Jessie Stein from The Luyas
To be at a place in your life where you’re doing exactly what you want to be doing is a really blessed thing. The Luyas frontwoman Jessie Stein is at that place in her life right now, playing music with her band and traveling the world. That content doesn’t come from being super rich and famous and having everything going for her, but rather because she has the right outlook on life. To be honest, she’s in an uncertain transitional period right now; she’s given up her apartment in Montreal, she’s leaving her current day job in a couple of weeks, and she’s moving to New York for the winter with no solid plans. While that kind of move would be terrifying for your average person, Jessie looks at it as a new exciting chapter to her life, and I have no doubt it will be.
I could tell Jessie is really smart, and I don’t just mean smart in a neurological researcher sort of way (because that is legitimately her day job), but also smart in that she makes good life choices. And lastly, she’s passionate—she’s honestly one of the most exhilarating people I’ve ever met, and it makes me all the more excited for her and the Luyas. Even though her life is scattered with a lot of question marks, she promises to never leave her band in the back burner. (Thank God, because they are really, really good.) During our Sunday afternoon chat over coffee, Jessie and I dished on creative hobbies, healthy eating choices, her band’s new album Animator, and everything in between.
NOISEY: Hi Jessie! Let's cut to the chase—what do you do for a living? I heard you have a really cool job.
Jessie: Yeah! For the past couple of years, I've worked at the Montreal Neurological Institute as an assistant on research with motor skill development. Basically, this man named Dr. Leonard invented this machine, which is an update on an instrument they used to use to measure manual motor coordination. He updated it for the first time since the 50s. The idea is that once we have all the data, we'll be able to use this machine to chart people's progress with their various injuries and diseases. So, I've been working on that for a while.
Whoa. How'd you get involved with that?
Through nepotism. [Laughs] My stepfather works at the neurological institute, so I got the job through him.
Did you study science or medicine in school?
Sure didn't! [Laughs] But it's a lot of going to schools and testing kids and dealing with people. They trained me well. I'm definitely not your prime candidate for a neurological job, but I sneaked into that one.
So then what did you study in school?
All kinds of things. I didn't study any sciences. I did a lot of liberal arts, like philosophy and English. I did a little bit of electroacoustic composition too, but nothing that adds up to anything related to my current day job. I really think I got that with my charm and connections. I'm really lucky to have such a dignified job.
Hey, all the more power to you.
The study is actually almost finished. I might work for them for another two weeks, but I've given up my apartment in Montreal, and in December, I have a month and a half-long sublet in New York. That'll be my next chapter of "day jobs" for me.
Exciting! What are you gonna do here?
I won't be allowed to have a day job. I can play music here and make money that way on my work permit, but I'm not actually allowed to make money any other way… technically. Looks like I'll have to do a lot of under the table gigs. I'm sure it will get very interesting. My songwriting might take a turn too.
Ha, yeah! Your new theme for the next album: working under the table jobs.
It's like that Cass McCombs song where he talks about cleaning toilets in Baltimore.
As long as the government doesn't hear it.
Right. I would work for trade! Feed me…
Why this life decision?
I'm approaching 30 swiftly, so I decided it was time to let go of anything that was concrete in my life, except for my rock band. Because everybody knows a rock band is a really concrete, stable thing… [Laughs]
[Laughs] Of course!
I'm trying to make my life story interesting.
WATCH: The Luyas' new video for "Montuno" is breathtaking.
Tell me about your new album, Animator! It's such a beautiful record.
Thank you! What I really like about this album is that it really holds together, not as a literal story, but each song really flows into another, passing through different worlds.
Yeah, I definitely felt that too.
It talks a lot about life and death and love—normal, timeless things.
Do you use any nonconventional instruments on it?
Do we! Well, we're not a straight up rock band. We have a French horn player, who plays through effects. On our last record, we used this instrument called the moodswinger a lot, which is an experimental instrument. It's not actually on the record but I wrote some songs on it. This instrument doesn't make any sense and it's totally wacky, so it's really weird and interesting. But I wanted the record to be less jarring and more subtle. I wanted to focus more on what it feels like, rather than what it sounds like. So I play a lot of guitar and Wurlitzer on this record, because they're more immediate instruments. I wanted the songs to get to people rather than shouting, "We're a thing! You've never heard this sound before!" Yes, you have.
