The overtly inventive lonomy chats with Happy about his hypnotic career as a musician, producer and designer, influencing his new album.
From pulling out old projects and breathing fresh life into them, to using his work as a game designer to influence his art – lonomy speaks wisdom to creatives about balancing the work/life hustle and investing in his career as a musician.
HAPPY: Hey there lonomy! Where do you find yourself today?
LONOMY: I’m currently sitting in a cafe in regional South Australia, taking some time away from my studio. It’s school holidays and my wife is a teacher so we often take a bit of time to see family for a week or so. I live in Port Pirie, three hours north of Adelaide so I take every opportunity to scope out the good cafes. Any time I go away, it’s about sitting with my headphones in and enjoying a bunch of coffee and pastries!
HAPPY: Tell us a bit about yourself, how did lonomy come about?
LONOMY: Well, I’ve been working on a solo project for the better part of my adult life. It’s been iterated on a handful of times but it always boiled down to a core idea. I was drawn to electronic music for the fact that I can record and play it without having to worry about multiple, bandmate schedules. Since 2015/2016, it’s evolved to become something that is reflective of my own, human experience. I went through quite a lot of aliases which seemed very relevant at the time. No matter what I called myself, it felt like a failure to accurately portray my journey throughout the world.
I settled on lonomy as a contraction of my real name and a really simple concept. My real name is Dillon and everybody knows me as Dil. I had a teacher that called me “lonny” because he seemed to think it was a shame that I dropped the latter half… for reasons that are unknown to me! But I took it and did some research on the concept of “lonomy”. It comes from “dactylonomy” which, in really basic terms, is the process of using your fingers and toes to do rudimentary tasks like counting. What came out of that is the idea that “lonomy” is the process of making things (music, games, art, etc) with my hands – the reflection of my own experience. It’s about learning, personal growth and an active approach to said learning.
As far as Electro-Pop is concerned, it was a natural progression of my love for synth-pop, neo-soul/modern jazz-pop and video game music. I feel comfortable writing with a guitar and my synthesisers and I feel as though it’s the most accurate reflection of what my life might “sound like”.
HAPPY: Congrats on your new single Birds – tell us a bit about the style of the track.
LONOMY: Thank you so much! I’m really proud of it! It’s an evolution of two opposed ideas: Jazz harmony and emotional, hooky pop. The guitar line, as well as a few elements of the track are deliberately diatonic and catchy- something that would really sail above the mix. I wanted to evoke a kind of rising, affirmative voice to the track that seems very consistent and thematic. I love a good melody that is unobtrusive and singable. Underneath, however, there are some more complex, musical ideas going on. The song is in C-major, but follows a descending chromatic harmony and is in a 7/4 time signature… really pretentious! I always look to include equal parts interesting harmony and recognisable motifs. Lots of theory going on and it’s how I love to write! There are also some wonky things going on with the tuning of some instruments, but mostly because I can’t help myself- adding filters and effects.
— lonomy// does bespoke fantasy 🍲 (@listento_lonomy) April 13, 2021
HAPPY: You mentioned that the track was inspired by a 2016 version of the same name… what made you remake it as an instrumental without vocals?
LONOMY: Well, it was less intentional than I may have hoped. The whole project that I call Preamble came about because I like designing music for games. I was selling the stems of each mixtape in individual parts and it was necessary to avoid any inclusion of lyrical content by design. I write around one track a week and release them in mixes of 10. I had been listening to some old recordings and going through my library and came across the original rendition of Birds and instantly wanted to revisit it. I have a love of old music that I released when I was younger that was ultimately unsuccessful. Having the chance to breathe some new life into old music always excites me; it reminds me how far I’ve come as a producer.
So, the instrumental rendition came about because I wanted to imagine what this song could say without relying on lyrics to tell the story. I’m really happy with the result! There are a handful of other tracks that have had the Preamble treatment too. Notably; Augment and Belle are two tracks that I used to play and sing live.
HAPPY: Tell us about your day job as a game designer?
LONOMY: So, on the regular, I am a TTRPG (Tabletop Roleplaying Game) designer. That includes things like D&D and Pathfinder and usually involves dice and models and character sheets. Specifically, I run a Patreon for people that like to do a lot of Worldbuilding- coming up with fantasy settings for people to play their own games or write their own stories in. On any given day, I’m designing characters, mechanics, items, quests, and even whole game systems for people to use. There is quite a lot of focus on writing for accessibility and faithfully creating spaces and experiences for people to play these games while being safe and encouraged. I play a lot of D&D too and it’s given me lots of inspiration to write more music.
