Spotlight On…Luxo Jr

York students Laurence, Tom, Michael and Nick talk to about live shows, their musical influences and making it on to BBC radio

Photo Credit: Roosa Päivänsalo

Photo Credit: Roosa Päivänsalo

Pleasantly unassuming, exceptionally talented and armed with a sharply original array of sounds, Laurence Morgan, Tom Ford, Nick Upton and Michael Sumner are Luxo Jr, a band that takes its name from a Pixar short and its inspiration from just about anywhere you could imagine. Their music is as innovative as it is charming, and it’s about time you heard it. In an in-depth conversation, our Music Editor finds out how four students are making songs that have caught the attention of some serious tastemakers.

Just how far does the Luxo Jr fanbase now extend? 

LM: We’ve had a really weird selection of airplay. We’ve had our songs played on Polish radio. Someone from Croydon Radio recently followed us. We’re making our way across South London. But more importantly, we discovered that if you upload your stuff to BBC Introducing, not only have you got a chance to be on local radio, but you can then also enter your stuff in a tastemaker’s blog called Fresh on the Net.

A team of twenty or so people whittle all submissions down to their favourite 25 from a week, and then they put them up on the blog and people vote for their favourites (you’re not allowed to tell anyone you’re doing it – it’s all very impartial). ‘Nightclubbing’ [the band’s first single] did pretty well – it made it into the final 25 – and then the guy who compiles the tracks and started the blog, Tom Robinson, seemed to really like it. He has his own BBC Radio 6 show, so if he likes your music, you can find your way onto national radio.

‘Another Working Day’ [the band’s second single] didn’t even get into the top 25, but Tom seemed to really like it, so he played it anyway.

Maybe that has something to do with the fact that your music is very versatile – it could easily be played in some late night mix, or on daytime commercial radio.

LM: Well we all come from very different musical backgrounds and have very different tastes, so I think that plays a part.

TF:I’m very into heavy stuff. I use a seven string guitar, which I suppose is something most pop/indie bands don’t really do.

LM: Yeah, people have said to us, ‘I really like the bass on that track’, and we’ve had to explain that, no, that’s just a well equipped guitar.

TF: It gives you a really great range, actually. You can play with some slam effects and weird sorts of riffs with the extra depth.

LM: In terms of other genres, we wanted to draw on something fairly indie, I suppose, but with elements of electronic stuff and pop as well I guess. There’s a lot going on, which is sort of the appeal, we hope.

There’s classical influences in there too, of course.

LM: Absolutely. A lot of that is film music influence. I do a lot of classical composition, and Tom does a lot of it as well. As Music and Music Tech students who all have experience in production, and we find everything mixes together well – tastes, ideas, influences. And we all love film as well, so we constantly come back to that.

NU: Especially on our new song ‘Milpool’, we’re drawing influences from film and TV, and that’s something that’s increasingly leading into the music as well as the lyrics.

LM: And obviously the name of the band is off of Pixar. If we ever achieved any kind of serious fame we’d get sued so badly.

Photo Credit: Roosa Päivänsalo

Photo Credit: Roosa Päivänsalo

When it comes to songwriting, you say Laurence writes the lyrics. What is the process you go through when putting together ideas?

LM: ‘Nightclubbing’ was pretty much all Tom’s, and then I contributed some ideas to flesh things out. ‘Another Working Day’ was mine to start with, then me and Tom collaborated on it – I wrote most of the lyrics and he took care of production and editing. And the other songs have been very, very collaborative. We lock ourselves in a room for the day and hope to come out with a song at the end of it. I couldn’t tell you who the definitive writer of the last three songs is. I can vaguely remember which ideas come from where, but they change and evolve because everyone has their own say on it. And so far we haven’t killed each other so we can’t really complain. At no point has anything been volatile, has it?

TF: No, it’s just really collaborative. If someone has an idea and then it changes into something else it’s great, because the music’s always getting better.

You can tell that’s your approach because you write quite intricate, tightly woven music that has clearly been thought about a lot.

LM: And very rarely do we go ‘Oh, we can just repeat that bit’ – if we think ‘We’ll have a second chorus there’, we’ll try and bring something else to it the next time around.

