Interview: Domzilla, Lulu James

Lulu JamesLulu James is the genre-hopping 21-year-old Lulu and writer-producer Domzilla. Hailing from the North East, they stand apart from others in the local scene – their music sounds more South London than South Shields.

Domzilla’s thought-provoking post-dubstep carries echoes of house with a nagging hip-hop swagger. Meanwhile, Lulu’s late night soul vocals bring a pop dynamic to the mix.

Schooled on Flying Lotus, James Blake and Jamie Woon, the pair met on a music course in Newcastle and hit it off instantly. They have since become one of the breakthrough acts of 2012 with a couple of high-profile releases; Rope Mirage EP and the forthcoming Be Safe.

After early support slots with TEED and Ghostpoet, Lulu James have spent the year wowing crowds at The Great Escape, Liverpool Sound City, Live at Leeds and Evolution Festival to name a few.

M caught up with Domzilla earlier this year to find out more…

DomzillaWhat triggers your songwriting?
We usually come up with a beat or a chord pattern. I always consciously write in different keys rather than go back to the same area.

Are you formally trained or is music something you’ve just picked up?
Sort of, yeah. I’ve been playing guitar since I was six but I’m not really that good at it! I play drums and have had drum lessons. I play a bit of piano and sax too. Then I got into hip-hop production and while I was doing that met Lulu. She said she wanted to try some new stuff – things like Flying Lotus and Thundercat – all the San Francisco wonky hip-hop and house sounds that I’d been listening to but never tried to make. Lulu was into it so we did that.

But I’ve got a Rhodes piano in the house so I like to keep that in the mix too. I like to keep things sparse with beats, sort of like J Dilla hip-hop – mid-90s snares and deep kicks.

What equipment do you use?
I just use my laptop really. I’ve got some TL Audio valve compressors. I’ve got a valve soundcard. I have an MPC that I use on stage. I’m all into that kinda hip-hop thing.

Where do you see your sound evolving?
I’m not sure. I have got other stuff that I worked on in the past, an old funk sound with Rhodes and brass. We had a 10-piece band at one point, but we split up three years ago. I’ve also sung and played on stuff. I like to do all sorts of things. I’d like to produce for bands. I really like the Lake Poets too, I’d like to work with them.

Could you imagine Lulu James expanding and becoming bigger than a duo?
I hope so, yeh. The thing I like to do is keep it clean with the sound. I don’t like things just chucked in there just because it can. I hate to say it but I love Steely Dan! Everything has to be like that – on point, in time, in tune. It needs to be slick. I don’t like too much improvisation. I don’t mind the odd solo but not really in Lulu’s music. Everything needs to be clinical and sound as much like the record as possible and be as live as possible.

So how is playing live informing your sound?
We’re exploring the songs, and changing them a little, maybe making them a bit longer. Give people a bit more variety. I really like Jamie Liddell and I love what he does on stage. I saw him about five years ago at The Sage and it blew my mind. Back then what he was doing with Abelton was unbelievable. I like a bit of jazz as well so if we can extend tracks to explore that, it’d be great.

You got together through Generator. Tell me about that…
Well, Generator has been instrumental for us. For 20 years they’ve been helping me out as an artist. Wayne, Jim, Joe and Bob have been really helpful, it’s been awesome for the scene here in Newcastle – they’ve helped a lot of people. It’s refreshing to see what people would class as a small city having such a big music scene.

Read M’s North East feature True North.