Will Cuming is a man who loves challenges. Whether it’s starting a new musical project, shooting a music video by himself or eating two dollars worth of food a day, he’s the kind of guy who’s always eager to step up to the plate. Though soft spoken, the man behind LANKS is a passionate fellow. As we walk into the Newtown Social Club we are locked in a discussion about lentils and eating challenges.
Photos by Liam Cameron
HAPPY: Have you heard of that Living Below the Line challenge?
LANKS: I did it a few years ago. You have two dollars a day to use for food for a week. I kinda did rice and pasta, went to Aldi and stocked up on five dollars worth of that. A bag of onions and sauce to go with it, but by the end of the five days I was just eating plain rice because I ran out of stuff to go with it. By the end of the five days I was completely delirious. I was completely out of it. I did a radio interview the Friday night as well, I wasn’t ready for it. I was all over the place. At the very end when 12 o’clock neared my housemates went to get me Maccas. I was sitting there waiting for time to tick over, and when I did I smashed it down I felt really ill. It wasn’t a good decision. But I do think it’s a good thing to do. It’s horrible , and knowing people everywhere do it for longer than five days at a time is insane.
The hardest thing was you couldn’t use salt or pepper unless it was within your ten dollars. It would’ve made things easier to have some flavour. Just to add a dash of salt on…
HAPPY: I don’t know, say if you just happened to be walking past the salt factory one day and some happened to fall into your hand…
LANKS: See exactly! I wanted to put this out there, like what about foraging? If I go and get herbs from a garden that’s against the rules apparently. I mean, c’mon! But I suppose that’s not really the point. This lady lectured me on it, the thing I should’ve done was spend two dollars on a bag of bones, get some pumpkin and vegetables and make a broth. It’ll last you all week. Apparently that’s what I should’ve done. I just backed myself. It was really hard.
HAPPY: Hey at least you did it man, that’s pretty cool. I’m a hunger driven person so it wouldn’t happen for me.
LANKS: I’m a big eater too, so it was one of the most challenging things for me. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I do recommend it, just as a challenge.
HAPPY: So you’re a big challenge guy. Which makes sense for anyone in the music game. I mean, you’ve only been performing as LANKS for a little over a year now, right?
LANKS: Yeah, with the LANKS project I put out the first song a little over a year ago. I’ve been playing music for a long time though. I started when I was 10 playing the flute. Then I studied music at university. I’ve been playing in bands with my sister Lou since we were 13, playing gigs. It’s funny when people say “Wow, it’s only been happening for a year“. It hasn’t really, I’ve been playing for a really long time.
HAPPY: LANKS is a continuation of that.
LANKS: Yeah, yeah. That all helps you grow towards what you’re doing, but people do get excited when you’re doing something new. So it’s kind of nice since LANKS only a year old, but it’s definitely been a longer journey than that.
HAPPY: Why LANKS? What do you get out of it compared to all your previous work in other bands?
LANKS: I’ve played in bands with other people and it ended up being my material that we were playing. It always had an element of “i’m bringing an idea to a bunch of people who then put their stamp on it,” which is really cool. But then it was kinda nice when everyone in the band was kind of busy for the month that I started writing LANKS stuff. I wasn’t intending to do a solo project or anything. I just wrote a bunch of stuff and was like “it’s kinda nice the way it is so I might just leave it.” And because I wrote and recorded it myself, it was kind of already done, I just needed someone to mix it. It’s interesting when it’s just you, it’s just a different process. On this new EP I’ve been working on I’ve had some friends come around late in the recording period to throw some things around which is really good, I think it really added a lot to it. But LANKS is definitely a solo venture. It is what it is, I can be honest with myself. If I don’t like something I don’t have to worry about hurting someone’s feelings because it’s me. It’s a different challenge, different result, but I like both processes for different reasons.
HAPPY: Is that the first time you’ve worked on music by yourself ?
LANKS: I did write a lot of stuff on my own before. With the band before the last it was just me making a lot of stuff on my laptop. This is the first time I didn’t get anyone in to change things before I put it out as a record. I just said “okay, let’s mix this then it’s done,” just to see what would happen. For me it was a ‘tick that box’ sort of thing. I’d never made a record by myself. I’d never really sung on a record. I’d done a couple of singles with our last band where I had been singing, and I’d been writing lyrics for about two years. So yeah it kind of got to the point where it was a good time to do that just for myself.