NU: Part of it I think is the diversity of influences that we have. A lot of bands feel like they’re writing a song and run out of ideas perhaps because they don’t have loads to draw on. But we’ve got a lot of different tastes, so if we think a song needs to have an extra edge, someone will have something to put forward to make the structures and overall sounds more interesting, and break up the ‘verse, chorus, verse chorus’ formula.

And how far into a live career are you?

LM: Six or seven gigs. Our first ever was Woodstock in 2014, and we’ve come quite a long way since then. I still had a music stand with lyrics on it because I hadn’t bothered to learn them. But we’ve written a lot of material since then, and I definitely feel that gigs are getting better and better.

NU: It’s also getting to the point where the number of originals to the number of covers has changed; the ratio’s shifted, and that’s a really nice point to get to. This is really the point where we feel like we’re coming into our own with the live shows, where we’re properly debuting our own music.

LM: I think we get a good mixture. We’ve played mostly university based gigs so far, and a number of charity events. We’ve played on a big stage to a small crowd at something like Woodstock, and then vice versa we played at Dusk recently, and that was possibly my favourite gig so far. Even though in Dusk it’s not the best sound system, the energy was incredible.

NU: The main issue with the live shows is trying to break away from being seen as solely a university band, and just trying to get known as just an act that puts on a good show, and has some good music to offer.

TF: I think another issue with that is that there aren’t really any other bands around with a sound much like ours, so there isn’t really an established scene we can get on to. We’re going to have to go out there and force our own kind of niche, in terms of the gigs.

LM: And audiences have been responding surprisingly well. We’ve been making loads of mistakes. At the Dusk gig we got a really amazing reaction – at our first gig, not so much, but that’s mainly because there were about 15 people there. We’ve had one at Courtyard which seemed to go down quite well too.

Photo Credit: Roosa Päivänsalo

Photo Credit: Roosa Päivänsalo

So you’ve focused on covers and some originals so far – what writing and recording ambitions do you have going forward?

NU: The EP recording is going to get underway as soon as Tom finishes his dissertation.

LM: We’ve got quite a lot of short term recording coming up, because we’ve done about 3 demos of new songs. We’ve got in total about 5 songs ready to go now, with a couple more in the works. A four or five track EP will hopefully be on the way soon.

One of my inspirations for even being in a band is that I’m a massive fan of alt-J, and the way that they craft their albums; the way that they have not entirely random but very distinctive interludes, and little minute long features that don’t necessarily cling to what the rest of the album is and don’t really go anywhere. They’re just nice little moments of music.

TF: I think that’s something else that we also all appreciate – when you listen to an album or EP and there’s obviously been a lot of work going into it, not just a collection of songs but a listening experience from A to B.

Have you done any busking on the street of York?

NU: I’ve done a lot of busking with other saxophone players, but the sound of Luxo Jr is very much electronic, so we’d have to figure out a way of making it translate into an acoustic thing. Which we could do, I think, but it’d need a lot of thinking about.

LM: The busking scene in York is vicious, to be honest. Especially on Saturdays. Leo James is an acoustic singer songwriter – everyone in York seems to know who he is – and he busks a lot. And he gets up at 6 to find one of the best spots in York. One time, he got there, left his stuff, went to get a coffee, came back ten minutes later and his spot was gone for the rest of the day. I do quite a lot of busking in my home town, but that’s one of the issue in York at the moment – there are sort of no rules.

It seems to have paid off for Glass Caves.

LM: Yes, and King No One are always there. Fair play to them because they work very hard at it. But the thing is with busking, you feel compelled to play more covers than originals.

NU: I think we’d really rather focus on having a really strong half an hour/forty minute live set instead of an okay three hour long busking session.

As a band, whose artists trajectory appeals to you most in terms of someone you’d like to emulate?

LM: alt-J is a big one, and they’ve obviously become absolutely huge. I’m not sure. I think we’d love to have that kind of success, but they’re a band who didn’t have a massive leap to stardom – they’ve been working at it for years. They were coming to Glastonbury and just plugging their CDs around to anyone and everyone as attendees, not even as performers. And I think we all have a lot of respect and admiration for Everything Everything too. Another really fantastic intricate rock band. Rock? Pop?

NU: Indie? Alternative.

LM: Alternative. Alternative pop. Yeah. We just really like what they do. You can listen to any of their songs three times through and hear something new every time. That’s something we admire.

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