When San Francisco native, Eric Luttrell, (known musically by his surname) and longtime best friend/musical counterpart hybrid, Swardy, decided to put their brainchild, the OWSLA-akin The M Machine, on pause, Luttrell had no choice but to venture new sonic pathways alone.
Two years into his solo endeavor, Luttrell brought his first full-length album, the aptly titled Into Clouds, to fruition through his steadfast label housing, Anjunadeep. The project, according to Luttrell, is highly emblematic of his “dive into the unknown,” upon Swardy’s decision to move to South America to finish a solo EP, soon after, permanently settling in LA to live with Mat Zo, working in a managerial capacity for Zo’s Mad Zoo imprint.
While Into Clouds may not offer a linear, discernible narrative, the album is by no means devoid of cohesion. Though the project is inclined to experimentation, Luttrell is mindful not to stray from his free-flowing melodies and omnipresent orchestral accents. Even within these contexts, Luttrell paints the length of his inner life. From the quixotic plucks of “Quiet Even Dark” to the outro’s plaintive piano musings, Into Clouds is effusive from start to finish. Luttrell’s influx of emotion is at times turbulent, though never jarring. “Layover” for example, teases gruff techno bass in its opening moments, though a menagerie of analog light soon pours through, all the while, the track’s steady kick sews the seemingly contrasting sentiments together.
The album’s non-electronic influences, too, quietly innovate its visceral vista. Luttrell’s affinity for ’90s grunge is strategically stressed in the warbly, Smashing Pumpkins-esque vocal rendering of “Quiet Even Dark,” while the stirring cinematic progressions throughout the entirety of the work are indebted to his partiality to “movie music” particularly the mid-century composer and film score writer, Aaron Copland.
Luttrell offered Dancing Astronaut a window into his intention with the record, the range of his inspiration, and seguing into a solo career.
DA: How did you and Swardy decide to go your separate ways and branch off from working together on The M Machine?
Luttrell: It was never like a real set-in-stone decision. I was just doing both, and I had all this music I was writing on the side as we were writing the last M Machine record. I was writing more deep house and melodic-techno-inspired stuff that didn’t really work for The M Machine.
We were down at Mat Zo’s house. He was helping us on our record to mix a couple tracks. I shared some of my solo work, and he was like ‘Oh you should send this to Anjunadeep.’ So he sent it to them and they agreed to put out a single and and EP. I started getting a couple gigs, touring as M Machine and Luttrell. We did The M Machine Glare Tour. By then it just seemed like the tides were going in that direction. Swardy was writing his own music too. We had been working on music together for 10 years and we had never tried to do something by ourselves. We’re not totally finished with The M Machine. It’s just right now, we want to focus on ourselves.
How are you adjusting to a solo career?
It’s a very transitional part of my life, this launching off into clouds, like this dive into the unknown, but still going forward. My bandmate and best friend moved away which I 100% support, but this person you’ve been working on music with for ten years is sort of gone and now you just have to keep goin’. It’s a huge change: writing music by myself all day. I’m fully responsible for making things happen and making things work. Luckily I also have a great team.
In what ways do you feel like Anjunadeep delivers (or doesn’t deliver) as a label?
It just seemed to work right away. It’s sort of like a relationship, in that you know right off the bat whether or not you’ll be compatible. They liked what I was doing, and it fit, but it wasn’t too similar to everything they were working on at the time. They’ve been super supportive and given me a lot of opportunities with tours and putting me in good slots at their festivals. They have a really dedicated fan base and following. The vibe there is very unpretentious. Everyone is focused on thoughtful music.
I’m not saying I won’t ever put out anything with another label. I would be open to that idea, but so far it has just worked so well with Anjunadeep, so I don’t see any reason to stray.
How did you decide you were ready for an album and what were your intentions behind the project?
I was compiling a lot of music. When I was writing the EPs, I had five or six other songs that didn’t really fit with those, but they all had a certain sound to them. My management was kind like ‘Hey you should just write a full-length album.’ Two years into Luttrell I thought it would be the next good step for the progression of the project. It seemed a little daunting. I was definitely working against a timeline; you have to get the stuff out to go on the tour that’s supporting the album. So everything was moving really fast. I probably wrote like 25-30 songs and had to whittle it down to the most cohesive 10.
You think we’ll hear some of those songs later on?
Absolutely. Some of the album tracks are old. But I had never played them out or finished them. Old things can always come back around and turn into some of the best work. You can come back and you’re a year older and have different experiences. You come back and try to find the magic in those.
How would you say the project varies stylistically from your past Luttrell releases?
I think most obviously the cohesiveness of the album. If you listen front to back, it feels like each song is meant to be in the place that it is. There’s not necessary a huge narrative. There’s a general theme. None of the EPs had much of a theme. They were more like ‘Here’s four songs that I feel are good enough to put out.’ So this definitely feels a little more curated.
It’s not a departure at all from the melodic house/techno Luttrell style that people know me for.
I heard you’ve been drawing a lot of interest lately from music outside the electronic realm. Can you tell me about how you’ve been able to incorporate those influences into your sound as Luttrell?
A decent example would be “Quiet Even Dark.” The vocal part that I sing, the processing and style is much more of an indie or psychedelic rock-style vocal. I’ve been listening to a lot of bands like the Dandy Warhols, Yo La Tengo, Spoon, and that kind’a stuff. I grew up listening to like ’90s alternative grunge: Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins. It’s on the more pop side. Especially the vocal style. Mellotron stuff is totally Smashing Pumpkins’s staple. That’s basically like a keyboard that plays sample strings and samples vocals. There’s an old warbly antique sound to it, very old-fashioned.
I like a lot of strings and orchestral stuff. I really love all sorts of movie music. Aaron Copleand. Love those big sweeping string progressions that just make you feel really good. And all that stuff that doesn’t go back to techno music. I use it as an accent. It doesn’t necessarily take the front seat.
What would you say has been the pinnacle of your solo career?
Closing out ABGT300 Hong Kong, with the Hong Kong skyline in the background and a sea of people. Somebody had a profile of my mustache and my sunglasses on a flag they were waving. I just thought ‘Wow this is totally bizarre and awesome.’
*This transcript has been slightly modified for readability.