There’s no easy way to articulate the sensation of a musician bursting through the glass ceiling and becoming widely known in the commercial limelight. For Jordan Lawlor, his journey seems almost unfathomable. He started out as a homeschooled guitarist with humble aspirations from Sparta, New Jersey, before joining now-famous electronic pop band ‘M83‘ and touring the globe. Garnering just under 500 million plays for their most recognizable track, “Midnight City,” and accumulating over 6 million monthly listeners on Spotify, Lawlor’s life has been flipped on its head completely. Now, he prepares for his official solo release of his first EP (coming out today) under the title J. Laser. I got a chance to sit down with ‘M83’ guitarist Jordan Lawlor, and speak with him about his journey to this point.
JO: Talk to me about joining M83 in the height of their popularity in 2011, coming from being homeschooled in a small town when you were just 18 years old. How jarring was the change of lifestyle?
JL: It was quite jarring. I had a very isolated childhood and adolescence due to severe social anxiety and depression. To jump into the world at such velocity was like being thrown into the deep end!
JO: You’re a New Jersey native, born in Sparta. But since then, you’ve traveled across the globe, touring and producing music. Do you have a particularly memorable destination you’d like to return to? Why?
JL: I love travel and miss it dearly. It’s hard to choose one place- the feeling of being in transit is very comfortable to me. It must be an artifact of a hunter-gatherer ancestry or something.
JO: When reviewing your music, Gems & Secrets commented on the fact that your music has “a universal sound.” Do you agree with this? Do you think your music, especially this upcoming EP, can fall into a single genre?
JL: Yes, I try to create iconic melodies and lyrics paired with weird musical ideas. The Beatles are my inspiration, something like “I Am the Walrus” is so palatable and accessible but deeply strange. I like that tradition of songwriting a lot.
JO: Has operating out of Los Angeles these days changed your way of life and perception of music?
JL: I love the immediacy and huge pantheon of different cultures in LA. I strive to make my music eclectic. LA is many different places in one: it’s sunny and upbeat, but there is a dark energy to it below the surface that’s stimulating creatively for me.
JO: The music you’ve produced under ‘J. Laser’ seems to have some influence from your M83 roots. What other artists do you think have inspired the sound of your solo work?
JL: I like classic rock and hip hop a lot. Warm vintage sounds and analog saturation, paired with the intricacy of digital technology. My favorite contemporary artists are Caribou, Tame Impala, Jai Paul, and Mike Dean among others.
JO: One line on the track ‘Orpheus’ that stuck out to me was in the chorus, where you’re belting the words “If life is but a dream, wake up.” We hear so many electronic/psychedelic songs try to illustrate and even glorify euphoric and dream-like states. How does J. Laser attempt to divert from these tropes, in an attempt to “disrupt the mass hallucinations we call culture with a fresh and luminous pallet of sound,” as per your Spotify bio?
JL: It’s all about defining what the “dream” is. For that lyric, I was inspired by a tradition called Gnosticism. It’s an ancient belief that all of this world is a simulation, which is an idea becoming more and more popular in our modern times. That chorus is me crying out to the authors of the simulation to reveal the real world.
JO: Your charitable works during the chaotic climate of 2020 are commendable, with multiple benefit compilations featuring the likes of New Order, Moby, and Joey Pecoraro among others. Talk to me about what the Black Lives Matter movement means to you specifically.
JL: I was honored to be part of those projects and very encouraged by the success they had in rallying support. I fully support the BLM movement and I’m listening closely to the conversations being raised. I’m looking forward to doing more work for the cause.
JO: The drummer for your new project is your brother, Jamie, which I found really neat. What’s your experience been like touring with a family member? Does it change the band’s dynamic in any way?
JL: He’s a great musician and an astute critic, and I know I’ve done well if I’ve earned his praise. We’ve been playing together our whole lives and we have an irreplaceable bond musically.
JO: Is it true that the creation of the track “Orpheus” started with a trip to the record store, where you picked up a handful of dusty 45’s and took them home to your studio, throwing the first one on the record player and dropping the needle at random?
JL: It is true! I recommend everyone try picking up a bunch of old records and seeing what sticks. Randomness and chaos are an important part of my process.
JO: How parallel to the Greek Myth of Orpheus is your track supposed to be? Would you consider it a reinvention?
JL: There are so many implications and symbols in those old myths that still resonate today. I was drawn to Orpheus because of his affiliation with music and the melancholy nature of his story. Orpheus is typically depicted in a state of reflection, playing his harp. This EP is me looking back through the years and attempting to make sense of my own narrative through the music.
JO: You’ve described the second track, “Sunshine,” as “an imagined alien utopia.” Can you explain that a bit further?
JL: Certain sounds just put me in a state of mind, I get strong visuals while I work. I was imagining a lush planet of organic alien technology, something like our world but not quite. It’s totally subjective but really fun to imagine!
‘M83’ Guitarist Jordan Lawlor, also known as J. Laser, releases his debut EP is out on all music platforms today. Make sure to check out the EP on Spotify, and keep up with all news and social media from Lawlor on his official website. Cover photo courtesy of Yow Wray.