by Ethan Swan
The afternoon before Tennyson’s set in the Englert Theatre at the Mission Creek Festival, we were lucky enough to catch up with the band’s founder and songwriter, Luke Pretty, for a conversation spanning everything from his ongoing tour, home studio tips, DIY musical instruments, and much more.
How’s your tour been going so far? It’s your first one in a while!
Yeah since 2020—2019 actually. We played one show in India in 2020, early in February actually, so right before the pandemic.
India? That’s an interesting place to be as soon as COVID hits.
Yeah, it was sort of still in the like, joke stage I guess.
Everyone’s joking about like, Budweiser virus.
Yeah, there were like, pictures of people wearing milk jugs on their face and stuff. It was still a joke—I’m surprised that I was on an airplane actually. Seems weird, that February.
I feel like everybody knows exactly where they were when they realized this thing’s getting serious.
What’s life been like on the road?
So far the tour’s been going better than I expected. Like, the process of creating the show—I started from scratch, so I was guessing a lot of different things, like guitar parts and bass parts and drum parts. I wouldn’t know if I did everything correctly until the first show, and that went
well, and so far everything’s been going alright, so I’m kind of surprised!
I saw you put in a lot of preparation for it, like before your tour you were even streaming [the creation of the show] live on Twitch. What was your motivation to stream that process?
I guess to motivate myself! Yeah like, it was just a way of holding myself accountable.
Nothing says being held accountable like being watched by hundreds of people simultaneously.
Yeah! Even thirty people helps me, I just don’t wanna embarrass myself… [Luke chuckles]
It also raises the stakes of practice a little bit, so you gotta get things done.
Yeah totally. The title of the stream helps a lot, if I put like, “6-hour grind” and then press “Live” I really don’t have a choice.
Based on your experience with writing and producing a lot of stuff from home, what tips would you give someone for the perfect home studio environment or workflow?
I do struggle—I might be guessing but I feel like I would be more productive if my studio wasn’t in the same room as my bed. But who knows, it might just be another excuse.
Yeah, it’s tempting when your keyboard and your pillow are both within arm’s reach.
Yeah, it’s weird! Especially like using my computer to watch YouTube and chill, it’s all like a big mish-mash. One thing that does help though, is I built some DIY sound panels out of home insulation and some fabric, and that really helped make the room sound really great. Also streaming, or even just Pomodoro, which is you work for 50 minutes and take a 10-minute
Oh yeah, I recognize that method from looking up how to be more productive during exam weeks!
Actually, I’m surprised at how well it works. If you can get through the first two segments and just tell yourself you got them done—you didn’t really do anything special, but you did them— by the third one you enter this deeper [concentration]. It’s interesting—the time flies by, and then you kind of snap out of it and you have a bunch of new stuff and an idea you actually like.
Way back in 2017, you mentioned in an interview with Red Bull that you were fascinated by people playing hollowed-out carrots like reed instruments. Since then, have you had the chance to experience this for yourself?
No… I haven’t hollowed out any vegetables. I still make the clarinet out of a drinking straw— you cut the tips off and it creates a little reed, and you can cut holes in it. For the last couple I made, I didn’t have very much luck getting the notes right with the hole sizes, but a couple years ago I made the perfect drinking straw clarinet. I could do a major scale on it, which was
Tony (who’s sitting in the background): Did you ever end up taking it on tour?
Yeah, the last time I got it right was on tour—we were on tour in South Korea.
Did you bring it out on stage?
No, I brought it out in the airport though, it was hilarious—I shouldn’t have been doing it.
I bet airport security was thoroughly entertained.
Yeah, I don’t know, my etiquette skills weren’t as good as they are now I think. But I had like, a little audience in a few minutes, they were all like, clapping their hands… it was very embarrassing actually.
I wouldn’t consider that embarrassing, that’s like, proficient.
Tony: I think it’s something to be admired.
