Love Spirals Downward
Paradigm Shift Interview by Philip H. Farber
Love Spirals Downward is only nominally a band. Really, they are something more of a recording project undertaken by the duo of Ryan Lum and Suzanne Perry, just having fun with their music in a home studio. The result, though, has been three albums of atmospheric, ethereal music that has the ability to transport the listener in remarkable ways.
Lum and Perry have degrees in philosophy and psychology, respectively. The effectiveness of the music makes one wonder how much of their academic training plays into their art, though they tend to deny any specific influence.
Their first two albums, Idylls and Ardor, were critically acclaimed, and even if this isn't exactly the stuff of top-forty hits, they developed a solid following. Ever, their latest effort (on the Projekt label), will likely take these musicians even farther, although that may not have been their intention in recording it.
PHF: I'm only familiar with your current album, "Ever." Are the previous two albums similiar in tone?
Ryan: They are similar in a certain respect. I think they are very different in a certain respect. We don't like to make the same album. Once we've done it we like to move on an do something different. The first one, Idylls, is more dreamy-sounding, more eastern, more like Indian music, not much intelligible English. The guitars are more processed. It's a floaty-airy kind of record. The second one, Ardor, is more poppy, I guess. We have some structured pop songs. She sings in English a bit more. There are less effects on the guitars. Ever branches out in all different directions. Each of the previous two had a certain sound that was at the core of it all. Ever just went off every which way that we indulged ourselves in.
PHF: What's the creative process that goes into a Love Spirals Downward album?
Ryan: We develop it and do it all at home. We've got our own home recording studio. We've had it for years, and have just been growing and expanding it since then. We're pretty well equipped to do it all home. In fact, the way we write, too, we have to do it at home. We don't make up ten or eleven songs and say, 'Okay! Time to go to the studio and record all the songs!' I'll have some rough sounds or ideas and I'll record them down on tape or into the sampler, and from there I'll start getting more ideas. It will build from what I previously recorded. That would be a very costly, practically impossible, thing to do in the studio. We would be racking up the kind of budget of "Sgt. Pepper's" or something like that.
I'll do music and then afterwards I'll give it to Suzanne and we'll record her parts. Very often, especially on this album, I'll record some more instruments after she does her parts, to let her influence me a little bit, too. It used to be that I would do all the music, give it to her, she did the vocals and that was that. Now I kind of vibe off her a little bit.
PHF: Do you play live much?
Ryan: We started doing live shows last year. Our first album came out in 1992. We did our first live show in 1995. It just shows that we are essentially more of a recording project than a live band. We've actually gotten pretty good at doing the live thing, if I can not speak so modestly. One reason that we didn't play live before is that we had no real band. It was just the two of us. It would be kind of hard to recreate our weird sound live, just the two of us. The way we did it and still do it -- I might change it a little bit in the future -- as it has been up to now, it's all acoustic, kind of an unplugged thing, just me on acoustic guitar and her singing. It works out very well, probably because at the core of all of our songs, that's what it is. That's usually how I write the songs. I lay down one acoustic guitar track on tape and build it up in the studio from there. It's a quite powerful setting, too. People have to get quiet and listen, open up their ears. I don't see how it would be better if we got a huge band or anything.
PHF: Is there anything that you hope that your audience will experience or take away with them from your music?
Ryan: I guess the kinds of things that I experience when I listen to my music, or music that I enjoy listening to. More of a spiritual experience. Some kind of musical listening experience that guides them in a higher direction. Not higher like taking drugs, but lifting them up a little bit, engaging their spiritual dimension.
PHF: Do your backgrounds in philosophy and psychology influence your music?
Ryan: It's hard to say what in your psyche influences other parts of your psyche. I am what I am. I don't consciously think I'm making philosophy in my music or anything like that. It's guess it does cross over. It's part of my whole world-view. It's hard to separate out philosophy and art and religion and music. It's just kind of the way I look at things, holistically.
Suzanne is the psychology person... I don't think psychology comes in too much into her lyric and vocal stuff. She does survey research, social policy research. It's what she did in graduate school.
PHF: Has your music gotten to the point where you can do it full time? Or do you have day jobs?
Ryan: It's teetering on the gray area between it. I guess it wouldn't support the both of us. It might support one of us. It's not something that either of us have these big hopes and dreams or even desires for. Suzanne only works on music once in a while. It's usually me that is constantly working on stuff. Even for me, I don't think I could work on music all the time. It would probably drive me nuts a little bit. It wouldn't be as fun or special if that was always what I was doing...
As far as recording goes, it just when ideas are happening. Things aren't always flowing. When they do come, that's when I really work a lot. Other times, I won't work for months. It depends on how ideas are coming and how inspired I feel.
PHF: I just noticed that Love Spirals Downward equals LSD...
Ryan: We were aware of that when we made the band name. We didn't intend to align ourselves with the drug or anything like that. It's hard to say. We thought it was kind of cool, because our music has a drug-like or spiritual effect, something a little different than your everyday consciousness. It was an interesting parallel, I guess.
We were trying to find a band name to send out with our demo tapes. Since we didn't play live, we had no need or purpose to find a band name. When the time came, we were searching. It's tough to find a band name. Originally, we thought of Love Spirals Upwards. We went out one night and at two or three in the morning, we were listening to a show on a public radio station, some new age talk show. We were both kind of tired and getting kind of loopy. The lady started talking about love spiralling upwards and upwards... It stuck with us from there. We were calling it that for maybe a week. A friend pointed out that if you change it to "Downwards" instead of "Upwards," you get the LSD acronym. We said, 'okay, why not?'
Suzanne: I just got back. I was driving like a mean person. When people piss me off at work, I drive really scarily. I really hate those people who run the red lights... they all band together and five of them go... So I pull out in front of them all and hope that they'll clip me... in my demolition vehicle.
I've got an old car and I thought about buying a new one...
PHF: I'll ask you what I asked Ryan... Does your background in psychology influence your music?
Suzanne: I don't think anything that I do plays into my music too much. That's what's so weird about it. I keep completely separate lives as far as music goes, and then the rest of my life. I don't even remember that I do music, most of the time. It's not like I'll be at work or in my regular day and I'll think about music, or a song, or performing, or anything, unless I'm worried about it. I look at it as a time to, not necessarily escape, but it's a different time, a time when I'm different than I am usually. I don't spend a lot of time bringing either world into the other.
When you say psychology to me, I think about my work. Because of the type of psychology I do. I do research, so it doesn't really fit with the music. Maybe if I were a clinical psychologist, or if I were into eastern philosophy and how that relates to spiritually. There are different types of psychology. There's the touchy-feely psychology people, and the hard science psychology people. I'm more the hard science type.
PHF: Is there anything that you'd like your audience to experience or take with them from your music?
Suzanne: I really don't think about it. I hope people have a good experience, or a positive experience, but beyond that, I don't expect people to get much from it. That's not my intention when I make it. I don't even know why I do it. It's fun for me. It's fun.
When you get past that, you get in trouble. Nobody ever experiences anything like you want them to. And who am I to want people to experience in a certain way? Beyond that, I can't even control that... I can't control if people are going to buy it, or even care about it.
I really loathe the music business.
At the same time, I'm not the fluffy artist, 'Like, I hope people will get this from my art, because it's, like, the universal language...'
Ryan: Listening to your own music is kind of like looking at yourself in the mirror. Everyone else in the world can look at you and see you, but it's hard to perceive your own self. There's too much you know about yourself. Often, I'll have a really great time listening to it. Other times, I'll hear all the mistakes... It's kind of painted by all those things that only I know and no one else knows.