HAPPY: You’ve really put yourself out there in that case.
LANKS: Yeah, but I think you have more time when you prepare on your own. You can try things you wouldn’t try in front of other people because you’re embarrassed, and if it doesn’t work you just throw it out. I try different ideas, singing random stuff, and if it sounds terrible I just scratch it. I like that I can try different things and don’t have to feel embarrassed because I’m by myself.
HAPPY: You talk about your process not being filtered through anyone else. This really resonates with your music. One of the motifs I’ve found on Thousand Piece Puzzle and Hold Me Closer is this duality between loneliness and love, and how the two can perpetuate and yet cancel each other out.
LANKS: Yeah I think you’re spot on. I mean creating music on your own is a really lonely process and I think that’s where a lot of those themes come from. I’m really fascinated by a lot of those concepts because I am on my own a lot. There’s a bit of darkness in my approach, it’s not always the happiest sort of stuff. But I’m just really fascinated by those kind of stories. I really like music that makes me feel those emotions as well, that’s the most powerful thing to me about listening to music that I really like. It makes me feel something.
HAPPY: What is it about these concepts that fascinate you?
LANKS: I don’t know. For me happy music is really hard to make. It often feels cheesy. There are a few people who can get it right for me. There’s an Arcade Fire kind of happiness, they nail it. Maybe like Inspector Norse by Todd Terje too. But there aren’t many examples of happy songs that make me feel that good. There’s always something melancholy which attracts me to particular music. I don’t know why – it just feels more powerful most of the time. It can be boring when someone’s like “oh yeah, things are great! Everything is really good!” Stories that people like are, generally – this isn’t always true – about something really bad happening, which is then solved. But if it’s just like “Hey guys, there are no problems,” then it wouldn’t be very interesting. Most of the time there’s a problem and you have to resolve it. I like art that does that.
HAPPY: All art is bred from some sort of conflict usually.
LANKS: Yes exactly! It’s tension and resolution, and you can tell stories in harmonies and melodies. I think music without tension is a bit boring at times.
HAPPY: So if you ever found yourself without any tension…
LANKS: You mean in my own life?
HAPPY: Yeah, would it mean the end your stories?
LANKS: (Laughs) A lot of the lyrics and songs I write are about other people and about things, so there’s a lot of storytelling involved. That’s something I’m really fascinated by. Like children’s poems almost. Rhyming and couplets and that sort of stuff. And limericks! I love the quirky poetry thing. So I don’t think I’m always writing about my own emotions. I’m always reading books and watching movies. My life has its ups and downs, but everyone has problems. I don’t think there is anyone who is just happy all the time, it doesn’t really exist, but we’re all striving to find happiness. I don’t necessarily have to feel sad to write sad song. I just explore ideas that try to make me feel something. The emotion of sadness is within me, I’m capable of feeling it. If I say, watch a movie, it can make me feel either happy or sad. I like to find those moments and question why it’s making me feel like that – then use those techniques myself. But if i’m writing about heartbreak, it doesn’t mean i’m heartbroken all the time.
I’m not a believer that I have to live this wild life to write these amazing things. There was this really great quote by Ueno Diaz, this fantastic author. Someone asked him why he wrote such sad literature if nothing bad really happened to him. And he said that he just was a writer using his imagination. A lot of people write about things they know, but I think you can use your imagination to explore. If I don’t understand sadness very well or if my life has been very cushy then I’m not going to relate to people who have gone through hardship straight away. I think it takes a little time and talking to people. I learn from other people’s experiences and write about them. Like in movies, I can connect to a character in a movie more than anything.
HAPPY: So what you’re saying is that it’s about the ability to empathise?
LANKS: Yeah! I think that’s a big part of it. You don’t have to have lived everything you’re writing about. You might daydream about where you want to be. You might want to travel through jungles and then you might write about that. That’s okay, imagination is a great thing. It doesn’t have to be non-fiction, I’m not writing a biography. I think with music and art, the big thing about is how you connect to other people. You might not be able to speak the same language as someone but you still might be able to communicate your feelings to them musically and that’s kind of amazing.
