Interview: LANKS

If you ever feel like listening to a refreshing blend of organic and electronic sound attached to a compelling narrative sung in delicate falsetto, then LANKS is the musician for you.

 And who exactly is LANKS? The answer: multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter and producer Will Cuming, hailing from Melbourne. His textured EPs and singles layer elements of indie pop with electronic percussion and crisp vocals, each new release promising a quick escape to paradise.

LANKS’ latest release is the deeply moving ‘Comfortable,’ a soothing song which not only warms ears, but hearts as well. The piece discusses issues circling the mental health industry, focusing on the emotional effects bestowed on workers, particularly on a close friend of his. Will said, “I wrote this song to remind her how selfless she is and was, helping someone else through such an incredibly hard time and shouldering so much of their struggles and despair. The ending was heartbreaking, but I wanted to focus on how great of a human she showed she was.”

Fortunately for us Brisbane folk, LANKS’ immense talent isn’t just confined to the cooler state down south. He’s embarking on a headline national tour in August, performing in Fortitude Valley’s intimate Black Bear Lodge in celebration of his new release. The Creative Issue had a chat with Will about his new tour, creative processes and some wicked collaborations.

The Creative Issue: Where did the name LANKS come from?

LANKS: It’s the name that my housemate and designer used to call me. Well, not that often. I was looking for a name when I first started the project and it was either that or gangle but I think this one sounded better. I found an old birthday card that said ‘Happy Birthday LANKS,’ so that’s where it came from … I think people think it’s more interesting than that, but that’s it.

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TCI: How would you describe your sound? 

LANKS: I think it’s sort of a blend between electronic and organic sound. It’s sort of an old pop electronic thing. I always find it hard to explain what it is because I don’t really know what it is, I feel like other people seem to have a better grasp than what I do sometimes.

TCI: I guess you’re always evolving your sound as well, so you can’t really label it. 

LANKS: Yeah, I think so. Always aiming to try to change what I’m doing, or that what I’m doing will grow.

TCI: So you’re touring Australia next month to celebrate the release of your new single, Comfortable… How excited are you? 

LANKS: It’s going to be really good, yeah. I haven’t played any LANKS for a few months other than playing at Splendour and doing a few guest open spots, so I’m really excited to get out there and play some really fun shows, so yeah. Also playing lots of new stuff so it will be really exciting and fun to do that.

TCI: What was the creative process for writing ‘Comfortable’, and how is it different from anything else you’ve ever written? 

LANKS: It’s probably not that different. It’s different in a sense that it came together really quickly. I was writing on a Tuesday and had the whole day at home and came up with these three song ideas, and one of my housemates got home and I showed it to him, and he quite clearly was like “Aw this is really nice,” but didn’t really love it. And then, there was this one synth sound that he was like “That’s really cool.” So I deleted everything and just kept that one sound. And then it all just came together really really fast and we played it live within a week. It was really fast, so that’s probably different. Sometimes things take me a lot longer than that. It just felt like a really easy process.

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TCI: What’s your live set usually like? As in, does your four-piece play your regular songs or do you throw in some covers every now and then? 

LANKS: I’ve been thinking about doing some covers but I’ve also released a lot of music and I write so much that it’s kind of hard to find space to do that, because there’s so many- I’m now fighting to work out which of my own songs go in there and each person at my live show is like “But I like this one, and I like that one.” But I have been thinking about doing a cover and maybe I will get one and sneak it into this set. But at the moment I haven’t done any, so I’m not sure.

TCI: I read that you’ve collaborated with Big Scary. How did that come about & what was it like working with them? 

LANKS: Well I ended up working with Tom from Big Scary. Tom worked on my last EP with me helping me record a bunch of parts. It was actually really amazing. I met both of them because I was touring with Earling who was their label partner, like a year and a half ago. And then Hannah Earlin left their label, the main person of the label who is also called Tom, she left his jacket in a cab in Perth and then I brought it back and she said, “Come around to the studio.” So I went around and met them, and I don’t know if I’ve ever told them this but I was really starstruck and quiet, and I was just sitting at the piano tinkering, because that’s what I do when I get nervous. Then I played ‘April’, which ended up being on my EP, and Tom was in the other room and raced in and was like “What were you just playing on the piano?” And I was like, “It was just a Frank Ocean song,” and he was like, “No, what’s that other thing?” … They asked me to play the song for them, which was weird. But he was like “I really love it, can I work on it?” He helped me record a bunch of parts and threw a bunch of ideas at it and yeah, it was kind of the song that made us become friends as well which is really cool.

TCI: Speaking of April, what was the inspiration behind those lyrics?

