working with electronica in the ’80s. Where has that influence come from?
Totally. All the kind of records that my parents used to listen to; Sting and the Police, Tears for Fears, Echo and the Bunnymen. All that kind of sound, the big reverberated drums. People really started to use drum machines in the ’80s, even if they weren’t an electronic act. That’s when electronics really starting coming into popular music, like big chorusy synth sounds and guitars, it was all that big reverb stuff and I love reverb [laughs]. The most simple effect you can use, but if you use it right you just create this space and atmosphere. I think that whole ’80s sound, maybe not any artists specifically, but just that overall kind of sound of all the producers at the time making those kind of albums with those artists, I think that had a big impact on me, the overall sound and feel of it. I’d love to be this age in the ’80s, checking out some of that music.
You keep mentioning a forthcoming album. When can we expect to see that and what direction are you going with it?
Well there’s no real kind of concept behind it, but it’s probably gonna follow a similar format to this EP in that I want it to be diverse stylistically, but with regards to tempo as well. So I’ve been writing some 130 stuff, some stuff at 137, 140, even slower again … I’ve been writing some stuff at 80 bpm. I just really want to experiment with writing at the moment. This EP took up a lot of time, trying to get it nailed and get it right, and after that I was so ready to start writing some new music. Since then, I’ve just been writing loads. It’s gonna be kind of cross-tempo and hopefully have a lot of different styles in there, a couple of collabs maybe. If the work rate keeps up the way it is at the moment, we could maybe have something by the end of the year. Fingers crossed! We’ll see how it goes. I’d love to get something out by the end of the year, I feel like it would be the right time, so I’m just keeping my head down and writing.
The new EP also sees your first full music video, that you actually feature in also. How was that as an experience?
Having it done was amazing. That’s my first ever official music video and the guys did such an amazing job. I was so pleased with it. It’s just surreal. I don’t know about you, but when you buy music and when you hear music, the imagery of it can be just as important sometimes as the tune. We wanted something that was gonna tie in with that whole ethos of the EP, and I think they did a really good job. It was just a weird experience. I’d been in Oxford the night before for Hospitality and I had a gig the following night, I had to come back via London to cameo in this video, so it was all really rushed, but the guys were so professional that it was a real pleasure to be able to work with them and have them do it. I’m a bit camera shy to be honest with you, which is why I’m quite glad it was just a brief appearance in this one [laughs].
You’re playing in Catapult on Record Store Day. What kind of set are you going to play and will it be on vinyl?
No, it’s gonna be CDs… I’ve got too many dubs these days [laughs]. I can’t afford to get them all cut to vinyl. The EP comes out on Monday, so it will be that following weekend that we have the party in Catapult. I’ll be playing alongside some wicked local producers and DJs, people like CRST, The Organ Grinder, Darkhouse Family, so it will be a good party in there. Simon and Lucy from Catapult are wicked. They’ve been really supportive as well, from the start. It’s a good little party – we get a local crowd in there, get some beers, some Haribo [laughs]. Then there’s an after party at Buffalo.
Lung’s brand new EP “Why Does Anyone Ever Do Anything?” is out on Med School today. You can pick up a copy from the Hospital Records online store.