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When Jessie Stein, singer and instrumentalist with Montreal band the Luyas, is reached by phone, it's on that increasing rarity—a landline to a country home. In this case, Stein is at her father's place in provincial Quebec, where she's taking a little break from most of civilization before another round of touring. "It's pretty important to do that sometimes—some famous Californians said that, I'm sure!" she adds, warmth and bright humor evident in her words.
Stein has cause to be in a good mood thanks to the reaction to the Luyas's second full album, Too Beautiful to Work, which the band will promote with an appearance at Detroit Bar. Elegant and often surprising, the band's blend of rough, in-the-moment sonic edges and lush details result in a series of engaging performances throughout the album, with Stein's vocals and performances—notably including a near-unique zither-like instrument called a Moodswinger—capping the overall feeling of bubbling creativity.
"We've always been a live band, making a lot of atmospheric music," notes Stein. "For this album, we used a lot of analog gear; we only used sampling once, a live sample we made. We used a lot of tape echoes, and everything is a performance. It can be hard to hear and exactly identify the difference; it fits in with things sort of similar in sound, but so much of the music it has kinship with is electronic. It's all performed, but it's not something inherently superior because it is; it's just done with different means to a different effect, to use instruments and what we have."
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Stein also thinks the Moodswinger has had an impact on the initial part of the creative process in terms of songwriting. "I feel I create things that are more naive and more personal; there's much more creativity open when I am playing an instrument that is mysterious," she says. "On a guitar, when I'm comfortable, it's a lot harder for me to break my patterns. Ignorance of the way something works can lead down a different path than you would normally go, and I knew it would give me songs. Rock & roll is not the most new and exciting form anymore, so if you're going to continue making it, you have to make it individual."
Based on the reaction to Too Beautiful to Work, Stein's gratified to note that this air has resonated with the band's listeners. Stein avoided most media reactions to the album, and instead reflected on how audiences have reacted to the shows, valuing "a letter from a fan rather than an album review," she says. With the continuing tour and possibly a new album next year, it's no surprise Stein sounds so energized as a result.
"Live, our songs have definitely evolved significantly—the album was recorded two years ago, and a lot of the recordings were written the day we recorded," she says. "The more impactful way of communicating is to exaggerate all the movements of the songs slightly—that feels cathartic. Everything is a little more intense, and we feel better with one another. We've also got some new songs we're performing live, others that we're doing rough demos for, in this brief time off from our insane touring schedule!"
This article appeared in print as "Mood Making With the Luyas: These Canadians peddle their individualized form of rock & roll."