Galcher Lustwerk has made a name for himself with music that is slow and smooth like the movements of a sports car. Nina Posner met the producer to talk his new album Information, his favourite spy flicks and why Lana Del Rey should start reading SPEX.
Contrary to what you may think, Galcher Lustwerk is not mysterious. Though his 2013 mixtape 100% Galcher made big waves upon its release, he hung back from the public eye, doing few interviews and keeping a low profile. But it wasn’t part of a larger, orchestrated scheme; rather, the New York-via-Cleveland producer simply preferred his privacy. “When you’re not on social media, people assume that it’s part of your brand or whatever, not that you just don’t feel like doing it,” Galcher – who keeps his real name secret – told me last month at a Nepalese restaurant in Ridgewood, Queens. “I’m pretty open with people in real life, but on the Internet, you don’t know who anybody is.”
The theme of people who aren’t what they seem runs loosely throughout his first LP for Ghostly International, Information. Like his previous albums – 2017’s Dark Bliss, released on White Material, and 2018’s 200% Galcher, released on his own Lustwerk Music – Information blends together warm, late-night house music and stream-of-consciousness freestyle vocals, carefully balanced in tandem. There’s an effortless propulsion to the music, a slow, smooth glide not unlike the movement of a luxury car, a motif he’s touched on in the past.
The new record, Galcher candidly explains between bites of sizzling vegetables, is somewhat of a spy narrative, a profession he views as similar to that of a touring DJ. The comparison makes sense – characters move in and out of shadowy frames, it’s the protagonist’s job to figure out the mood of a space and the motivations of its inhabitants, and sometimes, things are going to get a bit illicit.
“It feels kind of like each gig is a mission – you have an itinerary, you’re going somewhere, you don’t know who’s gonna pick you up, you don’t know what to expect,” he says. “Information is about learning to move in a certain way through a world that parties, a hedonistic world.” Augmented by the additions of jazz saxophone (played by Galcher himself) and more drums, as well as more “Midwest-minded” arrangements, the record is quietly lush and, like any good whodunit, one to get lost in, to listen back and observe again and again.
SPEX: You said you wanted to cull together your most “Midwest-minded” tracks for this album. What does the Midwest sound like to you?
Galcher Lustwerk: I kind of associate it with college radio that I used to listen to while driving around Ohio, so it’s pretty wide-ranging. It was more indie and punk, experimental noisy jazz, and then historically the Midwest is home to Motown and funk music. Ohio has The O’Jays and Zapp, and then there’s Detroit techno, Chicago house like Larry Heard. In Cleveland, there’s Dan Curtin, who’s still doing stuff now, and Emeralds, Kid Cudi even … There’s a general lightness to Midwest music, a bittersweet feel to it. I was listening to weird stuff, like Thrill Jockey, and a lot of Chicago artists like Tortoise, Trans Am, and The Sea and Cake. The Sea and Cake have always been influential, their lyrics are chill and quiet and calm and don’t really make a whole lot of sense, but fit the mood of the song. I think a lot of the Midwest sound is also making what you want to make. I don’t know this for certain, but I would imagine if you’re on the East Coast, you would be exposed to so much extra culture that you’re kind of expected to make a certain thing. Or the West Coast has a certain sound and industry, so in those places you can easily and quickly find your niche, but in the Midwest, you gotta make your own niche in a way.
Was that your mindset when you started producing in high school?
I wanted to make music I was listening to. I think the biggest influence was Aphex Twin, because I was like, how is he making music that sounds like this? I wasn’t necessarily trying to make music that sounds like him, but I got super into the process of melodies and song structure and incorporating lyrics, and incorporating what I like about hip hop music into that as well. I’ve always tried to have my own style, and it’s always gone through more or less emo phases, and then it gets more serious, but then it gets kinda emo and silly and there’s all these weird modulations I’m making. I think this record is more serious but still playful in a few places.
There are a lot of jazz influences on the album, not to mention the inclusion of jazz sax. What’s your relationship to the sax?
I played for nine years, middle school through high school, but I was at my peak in eighth grade. It was cool, I think that’s how I developed my sound a little bit. I enjoy the bluesier keys and chords, I wanted the authentic sax sound. I realised that one of the reasons why I stopped playing it was because it was too loud. I always liked to play really soft on it, I was very cognizant of the neighbors hearing what I was playing, so I tried to practice really quietly at home when I was growing up. Now I want to practice a little more and try and get more complex with it. I don’t even remember how to read sheet music anymore.
Were you playing jazz back then?
There was a jazz summer programme that I was part of, and then in high school I was in band but the band teacher sucked. He drove a purple Chrysler PT Cruiser, lame as fuck. He wore a tie with piano illustrations on it. He chose wack music too, and made us play real basic stuff like “Smoke on the Water.” That turned me off playing pretty much full stop. By my senior year, I was like, “I hate this, I wanna sell this thing.”
