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Interview: Plutonic Lab

14 Jun 2016 spotlight words by Terence Ill
Interview: Plutonic Lab

Leigh Ryan, better know by his stage name Plutonic Lab is about to drop his first solo Project in 11 years upon us.

I put a few questions to the Melbourne producer in the lead-up to the official release this Friday.

It’s been 11 years since ‘Codes Over Colours’. What was it like starting work on a new solo project after such a long time? Exciting? A bit scary maybe?

Plutonic Lab: It’s something that’s been in the back of my mind for a while. I think the satisfaction I get from making albums for other artists was being overshadowed by the need to flex my own thing, uncompromised. The amount of work involved in writing, recording, arranging and mixing a project is huge. I wanted to give some ideas I had brewing more attention.
Codes was always meant to be a progression, it’s just taken me a long time to get back on that path.

Does it get easier or harder? Do you find it is getting harder to satisfy your own expectations as you mature as an artist, and therefore takes longer to get through a project?

Plutonic Lab: I think it’s much easier in some ways, your taste is more refined, you have more of an idea what you don’t want to do, and you can execute your ideas much more deftly. I guess the thing that can potentially slow things down is the aversion to repeating old ideas or running over old ground. 90’s production still has quite a strong pull out there for heads, even for younger beat makers & conversely it’s all too easy to jump on a trend. So you have to find your own progression, but not beat yourself up because you haven’t reinvented the wheel so to speak… it can take time to refine a difficult or fresh idea.

Did you know who you wanted as features on ‘Deep Above The Noise’ from the very beginning? As in, did you tailor the beats around the features you wanted, or did the beats come first and you then found vocalists that fit the sound?

Plutonic Lab: I had a long running list of potential feature artists – I put everyone on there I thought my sound would fit, or that I figured my taste would compliment. So in a way the beats come first in that I tailored the list to fit my style, not the other way around. 
Guilty Simpson, Notes To Self & Coma-Chi were always on there. Miles Bonny was on my wish list, but a late addition to the project, I had a version of that beat as an instrumental arrangement & MoMO was someone I had been meaning to get in the studio again after we did Dialectrix “Take Flight” & the beat for “Signals” lent itself to his style.

What’s the most unusual instrument (played live or sampled) you used on “Deep Above The Noise”? Anything exotic in there?

Plutonic Lab: There’s nothing really that unusual on there, not like the Fieldnotes soundtrack. 
It’s more or less just a refinement to this point of what I’ve always used. More synth heavy perhaps, but all the elements on there I’ve been using for years… it’s my palate. Live drums, bass and keys, synths and samples. I think it’s important to have a sound palate... like THIS is the bass guitar I use, or THIS is the echo box I use on everything. It helps shape your sound.

The visual theme of this album is amazing. There have been a few different shots circulating on social media and every one of them would hold its own as just a piece of art. The space suit is such a strong visual element. I saw it pop up on my screen the second time and instantly knew what it was. Whoever thought of this deserves a medal. So? What’s the story with the space suit? How does it tie in with the musical theme?

Plutonic Lab: Nicole Reed deserves all the credit with the images. I wanted to do the astronaut shoot for a while, I started putting out feelers for that concept around 2013. I just needed someone who was excited about the idea too. Nicole smashed it, we had heaps of fun driving up in the Dandenongs scouting locations and doing the shoot in my studio. I think that was January 2015. So it did take a while for the idea to get out there. The gatefold image is from a solo road trip Nicole did through Death Valley a few back and it just worked so well as a contrast to the cover image. Ben Funnel added the moons, he did a stellar job on the graphics & layout.

I would say the concept is about the isolation you can go through being an artist and also I felt like I didn’t really belong to any particular current movement or camp in the beats/music scheme of things. I’m just out there doing my thing.

You started playing drums at a fairly young age and have applied your drumming skills at live shows with likes of Hilltop Hoods and countless others over the years. Do you find yourself analysing other producers’ beats with your ‘drummer ears’, and think ‘Maaan, if that snare came in a tad later, it’d be perfect’?

Plutonic Lab: Not really, there’s so much music out there, so much new shit. I don’t have time to analyse stuff I don’t dig, I just hit next haha. But really, I don’t think it’s necessary at all to play an instrument to have dope chops, most of my heroes don’t play shit.

You have produced for so many overseas and interstate artists of really high calibre. After you’ve been playing in a ‘different league’ for so long, do you still feel in touch with the local scene in Melbourne? Do you still care to be? If so, any favourite up-and-comers out of the production corner?

Plutonic Lab: I don’t really feel a part of any scene to be honest, I mean I’m definitely part of the beats/production landscape & I’m most definitely Melbourne, but a lot of cats I came up with here have thrown in the towel. And there are musicians moving here all the time, that the Melbourne scene is really just a hub or melting pot for musicians everywhere now. But I do really love developing other artists, to help bring ideas out and try stuff with younger artists, I can see it almost like a soft mentoring of sorts. I’m very insular like that. There’s good shit everywhere, I don’t really have any favourites. I try to respect everyone’s angle on it.

When you listen to the beats on, let’s say ’Mystery Shkool’, and compare them to your current work, how much of the original Plutonic Lab is still there today? Do you have a certain approach or formula that you have maintained over the years and that you can still hear in your old work? Or are you a completely different producer now than you were then?

Plutonic Lab: That’s over 20 years ago, I’m a completely different person now! Ha, but really there will probably always be traits in my sound that will never go away. I’ve always loved a slightly cinematic/atmospheric tone to things. Dark shit too, melancholy… sure and tough drums.

Where are you trying to take your sound from here? Do you have a direction or an idea of what you want to try next, or do more of?

Plutonic Lab: Deep Above the Noise has a lot of ideas I just needed to get out, to move on from. I think the next record will be a bit more aggressive, I have started on that too.

Fill in the blank: If you ___, you will love Deep Above The Noise.

Plutonic Lab: If you are planning a road trip or like to get deep on that train ride to work, or maybe just feel something different, you will love Deep Above The Noise.


Deep above the Noise will be released on June 17th on vinyl and as a digital download. To pre-order follow the link blow.