Well, you're doing something right! I've heard so many people talk about how you guys are one of the best bands right now.
Aww! That's so nice to hear! I'm so happy. We're gonna always make music, even though it's hard. I'm sure you talk to bands at our level all the time, who need day jobs on the side.
Yeah, everybody’s gotta make ends meet.
And that's fine. Sometimes when I'm not working, I feel like I lose my head a little bit, because to be on tour and doing this 24/7 and then to come home and face the nothingness of your existence is weird. Sometimes it's nice to have something to occupy you. Work is like exercise. Sometimes it sucks, but once you do it, your brain functions.
Totally. So, you're in the touring phase of work right now. Do you guys have any tour habits or something you always eat on the road?
We're still pretty broke, but we started out really, really broke, so we always brought a rice cooker with us as well as a tupperware full of condiments. Most nights, I cook rice and quinoa and steamed vegetables and tofu and we all eat it together. I would cook it during soundcheck and then we eat before a show. It's been a ritual.
That's so nice! They must love you for that.
I'm also really addicted to almond butter and bananas. I will eat it, like, two out of three meals. It makes you kind of full but it doesn't sit in your stomach in a funny way. It's kind of an expensive habit in America—your guys' almond butter is expensive. So I will bring a bunch of almond butter from Canada.
I think you're the first band I've talked to that actually eats healthy on tour! I feel like so many bands fall into a habit of eating like shit away from home.
I can't do it! I would go crazy and quit. I want to do this music thing for a really long time. I need to stay in shape. Werner Herzog said being a filmmaker is like being an athlete. I like that. I want to stay sharp, and personally I can't eat french fries everyday.
Have you eaten a shoe though?
Herzog ate a shoe.
He's a showoff, but we pick which parts of people to be inspired by.
He has some great quotes though.
You should read Herzog on Herzog. I love filmmaker biographies. I read a book on Fellini recently, and he talks a lot about the impossible and embracing fiction and the unimportance of reality. I love that.
So you're moving here, to New York, soon. What will you miss about Montreal?
Hmm, my friends and family and bandmates. The neighborhood in Montreal where most of the artists live in is a lot smaller than Williamsburg or Bushwick. There are so many artistic communities here and I think that's so inspiring. I really like not knowing what I'm gonna do next. I like being at this moment in my life where I'm allowing things to happen to me. And I'm really committed to my band and I won't let that get away from me. There's a moment where you're like, "Oh! I'm an adult" and most adults are working steady jobs at my age and have a plan for themselves, and that's great, but maybe I should take this opportunity because I'm extra free right now. What can I learn from this? How can I turn this lack of formal responsibility into something that is interesting and enriching?
I think that's a really great outlook on life.
Yeah, it's a cool and scary moment.
What other hobbies do you have besides music? I feel like maybe you're a bit of a reader?
I like books, but sometimes my brain is moving too fast to read. I love doing art projects. The singer from the band Yamantaka // Sonic Titan is a good friend of mine and we like doing art projects, like paper cuts. We have plans for a bunch of installations. I also love making music videos. I do a lot of yoga. I like to cook for people. I used to ride horses, so I've been helping my friend get her ponies skinnier by going riding. Yeah, those are my hobbies!
I'm impressed! Anything coming up for the Luyas besides the tour?
We go to Europe, then I come back here and I want to collaborate with a bunch of people. And then we're gonna make some kind of recording over Christmas. Then we'll probably tour a bunch more next year. It's really gratifying to see people come out to our shows because they like us.
Best of luck to you!
The Luyas are currently on tour:
11/07 - Bathurst Culture Arts - Toronto, ON
11/08 - Casbah - Hamilton, ON
11/09 - Maverick - Ottawa, ON
11/13 - Cabaret - Montreal, QC
11/25 - Botanique - Brussels, BE
11/27 - Babel - Malmo, SE *
11/28 - Vega - Copenhagen, DK *
11/29 - Lido - Berlin, DE *
12/02 - Le Guess Who Festival - Utrecht, NL
12/04 - Point Ephemere - Paris, FR
12/05 - Saint Ex - Bordeaux, FR
12/07 - Les Trinitaires - Metz, FR
12/09 - Birthdays - London, UK
* with Destroyer