mxdwn sat down with Yves Jarvis and Romy Lightman of Lightman Jarvis Ecstatic Band to talk about the philosophical and technical background behind their debut collaborative album, Banned. The album is the product of a three-year residency at Tree Museum, an environmental art gallery in the woods outside Ontario. The duo made use of a stripped-down studio, a Tascam four-track cassette recorder and the natural environment around them to produce their distinct and psychedelic combination of folk, rock, funk and pop. Banned was released June 25th on ANTI-. Two singles, “Nymphea” and “Elastic Band,” are available now.
mxdwn: So to start off, one of my takeaways listening to the singles for the first time when they came out was that they’re kind of in their own place genre-wise. It’s got a lot of different places they’re pulling from: there’s like kind of psychedelic pop stuff and funk stuff and some pop stuff. So I was wondering what the inspirations were for this specific album and where you’re drawing from to get that really specific sound?
Yves Jarvis: Well, it was, as a beginning, as a starter, it was really important for us to… I mean, everything is that thing. So in one sense, we were building up the blueprint to be able to approach music together and collaboratively for like three years. And in another sense, we have no reference, and we have no influence, and we’re just trying to connect with each other. On an immaterial level, in order to funnel, I don’t know, a song out of it. But it’s almost a waste product, the song. Right? It’s a means to, for us to connect, really.
Romy Lightman: Yeah, I 100 percent agree. We were just talking about it before, but I think that our approach to the record was a non-approach. The first song that we got onto together with everything materialized onto the record. So there was no pre-thought besides what Yves was talking about, which is kind of like everything that led up to it, which is tangible and not musical and non-musical.
YJ: It’s just a calibration. I mean, we had to do this as individuals in our relationship, just calibrating and aligning, better aligning. But it’s like this tug; it’s push and pull.
RL: I just feel like that was almost—it felt like we are actually taking time. Before the record, Yves was living in Montreal, he was finishing up his record, and I was in Toronto for a few months. This would have been at the onset of the pandemic, you know. So we actually had a time where we were apart and then when we came together, the music couldn’t commence right away. So I think that it was definitely something where, I don’t know, it’s interesting. I think sometimes with a person’s practice, it sometimes feels like all the work or the intentionality that goes into it is sometimes, I don’t want to say that it is passive, but I think it’s a lot more covert sometimes. You know, it’s not, ‘Okay, we’re gonna structure the song. This is what we want to write about.’ But I think that the preparation was, I guess you could say it was kind of deeper in that way. It was something that I think that maybe was brewing for a while.
mxdwn: I was also wondering what brought you two together as collaborators initially? I know last time we talked to you, Yves, you had just rebranded your solo career, and you were really focused on your solo work. And at the time you said you didn’t really see yourself as a collaborative artist, and obviously, this is a much different—
YJ: I would still say that now.
mxdwn: Yeah, so I was kind of wondering how this kind of fits into that and, for both of you, what brought you together as collaborators and how that differs from your past work?
YJ: Well, to build off of what we were saying there. I mean, for me, collaboration is almost off-limits unless there is an effort to meet each other in the middle. I don’t quite understand how I can collaborate with somebody that I am not in love with or that I am not bound to for life outside of just some social contract, just bound by a connection. In the same sense that I don’t have a proclivity for promiscuity.
RL: In a more Earthly sense, we’re sharing all of our existence and material. We’re sharing everything, so music and creativity, it was something that just kind of, not that it was inevitable, but it felt honest. It felt like that was the obvious thing that we’re going to do because that’s how we’re spending our time. We’re taking our time together.
YJ: And we naturally—the model would say that we oppose each other—but we balance each other out. For the creative heights that we’re both interested in reaching, I think our mutual musing of each other is necessary for us to reach higher than we would otherwise.
RL: Yeah, I think that even outside of music, I think we have this…I don’t even know what to compare it to. There’s this book that I once read called Exile in the Kingdom; It’s the story of this painter, and it’s all about how he has this star that is always following him. And I don’t know, I don’t know if we have a shared star, but I feel like there’s something. Maybe it’s less supernatural, an ideology or a way of being. I think there’s a shared sense of how we want reality to resonate.
YJ: I think it’s actually a lack of ideology. I think it’s a searching; it’s a yearning. It’s a promise to not make our minds up, a promise to not pick a side.
RL: Yeah. I like that. Yeah.
YJ: Forever suspended.
RL: It’s hard to actually try and articulate it. Maybe that’s what it is. It’s a disposition. If I say any metaphor, it’s gonna sound cheesy. It’s not a dirt road; it’s not even a road. Because I don’t know what the direction is.