HAPPY: The other week we premiered the video for Hold Me Closer which you directed yourself at home. Was this your first experience with film production or had you tinkered with it before?
LANKS: I got this camera, this DSLR, about two years ago. I really enjoy drawing though I don’t do a lot of it. I like taking photos. It was just a chance to explore it. I’d love to do more video clips. Let’s be real here though, I don’t have much of a budget. So it was like “okay, well if I can’t come up with anything good I just won’t put a video out.” I just wanted to try things out. With music I started out knowing nothing, you explore and every time you try new ideas you grow a little bit as a musician. You build up your vocabulary and you know more than you did before as long as you listen to other people, try things out and learn from it. With film I was like “Well, I’ve watched a lot of films and I love a lot of films, so why not?” I just fiddled around to try out some techniques to see what looked good to me. I think if I’m gonna work with directors in the future I need to know what I want out of it beforehand. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted [with Hold Me Closer]. I had a vague idea in mind but I wasn’t very good at communicating it, so it was nice to be able to try out ideas out to see where it led me. It got to a point where I was actually really happy with what came out and people seem to be connecting with it. But yeah, I didn’t even leave the house to do it. I taught myself how to edit on some software and just did it. I actually had the time of my life. I just turned off my phone and went for it. At one point I was like “Oh my god, I’ve been sitting here for ten hours!” I’m really obsessive about things, so it was like learning a new instrument that I’ve never played before. It was really excited.
HAPPY: Talk me through those ten hours. How did things progress hour by hour?
LANKS: My housemates came home at the end of the day and were like “What has been going on here!?” There was stuff everywhere. I just tried things out. I went upstairs and shot some stuff. Tried things with glasses and water, anything I thought might look cool. A lot of it turned out to be complete rubbish. Which is fine. I tried some stuff with a projector and my piano which looked cool. Then I started editing…on music software. Which by the end I realised I couldn’t properly edit the footage, so I had to do it all again. That’s maybe why it took ten hours…I’m not a filmmaker so there was a lot of experimenting. It’s very DIY.
HAPPY: I feel like the DIY aesthetic shows but in an endearing way rather than being tacky.
LANKS: I’m really keen on that. I like the emotional side of the DIY thing. I’m not going for the lo-fi thing musically, it’s not really garage style or anything. It’s still got a bit of polish to it and I like that. It definitely feels real, and with the electronic elements it feels it sits between organic and inorganic sounds.
HAPPY: Now that you’ve popped you video cherry where do you want to take it in relation to LANKS or any other projects you have going on?
LANKS: My housemate – who has done all of my design work – and I are going to muck around with some stuff. I actually kind of made a video already for [my new track] Beach Houses, and I haven’t really done anything with it yet. I showed it to my housemate and he thought it was great, so we’ll drop that at some point and then we’ll work on some video stuff together in the future.
HAPPY: That’s pretty cool. Looking forward to it! What other plans do you have looking ahead?
LANKS: I’ve got an EP that’s pretty much done, just adding the final touches now and that’ll be out in June. There’ll be another single coming out pretty soon. And I want a keep writing more stuff. I have more side, side projects that I want to do. I just really want to write more music and see where it takes me. I don’t want to do anything with too much in mind, if it’s good, it’s good. I write a lot so I don’t think it would be too far beyond me to do other stuff with my music. But at the moment it’s just LANKS.
HAPPY: What can we expect from the EP?
LANKS: That’s a good question. It’s split into two sections. Essentially half of it it a little more guitar and indie orientated but still quite chilled. The other half is a little more R&B and electronica. I think it has plenty of variation, i’d probably be bored if it all sounded the same. I’ve shown a few friends and they’ve all had different opinions on what are their favourites which is a good sign.
HAPPY: Well my final question is one we all like to ask. As Happy is a blog that is all about the best music making us joyful, so what makes you happy Will?
LANKS: I think new experiences and learning things. I like meeting new people and going places. I’m going to China with my girlfriend so I’ve been learning Chinese. I love making videos, I love doing stuff I’ve never done before. The hardest thing to do is putting yourself out of your comfort zone, but it’s one of the most enjoyable things in the world. Doing things that scare me makes me Happy.
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