Name: Joshua Lutz
Current release: The new The Road Up North album Emergence of the Inner Eye, the second instalment of an ambitious series of seven projected albums, is out via his bandcamp account.
If you enjoyed this interview with The Road Up North, visit the project on Instagram, Facebook, and Soundcloud.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
There is no environment that doesn’t inspire. There is, I think, constant inspiration and expiration. Only the way how it is transforming in us and through us, depends on the inspired human. So, in a way, everything plays a role and at the same time it doesn’t.
The thing is, I don’t know the world without the impulse to create. My mother always tells me, that I already stomped with my feet in her belly, when I heard drums or timpani. So maybe I wanted be part of a musical environment right from the start.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
Balance is the relevant word. Some parts of the process are unfolding in an unconscious way, nobody can say what’s happening there and it has to stay a mystery.
And then there is some planning, strict intellectual construction, conception, or when you will »visualisation«. An inner ear is listening to an already whole piece. The thinking and fragmented part of my brain is playing with what I’m hearing. This movement between unconscious and conscious »doing« is the whole game I think, the play, the hide and seek.
Regarding my work on albums as The Road Up North, I wrote a story as a kind of never ending fertilizer for the musical outcome. And also there it is a play between »what does the written story demand from the music« and »what does the music and its evolving tensions demand from the written stuff«. And after all: For me the experiment is greater than the plan. It always wins in the end.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
There are always sketches, early versions. But I can’t tell if they’ll be developed or have to stay like they are. So I wouldn’t call it preparation, I would call it a part of the musical process. Like in the Zen archery, the archer knows that the whole day, the »preparation«, the night before, his walks and intellectual life is not only part of his practice, it is the practice.
But a certain order, a visual pureness in my working space is very relevant, that’s for sure.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
Everything became the ritual to me, ‘cause in a way I never go out of a creating mindset, so there is no need for a way into it. But to be more concrete or specific: I really get high from long breakfasts, a well done espresso, vinyl LPs and philosophic literature. All at once. That’s my favorite ritual and can »make my whole day«.
What shouldn’t be a secret, is the fact, that marijuana sometimes plays a role, too. Most musicians use that old yogi-drug during the musical process; But I myself discovered it as a basis of a reflecting intellectual process, which is related to my musical process in a very deep way.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
In a way I never had a problem with that. Sometimes I just throw my hands on the keys. That’s why it’s called »Ent-wurf« in german, the throw-out. I create a conflict with wich I can work. I truly recommend musical conflicts.
I really had the best time with my drummer, when we tried to create the most weird conflict between beautiful harps, beautiful synths and all-over destroying drums. You can listen to that on »A Very Normal Creep«.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
Well … that stays a mystery to myself, too.
But I discovered a kind of law, my work depends on: I only work on music, when I feel, right from the beginning, that it will be fun. If that playful energy is not available I don’t »push« myself. I think the so called flow is not reachable artificially through a 12-step-program. It has to be very childish: When you want to play, you play, if not, then you don’t. Then there is a natural and gradual emerging, just so.
And I stopped being afraid of creative lows, they are part of the process. It would be strange and in a way impossible to get rid of them. There is no wave without trough. When I’m innerly slow, I try to let this slowness compose something musically slow. When I’m innerly weird, I try to let this weirdness compose something musically weird.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
That’s right, planned and constructed narratives often slip out of my hands, too, but that’s the fun of the play. And the real meditative aspect of musical practice is vanishing control. Unless control is a humorous, that means a »light« handling of my process, then control can also be a very funny and inspiring aspect.
And if I handle my narratives in a flexible way, they an be changed later on. (Laughs) I don’t have a problem with that. They should make things easier, not more difficult.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
Being pushed by new impulses is being invited to dance. I’m not able to dance all the time, but if there is an inner width, I take my time to listen to those pushing ideas.
Sometimes a certain energy just needs to be freed and manifested. Those sketches sometimes develop into something bigger, and sometimes nothing happens to them. But I think, that depends on ones attitude to »results«. I practice to concentrate only on the process, the play. Therefore results will emerge automatically. That means the maybe planned narrative has to be projected onto the process, the activity, not on the results.
In a way the future »results« themselves are not real, only that what happens now, i.e. the process.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
Yes definitely. The creative state really evoked a spiritual state during the last years. But I have to add, that it is as spiritual as it is material. Both words are concepts of an indescribable state or nature of ourselves and the universe. The true materialist is searching for »the mother« (mater) of all things, and is therefore basically spiritual. This transience is strongly related the root of the creative state, I think.
Nevertheless spirituality is a good word for the state of a musician being on the way. And basically »the wayfarer« in the story behind the music, is going through different spiritual stages. He is my spiritual child, I guess.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
When it feels right, I stop. It can take two minutes until this feeling arises, or three years, which was the time I took for the process of this second album. So … there really is no right moment, neither to start, nor to end.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
When I talk to students that’s one of the most important things for me to bring up: Taking time to let lie. You know, there is an urge to discover your own music as something you never heard before. The curse of the musician is, that he knows what he has done. We will never have those fresh and virgin ears for our own music.
But there are two ways to discover it as something relatively new: Either you get into a proper state of unconsciousness while making music and therefore have no idea what’s happened and will happen. Or you let the sketches or even finished projects lie for a while. After that you are more receptive for energies of bigger or smaller tensions in the music and connections between your compositions. We miss those chances, when the voice, that wants it »out now«, is too strong.
Let’s take this album: The outroduction had only one adjustment and was the last thing I composed. »Collective Shenanigans« was one of the first compositions from three years ago and I didn’t change a thing.
But all the rest of it was inspired by the other tracks a a lot and therefore changed, processed, extended, shortened a lot.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
Like the most of my answers before, this one is also very vague. (Laughs) The mixing is taking place during the production and composing, because music is sound, so I can’t divide it. So, mixing just flows into the process.
The best thing I learned at the academy was: »if it sounds nice, it is mixed.« But I give away the mastering. I’m not good at it and I’m not interested in plug-ins and numbers at all, so I’m the wrong guy for that.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
Oh, I can relate to emptiness, very deeply. I myself experienced emptiness as something very »heavy« through reflections on the situation of the people, the world, the suppressed love, the reinforced hate, loudness and the omnipresent anger.
Emptiness referring to my musical releases hasn't arisen that often, ‘cause there is a plan for seven related albums. But you know, making yourself empty is relief. Emptiness is a natural part of this world, and the Asian philosophies take it as the real ground of existence. So it can be taken as something very pleasant, like taking a whiz. And diving in emptiness is also flying.
Emptiness can be a great thing, that’s why it will be one of the musical topics of the fourth album.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
That is a very important question, and it occupies me a lot. I think we are missing a great chance in our so called ever day life. Of course every task is different, but only on a superficial level. On the basic level they are all the same, because everything is movement and therefore in relation. Tidying up your room, making good coffee, staring at the moon and even thinking about your problems are movements and can be taken as play and therefore as a creative medium.Thinking about problems can be a lot of fun, you know; it can be quite swinging, a big jazz. But the musical movement and all it’s different disciplines are the movements that I simply love the most.
To answer the letter question: I always wanted to make noise. And how to form noise to get real sound and music, that’s a trip and it’s just one of my favorite trips.