LANKS: I had an experience with my friend. I’ve never told this story. So my friend Jess who plays in my live band, we just had this weird moment where I was really tired at the end of a tour and she’d been away … and I was just talking to her about ideas for the set and somehow I accidentally said that there probably wouldn’t be a spot for her to be touring in a live band, which is not really what I meant to say. Anyway, it ended up exploding and it was the most awful experience of my life, of where I almost ruined a really great friendship- she’s like my best friend. And then I wrote that song for her. We ended up having a really nice connection moment about it anyway, kinda reminds me why you do things and why it’s sometimes good to have those thoughts so yeah, I wrote the song for her. Her last break up she got over it by listening to Big Scary so it was this amazing thing where I wrote a song for her and then they loved it and wanted to work on it, and then she’s singing in the background of the bridge as well.

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TCI: Would you say Big Scary and other artists you’ve collaborated with influence your artistic style? 

LANKS: Definitely. I’ve done a lot of writing in the last couple of years with other people for their work as well … I don’t really release much stuff that is co-written. I have Andrei Eremin who always mixed and mastered my stuff for the past few years and he’s now co-producing with me for a bit and I’ve learnt so much from him, and just all the other people I’m getting to write with. Every time you get put in a room with people you pick up new things and get to see someone’s process being different and I find it super inspiring. Even with Big Scary, I was such a big fan for such a long time, and just getting to talk to Tom and seeing what his thoughts are on art and everything, I feel like I’ve learned a lot from that group of people. They’re pretty amazing people, actually.

TCI: Your cover art is really visually captivating, especially for Bitter Leaf. Do you have any input into the designs? 

LANKS: My grandma has been doing most of that artwork. She’s 87. With that one she was just like, ‘Have a look around and see what you like.’ And then we found a couple… not half-finished, but a few rough paintings she’d done that weren’t entirely finished. Will Devereux, my housemate, who does all my design, kind of grabbed it and manipulated it a little and turned it into that. But a lot of it was already painted by my grandma. She does a lot of the artwork. On the recent ‘Comfortable’ artwork she collaborated with Will Devereux and my other friend Hayden Daniel. She’s a pretty cool 87-year-old.

TCI: Do you rely heavily on your audience feedback or do you just do your own thing regardless? 

LANKS: That’s a really interesting question. I’ve done a lot of support tours over the last few years and its kind of nice to road-test songs to see what people connect with. So in that way, I think I do really take on board how an audience responds and also with a lot of support tours you have to harden up and get better and write better songs because people don’t always know who you are and don’t really care, so you have to impress. I think all of that stuff has really shaped my sound and the fact that my song-writing is getting better, because weak songs get found out really quickly when you’re playing on support shows. So yeah, I think so.

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This post originally appeared on The Creative Issue

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Take Flight with Mozart Airborne

Six dancers intertwine their limbs in a pulsing clump of bodies. A mesmerised audience watches with breathless fascination, attempting to dissect the contemporary movement and throw their own interpretations of the piece into the mix.

As the dancers thrust their weight onto their shoulders and extend flexed feet, it becomes apparent they might reflect plants swaying in the breeze, or roots twisting beneath soil. This is one moment in Mozart Airborne.

A captivating collaboration between Opera QLD and Expressions Dance Company (EDC) sees six opera singers share the stage with an ensemble of six dancers to perform new contemporary works from renowned Australian choreographers. Exploring arias from Mozart’s most cherished operas, from Don Giovanni to Così fan tutte, the show defies genre in a multi-artform discussion of the fundamental elements of the human condition.

An exposed-brick studio on the third floor of the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts came alive with grace and energy as the dancers showcased three pieces from the production to an intimate audience. Beforehand, The Creative Issue were fortunate enough to have a chat with EDC’s Artistic Director, Natalie Weir, and talented EDC dancer and choreographer, Elise May.

First of all, what was the initial inspiration for Mozart Airborne?

Natalie Weir: It really came about through the Artistic Director of Opera QLD, Lindy Hume, who I’ve worked with before. We were having coffee one day and talking about what we could do together with the big company working with the small company, and we just came up with this idea. The most important thing was where the dance and the music, or the singing, were on equal balance, rather than it being a big opera with the dancers only in a little bit, so finding the equality between the two. Lindy said, “Mozart; I’d really love to do something with Mozart music, people would really love that.” And, it kind of just grew from there.

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Mozart’s operas reveal that he had a keen interest in the human condition… Would you say that element of humanity is explored through your show?

NW: Yes, I think the show feels very human and very beautiful. I think his music is so exquisite in that way and what you see on stage is what looks like a bunch of ordinary people off the street, but they’re doing such extraordinary things. That’s the beauty of it. It’s almost like, it could be an everyday person, but of course it’s not, they’re highly trained artists. I think it does speak of humanity.

Are there any specific moments that highlight important themes?