YJ: It’s like the cognition and the metacognition. How do we compartmentalize those things? How do we keep theory over here? How do we keep feeling over here? And, for me, I think it’s that there is no wrong way to do this. There’s no wrong way. But there are many right ways. And we’re interested in maybe adding to that list of right ways. We’re interested in maybe finding new ways of being, different new paradigms, new dynamics, new ways of relating to each other. So then we can generate uplifting, high reaching, extending, high energy stuff. I forgot what the question was that we came from.
mxdwn: No, that’s great. You covered a lot there; that’s perfect. Thank you so much. And then I’m wondering along those same lines, how was the creative process behind this album may be different from both of your past work? Kind of speaking, I guess to this relationship between both of you as artists but also to the material on this album and the creative process behind writing this music. How is this set apart from your past work?
RL: It would have been a two-week duration or something like that, where just every morning—or whatever morning was to us—we just kind of assume this musical position, and we would just play together. The actual process, you know, Yves is obviously a producer and is very fluid in his own sense of the recording process. I think I have a more traditional idea of, you go to a studio, you lay down the track. Of course, I’ve done recordings that have been just off the floor or whatever, but there was always a pretense of, ‘What are we going to play?’ And so this being so open, it felt like a truly ecstatic experience. It felt, to me, almost like being on a psychedelic or something like that. I felt like there was a real exchange of energy. I felt like there were moments of—I was gonna say, transcendence, but that feels really huge. But that’s, you know, that can happen. And I think that’s sort of what it felt like for me.
YJ: For me, collaboration is a little bit alien, but like I said, if I care about somebody and if I love somebody—which I do—then collaboration almost ceases to be the dynamic. It’s compersion. I can’t see myself effectively collaborating in a scenario where music has to be created, that’s to say recorded, not performed live. Because I can be a tyrant in a live scenario, I can be anti-social in a live scenario where, you know, there does have to be a boss. But in a recording scenario, the floor has to be even. If the recording is gonna hold any water, it needs to be democratic. In order to make the other person feel safe enough, you have to show them how happy you are to see them interject. And I had to do a lot of that; I had to really express my compersion so that Romi could feel the same thing. A lot of the times, the downfall of collaboration is like, ‘Did they hear me here? Did they hear how good my shit was? Did they hear that shit?’
RL: I’d say more in a biological sense, trying to create symbiosis. This idea of when two people are really interlocking strings, it just feels like there is almost this entity at the center. And it’s this convergence, which to me is why it’s metaphysical or transcendental because I think it becomes, in all the best musical creative scenarios, you want to become larger than the sum of the parts. And so I feel like it’s that feeling. I don’t know why I’m really envisioning some real pseudo-scientific imagery in my brain, but yeah, that’s what it feels like.
YJ: Well, we’re pseudo-musical. I mean, we are pseudo-music to pseudo-science’s science. Definitely.
mxdwn: With this album being mostly created and recorded at the Tree Museum, you kind of share a relationship with that space and that environment. I wanted to ask about that and how that environment affected the creation of the album.
RL: Well, the Tree Museum is sort of like my roots. My aunt, her name is EJ Lightman, she started this up about 25 years ago. She’s a contemporary sculptor, and her and a bunch of sculptors, they co-founded this place. And the idea was to kind of bring conceptual sculptures to make site-specific installations in the woods. So yeah, when I was a teenager and questioning and always curious and being an artist, this was the place I used to do it. In Canada, we are really lucky to get pretty good grant funding, so it was funded by this place called the Canada Council of the Arts. I used to work there as my summer job, and I was kind of an artist’s assistant. I used to help facilitate, and I would help people build things. I think it’s a place that I had always returned to, and then in the last three years, I started taking on this role. I guess it was about two years ago, I think, that we were the artists in residency along with a sculptor. I have a long-standing relationship there, and now Yves does too. And it’s a really funny spot because it’s super isolated. It’s on this dirt road. You have to walk 20 minutes, maybe half an hour.
YJ: Two kilometers off the main road, 20 minutes out of the main town, two hours out of the main city.
RL: So it’s a little bit of a pilgrimage site. I don’t know if it’s that spiritual for other people, but people go there for hiking, and they go to look at the pieces. I feel like when you’re the residents there, you’re also by proxy kind of on display. But then it’s this weird paradigm of being really on display, but then, but then also incredibly isolated.
YJ: It’s truly dichotomous in that we’re so isolated we have no internet, but then there are people. A lot of this album was recorded with people literally peering through the windows as we jammed. It’s this, public space, you know, that people make a day to go out there.
