Some music makers are entirely engrossed in a single instrument, delving deep, while others bring their creativity to different areas and seem to expand ever outwards. Lisa Conway, also known for her solo project L CON and Del Bel, is one of these explosive creatives who seems to succeed in many areas. From her ethereal, classic meets contemporary art pop to producing music, Conway is a creative force to reckon with. She spent three weeks on a residency in tiny arty town Sackville, New Brunswick working on her latest record and took the time to talk to me about her work.
I catch Conway while she is finishing up another L CON record, recording clarinet and saxophone. “It’s taking up most of my time and creative energy,” she says. Conway loves putting herself into the making of music. “I really enjoy arranging,” she says. “The fun part is finding the right colors to go on the recording and it is amazing to bring other people into the process. It’s so incredible to have a string section play the music. It always sounds really better than I thought it would anyway.”
Collaboration has always been a part of her artistic process and she finds it wonderful to work with other artists. “Composition is pretty isolating, and it’s way more fun to have other people involved and see what they bring to the table. So many things are born out of collaboration that you would never do on your own,” she says.
Although she mines a great deal of collaboration, this time, she is producing and recording the L CON record herself. “I guess I really like creating work for myself,” she says. “The reason I’m recording and producing this record myself is because I’ve been making recordings for a long time. I never did this for an album of my own. Producing it myself feels like a cool goal.”
When it comes to writing the music, she never sticks to one process. “It’s always changing,” she says. “I use many different instruments to try and stay fresh. I just start with demos that I make better and better and eventually those turn into the final thing. I sketch out a lot of parts and get the other musicians to replace them.” Since many of her pieces use stringed instruments, she explains that she uses midi instruments that she then turns into notation for the musicians. “They play it a lot better than my computer,” she says. Though they do improv a few things, mostly the music is set ahead of time. “I have a really strong vision and with five string players and a few hours in the studio, you have to be very efficient and power through.”
I ask her how she feels about the new album. “This record is a lot more personal in the material,” she says. In terms of what to expect from its sound, she says, “I think it is an evolution and that I’m continuing to get better. It’s so experimental, but pretty accessible. There aren’t any strings, so it’s pared back.”
One thing that is endearing about Conway is her openness to work with other independent artists on projects. From her last album, Moon Milk, the video of The Form of Space has a troupe of female dancers making in eccentric, robotic moves. It is an evocative, memorable video for its unique artistic choices. “The dancers are all part of adult amateur contemporary dance class in Guelph. I think its wonderful to involve people that have a passion for something, but aren’t necessarily on a professional level, and who normally wouldn’t get an opportunity to be in a music video. They were super excited. They did a great job,” she explains. “Victoria, the director, edited the video. We had a lot of conversation about the vision, but I let her play and trusted her instincts and it worked really well.”
Another way that Conway supports other artists is through producing work of others. She explains that she takes on a variety of roles as producer, wherever she is most needed. “I’m a spirit guide, figuring out what parts of songs need to be removed or redone, having a vision for the sonic palette, and the arrangements and shape of songs. I make calls on the best take in terms of performances,” she says. “But, I’m not the type of producer who imposes their own vision on other artists. It’s important to have your own voice and I’m serving as a guide and collaborator and facilitator and trying to help and help people who are confused. I want them to make the best album they can.”
Conway will be headed to Montreal to perform as part of POP Montreal. I ask what an audience can expect from her show. “I’m bringing a band with me of the people I collaborate with, Andrew Collins, Karen Ng, Jordan Howard. We’ll have drum machines and guitars, bass, synthesizers, saxophones. It may change depending on peoples’ availabilities, but it’s a solid crew. There’s some stuff that’s on the record that we can’t repeat – a full string section, for example — so we reinterpret things in a more scrappy and rock and roll way. I still respect the songs. There will be a couple of new songs.”
I ask her what she enjoys best about the whole process. “I get nervous while performing,” she admits. But she says, “It’s great to make art with your friends. I’m lucky to make art with them and to have such talented people in my life.”
Conway’s new album should be released some time in the early new year under the moniker L CON. She performs at POP Montreal on September 13 at Balattou with Mr. Walter, Pallice, and Slight. $10. 9 p.m. Tickets HERE.