NW: We wanted to work with six different choreographers, so we had quite an eclectic mix of styles and genres, and what we did with them was we gave them an outline, but we didn’t try and tell them what the themes were. They were very very open to create work that expressed what the music said to them. So, some of the works work against the music, almost, and some of the others go in with the emotion of the music. Each little section is quite different, and then it’s our job next week when we have all the singers and all the dancers and all the directors to bring it into one solid work. Does that sort of answer your question?

Yeah, it does. So the choreographers are given a lot of artistic freedom to choose their own themes?

NW: Yeah, we thought it was important that they were inspired by their music to create what they wanted to create. I think what’s become apparent is that there are a whole lot of ideas and motifs that have come through in all the different pieces. It will be quite nice to see that once it’s all run together.

How is the show relevant to an Australian audience specifically?

NW: Oh I don’t know, that’s a good question… I guess all the artists are Australian, and all the choreographers are Australian. The opera singers, I’m not sure, but mostly are Australian! I can only speak about the dance part, but the choreographers are very much influenced by Australia and the place that we live, and that comes through in the work. The work is very dynamic … It’s very strong and it’s very honest, and those things all add up to be very Australian.

All of Mozart’s themes are quite universal as well.

NW: I think that’s more what we were looking for, that he has that universal appeal that has to do with humanity.

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Elise, could you tell us a little bit about your role in the show?

Elise May: I’m one of the dancers in the ensemble, and basically we’ve had some choreographers allocated to different arias. I’m one of the choreographers as well, and there’s another dancer who’s a choreographer, so two of us are wearing both hats for the program. The show is curated by Lindy Hume, the director of Opera QLD, and Natalie Weir, our director, and so they’re trying to shape together a program that highlights the strengths of both opera singers and the dancers. They’ve allocated different Mozart arias for different choreographers. Altogether there are 11 arias, so quite a lot of short works, but the role of Lindy and Natalie is to shape them together into a program that has a through-line and has a sense of unity, and yeah, I suppose a journey to follow from beginning to end.

With so many different choreographers, is it hard to find unity in style?

EM: I think so, I mean everyone seems to have such a unique way of working, and that comes through in the final product. So, there’s certainly that diversity in what’s come out of the project. I think the unifying elements are the language of contemporary dance and the language of opera, and Mozart being the overarching umbrella theme … It sort of somehow all feels under that synergy or symbiosis. But yes, within that there are moments of highlight and darkness and shade and everything in between, and so I think having so many different choreographers contribute to that has made it more dynamic, and there’s more range within that.

Can you bring your own interpretations of the arias into your choreography?

EM: Yeah, I suppose that rather than each choreographer taking the literal meaning of the opera or the aria and taking those words and creating dance about those specific things, I think each choreographer has taken their inspiration from the opera in various ways and explored themes, and sometimes the quality of the sound, and I think quite naturally ideas have emerged from just being exposed to this art-form. So yeah, I can definitely read into the works some really strong themes that are really clear and almost tell little micro-narratives. There’ll be some more abstract moments, which are more about seeing two art-forms come together and meet each other. Yeah, I think there’s definitely things the audience will be able to read and follow through the show.

How important is it as a dancer to push these themes you’re talking about across to the audience?

EM: I believe that dance has a really strong power to communicate ideas. I can’t help but feel an emotional connection with movement and with sound, so I think those ideas naturally come out and have come out in this process, so that’s really nice. I think it’s important to have this sense of communication, but as to whether it’s a specific idea, I think with a lot of contemporary art the audience member can make their own…

Judgements?

EM: Yeah, their own judgements, or they can almost read their own- according to their experiences and their backgrounds- they can meet the performance halfway and come up with their own imaginative… let their imagination be carried away.

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Is collaborating with Opera QLD a new kind of experience for you entirely?

EM: Yeah. I’ve not worked with an opera company before. A couple of years ago we were introduced to Opera QLD and we became part of an ensemble for one of their performances. That was like, our first introduction. It’s like a whole other world of beauty and poetry and art, so I feel really privileged to be doing something quite different to the work we would normally do at Expressions.

It’s such a unique performance, especially for Australia. I don’t think we’ve ever had anything similar.

EM: No, we haven’t! I was thinking, quite recently, it’s a wonder we don’t see more of this, because it’s working so well for us in this project and coming together so beautifully, it’s like ‘aah’ why hasn’t this been thought of before? But yeah, I think it’s quite a new idea and I feel very lucky to be part of it.

Would you prefer working as a dancer or choreographer?

EM: That’s a really interesting question. I really do enjoy performance. There’s an incredible sense of personal satisfaction in being able to express yourself with your body and communicate to the audience, as we spoke about before. I feel like choreography is a really interesting form to me and I’m keen more and more, particularly as I get older as a dancer, to investigate choreography, because it feels to me like a natural progression coming from a performance career and moving into choreography. There’s really something powerful about the form of dance and being able to connect ideas and movement together, it really excites me, so I would love to do more choreography in the future.

