Interview: LNZNDRF

Inspired by the Kosmische Musik created in the shadows of the Berlin Wall, LNZNDRF’s sophomore album cannot be constrained by even the most imposing of barriers

I think of the studio as a germination chamber where we grow the embryos into seedlings in the hope that they will in time thrive on their own.’ This kind of abstract description of how LNZNDRF’s music is created by drummer, Bryan Devendorf, is a great guide of what you can expect to experience on new record, II. There is an otherness to it that feels like an unshackled exploration of the cosmos. 

‘A main goal of our sessions was to be totally unhurried and in the moment. Though we didn’t take too many days to get the jams, we allowed ourselves the freedom to play in the moment, with no expectation of what the finished product would be,’ says vocalist/guitarist, Benjamin Lanz – who also produced the album – of the writing and recording process. ‘This is a big difference from most recording situations, where no matter how much time there is to make the record, it can feel rushed. Rushed to find the right idea, sound, etc. But, for this, we were mining ourselves and our setting, our histories and futures, which can only happen in its own time, with no expectation, to be poked and prodded later, with no hierarchy of context.’

These ‘shamanisitic jam sessions’ were a divergence for a group of musicians who are all known for their work with other groups. Their essence may seep into their other projects, but none offer the freedom to explore like LNZNDRF. ‘Our other projects / bands are more structured, and have different energies altogether at times. We purposely use a different approach with LNZNDRF’s music making to explore ideas and directions that don’t always function elsewhere,’ explains the other half of the group’s brotherly rhythm section, Scott Devendorf. ‘Though we also try to bring some of those approaches back to other projects, like The National, as well. It’s always a good feeling to try and learn and grow beyond what we typically do.’

Inspired by the Kosmische Musik scene of the late sixties and seventies, it is the sense of freedom, and a desire for sonic exploration, that feels like the most important link. Though they all came to it at different points in their lives, it is clear that it is music – and an ethos – that is important to all of them. While Lanz got switched onto it at a younger age, (‘In my late teens, thanks to my brother, who as far as I understand it was part of an underground organised crime ring in Minneapolis in the late 90s, which focused exclusively on skimming the best records from all the shops for absurdly low prices’), the others all had different interests, from Scott’s ‘skateboarding and its supporting soundtrack in the ‘80s’, through Bryan being ‘mesmerised by English hard rock bands, chiefly Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and The Who,’ to synth and piano player, Aaron Arntz’s love of ‘classical music and jazz’. Once they did discover it, though, it is clear how much of an effect it had on them. ‘We discovered it in the ‘00s when some of those records were being reissued (Neu!) and really appreciated how streamlined and minimal it was, in contrast to contemporary music being made, even by ourselves,’ explains Scott. ‘There is nothing more satisfying than the motorik beat. Klaus Dinger & Jaki Liebezeit are heroic players and musicians whose sensitivity and dynamic resonate still,’ adds Bryan.

This appreciation for the minimal, motorik rhythms of Kosmische Musik is littered throughout the record. The rhythm section feels like a rigid anchor to allow the other, more trippy elements more freedom to circumnavigate your psyche. Once the shackles are occasionally released though, it adds a tangible nuance to the record. ‘We always unconsciously maintain a rubber balance between looseness and rigidity. Ringwoodite is a good example. All these interlocking patterns,’ explains Lanz, ‘and by the way, Bryan, 6/8 time with some mixed meter thrown in that just HAPPENED in the moment. But it’s already so saturated as that relationship you mention between flexibility and rigidity intensifies and then, when we were mixing it, I wanted it to feel like the whole world is shaking when the chorus hits. There’s nowhere else to go, but to break through the floor and tumble into an earthly mineral free fall, like if we could put ourselves and a bunch of rocks into an industrial dryer on high without getting hurt, or feeling any pain at all.’

Arntz believes that this idiosyncratic approach is something that distinguishes the group from others, ‘I think as individuals, we all enjoy playing all the roles in the band. I personally love to try to hold down a very steady rhythmic figure when the others need to be loose, and I also enjoy floating on top when Scott and Bryan and Ben are keeping it steady. I think this democracy of role is one thing that makes LNZNDRF unique.’ One such track that seems to have been built around a single anchor is Chicxulub. The instrumental hinges on a frenetic bassline, with everything else allowed to evolve around it, ‘That one kinda arrived in one piece, but was improved – but the layers, solos and dynamics that Ben and Aaron added. I really like how it came out,’ explains Scott, with Bryan adding, ‘What is more satisfying than a ripping bass?’

The balance of instrumental and vocal driven tracks is one that really sets the record apart. It doesn’t feel like one or the other, but rather a continuous journey that occasionally needs narration. The distinction between the two styles evolved rather than having arrived in a conceited manner, ‘The process was totally fluid and kind of fatalistic in ways. We would keep whittling and editing and, gradually, the song would emerge,’ explains Lanz, ‘Then it’s like horse whispering. Let the song tell me what it wants. The melodies are always in there, somewhere, sometimes more obvious than others. Like for Brace Yourself. There was a ghost melody in the tracks when they were all played together. I would go through the tracks one by one, trying to find it with no success. I did this for a while until I wasn’t sure if it was really there at all, or just the song showing me what it needed.’ For the band, seeing their songs grow was what made the sessions exciting. ‘Our process is more like excavation than construction, while there were a few – like maybe Chicxulub – that emerged with a specific personality early. It was fun to see how all of them developed beyond the initial recording too,’ says Scott.

Album closer – Stowaway – is an absolute masterpiece in keeping the audience second-guessing. It has a drifting weightlessness that swirls around you, before unleashing an incredible closing crescendo. Though it provides the perfect full stop for the record, there is a distinctiveness to it that sets it apart from the preceding seven tracks. ‘It was a bit different, at least in the experimentation phase of editing. I couldn’t believe how naturally the first section mapped out the vocals. It was so easy – like the melody and words had always been there, so I assumed that it should continue that way. But from there, there was a lot of dead end experimentation. We tried a bunch of stuff and, for a minute, I thought it could be our Bohemian Rhapsody, but in the end, the instrumental jam was what we all felt best about and ended up giving the song its clearest journey.’ While this answer from Lanz gives us a bit of insight into how the song evolved, the other members all had a more simple explanation, with Bryan saying, ‘This is the work of Ben Lanz. It’s what he does so, so well. Hats off to Ben,’ and Aaron simply adding, ‘Ben’s a genius!’

Naturally, with the way the world is at the moment, the release of the record wasn’t as you’d expect. Originally recorded in 2019, the jam sessions that sculpted it will no doubt translate seamlessly to the live stage once such things are allowed. The band themselves are certainly eager to commune with audiences again with Bryan saying, ‘I think the bandstand is the most awesome place for our sound,’ and Lanz adding, ‘Yes! I have to believe that we will be able to play these songs live sometime soon. I can’t wait. I miss playing music as LNZNDRF and can’t wait to sort out playing this new record live.’

As Bryan told me, ‘The walls and other physical structures of the building cannot contain the intentions of those inside.’ So if escapism is something that you’re in search of, you can do no better than exploring the cosmos in the company of this record.

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