Lance Ferguson, to my mind, still remains one of Australia’s more underrated musicians and songwriters. His success with The Bamboos has been made obvious with recent album releases but I’m still convinced more spotlight should be cast on his solo work under the moniker of Lanu. You may remember his tune “Beautiful Trash” that featured the delicate vocals of Megan Washington floating over the top of a smart and catchy arrangement? Again, one of my favourite releases of 2011. Fast forward to 2016 and Ferguson is preparing to drop a new Lanu album in The Double Sunrise and well, we’re stoked to see the writer continue to flesh out a sharp and textured sense of musicianship.
This album has seen Ferguson dive deep into the romanticised image of the South Seas for record – you don’t need to be a musicologist to conjure such imagery in your mind. The mythologised Pacific paradise that many albums and ‘tiki culture’ would be spurred on by. With a focus on the Exotica genre as the key musical influence on The Double Sunrise, Ferguson has been able play with a fusion of rhythms and musical stems from his childhood and the career of his grandfather (renowned NZ guitarist Bill Wolfgramm) in making something completely fresh, bringing these stories into a contemporary arena.
“I was raised in New Zealand,” Ferguson says of his background and its place within this project. “Obviously the Maori culture and islander culture is huge. As a young kid, I had friends who were Samoan, Fijian and Niuean…I’m a quarter Tongan myself. I would find myself at these houses, they were living in a Western culture in Auckland city or whatever, but there was still very much a raw Island kind of style way of living. I’m talking back in the late 70’s, early 80’s, when I was really little. I remember going to my friends houses and it wasn’t really like stepping into another culture. It’s very different to here in that way, those cultures in NZ are very much integrated. Although there are always going to be racial tensions, I’m not saying it’s some sort of idyllic utopia of racial integration, my personal experience was that I had friends from all sorts of different islands from the Polynesian and Maori regions, and we all just pretty much got along. Except on the rugby field, when I was being thrown about 20 feet in the air.”
“The actual culture has always been around there really,” he continues. “I’ve been living in Australia for a long time, so maybe it would be a little less in my adult life, but as a kid I was raised around those cultures. All the imagery of those cultures are kind of natural to me. Then again, talking about the musical type of this record, it was important to bring in mythology from the exotic influence, the romanticised imagery of it. I just wanted to try and play with that because I’m not really trying to make some musicologist style record, I’m not trying to document the traditions of anything, really. I’m playing with the fusion of things and always trying to do it in a respectful way so that it doesn’t become some sort of pastiche. It’s definitely about my own impression of it, mixed in with my own musical influences. I’m trying to actually keep it fun.”
It’s an interesting point to note, this use of South Seas imagery and style of musical storytelling as being more of a base to project from than any type of cheesy pastiche/avenue of exploitation (which has been done before). What fans have gleaned from the first singles released from The Double Sunrise is that, like Ferguson explains, this is music reflective of many different threads within this Exotica genre as opposed to a stereotypical tribal rhythm beat to accompany a hula. It’s retro without being comically so.
“It’s come forth naturally,” Ferguson notes of the South Seas themes. “The whole South Seas theme of this record is the essence of it. It goes on a few different tangents in relation to the South Seas influence one of them being music of my grandfather, another being this aviation thing that links a pretty deep family thing as well, but also just the genre of Exotica itself; I’ve been a big fan for a long time. I was always just trying to figure out a way to bring that influence into the music that was relevant to the present. The imagery thing goes half and half with all the themes of this record.”
The ‘aviation thing’ he refers to links directly to the album’s title itself. The Double Sunrise points to a moment where travellers on the QANTAS Australia/England Air link could view two sunrises on a single flight (they’d be welcomed to ‘The Secret Order of The Double Sunrise’). Album track “Aranui” is named after one of the last surviving planes to have flown the route, popular during the mid-40’s.
“I mean, obviously, the album cover is really tipping its hat too, in a classic look kind of way.” he admits. “I’m never about doing something that’s a time capsule record or being completely retro. It’s [Exotica] a challenge you know, it’s 60 years old now. What’s a challenge for me is try and bring that influence into something that is modern. A lot of that stuff has the label of being kitsch kind of music. I’m trying to retain some of the deeper elements of it without totally crossing over into that world. Some people might view it as being overly kitsch and retro, I don’t want it to be all the way down that road.”
The album, due for release tomorrow, has been a little while in the making but as Ferguson says, he can’t wait for The Double Sunrise to finally be with people to digest and sink their teeth into. Whether they’re fans of The Bamboos, have been following Lanu since his first record with the project or simply approaching the album with an ear for new music and a blank slate of expectation, there’s going to be something for many to appreciate here.
“I’ve been working on this record for a while,” he says. “Usually there’s a gestation period where you finish it and fix it up the day before it comes out, but with this one it’s gone on a little bit longer. It was planned to come out late last year, but we just basically ran out of time so it got bumped up to 2016. I’m really glad that it’s going to see the light of day; I obviously hope people enjoy it, but it’s just [exciting] to see it finally released!”
“In some respects I hope that most people get it,” he furthers. “I don’t know many other people who are going down this road or with these influences, I just really enjoy it. I don’t just make these records for myself; I’m trying to make something that people will enjoy listening to, so I have to try and go down a path that I feel passionate about at that given time. When I started putting this together, I really wanted to confront my heritage and also music my of grandfather, I hadn’t really brokered that all the way; it was a big journey. He was always an entertainer, that’s what he did. He played music to make people dance at the dance halls, and he’d put out records for people to join in to. I don’t think I’ll ever make something truly for myself, because that goes against what I feel naturally; I do want to share music with people and I think that the interaction between the listener and a music maker or a live band and audience, for me, is where the magic lies.”
The new Lanu record, The Double Sunrise, is released on February 5th on Pacific Theatre through Inertia.