The Story Behind Every Song On Jessy Lanza’s New Album All The Time
Jessy Lanza songs don’t stop moving. They’re rendered in twitchy shuffles, hypnotic little loops that operate like spinning tops. These kinds of songs were fully realized on her dementedly fun 2016 album Oh No, and four years later she’s refined them even more on her latest, All The Time. The album was predated by a move, from Lanza’s hometown of Hamilton, Ontario to New York City, and it often sounds restless and overwhelmed, like trying to find a calm center in a new place where the same old problems keep plaguing you.
A lot of the hooks on the album are built around being propelled unwillingly by momentum, repeating negative patterns without any ability to stop. In Lanza’s case, these patterns seem to manifest in falling in love and losing her identity. “Love comes back to find you,” she sings on a track called “Over And Over.” “And it’s hard to believe I don’t know myself.” Early single “Lick In Heaven” twirls like a merry-go-round of fated determination: “Once I’m spinning/ I can’t stop spinning/ I’m going all the way.”
She once again worked on All The Time with her frequent collaborator Jeremy Greenspan, and they traded tracks back and forth across the country border. Lanza’s songs are subtle and thoughtfully constructed, filled with little touches and flourishes that you can tell took time to figure out. Lanza’s vocals are breathy but controlled; her deliver is clipped and defiant. Her and Greenspan tease out effervescent pop songs in little chirps. The songs on All The Time are glitchy and odd and also impeccably smooth.
Right before announcing All The Time a few months ago, Lanza moved once again. After her tour in Europe ended suddenly because of the pandemic, she found herself at the end of her lease in New York and embarked on a cross-country road trip to stay with family in San Francisco. That sudden life change is pretty indicative of the music that Lanza makes — constantly in motion and always in the process of self-discovery.
Right now, you can hear All The Time for yourself. Below, read along with Lanza’s track-by-track breakdown of her new album as you listen.
1. “Anyone Around”
I thought All The Time was finished but then I wrote “Anyone Around” while we were mixing the record and it became the last song written for the album. Jeremy Greenspan (who co- wrote and co- produced All The Time) had sent me a drum pattern he made on his Eurorack modular months before and I came across the file while I was cleaning up my computer desktop. I shifted the drum pattern around in the grid a little bit and the beat clicked with me in a way that it hadn’t before. I used a patch I had built in Iris (one of my favorite VSTs) and wrote the chord progression and the lyrics very quickly. It’s rare for me that a song comes together so fast but I felt really good about “Anyone Around” so at the last minute we decided to include it on the track list for All The Time.
2. “Lick In Heaven”
“Lick in Heaven” is a reflection on losing control. I wrote it right after a fight with my partner. After the fight had resolved I started to fixate on the cycle of anger and forgiveness and how addictive that cycle can be. A lot of the time I write songs that are the opposite of how I feel and I think “Lick in Heaven” is a good example of that. Even though I was feeling terrible when I wrote the song I still wanted the track to be playful. I wrote a simple, bouncy bassline on a Roland SH101 and added a sample I found on YouTube of two men fighting in a parking lot. I put a melody underneath the sample too and that really cheered me up.
“Face” was a bit of an edit-fest in that it’s a song I felt like I spent more time assembling than writing. I started off with a City Girls/Drake sample and then worked in a lot of percussion and bassline experiments I was doing on semi-modular equipment like the Mother 32, DFAM, and Moog Sirin. I didn’t really know what I was doing with the instruments at the time but I recorded all of my experiments while tweaking the parameters and punching in patterns on the fly. I edited together the interesting bits afterwards. Jeremy had a lot of fun using his Eurorack for the rhythmic textures in “Face” too. The song has a frantic quality that I really like because so much of the track is taken from successful (and failed) modular experiments. The vocals were the last part written for the song which I came up with while I was riding the subway. I started imagining what people might be thinking about as we were riding the train and when I got home I wrote those imaginings into the lyrics for “Face.”
“Badly” is my favorite song from All The Time. It’s about wanting to feel connected but pushing away from people at the same time. The sub bass that opens the track was an accident that happened within Logic’s exs24 sampler. I didn’t realize I also had another sample pitched in a different key layered with the sub so when I started playing the bassline it sounded very strange but also really good. I also love the bridge of “Badly.” The chord progression Jeremy came up with sounds like a breakdown in a Mariah Carey song. It’s all layered DX7s and delay with a ton of ad libs. I did so many ad lib takes for “Badly.” I would send them to Jeremy and think that we were done with that section of the song but Jeremy kept insisting that I do just a few more passes. I thought he was crazy at the time and that there were too many ad libs but once All The Time was mixed the ad libs brought a new emotional dimension to the track.
“Alexander” began as a cover of one of my favorite Alexander O’Neal songs, “A Broken Heart Can Mend.” The cover wasn’t really going anywhere so I changed the key and the tempo and the song became “Alexander.” I used the Roland JX8P for the chords and Jeremy added a drum pattern with his Roland CR78 which gives the song a “Phil Collins demo” quality that I really like. I also used a few Soundtoys plugins to manipulate the pitch and texture of my vocal. It was also fun to do live vocal takes through the Eventide Timefactor and play around with the delay parameters in real time. I spent a lot of time editing together the Timefactor experiments and layering the sounds with a cleaner vocal take to get more texture.
6. “Ice Creamy”
“Ice Creamy” is a song that Jeremy and I passed back and forth quite a bit so it has a very layered sound because we both spent so much time tinkering around with it. I think the key was changed somewhere along the line so my vocals and the chords have a modulating/shifting quality that makes it hard to hear exactly what key we’re in. There’s an instability to “Ice Creamy” that makes me feel a little bit motion sick if I’m honest! I’ve always found the song a bit disorienting but I think that’s why it was fun to work on.
7. “Like Fire”
I wrote “Like Fire” around the same time I was working on a remix for Homeshake. The song began as a failed remix attempt of Homeshake’s song “Like Mariah.” I made the drum pattern for “Like Fire” with the intention of putting Pete Sagar’s vocals over top but it didn’t work out. The song really started to turn into its own thing when I added a Mother 32 pattern to the drums that sounded like two whiny horns having a conversation.
8. “Baby Love”
I love the lilting underwater bubble sound for the intro of “Baby Love.” Jeremy created the sound using his Eurorack which eventually builds into a really beautiful lush chord arrangement. We had a lot of fun layering chords using the DX7 and Jeremy’s OBXA. I wrote the lyrics for “Baby Love” about my niece who was born in 2017. It’s a song inspired by the feeling I had coming home from the hospital after meeting her for the first time.
9. “Over And Over”
“Over and Over” started with a bassline I wrote on my SH 101. I was inspired after listening to the SOS Band song “Looking For You.” During the first verse of “Looking For You” Mary Davis speaks/sings a lyric and I thought it sounded so good and a bit unusual. I tried to emulate her in the first verse of “Over and Over.”
10. “All The Time”
“All The Time” was the first song that Jeremy and I wrote for the record. After Oh No was released in 2016, Jeremy and I were unsure if we were going to make another record together. At the end of 2017 he sent me a simple chord progression and drum pattern and I wrote the lyrics and melody for “All The Time” in about an hour. We were both so happy with how the song turned out and it became the catalyst for working on another record together.
All The Time is out 7/24 via Hyperdub.