We’ve been spoilt for choice in Australian music this year, seeing some of the most deserving emerging acts unleash breakthrough singles, albums and live shows to critical acclaim. One of the most exciting artists to go from strength to strength this year is Melbourne singer-songwriter and vegie laksa lover Will Cuming, more commonly known as LANKS. In a country saturated with high-quality music, it’s often hard to stand out of the pack – yet the master of ‘melancholy you can move to’ does just this.
LANKS propelled himself into the spotlight in 2016, armed with raw sensibilities and an ear for unique sounds. A 2015 collaboration with producer Just A Gent, ‘Heavy As A Heartbreak’, signalled the first shift in the artist’s sound as he gravitated away from soulful crooning and towards experimental textures and samples. Now, Cuming has graced us with Viet Rose, a release brimming with rich sonic landscapes and injected with personal anecdotes every step of the way.
The intimate six track EP delves into everything from heartache to hope, reflecting on the past year of LANKS’ life. Interestingly, the EP unofficially has two sides to it. Singles ‘Golden Age’ and ‘Holla’ show off the artist’s newfound glitch-y electronic nature, whereas a slower harmony-driven collaboration with Pieater darling Airling and solemn piano number ‘Kyneton’ provide moments of solace. Anyone and everyone can take something away from Viet Rose, solidifying its place as one of the most innovative EPs of the year.
In light of this beautiful release, we caught up with LANKS to chat about improvising, failed friendships, and what he’s most proud of in Viet Rose. Here’s what he had to say…
On the reception of Viet Rose:
I think this one’s really been connecting. I‘m really glad people have taken the time to listen to it – that’s one thing I’ve noticed. It’s been really nice and it charted as well, getting to #3 on the electronic iTunes charts. I don’t think I had any expectations of it doing that well, I guess I was just hopeful. I feel like it’s just been a natural progression and I’m just grateful for that really.
On the perks of being an independent artist:
That’s what’s really cool about some of the Australian acts who are independent, there’s so many people in Australia who don’t have a label and can make what they want. I’m not being precious about it, it’s just kind of nice. I probably wouldn’t have been able to have this kind of EP from a label in Australia but I don’t mind that it’s a little imperfect. It’s who I am.
On the art of improvising:
I had this exercise in university when I was studying music improvisation that I really liked, which I think is the best way to start. You put this song on that you’ve written all the chords for and normally you’ll play through as an 82-bar solo. Instead, just put it on loop and solo over it 34 times or something like that. It’ll take you like an hour but by the end of it you actually start pushing yourself and getting more creative. Then I can go back at the end, listen back and see where I started. ‘Kyneton’, the last song on Viet Rose, was that kind of thing. I’d just been rehearsing with the piano all morning and this little piece of it came out. It’s really simple.
On what part of Viet Rose he is most proud of:
‘Bitter Leaf’ was about a friendship that kind of just stopped. She decided to walk so it just ended. About a month later a similar thing almost happened with my friend [which ‘April’ was written about]. She’s one of those amazing human beings and we ended up having this really big moment, which just reminds you why these people are important to you. ‘April’ is probably the only song where there’s nothing I would change on it. Not that it’s a perfect song, it’s just exactly what I wanted it to be. I really just nailed what I wanted to achieve.
I was really proud that I ended up with six tracks that for me on a personal level represent the past year of my life. I have a few songs that maybe could’ve made it on there but these were the ones where I was like I want to show off myself more than anything. I’m just looking for something that makes people be like, “Oh wow that was interesting!” Start from yourself and if you like it then you can start looking at it from the perspective of other people as well. Music is about connecting.
On changing sounds:
I found by the end of the second EP that every time I made something people would be like, “Oh that’s so chill,” and I thought, “Hey I want to make something that’s not like that.” I did that song with Just a Gent – ‘Heavy as a Heartbreak’ – and it was the first time I’d heard myself in a different setting.
‘Golden Age’ was the first track off the EP I finished, and I was pushing myself like can I do something that’s not soft, chilled and covered in reverb – just something that’s a bit harder. With this EP I challenged myself to do things I hadn’t done before.
It’s a conscious thing but when I’m making things I’m not really thinking about it in that way, it’s more of me deciding to write a piano song then sitting down and piano songs come out of it. Most of the time I don’t really force myself to choose a new direction.
On growing up with music:
I think I thought [music] would make me friends. I was in high school, playing guitar, and I just sat in this room playing over three years and didn’t talk to anyone. So it didn’t really work, but I did get really good at playing guitar! I do have friends now who are really supportive, and they know I’m going to spend a lot of time playing piano or writing music. They’ll come home from work and I would’ve been writing music all day and I’ll be like, “Hey how’s your day been? Can I show you what I’ve been doing?” And they won’t tell me to shut up, they’ll be like, “Alright cool.” It’s really encouraging.
On the cathartic process of song-writing:
They’re deeply personal. There’s some failed friendships in there, and some about fixing friendships. I’m really glad I got the chance to put out these songs because I didn’t just put out a song then say these are the best singles. I think there are some good singles on there, but they’re also the realest songs to me. All the feelings and all of the moments on here make up the last year of my life.
And maybe there are some really deep and personal experiences that I want to challenge myself to write about. Well, they’re easy to write about but hard to show people when you’re being very heart-on-your-sleeve. You don’t want people to take it the wrong way or anything like that but if you’re going to say something, say something meaningful.
LANKS X HEIN COOPER CO-HEADLINE TOUR DATES
Thu, Dec 1st | The Basement, Sydney
Fri, Dec 2 | Miranda Hotel, Miranda
Thu, Dec 8th | Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane
Fri, Dec 9th | Nightquarter, Gold Coast
Sat, Dec 10th | The V Room, Noosa
Thu, Dec 15th | Workers Club, Geelong
Fri, Dec 16th | The Curtin, Melbourne
Sat, Dec 17th | Rocket Bar, Adelaide