Do you have any choreographers that really inspire you?

EM: Yeah, so many. There’s been so many big choreographers over the last century who have really influenced contemporary dance to how it is today. Yeah, I could list a whole lot of names if you really want! I’ve always been really inspired by… I suppose she’s the founder of dance and theatre, and her name’s Pina Bausch. So, the works of Pina Bausch and… look, who else? Recently, we had a workshop with the visiting Royal Ballet from England and I was really inspired by the work of Wayne McGregor. He’s fantastic, and I love Ohad Naharin, the director of Batsheva Dance Company. There’s a lot of big choreographers in Europe, and probably one of my favourite choreographers to work for is Natalie Weir. I think it’s important to be inspired by other choreographers.

If you had to give a piece of advice to a young performer, what would it be?

EM: Dancing means different things to different people, and the pleasure of seeing a dancer perform who has fully invested their development in becoming unique… The dancers that I’m drawn to in performance are those who are really unique and who have developed a style that tells me about themselves. So, I would encourage a sense of self-discovery and investigating what makes them unique as a person and how to express that through their body. I think training can be quite often heavily balletic or technical based, and sometimes you feel like you need to conform to that look, of what a ballet dancer should look like or what a contemporary dancer should look like, but I feel like it’s that unique quality and that special individuality… If I could have been told one thing when I was younger when I was training, it would be like, investigate what makes you you, and what makes you unique.

As in, it’s OK to step outside of the technique and add your own flavour to a movement?

EM: Yeah, yep. Technique is one thing, but to be able to have that freedom to communicate and express who you are and how you move differently, that will always stay in my mind much longer than anything technical.

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This article originally appeared on The Creative Issue

Interview: Paulini on ‘The Bodyguard’

At some stage in their lives, everyone has belted along with at least one of Whitney Houston’s timeless hits, whether it’s I Will Always Love You or I Wanna Dance With Somebody. Prolonging the Houston legacy, ‘The Bodyguard’ the musical is about to hit Brisbane, starring Australia’s own pop sensation, Paulini Curuenavuli.

From gracing our TV screens in Australian Idol to being one of only ten Australian female solo artists to top the ARIA Charts, Paulini is now making her theatrical debut. The musical follows the same plot as the cherished 1992 film of the same name; When bodyguard Frank Farmer, played by Kip Gamblin, is hired to protect superstar singer Rachel Marron from an unknown stalker, neither expect to fall in love.

I had the pleasure of chatting with Paulini about the upcoming show.

Continue reading “Interview: Paulini on ‘The Bodyguard’”

Interview: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

If you thought Emma Watson was a strong advocate for feminism, you haven’t seen Milly Pontipee flip a table while screaming in the faces of seven rowdy boys. Produced by the Griffith Conservatorium of Musical Theatre, ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’ premiered on May 5th, the second-year students dazzling a sold-out opening audience.

Continue reading “Interview: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”

Underground Broadway: Autumn

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Every two months, all the musical theatre lovers of Brisbane jump in their cars and make their way to the New Globe Theatre (blasting overrated show tunes the entire drive, of course.) In this underground bar, said musical theatre lovers spend the night chatting, networking, singing, laughing, listening to live music, and laughing some more.

Underground Broadway’s completely sold out Autumn show certainly didn’t fail to deliver.

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Rise Up for the Tony Awards

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Even if you aren’t a big fan of musical theatre (what are you doing with your life, I ask?), it would be hard to resist feeling incredibly spellbound and touched by the speeches given at the 70th Tony Awards. The well-deserved winners used their allotted time slot to give their thanks, to spark a light of hope in young dreamers and to speak out against the Orlando shooting episode that occurred the same day. Continue reading “Rise Up for the Tony Awards”

How I’m (not) coping without performing

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I’ve been performing since I was three years old. Obviously, I was the cutest little munchkin to ever grace the stage and naturally felt at home under the spotlight. Or, you know, hid behind the curtains in a bright purple tutu, totally dismissing the dance I’d been learning for the past 10 weeks in favour of squinting into the audience in search of my mum.  Continue reading “How I’m (not) coping without performing”

Meet Jaya

Do you remember your first impressions of some of your closest friends? To 11 year old me, Jaya was just a red-cheeked kid with a wide smile, a floppy fringe and an overly enthusiastic approach to dance. Over the past 7 years, from playing citizens of Oz in The Wiz together to becoming inseparable dance partners, I’ve watched him evolve into a ridiculously talented performer with an incredible understanding of stage presence. Considering he’ll be moving up in the world onto stages far bigger than UQ’s Schonnel Theatre or Gympie’s Heritage Theatre, I thought I’d better interview him now, before he’s so overcome by bright stage lights he forgets my name. So, without further ado, meet Jaya:  Continue reading “Meet Jaya”