RL: It goes from being hyper public to very, very private within a 24-hour cycle. So living in that context, we also use the land and the nature there as a sort of extended studio space. Yves was always constantly bringing his gear out, and recording and then we will stumble upon hopefully, it’s a hiker and not a bear. There are all these funny chance encounters that happen as a result. So that’s that place. The mind state of us in that context making that record. It very much was an experience with interesting work where you just kind of just use what’s there, whatever we had in that situation. Like Yves was saying, no internet and pretty limited. Yves had a studio, you know, with just whatever gear was there.
YJ: Everything was recorded on one machine. It’s all recorded on four tracks onto a Tascam 424, the machine I’ve been using for 10 years.
mxdwn: Oh really? Wow, that’s cool. I have a shittier version of that, my Porta 03 right here.
YJ: Yeah, I used to use a Porta in Calgary. I’m actually trying to graduate now. It’s been a decade now using the 424 mkiii. I’m not a gear guy; I just know this machine. Yeah. Very little editing altogether, for better or worse.
RL: I think that’s what’s so funny. I mean, it’s a home recording, but it was also a forest recording. And so I think saying it like that, you know, we put this record out, and people will come to it however they want. I do feel very much like the recording is unique in that sense. I know that that was maybe something that used to be even more popular in the past. I feel like there was a period where music was kind of in more real-time, and it wasn’t about sending each other tracks and kind of, ‘Oh, here’s this experiment, let’s go live in a house somewhere for a month and make this record.’ You could feel all of that, those other combinations. For us, it was us being out there and also, you know, the wild element.
YJ: I don’t want to tote ourselves as revivalists because my contention is that actually this has never gone anywhere. I think that many bands, especially Canadian bands because they’re so well funded, do go out to the woods. But it’s the intentionality that’s more important. It’s the orientation. Because leaving the city, I mean, it’s a dime a dozen. That never went anywhere, you know. Everybody wants to do that. Everybody does that when they can afford to.
RL: I really like oysters, and I feel like if you have an oyster from a specific region, they’re natural filtrations of the of the ocean, right? Which is amazing that they’re able to filtrate the ocean but also not become toxic and the process. Anyway, you know, you have an oyster from a certain place, and you can taste it. You can taste what was around. So I think that’s more what I’m getting at. Where we were, and how I think that that does affect things, right? What we were working with? You can hear when people are living in a concentrated space together. You can hear what they ate or what was going on, what kind of drugs they were doing, whatever.
YJ: Yeah, it’s a culture. It’s a geographically circumstantial culture. It’s effectively just the culture that we cultivate. Is culture from the word cultivate? Is it?
mxdwn: No idea. I’ve never made that connection before. So that covers the space where the album was recorded, but also, obviously, it was recorded during the pandemic. I was wondering if that kind of affected the recording process at all. I know, Yves, that was your second album recorded over the pandemic after Sundry Rock Song Stock. How did that shape the process for y’all?
YJ: Well, I had two opposite experiences where you know. A lot of the seeds for Sundry Rock Song Stock were sown at the Tree Museum, the same place. A lot of the album came to fruition at my parents’ place in the smallest room, carpeted room, no windows; I can’t even stand up straight. So that’s where the brunt of the record was made for Sundry Rock Song Stock. After that experience, I was locking down there. Romy came and picked me up, and we went to the woods. So this was completely different. I might have been relishing in the elements more so than I ever would have. I mean, I did set up my studio outside last year and in the past at the Tree Museum, but I feel because my lockdown was such a fucking lockdown—I mean, literally like I can’t even tell you. It’s literally the smallest place you’ve ever seen carpeted, can’t even stand up. I can’t stress it enough. No windows. I was there for months and months. I’m not even complaining, though, because I don’t need material space. It’s important to me, maybe on a subconscious level, but on a conscious level, put me anywhere it’s okay. So I’m not saying I suffered, but getting out of that space and then being at the Tree Museum, we were relishing in the summer and certainly made good use of it. Tried to substantiate it, tried to instantiate it, tried to quantify it, tried to transmute it, tried to funnel it.
RL: I would say, for me, with the pandemic, I think it’s one of those things like we were saying that the Tree Museum and us living in the woods that was precedented, decided, whatever. This wasn’t a pandemic response to be there; we would have been there under normal circumstances. But I think that there’s just no way that you can be a sentient being in this time not feel some ramification, which I think we both were in different ways from what was going on. And I think that definitely came through.