The goal is always to create something that evokes an array of emotion. Preamble.Ambition, for example, was written as an exploration of sounds that might evoke the sensation of triumphing over impossible odds; having lofty goals. Whether or not I’ve been successful, it’s been a great soundtrack to my own games and something people can use in their own creations. Honestly, it’s the community of TTRPG nerds that I connect with on the internet that have inspired me to write music in this style.
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HAPPY: Do you think your line of work has influenced your sound?
LONOMY: Absolutely! Probably not the kind of music that I make- but the people that I work with are endlessly inspiring. I went to Japan, before COVID-19, and I learned to embrace my own “nerdiness”. The stuff that I love. I’ve been doing music for almost 15 years, but I feel as through I’ve only been successful for as long as I’ve learned to embrace those ultra-nerdy interests. Working with other designers and fantasy writers on the internet has allowed me to embrace that kind of person I want to be without fear of rejection. That affirmation has absolutely influenced the sounds that I make- it’s encouraged me to seek out the sounds in the stuff I hear in other game and film soundtracks, instead of just going for the most modern or industry-standard sounds. Notably, I use so many Yamaha DX-7 patches because it’s the closest I can get to a modern interpretation of the 16-bit sound-chip of vintage, game consoles.
HAPPY: You’re set to release an album Preamble.Ambition in a week, congrats! What’s something you’re most proud of with the project
LONOMY: Honestly- I’m most proud that I’ve been able to stick with the project for so long! I’ve done four Preamble mixes prior and I look at the tracklist – 50 songs, that feels like a lot! It’s really encouraged me to be proud of my sound and to try new things- experiment a little. One of my goals in being “ambitious” was to reintroduce acoustic and live instruments to my sound. Every track was written with guitar and bass at the forefront of the process and, while the sound reflects that, it’s not so different from the mixes before it that it feels incongruous. Really, Preamble.Ambition has been an important milestone for me to reflect on how far I’ve come as a musician and to try new things. I’m coming around to putting “producer” on my list of jobs again and not just a designer or a writer. Music is woven through every element of my life and I feel as through I’m falling in love with music again because of this album. So yeah, I’m most proud of my own development throughout the process.
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HAPPY: What would your advice be to artists who are balancing their music career with a day job?
LONOMY: Speaking as somebody who has tried to balance the music/work/life thing for over 10 years, the thing you absolutely have to do to be successful: set good boundaries and even better goals. I think a lot of musicians look at music as a lofty goal in the medium to far-off future and pray that their enthusiasm will see them through. Sure, for some people, they get super lucky and it pays off. Rarely is that the case. I had a few, good run-ups at the creative dream and failed miserably. As soon as I started to set some milestone goals, keep a tight and specific schedule and set healthy boundaries, I started to FEEL successful as a creative person. The more I felt that, the more I connected with what I was creating. That dopamine response was everything- I have been able to stick to that schedule because it feels good. Don’t get me wrong, it takes a great deal of personal accountability and a headstrong attitude that don’t come naturally to everyone- but it really unlocked something in my own life.
Now that music and games aren’t just my “escape”– the more I take myself seriously, the more I am encouraged to stick with it, even when I might not be hitting every milestone perfectly. Also budget! Definitely budget your time and your funds. You should definitely care about money, just enough that you feel as through you’re not just funnelling money into hobbies and into a serious project.
HAPPY: Can we expect some live gigs in the future?
LONOMY: I haven’t thought much on it, actually. When I lived in suburban Adelaide, I used to gig all the time! I played in a handful of bands and did the local circuit most weekends. Nowadays, it’s a lot more difficult to do so. What I would LOVE to do, before the end of the year, is start some online, live streams. So many musicians have turned to twitch and online gigs in a time where live music is so trepidatious. I think it’d like to capitalise on that unique opportunity and start some live streams. Perhaps doing some live beat-making or mixes. We’ll see, though! No hard plans.
I also run a bunch of D&D games on the weekends and help run a local theatre company so we’ll see if I get the time off! Fingers are crossed!
HAPPY: Cheers lonomy!!
LONOMY: Thank you so much. It’s honestly been a really wonderful, humbling opportunity to talk about Preamble.Ambition and I’m keen for everybody to listen to it. There is a lot of my heart in this project and I’m keen to hear how others connect with it!