You studied at the Rhode Island School of Design, along with White Material founders Young Male and DJ Richard. How did you engage with Providence’s experimental music scene?
I don’t want to say that the scene is no longer there, but I feel like I caught the last hurrah of the scene, especially in my freshman year there, going to parties in Olneyville where all the warehouses are. It reminded me of Cleveland punk shows at squats or wherever, but it was next level extreme, whether it was the sound of the music, or the performance aspect of it, or the fashion, or the actual venue being super gnarly. There was this place, Mars Gas, and it was called that because there was a jewelry factory across an alleyway that would blow plastic fumes into the loft … There were lots of really insane situations in the area. It made it seem like music could be anything, or a music scene could be anything. At the time there, it wasn’t really about quality but intensity, how intense you could be. I got gigs DJing at bars and was trying to get Providence more into electronic stuff, because for a while it wasn’t really into that at all. It’s not like I was trying to do the extreme intense stuff, I was kinda trying to adapt what I was doing to what everyone else was doing, trying noise every once in a while but also techno or house.
Is the album artwork referencing anything in particular, and did you make it?
I kinda art directed it. For me, the couple of references I come back to are Anne Rice novels, even though I’ve never read an Anne Rice novel. My mom used to read them all the time, so I remember growing up seeing all the novels on the bookshelf with the crazy type. And the BBC show Poirot, which is Art Déco period murder mysteries, like Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express. My influences were film noir, Art Déco – a sorta goth, sophisticated look.
Do you like spy movies? What are your top picks?
It’s a broad category for me. For this album, I was watching The Long Goodbye a lot, which is directed by Robert Altman. I’m a big fan of the Ocean’s movies in the silly spectrum. I like Heat. There’s also this French director who’s really good, Jean-Pierre Melville. He’s made a series of movies, one’s called The Red Circle and the other one’s called Le Samouraï. I like Enemy of the State, which is more like a conspiracy thriller. It had a huge effect on me when it came out in 1998, it’s one of my favorite movies. The French Connection is also a really big favourite.
There’s something about the Ocean’s movies that make you feel really satisfied.
I think it’s being able to get away with something, or everything coming together perfectly, you know? A whole complicated plan perfectly folding into place with all your favorite celebrities involved. They are dressed really well too, it’s fun to watch the fashions. My favourite is Ocean’s Twelve. It’s a really useless movie and the plot makes no sense, but you wanna watch every shot because it’s a beautiful movie, they’re in amazing locales and wearing super nice suits and Catherine Zeta-Jones is badass. It’s fun to have it on in the background.
When you’re making music, do you have things on in the background as well?
Lately I’ve been watching people play video games on Twitch. It’s been a good distraction, you can look up for stimulation and then look away. I’ll turn the volume way down and then just have the music going. I’ve been trying to figure out a better way to watch all this media that I wanna watch, you know? I kinda need to have a bunch of stimuli going on at once. And I’ve been really into video game music, from watching Twitch and discovering old soundtracks. I’m into the idea of background music and songs that you could repeat forever and ever and ever. It would be cool to do an album of really long meditation songs or something like that.
What’s your production setup like?
I’m usually in my bed actually, because I’m traveling and I’m tired. (laughs) But I have a little studio setup that’s out of commission right now, it takes too long to get all set up and break it down. I’m mostly on my laptop so I can do whatever. It’s all digital, it’s all programmes. The sax is real, but the drums are all digital. It’s what made it sound retro, this Native Instruments program called Kontakt. It’s never been about the gear or the sound to me. It’s always been about the melodies and the rhythms.
There are some parts on Information that are a bit slower and more subdued than the music you typically release.
I have plenty of fast tracks, but I think maybe for the album format, it made sense to have some more slow songs in there as interludes. But I’ve been making more downtempo stuff anyway, I don’t know if it’s because I’m clubbing less, or just getting old, or trying to figure out what to do – you know what I mean? I’m trying to extend that vibe to other genres, to keep the vibe but have it be trip hop or jazz too.
Has the way you go about recording vocals changed at all?
It’s gotten easier, but I think I’ve always been trying to move towards this feeling of exhaustion. Whenever I record vocals, I try and relax. A lot of times it’s the first take. It’s all me trying to get really relaxed so things come out naturally, not too forced or fake. A lot of the songs start as a little freestyle and I evolve on it.
Would you ever rap over someone else’s track, or produce for another vocalist?
It would be cool to produce, but I don’t wanna rap on other people’s stuff because you don’t know what they’re gonna do with it. It would be cool to do more pop stuff, maybe Lana Del Rey or Dua Lipa. I really like Dua Lipa, it sounds like she’s not trying too hard with it. She’s super casual. I’ve grown up on Sade and Whitney Houston and Toni Braxton, so it would be cool to work with a female vocalist.
Wow, let’s manifest a Galcher and Lana collab!
Well, maybe she’ll read SPEX Magazine. (laughs)