YJ: Oh my God, yeah. There’s a huge underpinning element of urgency. In regards to the pandemic, there’s a felt urgency. I knew that I had to record a lot in 2020. And I don’t think that that was because of the situation. I think that that was numerical, like, just truly 2020 is a big year.
RL: I think there’s urgency, and there’s more… I don’t know, there’s more angst? I think it’s a bit heavier and darker. Not that I had preconceived ideas of what it would sound like, but it was very, very different than anything that I would have potentially predicted. I really felt like the time and circumstance, I think it came through.
YJ: And ultimately, this isn’t a new generation of feelings or intentions. It’s just that part of us was reached. These things were maybe expressed with less urgency and maybe with more forgiveness in the past.
RL: We had a lot of curiosity, given the context. I feel like with Yves’ music, it’s all questions, and I think that there were actually more statements. I think some of the songs are a little more definitive in the spectrum of defining things. And I think that’s the mind state. When people endure these things—at different degrees of experience, of course—but I think that’s generally the mode. Entering times where we can question everything, and we can be inherently curious. I don’t know if that’s survivalistic or what, but it feels more imperative.
YJ: And, and you’re right. In my solo work, I do only ask questions. And here, yeah, there is an inching closer towards statements.
RL: I’m not saying that there is like, the statement and things are not hard-edged or hardwired. I don’t think that that’s what this music is about at all. But I think that just given the context, the influence of what was happening, I think some of those choices probably were affected.
YJ: I’m struggling to really put this stuff together, but there is much less patience in this work. There’s much less forgiveness; there’s much more judgment. There’s much harder, denser, more vibrant questioning happening. And much more serious, much more serious. Much more time-sensitive.
mxdwn: I think you can see that in a lot of music released over the last year. You can definitely kind of feel the effects of the pandemic on the artist and their work.
YJ: That definitely resonates on the broader sense, maybe emotionally. My observation was actually that a lot of music has become much less potent in the pandemic. Not in a bad way. But it seems like people just want to feel good, and I feel like a lot of music feels good right now. And it’s timely. We are not interested in being timely.
RL: Yeah, I mean, I think there’s probably different specters or different levels of reality in that way. I think that there could be the process of, ‘Oh, what do people need right now? People need to feel good; let’s write something really upbeat.’ Or it could be, back to the oyster analogy, we’re in the fucking soup of this existence, and what’s going to come through? That’s the energy, I think. It depends if you’re providing a service or if you’re trying to be more of a barometer, I guess. Barometer of the human experience, right?
YJ: Representing what is very little molding and very little input, actually. It’s like a runner’s high. It’s like the trance of exercise. You’re hitting harder, but it’s maybe cognitively more passive. You’re hitting harder than you ever have, and you’re straining harder than you ever have, but the acknowledgment of that is not on the surface. It’s almost meditative and passive in that regard.
mxdwn: From here looking forward now, what’s the plan? Are you going back into your own separate projects? Are there thoughts about taking Lightman Jarvis on the road with venues reopening? What can people expect after the album is released?
RL: Yeah, I think there will definitely be another record. Maybe it will happen this summer. We maybe want to move to Hawai’i and make a record there; that’s been on our minds. I have a record I just finished up with my sister, so that will be coming out. But I think with Lightman Jarvis, we’re already excited about the next record. That’s my short answer.
YJ: This album is just the first rung on a ladder. I would say that it touches on things that are certainly below the surface, but it’s just the first rung. The depths are almost never-ending.
mxdwn: Hopefully, I’ve covered most there is to be said, but is there anything else you want people to know going into listening to the record? About what you want to say about the album or where this album is coming from?
YJ: We’re promoting heterodoxy.
RL: Yeah, and misunderstanding. It’s all about the great misunderstanding. People hearing it how they want to hear it, and the music is just a medium to facilitate whatever it is they need to uncover in themselves. I feel like, in life, not just music, everything is just a projection. Everything we interact with is more a projection of what’s going on with ourselves. The music is just another component to facilitate that for whoever listens. Whatever wants to be projected onto it, that’s great. We obviously had things in mind when we were creating it, but it’s definitely a record that wherever you’re at, it’s gonna hit you in a different way.
YJ: Forget the projections of the listener, the music itself is an iridescent projection that changes wherever you are in your life. It changes depending on what time of day it is. It changes depending on what kind of headset or speakers you’re listening to it on. It always is gonna look different, and sometimes it’s gonna suck, and sometimes it’s gonna be the most enlightening. Sometimes it’s gonna be too long, and sometimes it’s gonna be too short. If people trust us enough to engage with this album, they will get a lot out of it. I can guarantee that.