The perfect clarinet straw doesn’t just come around any day!
This time around you’re touring with more members than just [your sister] Tess who are playing in your band. How does that differ from previous tours?
The van is bigger, and the Airbnbs and the hotels are a lot bigger as well. More food—just double of what I’m used to. Other than that, everything feels just about the same—the drives are the same length.
Yeah, there’s no way to make the drive through the Midwest any shorter.
No… [Luke chuckles]
I would like to offer my condolences for coming all this way, but also thank you! I’ve also been following your Instagram stories and I’ve been keeping up with [you and the band’s] Papyrus hunt.
It’s true, yeah!
What kicked that off, and who’s winning?
I don’t know how it started. I think I’ve always had a bit of excitement when I spotted it in the wild. Just before we were leaving, I decided we’ll start a little scoreboard for everyone.
It’s a very jarring font.
Yeah, I love it. We’ve been doing it where you’re only allowed one point if you’re in Whole Foods, cause otherwise, it would just be a jackpot. When we get into Whole Foods, everyone sprints to the tea section or the herbal medicine section and just scours the shelves for Papyrus.
What would you say is your favorite font?
Hmmm… I’m trying to remember the name of the original font. I took a font that I liked that was really close to what I wanted for the album, so I edited it a little bit. So technically I have like a plagiarized font on my computer that I use for everything album-related.
That’s pretty cool!
Yeah, it has a cool vibe to it. But wait—can I change my answer?
Jokerman? I’m afraid I’m not familiar.
It’s the best font, you’d recognize it right away.
What kind of packaging might I see this on?
You would see it in like, Windows 95 as one of the 14 fonts included. It’s disgusting.
[Luke’s manager shows me the font on his phone]
Oh yeah! That’s like the coffee shop font!
Do they use it in coffee shops?
This is just something I feel like you’d see drawn in chalk on a coffee shop board.
Tony: And in like, every Mexican restaurant ever.
There’s a coffee shop two storefronts down that’s the epitome of this energy.
I feel like maybe if you had a private juggling company, like if you were trying to do juggling at birthday parties, you could use this on your business card.
Tony: Are you open to the idea of starting a private juggling company?
I used to really like juggling… I used to walk around school with juggling rings. [Luke laughs]
Can you recommend a deep cut, or something you’re convinced nobody else knows? That can be an album, TV show, song, anything.
Oh yeah! There’s um… what’s it called…? Hold on—Space Girls! I don’t know exactly what this is, but it’s sick. Hold on, gimme a second, I’ll find it. It’s all like weird parody covers of Spice Girls.
Are they reworked to be about space?
No, but it’s some of the weirdest production I’ve ever heard.
[What ensues is several minutes of everyone sifting through the murky depths of Spotify and Bandcamp, and so much Spice Girls stuff. After a while, Luke laughs and shows me the phone with the track, “PAPA” by Space Girls, playing on it. The cover is a collage of Pope Francis baptizing babies with intermittent pictures of potatoes]
This is definitely the artist, but I can’t find the original Space Girls album. Maybe it got pulled for copyright or something.
[Gasps of awe echo through the room as we hear the song play]
That’s actually amazing!
Isn’t that crazy?
Tony: Really brings a tear to the eye, it’s beautiful.
When they said [whirring synth noises], I really felt that. Okay, last question: if you could take any person, living or dead, to any concert that ever happened in history, who would you taken and where would you go?
Hmmm… It would be cool to see like, a Vampire Weekend show at a university or something, like one of their first shows. That’d be cool, I don’t know who I’d bring though…
That’s a pretty intimate vibe, maybe someone you’re really close with? Or someone funny like Albert Einstein.
Or actually, it would be fun to bring someone from long, long ago to an Arca concert.
It’d be fun to bring… an old classical composer like Bach or something.
Nice, like, “This is what your influence on music has led to!”
Yeah! Bring Bach to an Arca concert. I think that’d be good.