Mowukis caught our eyes and ears with his thoughtful songwriting and floating vocals. The solo project of Montpellier-based songwriter Louis-Louise Kay, his sound could be compared to the likes of James Blake. Kay has a distinct way delicate way of progressing a song into a densely-layered sonic experience.
His latest release, “Animals Used To Scare” was recorded by the mediterranean sea. The video is a short animated video, created by French animator Titouan Bordeau. Bordeau took Kay’s “very broad and erratic notions” that he tried to convey, to give us what we have now: delicate sounds paired with textural illustrations. Kay explains,
“I didn’t want it to be one of those videos that tell you what to feel, what to think, that are too obvious, I wanted to avoid that at all costs, have something a bit mystical without being too pretentious or pompous. The only very clear idea I had in mind was that it was about being confused, lost between what’s the path to follow and where’s the place to stay and build something when everything seems to be going to hell a little bit more everyday.”
We talked with Kay on the beginnings and triggers of this project, the inspiration behind his latest album No Answers No, vulnerability and growth as an artist. Read our in-depth conversation below.
KALTBLUT: How did you begin this solo project?
Louis-Louise Kay: I think the trigger was leaving Paris and most of what I knew behind. It was a necessary move. I felt like I didn’t belong there anymore, and my brain was so cluttered [that] I couldn’t hear myself think. But leaving a city you’ve been living in your whole life, especially when it’s as big and powerful as Paris, it kind of leaves you with a big hole you’re not sure how to fill in at first. So that’s what Mowukis was about : who am I when there’s almost nothing, no one left? My first 2 years in Montpellier, I spent mostly creating, not going out much, living at night half the year, and building musical toolboxes filled with self-designed sounds, sequencers and whatnots, until eventually it became bits and pieces of music, and then ultimately, the 11 songs of the album.
KALTBLUT: I’m intrigued by these self-designed music toolboxes. Can you talk more about these and how you specifically used them on the album?
Kay: It’s kind of a ritual whenever I start a new project. I don’t start with compositions right away, I start with sounds, and tools. I used softwares like Max / MSP, Ableton and Reaktor, to create personal sets of tools, trying to find new ways to trigger my inspiration. I roam through sequencers, samplers, free plugins made by crazy people, and I start putting them together until some ensembles or groups of them feel like an instrument I can create very different things with. It’s rarely anything super new or technical, but just because I made it the way I felt was right, it kinda clicks more instantly with my brain when I start writing music, and because it’s not something I’m yet completely familiar with, it can push me into new creative territories I had never been in before. At the end of this process I had a few dozens of ensembles/instruments that were shaped in a way that I felt could take me somewhere new. I did the same for sounds. I spent weeks creating lots and lots of sounds, putting together a pretty big database of samplers, analog sounds, sound FX of my own design, and after a while, I felt I already had a glimpse of what the album would feel like, and I could start writing songs.
It’s really like building a pool, filling it with water, and then finally diving in.
KALTBLUT: Do you feel comfortable talking about the triggers that made you leave Paris? That made you feel out of place?
Kay: I think, first, you’ve got to understand that France is an over centralised country where pretty much everything revolve around Paris, even when it has no connection at all to the city itself. Once you get that, you kind of understand how every tiny bit of leverage you get in that city is blown out of proportion. To be a bar owner with a small shitty stage in a fancy neighbourhood there, makes you feel bigger than a 2k venue in the countryside. After a while, you realise this is turning every tiny bit of your life as an artist into a political game, where you have to avoid upsetting anyone, or getting pissed against the artist community booming at that moment. When you’re into what’s going on, you can be blind to what’s happening, but as soon as you step out just a little, as soon as you feel inadequate with what’s being done artistically and start questioning it, you realise you never really had any margin at all and a very small group of people is deciding what an entire city, and to some extent (because it’s Paris) the entire country, is going to have to listen to and like, and there’ll be no place left for anything else, because all the firepower is there. It’s also a very unfair environment because in this context, the rich kids, who grew up nurtured to that kind of culture, are winning, because they don’t have as much to lose than the working class ones, and the system is built by and for them. I felt like I didn’t fit in that scheme anymore, and I had to go somewhere less full of itself, where it’s not about imposing your view to the rest of the country to validate how cool and relevant to your era you are. Being born and raised in Paris, it’s still a city I love dearly, and I still know people there I admire and love, and my family lives here so I’m still very much connected to it in some ways, but the climate there, as an artist, was starting to push me into a mental state where creation felt like a painful process.
KALTBLUT: What conclusion have you come to since asking the questions about who you are, and what you have left? Have they been answered?
