Felix Garner Davis
It’s difficult to forget the haunting voice behind KUČKA once you hear it float around your ears in a swirl of synthesised psychedelia. The avant-electronic project of Perth-based producer and vocalist Laura Jane Lowther has been met with growing hype over the past couple of years, most notably winning in three categories at the 2014 WA Music Awards, including Best Single and Best Electronic Act.
In the same year, a re-tweaked edition of her self-titled EP — first released in 2012 — was picked up by French label NUUN Records, her ominous slow jam ‘Unconditional’ became the most played song on triple j Unearthed, and ‘Divinity’ — one of the lead singles from her upcoming project — was premiered internationally by Fader magazine. In 2013, KUČKA collaborated wit A$AP Rocky on ‘Long Live A$AP’ and ‘Fashion Killa’, and was named in the top five under-the-radar Australian bands by The Guardian in the UK.
The sound of KUČKA was born of experimental sampling techniques like musique concrète, a process that originated in France in the 1930s. Musique concrète became a genre of electroacoustic music created from collaged recordings of instruments, the natural environment and the human voice. It is here that the beginnings of electronic music lie.
‘I guess from the beginning I was just experimenting with sounds, so it was much more experimental,’ muses Laura. ‘I would have tracks that were eight or nine minutes long, with a lot of looping, layering of vocals and sampling of live instruments. It was more of a live thing at first and now it’s more of a studio recording type of project.’
Laura’s embrace of musique concrète is deeper than instrumental sampling, though, as she often ventures outdoors with the explicit purpose of collecting sounds. ‘I went sampling for a whole day the other day in the forest,’ she laughs. ‘I got this really awesome waterfall and crunchy leaves and a stream and stuff like that.’
Laura’s philosophy of sampling is quite genial. ‘I think if you’re putting a new twist on it, it’s kind of like collage and it’s definitely an art in itself,’ she states. ‘I love the idea of sampling and if someone sampled my music I’d be totally happy.’
She admits, though, that there is etiquette involved and that the process is often quite murky in regard to legality and permissions. ‘I guess there’s a fine line. You’ve definitely got to credit the artist and make sure that whoever you’re sampling is comfortable with it, because obviously not everyone has the same philosophy as me.’
Laura has personal experience with the ethics of sampling in the context of the popular mainstream — a KUČKA song, ‘I’, was sampled by A$AP Rocky in the creation of his hit single ‘Long Live A$AP’.
Sharing music is not limited to sampling, either, especially in this day and age. With streaming services like Spotify gaining massive traction and record sales diminishing, musical artists are faced with an interesting choice: either fight the machine or accept it and move on.
‘I’m totally into the whole sharing culture,’ says Laura. ‘When you share ideas they can grow into something much bigger than what one person can produce. You can be like, “No, I don’t want my music to be a part of it and I don’t want things to be free,” but you’re just going to lose that battle anyway so you may as well embrace it.’
For Laura, making music isn’t about chasing a pay day or mass popularity. ‘I feel like it’s still a privilege to make music,’ she says.
‘I don’t really mind that you have to make money in other ways. I had a job the whole time I was writing Unconditional, and I found that when I had only three or four hours before I had to start work I would just have to get into it. Then, when I was working I was thinking and developing my ideas so that when I went home and I could work on music some more I had kind of visualised what I wanted to do in my head.’
The meditative process of the subconscious is a particular source of inspiration for Laura. ‘Flux 98’, a song featured on Unconditional, was inspired by lucid dreaming. Apart from that, though, the music on her forthcoming project is grounded in day-to-day realism. ‘I’ve been interested in writing about stuff that is close to me,’ she explains.
‘Relationships with my mum and my nan, what I’m learning from them… That’s super real-world kind of stuff. The lyrics in my last EP were quite surreal and I was kind of making up stories, but this one is quite personal lyrically.’
This shift toward a more personal perspective was Laura’s mission for Unconditional. ‘I was listening to a lot of pop last year and I was really interested in how pop artists can write about the same thing over and over again but somehow keep it interesting. I wanted to try to do that, but also to avoid the usual clichés and traps that people fall into. So, yeah — I wanted to make it personal but not obvious.’
Lyrics are a component of popular music that have seen historical comparisons with poetry, and the lyrics of countless artists, including Nick Cave and Bob Dylan, have been intellectualised and studied on the page. ‘My lyrics are usually written with melodies in mind, but I don’t think that things need to be separated — if someone wants to read my lyrics without the music and they enjoy them, that’s awesome,’ shrugs Laura.
‘I don’t think it needs to be classified, but then I guess I’m not against someone saying that it’s poetry.’ It’s certainly not difficult to see Laura’s point — the soaring pads, pulsing bass and ethereal soundscapes that populate her productions do complement her delicate vocals well. ‘I wouldn’t say that it’s poetry but that’s just because it sounds pretty wanky,’ she laughs.
So, how does KUČKA’s rich sound translate to a live context? Laura’s particular realm of interest in this regard relates to tailoring the sonics of the night to fit the vibe. ‘I really enjoy building the set a lot,’ she says.
‘Lots of my music is quite slow and intimate — sometimes that doesn’t work on a Saturday night at 11pm when everyone just wants to get drunk and party, so depending on what the gig is I’ll definitely change the setup a bit. If I know I’m playing in a club I’ll play some of the tracks that have more instrumental dance beats, and then if I’m playing with a band or in a smaller venue I’ll play some of the slower tracks.’
The darkly emotive nature of much of KUČKA’s music would certainly appear to be best digested in quiet, close surrounds. ‘I actually prefer playing the slower, more intimate tracks,’ admits Laura. ‘I find that the performance can get a bit more intense; I can just get into it more and feel more in the zone.’
Unconditional, the second EP from KUČKA, is slated to drop in August and Laura’s calendar looks accordingly packed for the rest of this year. She’s heading off to Paris for the Red Bull Music Academy — a two-week period of lectures and collaboration — in November and hopes to write, produce and record a handful of new music before she jets off.
‘Stuff like that is always so inspiring and that’s pretty much what I’m gearing up for at the moment,’ she beams. Be sure to catch Unconditional when it descends from experimental space-pop nirvana and prepare your ears for the celestial croonings of KUČKA.
Check out KUCKA's Bandcamp to listen to her first EP and read more.