19 year-old Wellington product Lontalius is on the cusp of releasing his debut LP. I’ll Forget 17 is a record that is littered with experiential and emotional self-confession by the songwriter known to those close to him as Eddie Johnston. Common themes predictably involve love, loss and teenage angst, but there are some much deeper existential emotions conveyed through the record as well, indicative of the fact that this is more of self-referential exploration than your common sad-song album.
The journey to this point was less easy to predict, as Johnston began using the internet to share his minimalist covers of hugely influential pop stars including Pharrell Williams, Ciara and Beyonce. Since posting these he used his own experiences to create original music that is beautifully honest and explorative, but not at all self-centred.
Late 2015 was when Lontalius really started to make waves, signing with Partisan records before splitting his time between recording the album and playing a bunch of shows in America. This year he made his debut festival appearance at Laneway festival in Auckland too.
We caught up with Johnston to chat about his early beginnings playing covers of pop singles, learning how to perform in a live setting simply by doing it, and the effect that conveying one’s own personal experiences into lyrics has on the end product of a song.
Music Feeds: You obviously got started off the back of a bunch of covers of huge pop songs. What was it that drew you to these songs and artists like Beyoncé and Pharrell in particular?
Lontalius: Well it stemmed from being a fan of the songs and the artists as well. I think especially with the songs that I covered, they were generally really melodic songs that I really loved, and I just wanted to hear them with a different chord progression or different feeling.
MF: So was there a moment when you decided you were going to focus more on originals?
L: Well I’d been doing original songs for a quite a while as well. I guess I didn’t ever want those covers to be a gimmick or to be my thing. I was lucky that my original songs that I was putting up on Soundcloud started to do pretty well, so I decided to start going hard on that rather than keep doing covers.
MF: It’s your first full length album. What was it like to record?
L: It was definitely interesting. I guess in a way doing the album was just a way of branching out after years of making music. I grew up, and started playing guitar when I was eight. I was writing songs and listening to rock music. That’s my history, I haven’t been listening to R&B music my whole life. I wanted to ground what I was doing now in the form of a record.
MF: Was it difficult to write ten songs that you would be happy with to make a full album?
L: Yeah, it was really tough. It was tough working on these ten songs for such a long time. Taking them into the studio after working on these songs in my bedroom for one or two years and having to just give them to someone else to work on. Then it was strange to hear them in a different place, in the studio. It was a really different experience to what I’m used to, which had just been to record a song and upload it to Soundcloud the same night.
MF: I guess you would’ve had to round out the album with a range of different types of track as well, which would have been another new experience for you…
L: Yeah so I had some newer songs and a bunch of older ones that I’d had demos of from three or four years ago, but wanted to give some proper attention to. It wasn’t too difficult to bring them together in that way.
MF: It’s well documented that your songs tend to explore emotions and emotional journeys of youth and love. How much of the content that goes into your lyrics are from your own person experience?
L: Pretty much all of it, some of it was closer to me than others. It’s all based off of emotional experiences and personal experiences.
MF: Do you find that converting your experiences into the format of a song makes the song more personally yours and more significant?
L: Yeah definitely. I think that’s one of the benefits of being able to sing and play guitar, it’s a very natural way of expressing your emotions. As opposed to just clicking buttons on a computer, which I also love but I found it really easy to express myself through my songs.
MF: You seem to be quite popular in the States as well, apart from the fact that you’re signed with an American label. Why do you think that’s the case?
L: It’s been like that for a while, over there. Initially when my songs on Soundcloud started to do well most of the plays were from the states. So that’s what my manager and I focussed on when we were looking for a label, we wanted to focus on America and it seems really cool. It’s still the same, like 80% of my Soundcloud plays are coming from over there.
MF: You recently did some shows over in the States, what was that experience like?
L: They were cool, I was with my band and we did some shows in LA and New York. It was really cool, a really interesting experience. I haven’t had much live experience in my life but it was different from playing in New Zealand.
MF: Tell us about what it was like to play at Laneway this year, how did it differ from playing overseas?
L: People here know who I am so that makes a big difference. I don’t really know how to compare them, it was all fun. We played pretty early on in the day which was nice because I’m not 100% confident in live performing so we played to a more relaxed audience, and relaxed atmosphere.
MF: Do you have any plans to tour New Zealand or Australia anytime soon? What are you looking forward to for the rest of the year?
L: I’ll definitely be doing some other shows in New Zealand, but I’d love to come to Australia as well, I’ve never played there. But obviously there seems to be a lot of fans of my music over there. I’d love to come but there are no plans at the moment.
‘Ill Forget 17’ is out March 25th, grab a pre-order here.