Kay: The first thing I realised, a few months after I left, was how music had a strong power of “abstracting” things. It’s like your problems could literally materialise into mental shape you couldn’t describe any other way. And it makes them less scary, it felt like I stopped picturing myself as an object randomly crashing into obstacles, and more like a general direction, a wave of some sort. It sounds very esoteric as I put it into words now, but back then during the recording sessions, it made a lot of sense. Before the album, I felt like I was mostly fighting to find a silent spot to hear myself think. During the album, I realised the noise had made its way INTO my thinking, and I started scraping it out, bit by bit. I wanted to make an album that’s not shaped only by the power structures that made me who I am (namely, a child from the working class, educated with the culture of the higher middle class kids) but also by how I managed to survive as a human being to make it through without giving up to cynicism as the only way to understand and articulate the world. Because on your way up to the higher end of the social ladder, you see a lot of scary shit, and it’s often either “that’s the way it is go along with it it’s not that bad” or “everything’s shit anyway so why bother”. I wanted to find a place for myself between lucidity and hope, and that’s the space I tried to carve as a first piece of solo work. I don’t know if what I carved is a good starting point for all the never answered questions about “who I am” but I realised as I was composing, that what I was trying more pragmatically to do was restructure my threatened ability to love, to love deeply, intelligently, and make it the foundation to build something bigger. So by the end what I think I had left was that, my endangered, fought for, and precious ability to love. It can sound cheesy but I think it’s a very complex and deep thing to preserve.
KALTBLUT: You stated, ‘this solo project is a combination of the many voices I’ve heard these last few years, and how I understood them, how I used them to move on from where I was.’ Can you expand on that? What were these voices telling you to do? How have you grown as a musician?
Kay: Well, my background as a musician is pretty scattered. I’ve learned from many different sources, some of them institutionals like music schools as a flutist, some of them weird and underground, I even, at some point, wrote music for kids musicals, which, even if it doesn’t seem like it, is a very interesting audience to confront to, and also the most difficult way for a musician to remain ambitious without giving up to some of the most basic and primal tricks a lot of the industry aiming at kids use on a daily basis, so that was a super challenging job. As a composer, all those things live inside you, and shape what you do, even when it’s more personal. Back in Paris, I had all those things pretty segmented, split into boxes, one day I was doing instrumental work with classical instruments, the other I was lead singer in an electro rock band, and the third I was experimenting ambient stuff. When I chose to create for the first time alone, I thought it was time to try and channel all those things into one body of work and define myself as a musician. It was a pretty gigantic task as I had never made a project entirely alone from start to finish before, and it took months before I had any confidence it could lead somewhere interesting enough to be released. Just to give an estimate, I think that, in order to get the 11 songs on the album, I created around 50 full length pieces of music that didn’t make the cut. It was a very hard task, to find a common thread, a unity, between musical universes that more often than not, barely speak to each other. I don’t even know if I managed to do it in the end, but I know at some point, I looked at the most advanced work I had, and I felt confident it SAID something about all those places I’ve been in, and how they made me who I am.
KALTBLUT: Where would you like to see No Answers No go?
Kay: I think “No Answers No” is where it should be, it’s kind of like a photograph of one particular point in time, and as such, it’s already a lot for me. Now from my point of view, it’s the basis for some new work, a starting point, it’s a good way to start conversations with artists I appreciate, fuel for further collaborations, it’s also a pretty dense body of work so there might be more videos coming from the songs on it, because I know some really amazing people on the visual side. I’m not looking for immediate success, so I won’t be waiting for it to “boom” overnight or something, music is a slow process, and if you’re trying to stay true to yourself, it’s even slower, so I just hope more and more people will get the chance to hear it over time, and that’ll be just fine. My biggest pride is that it seems to speak to a very broad range of people, even amongst musicians, it’s not like it only touches pop music fans or electronic music fans, and that’s such a humbling and touching thing when people who come from horizons you know very little about, or are just not your genre of expertise tell you they enjoyed it. That’s the kind of thing I hope, that it will speak to people from places I never thought it would.
KALTBLUT: What are the common threads between the songs on this album?
Kay: I think the common thread is the porosity between the inner battle you fight as an individual (to survive, to be able to eat at the end of the month, to love) and the battle you fight for others, because no matter what, there’s always someone out there who’s worse than you are and even suffers directly from the tools that you use to make it through the day. I think it’s a terrible world we live in where compromises are constantly asked from us, and used as a tool by a lot of politicians and people in the power seat to make us feel responsible too for the nightmare we suffer, or more precisely, to tell us to shut up. The struggle between these two states of mind has always been at the center of my life, and most recently, with the terrorist attacks in France reminding us in a very vivid and terrible way of the horror we managed for so many years to keep at our borders, it reached a new level of mental violence. So some songs are about the former, some about the latter, and a lot of them about how both collide and put us through an endless maze of struggles.